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  #1  
Old 11-28-2010
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Daydreams and Night Songs: Emiliana Blackwell

"Love is violent," Emiliana Blackwell thought to herself as she stared at the ceiling. She was not tired, but the man resting next to her was exhausted - and thus she had stayed.

She welcomed the quiet moments of reflection, though. Her arrival in Sundren had been one fast-paced adventure after another - not that she was complaining. She thrived on the thrills. She gloried in the challenges. She wanted the opportunities to meet new people, see new places, and learn new things.

But Sundren was different than she had expected. The land was riddled with dangers she still did not fully comprehend. Vampires roamed throughout the region - through the 'Valley' as the local denizens called it - and the dark creatures had a pesky little habit of abducting victims in the midst of the night. Emiliana had witnessed with her own eyes the sudden, magical appearance of a sentient skeleton. She heard him called 'The Caretaker', and while she was startled, she soon realized that many of her fellow adventurers were already well-acquainted with the creature.

There were more political intrigues in Sundren than she could fathom. Waterdeep, her former home, was so vast that she never dipped her toes into the complexities of the politics there, but here in the Valley was an entirely different story. She was becoming aware of all the pieces that danced upon the game board, and to her own chagrin, she was becoming a dancer herself.

The man beside her was no ordinary man. Salararius William Shepard was a well-respected, fast-rising star of the Fourth Legion. In the brief time she had known him, he had gone from a minor level of responsibility to becoming the second-most powerful man in the division - only Centurio La Croix held more clout. William Shepard exerted authority; he exuded level-headed confidence. He held nothing back when it came to telling others how he felt about a matter, and his brusque mannerisms had earned him both begrudging respect and seething hatred - sometimes both at once from the same person. She had been one of those persons when they first met, but despite her best efforts (and perhaps his as well), they had fallen in love. He was determined to keep her safe, but Emiliana knew - she knew deep within her heart - that it was only a matter of time before his enemies would seek to use her as a way to strike at him. She was an unwilling dancer upon the game board, but the alternative - living life without him - was much more frightening than any torture or anguish that might be inflicted upon her.

As she continued to stare at the ceiling, her thoughts drifted to a situation that held a similar, albeit mirrored, portent: the vampiress, Iosolde, and her lover, Lilene Jora. Emiliana was still confused about certain aspects of the matter, but from what she had managed to piece together, Lilene was a wanted criminal now, and her friends were trying to 'save' her from the vampiress.

Their mistake, the young woman idly mused, was speaking to her when William was near. The vampiress enjoyed Emiliana's musical talents, and Lilene had sought to request an encore performance from the young bard. William was incensed, but the matter soon dissipated - or so she had thought. She had no idea of the severity of her love's anger at what she had deemed a harmless request until she received an urgent message from Tigen Amastacia. When she reached his room, Emiliana soon found herself listening to a heated discussion between him and Lilene, as well as Nati Salana and Maia, about Iosolde. Lilene was a wanted criminal now, Emiliana learned, and realization slowly dawned upon her as to the person responsible for the new warrant. A snippet of conversation between herself and William replayed itself in her head. "I am simply uncertain as to why I am involved."

William's response was cold and impassive. "Most likely she grows bored of Lilene and wants a new plaything."

In the inky darkness of their room, Emiliana took a slow breath and then shifted her gaze from the ceiling to the handsome soldier who appeared peaceful enough in his slumber. Never one to wait for his enemies to make the first move, he had struck at the vampiress before she could strike at him. In that moment, Emiliana felt a strange sense of kinship with Lilene; they were both the loves of two very powerful people, and they would be used to inflict pain and torment whenever possible. Her heart ached at the unfairness of it all, but she understood that life was rarely fair.

She turned her head so that she could kiss William's bruised shoulder and then comfortably settled herself beside the sleeping form next to her.
Tomorrow would bring another dance, and she had to make sure that she was ready for it. As she closed her eyes and draped an arm across the soldier, a resigned murmur escaped her lips: "Love is violent."
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Old 11-30-2010
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She was irritated.

No, by the Gods, she was angry!

Emiliana Blackwell slammed the door to a particular room at the Four Lanterns Inn, and then she unfastened the dark, masculine cloak clasped around her neck. The sturdy garment was wadded into a ball and then flung against the wooden wardrobe, and a pair of leather gloves soon followed. Her Legion armor - a red-tinted set of lightweight chain - received better treatment as she removed it, but she still undressed with haste and left her boots and armor haphazardly strewn upon the bed and footlocker.

The attack at Sestra was her first true taste of battle, and she felt proud that she had been the first to give the news to William. Her joy was short-lived, however, when her superior officer turned to someone else instead. "December, on me," he had said to the capable sorceress, and Emiliana had felt her stomach flip. She swatted aside the feeling, however, and the trio marched from the Second Wind Inn to Sestra.

Everything changed once they arrived in Sestra. Salararius Shepard and Initiate Augustine stayed side-by-side. They worked together with some sort of unspoken precision, and Emiliana felt herself drift into the background. The raid by the Luskans was thwarted, and soon there was a clamor of voices trying to assess what had been the purpose of the attack as well as what had been stolen. Emiliana was alerted to the possibility that the Luskan ships might continue on towards Port Avanthyr, and she asked William - no, she mentally corrected herself, Salararius Shepard - how secure was the port.

Silence.

He departed with December on his heels, and Emiliana shook off the sting in order to gather her own little band of defenders. They marched with her to Port Avanthyr, to the docks, and stood an uneventful watch. She doubted that the Luskans would attack Port Avanthyr, but Salararius Shepard had Sestra secured. Eventually, he arrived, but he said little. He gave her no orders. He gave her no instruction. He gave her no chastisement. He gave her no praise.

He left, wordlessly, and Emiliana felt her stomach knot. Battle was different, she reminded herself, and she and her cohorts kept watch at the docks until finally everyone dispersed. She was the last to leave, and she hurried back to Sestra to rejoin the combination of Legion, Corps de Grace, and volunteers who were still putting out fires and assessing the damages. She made her way towards her leader, William Shepard, and listened as he - and Initiate Augustine - exchanged words with the Corp de Grace leader.

Emiliana's thoughts were starting to swirl. There was so much information; there was so much she did not know. She listened. She heard Tigen suggest that determining what items had been taken from the library would be a good idea. She heard her own voice as she asked what she thought was a valid question. "Do they keep an inventory manifest?"

Silence.

December stood by William's side. "Headquarters, then," he had said to her before they left in unison. Emiliana felt a slow, sickening numbness creep into her body. Someone asked what had happened. She responded that she thought that information was above her rank. She felt the bitterness rising within her.

The defenders dispersed. She had no reason to stay. She had no orders to stay. He had his Right Hand - his right hand - with him. Emiliana was not needed.

She felt her ears getting hot. Her ears always got hot when she was containing anger. She left Sestra, and she kept her hood pulled low as she stormed to the room she shared with her superior officer.

The room was small, she dully noted as her tear-filled eyes darted around it. She sat on the edge of the bed, wrapped her arms around herself in a vain attempt to quell her angry trembling, and let her thoughts rage as tears streaked down her face.

"He is a lousy commanding officer!"
"She is just an Initiate!"
"Why did I even go there?"
"Why are they so practiced together? I thought she was a new arrival as well!"

"I feel so useless."

The room was suddenly stifling. She felt hot. She needed air, but she did not want to leave the room. She could not let others see her this way. She did not want to answer questions. She did not want to think.

She felt lost. She felt helpless. She felt useless. Her stalwart optimism flickered, and she entertained the notion that she should just admit defeat and return home to Waterdeep. Of course, as soon as the notion entered her thoughts, she rebelled against it. She knew that everything would be okay in the end.

But for now, as the man who was both her superior officer and lover saved Sestra with someone else by his side, all Emiliana could do was sob into the bed that they shared.
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Old 11-30-2010
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Their argument had not been pretty. Of course, she had not meant for him to catch her crying. She had meant to indulge in her despair and then be fast asleep by the time he returned to the room, but he returned to their room sooner than she had expected. Her choices were to lie to him (and he could always tell when she was lying), or face the argument that she knew would start as soon as she opened her mouth: "You were a lousy commanding officer to your subordinates during the raid."

"... excuse me?"

And then she spiraled head-first down a path she had never intended to take, but she was not the type of woman who contained herself. She told him why she was upset. She told him why she felt hurt. She mentioned December.

"Is this what this is about? That she was by my side, and not you?"

YES, she wanted to scream at him, but her reply was calm and diplomatically uttered. He laughed at her; he laughed in disbelief at her words. He laughed.

The argument continued. She was brutally honest with him, and he stood there while she unleashed her verbal fury. It was their system; it was their way. His stance shifted, and his arms remain folded as he told her the truth. "She is my partner. We work together."

She is my partner. We work together.
She is my partner. We work together.
She is my partner! We work together!

Emiliana felt her ears get hot. Neither one of them had possessed the common decency to tell her. William, the man who claimed to love her, and December, the woman whom she had thought was a friend. How long had they been partners? How many times had they trained together? Why had he picked her?

Emiliana said something. The words tumbled from her lips without her even knowing what she was saying. She could have been speaking in the tongue of the dragons for all she knew. William was shaking his head at her; she saw his lips moving, but his replies barely registered. Her thoughts swirled. Is this love?

Everything in the room started to blur together. The argument continued, but she was only half-aware of what she was saying. Her chest ached, and her stomach felt queasy. She could taste the bitterness of what she considered betrayal rising in the back of her throat, and she had to force herself to swallow down the bile. She retrieved the strewn items that she had earlier discarded, and she moved to the bed with them. She had to keep her hands busy, and so she methodically folded the cloak and set it aside.

Her hands reached behind her neck, and she unfastened the amulet William had just recently given her. He watched her as she moved; he surmised her intentions. "You are leaving."

She willed her voice not to crack. "If I cannot even trust you to be forthright with me, then there is no point in me staying."

She could hear the irritation in his voice when he replied. "Again," he said. "You're doing this again."

It took her a moment to remember that she had, in fact, sought to leave in the past. They were not together then. She could not remember why she wanted to leave, but she remembered why she had decided to stay. He had asked her - no, she corrected herself - he had told her not to leave. She had stayed because of him. She had stayed for him. The argument continued, and neither of them were gaining any ground with the other. They were both stubborn.

She suddenly felt very tired and overwrought, and she abandoned her angry packing in order to sink down on the edge of the bed in a huff. She brooded, and the wardrobe straight across from her was the subject of her visual wrath until William moved to sit in front of it and look at her. She glared at the floor torch instead, but the entire mood of the room and the bickering lovers within it shifted. Rage was replaced by remorse; anger was replaced by quiet acceptance. His voice was weary when he spoke. "Tell me what to do, Emiliana. I don't know how."

She rested her elbows upon her knees and cupped her chin in the palm of a hand. Her fingers splayed against her cheek, and she absently rubbed at an eye that was still reddened and puffy from her earlier bout of sobs. She felt drained; her body felt heavy. "...this is all new to me, too," she admitted in a quieter, more docile tone.

She would have laughed if she could have found the energy. The two of them were quite a pair! Neither of them knew what in Faerūn they were doing as far as love was concerned. She romanticized that they had both been on different sides of the same deep, endless chasm and decided, for whatever reason, that they would both jump into it at the same time. They were together as they fell into the unknown void, and there would be times when the unknown would give both of them pause.

Exchanges of love were uttered. He cracked a joke. She laughed. The wave of agony receded as if it had never flooded the small, utilitarian room they shared, and all that remained were two young, foolish people who regarded each other with affection. They talked, and while nothing regarding the situation itself had changed right now, Emiliana felt confident that they would change it together - in time.

He rose to his feet, and her eyes followed his every movement. "Come here," he had told her. She would never admit to it, but she secretly loved the little tingle of excitement that darted through her body when he spoke to her in such a way. She pushed herself to her feet and took a step closer to him, but there was still a bit of distance between them. She found it symbolic. He reached for her, pulled her into a hug, and everything was okay again.

The argument had not been pretty, but their conversation now was light-hearted and tender. She caressed his cheek, and he held her close. They had gotten separated during their plummet into the void together, but they found their way back to each other in the end. Emiliana knew that as long as they wanted to find their way back to each other, then they would never have to fear the moments that kept them apart. She mentally promised that she would never again threaten to leave.

"I need to get some rest. It's been a long day," he said, interrupting her thoughts.

There was no way that she would let him sleep right now. "But..."

He tilted his head at her and echoed her protest. "But...?"

She never answered - not with words, at least. She needed to kiss him, and so she kissed him with all the wild, erratic passion that ruled her life. And as the pair moved towards the small bed that they shared, Emiliana finally answered the question she had posed to herself earlier in the argument. This is love.
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Old 12-01-2010
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There were few things in life that truly upset her. She liked to think that she could maintain her carefree, friendly disposition in the face of any situation, but the truth of the matter was that she possessed a terrible, protective temper when it came to her brother.

Darius Brandon Blackwell was her older brother by seven years, and while they had been close enough as children, she was still playing with toys when he was preparing to leave home for the first time. There was a bond between them, though, and woe unto the person who wrongly sought to test it.

The entire situation had been innocent enough in her mind. Emiliana loved a celebration regardless of the cause, and the flirtatious, amorous ruse that had developed between her brother and cheerful, chattering Johanna was certainly a valid excuse to buy drinks and celebrate. She had over-exaggerated - of that she was aware - but she needed a reason to celebrate. She felt she was losing herself in the wild torrent of change, and exposure to Johanna's perpetual perkiness only served to remind Emiliana that she was once that way, too.

She had noticed William when he entered the Second Wind Inn, but he took one look at the raucous chaos Emiliana had started and quickly about-faced his way out the door. He had not even looked at her, and she swallowed down a lump of misery before forcing a smile back to her face and ordering another round of drinks.

Three strong drinks in rapid succession had her tipsy in no time, and she gleefully sang a sappy love song to serenade the 'happy couple'. She stumbled over the words in places, and she substituted lines that likely made no sense. Still, her audience cheered for her, and Emiliana felt herself revived by the energy of the place. She had not felt so boisterous in days. Happily grinning, she flopped down upon a barstool and was about to order another drink when she first caught the prickly, sour words in the distance behind her. Soon, a blatant, blunt statement caused her to sober. "Paladins must never lie."

She turned on her stool and peered towards the group of people near the door. She heard Johanna deny that Darius had lied - and Emiliana watched in silent fascination as the young woman behaved just like she used to behave. The accuser, a man named Quin who was a part of the Fourth Legion as as Clinicus, continued in his emotionless, judgmental tone. "He allowed a falsehood he knew to be in place to continue." She and Johanna snorted in unison, and Emiliana found herself on her feet before she could even think about what to do next. Defending her brother was instinctual, and the petite blonde charged into verbal battle against a bigger, better-armored, higher-ranking opponent. She never did anything half-hearted, and this was no exception.

She soon dominated the argument, and the tiny woman seethed as she verbally bit into her fellow Legionnaire. She vaguely noticed that Johanna looked simultaneously impressed and afraid at the vehemence with which Emiliana spoke to Quin. Darius' protests for her to stop went unheeded. Her hands balled into fists at her sides, and her entire body was tense and unmoving. Her ears felt as if they were on fire. Blue eyes flashed with hatred as Quin implied that she did not know how paladins must act, and Darius soon positioned himself between the pair. More words were exchanged, and finally her opponent used what he thought to be his ace-up-the-sleeve. "I will remind you... you are speaking to an officer above your rank. Dislike me as you will, but do remember the proper etiquette, Tirones."

He was out the door before Emiliana could form a reply, and had she not been so focused on keeping her fists clenched so that she would not hit the man, she would have laughed. The uppity Clinicus had been content to pass his unwarranted judgment on a non-Legion matter and then resorted to pulling rank when someone took issue with his words. She knew he would go straight to William, and for the life of her, she did not care. She was right, by the Gods, and she would cling to that notion with every fiber of her being.

It took her a long time to calm down. Johanna looked worried. Darius looked worried. Emiliana felt dizzy; the alcohol and the anger had mixed together to form a potent cocktail, and now she was left with the less-than-pleasant aftertaste. She stood there, unmoving, while a din of voices swirled around her. The sounds were distant; the words were foreign. Everything was in slow-motion. She was vaguely aware of Darius imparting his farewell and then departing.

She finally unclenched her fists, and then she exhaled a breath. "I need to get some air," she announced before she strode towards the door and hauled it open with ill-concealed fury. Johanna and others followed. Emiliana did not want them to follow. She did not want company. She needed to be alone.

She said nothing to the people that crowded near her. She simply intoned a series of harsh sounding musical notes and vanished from sight. She heard Johanna protest, but Emiliana's soft footfalls were already carrying her towards the crossroads and then onwards to Sestra. There, she stood at her thinking bridge, and she replayed the situation in her thoughts again and again. She was right, she maintained, and had she the opportunity to change her actions, she decided that she would not change one damned thing.

Time passed, and she made her way back to the Second Wind Inn lest a search party be sent to find her. Some of the celebrators from earlier were still there, and Johanna - charming, lovely Johanna - was absorbing the attention much as Emiliana herself used to do. Instead of joining them, she moved towards a table, and she was about to take a seat when William entered the room. He moved straight towards her, and she mentally prepared herself for the lecture she was about to receive.

Meaningless pleasantries were exchanged, and Emiliana told him the obvious - that Darius was not getting married. William had the decency to act surprised, but he was a terrible actor. He looked as if he was about to speak again when Johanna approached, apologetic and cheerful all at once, and expressed her admiration for the way Emiliana had behaved earlier. She knows, Emiliana suddenly realized, that I am about to get an earful. Her lips twitched in a mirthless smile at the kind, but ultimately futile gesture, and Johanna retreated. Emiliana was once again alone with William.

"Why was she apologizing?" he asked in hushed tones. She inwardly marveled at the way he thought she had no idea that he knew what had happened.

She brushed a few strands of hair from her face and then murmured her response. "I imagine she was apologizing for her part in the ruse. Everything was fine until the Clinicus decided to accuse Darius of lying."

"Speaking of..."

Ahhhh, she thought. Now it starts. She wanted to laugh, but instead she suppressed the urge and regarded William as if she had no idea that he was so very clever.

"He was a little annoyed at your military bearing," he finished.

"I assumed he would go straight to you," she replied.

"He did."

She explained her side of the matter despite the knowledge that he would not care. She felt like a child again, and he sounded like her father when Matthias Blackwell would uselessly remind his free-spirited daughter that actions have consequences. "You sound like my father," she bluntly told her lover.

He never replied to her. His hand touched his forehead, and he wore the same expression that Emiliana possessed when she received a Sending from someone. "I need to be somewhere," he announced.

She was past the point of giving a damn. "Give December my regards," she said with more vitriol than she had intended. Who else would be contacting him?

William's entire demeanor turned cold at her words. "It is Iosolde," he replied. "But think what you will." Patrons moved aside as a very pissed-off Salararius Shepard stalked from the Second Wind Inn, and Emiliana was left alone with her tumultuous thoughts.

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It was some time later when they encountered each other again at the barracks near the Gate of the Sunderer. He was there to view the armory selections; she was there to submit a tattered banner that she had claimed from the wild band of goblins that inhabited the Viridale. They acknowledged each other, but once her business was finished, she turned to depart. He followed her, and his words near the strategy table made her pause mid-step. "I spoke with Iosolde."

She was not in the mood to talk to him, but her curiosity demanded that she stay. Her reply was curt. "And?"


"And I gave her an ultimatum," he answered as he adjusted a gauntlet. "I do not know what she will do." There was a long pause before he added the pertinent information. "She may come after you."


Her head tilted to the right, and she arced a slender eyebrow at her lover. "Elaborate."


He sighed and fiddled with one of his ever-present cigarettes before he decided to light it. "If she turns herself in for final rest..." he said after a plume of smoke escaped his lips. "...all charges on Lilene will be dropped."


Emiliana frowned. "I imagine she did not react well to your offer."


"No," he agreed. "Iosolde might come after you, to get to me."

They talked about a myriad of things in the barracks. She presented her own ideas - ideas that could help the situation - and he systemically rejected them. It was their system; it was their way. She looked distant; she felt listless. She finally decided that she had experienced as much of William Shepard as she could handle in one day. "Was there anything else?"


His reply was gruffly tender. "I am worried about your safety, at the moment."


Everyone she knew worried about her safety. If she did not know better, she would suspect that she was, in fact, made of porcelain with the way those closest to her treated her. She could not find the energy required for anger, though. "You are slowly killing me," she quietly replied. "You stifle me... stifle my creativity... I cannot
be like you."

"I don't want you to be me," he told her, and for a brief moment, she actually believed him.

They discussed the Legion and her place within it, and she made him realize (or so she liked to think) that she deserved her chance to shine. He was adamant that she not get involved in the situation moreso than she had already gotten involved, but he reluctantly agreed to let her if she wanted. His voice was resigned. "Do what you must. I will support any decision you make."


Her lips twitched into something vaguely resembling a smile. "Liar," she gently replied, and then she mentally chided herself for being so powerless against him. There was little that she could deny him, and the look on his face as he gave his consent was all she needed to change her mind. "I propose a compromise."


"I am listening."


In exchange for her staying uninvolved (or as uninvolved as possible) in the situation regarding Iosolde and Lilene, she asked William to become her mentor. "You have to teach me," she had said. "Train me. Guide me. Prepare me for my
rightful place at your side, because I promise you that I will not stop until I am there."

His answer was quick and succinct. "Alright."


She had not expected him to agree - at least not immediately - and so she regarded him with a faint air of suspicion before the conversation turned to her placement in the Legion. Long had they butted heads regarding it; she desired to be in the Fourth Legion with him, and he had wanted her anywhere but by his side. Earlier, she had told him that she would join the Second Legion so that someone might give her the freedom to advance in her career. Now, he called her statement into question. "Do you still plan on joining the Second, then?" He was testing her.


"I am not
officially a part of any division," she reminded him. "Where should I be placed?" She was testing him, now.

"Wherever you want," he replied.


"I defer to your judgment," she countered.


"And I, in turn, defer to your desire," William answered.


She could not help but crack a grin. Their battles were downright comical at times. "You are a stubborn man," she told him.


The rare ghost of a smile touched his lips as he responded. "You are a stubborn woman."


"We make a fine pair of soldiers."


"Yes," he agreed. "We do."


She then decided to bend, because she was always the first one to bend. This time, though, his 'victory' in her admission was short-lived, because she was tired of fighting the same battle again and again. Her tone was no-nonsense as, for once, she told him how things would be. "I will officially join the Fourth Legion, and I will be trained so that I can one day assume the role of your partner. And we will work together, and we will love together, and we will not have all these petty secrets between us. And that will be that."

She allowed a moment for her words to reach him before she tilted her head and looked at him with an expectant expression. "Do we have an agreement?"


He sighed at her with a mixture of mirth and resigned acceptance of his fate. "Yes."


Her head bobbed in a matter-of-fact nod. "Good."


She relaxed into her usual easy-going self, and he changed into his civilian clothes. "Let's get a drink," he said as he motioned towards the door of the barracks.


"I think a drink sounds lovely."
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The question had been simple enough. "Your deepest, darkest secret, huh?"

Johanna Patson and Emiliana Blackwell casually lounged upon the dock in Sestra. They had originally planned to conduct their picnic at the park in the military ward, but too many passersby had prompted Johanna to insist upon a more private location.

"Hmm...." Emiliana stalled as she uncovered a bowl of soup and brought it to her lips so she could take a tentative sip of the creamy broth. Should she be honest with the Luckbringer? Or should she create a fanciful, believable lie?

Looking at Johanna was like looking into a dark-haired version of herself. The two of them were similar in so many ways that they both felt a certain kinship between them, but yet they had their stark differences. Johanna was, appropriately, the happy-go-lucky believer in abandoning oneself to the fickle will of the Lady of Luck. Emiliana, though a happy-go-lucky sort herself, had slowly learned that a small degree of caution and restraint was needed at times.

She sipped her soup again; Johanna was uncovering her own bowl of soup and impatiently awaiting for an answer. "I am not always as happy as I appear," Emiliana said after a few more moments of quiet thought. "There are times when the smile is fake and the laughs are forced. People want me to be this bubbly, carefree spirit... and so that is what I give them."

Johanna's visage turned serious, but she sounded completely unimpressed. "That's not a secret, Emmi," she replied before slurping her soup.

"It is when you have never told it to anyone - not even your own family," the young blonde quietly replied.

"I think they know... don't you?"

Emiliana sounded frustrated.
She had expected Johanna to be shocked by her revelation, and her friend's lackluster reaction was a surprise. "What else would you have me say?" she asked before she took another sip of her soup. "I once wanted to marry my father, because I thought he was the greatest man in all of Faerūn. Is that better?"

The Luckbringer curiously peered towards Emiliana while subtly covering the bowl of soup and slipping it into her pack. "That sounded annoyed!" She paused a moment before she made an addendum. "Emmi, I didn't mean to mitigate what you said... it was meant... I don't know. Reassuring?"

Emiliana took another sip of her soup and then nodded a few times. A smile gradually curved her lips again, and she murmured to Johanna. "It was a big secret for me to reveal - and that is what counts, right?"

"That's true," Johanna replied as she slowly nodded agreement. "Maybe it's just to me that was so obvious. Maybe we have some sort of connection... could be!"

"What do you mean?" Emiliana asked as she quirked an eyebrow. "Are you the same way?" The thought that her new best friend was more like her than she previously imagined intrigued Emiliana.

Johanna grinned at the bard. "...is that your question for the wager?"

She was referring, of course, to the entire reason the two young women were having a picnic in the first place: they had wagered the revelation of a secret to the winner of their 'food cooked by men' contest. Johanna had taken the lead before she admitted that she had no more entrées to present, and Emiliana had subtly closed her travel satchel and declared that she had nothing else as well. The truth was that she had two more main courses carefully wrapped in her satchel, but she had won the last wager and felt that it was her friend's turn to win.

"Actually, no..."

Johanna grinned again. "In that case - of course I am not. I am never down! Can't be, with the Lady on your side, huh?"

Emiliana knew in that moment that her friend was just as much of a liar as was she herself, and she also knew that the other woman knew that she knew they were both liars. She found that silent, mutual understanding strangely satisfying, and she inwardly smiled before speaking again. "My question is perhaps obvious, but I have to ask it all the same. Regarding my brother..."

Johanna's eyes widened, and her cheeks turned red as the conversation turned towards her feelings for Darius Blackwell. The two women laughed and bonded at length, and Emiliana felt that their picnic would set the tone for the rest of their friendship. She hoped, she found herself thinking, that the two of them would be close friends until the end of their days.
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Her reaction was instinctual.

Before she could even blink, she had raised her shield in front of herself and used the pommel of her rapier to strike the charging man. The sudden force of the swing surprised her, and the man collapsed down upon the wet earth with a dull, sickening thud. Emiliana stood there, watching with a mixture of mute horror and fascination, as the remainder of the man's lifeblood spilled upon the ground.

In her mind, her companions moved in slow motion. Johanna was scrambling for bandages. Lino was reaching into his travel satchel. Mira was moving closer to the fallen man. Someone else had arrived. She heard the shrill, mocking laughter of the woman who had been tormenting the small group near the Legion's camp.

They had been harried by weaker vampires, and Emiliana had given the order to return to the camp lest they become a delectable meal. Near the edges of the Viridale, the group had been greeted by the sight of a female vampire gorging herself upon the warm, coppery blood of a civilian man. She used her unnatural powers to whisper sweet, seductive nothings to her victim, and then she sent him charging towards Emiliana with mindless fury.

Her reaction had been instinctual, and now the man was bleeding at her feet as time suddenly jolted forward again. She shook her head to focus, and she reached for some of the silken bandages she carried, but the combination of the vampire's feeding and the powerful blow ended the man's life by the time Emiliana knelt down beside him.

She had just killed a man, but her screams of horror would have to wait. Johanna was in shock; the others who had been traveling with Emiliana were looking to her for direction and guidance. She felt herself detach from the situation in that moment, and soon her Legion training as well as a lifetime of living with military family surfaced. She gave orders; she gave direction and guidance. She had to get her people back to the camp. They were not yet safe, but she would get them to safety. She had to get them to safety.

She reported what had happened to the officer in charge with succinct, military precision. He told her that she had done well; she said "yes sir" in response. The lifeless body of the man she had slain was removed and handled by the Legion, and Emiliana and her companions were rewarded with silver weapons from the armory for their efforts against the vampiric threat. She let her allies choose their weapons first, and she ensured that everyone else was settled before she took anything for herself.

She was the last one to leave the camp after everyone else had rested for a time, said their farewells, and departed. She traveled to the city, to the Legion barracks, to write and submit her report of what had happened. She waited, patiently, for the horror she had experienced to manifest itself into tears of rage or screams of frustration, and she found herself wondering why she could not manage anything but a blank, emotionless stare. What had happened to her? Why could she no longer feel anything?

She had vowed to William right after she joined the Legion that the uniform would never change her. She wondered, as she curled next to him in their room to seek her rest at last, if his silence at her statement had been for a reason other than him having nothing to say.
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She flopped down upon the bed and finally cried, and the torrent of tears soon soaked the linen cloth of the utilitarian pillow. She could not help herself; everything had been building and swirling within her until she could no longer keep the emotions hidden behind a carefully crafted lock of her own design.

The sobs hurt her; she hiccuped until she gagged upon her own misery. She cried for the futility of her efforts in everything she attempted, and she cried for the choices she never wanted to make. Why had she left Waterdeep, again?

She cried because she was lonely. William had Legion duties that increasingly kept him busy, and she knew that they would no longer spend as much time together as they had spent in recent days - not that they had ever spent much time together. Darius and Johanna had each other, and Emiliana never wanted to feel as if she were interrupting their romance. They would take pity on her, of course, and pity was the last thing that she wanted from anyone. Lysandra and Grant were busy with their own fledgling romance, and Erik now looked at Emiliana as if she were little more than a monster. Kyle was busy with Blackwood Company duties. Nati and Tigen had each other. Twinkles had not been seen in days, and Gornald acted peculiar whenever he was near her. All of her friends, she decided as she weeped, had interesting, fulfilling lives - and she was left with her lackluster existence that accomplished nothing useful in the end.

She could not understand how her charmed life had taken a turn for the worse in such a short time. Was she losing her mind? Or had Johanna been right about her trying to play too many roles? Emiliana felt stretched far too thin, and she realized that she was trying to please everyone but herself. The things she wanted from her life suddenly did not match the reality of her life, and she did not know how to make things match. She yearned for 'the better times' that she experienced when she first arrived in Sundren Valley, but then she dismally understood that she had simply been living within the rosy bubble of something new and exciting. The bubble was gone now, and she was faced with the stark realness of a new life, in a new place, with people mostly unfamiliar to her. As tears streaked down her face, she finally became conscious of the abject fear that had gripped her in its claws.

I am afraid, she feebly thought to herself as she rolled upon her back and cupped her face with her hands. I am afraid of this place. I am afraid of failing. I am afraid that I will meet the expectations of everyone who expects me to fail. How could she pull herself together? How could she stay the same curious, impulsive, creative creature and still assert herself as someone who was worthy of respect by her peers?

Her thoughts jolted to the scene she had just left. She and Johanna had enjoyed themselves at the city baths, and their conversation had been sisterly, friendly, and thought-provoking. The Luckbringer was wise in ways that others would never believe, and Emiliana found herself envious of her friend's confidence and genuine brilliance. Johanna had listened while Emiliana honestly (for the most part) spoke, and the two young women had enjoyed themselves like sisters.

They had been in the midst of a game of 'pop the other on the rear with a towel' when Johanna opened the door to the changing room to flee into the main bath area. Lilene Jora stood there, and she wrapped her arms around Johanna in a friendly, sisterly hug. Emiliana stopped in the doorway, and all the mirth she had felt faded in an instant. She had to leave, because she had promised William that she would never seek to speak or interact with either Lilene or Iosolde again. Emiliana's innate curiosity about the vampire, her lover, and their story was squashed, and in its place was an obedient sense of duty and obligation to the man she loved.

Lilene spoke as if Emiliana was not even in the room. She no longer existed to the exceptionally pale-skinned woman. Instead, Emiliana was forced to watch and listen as Lilene asked Johanna the same question that had once been asked of her: "I... wanted to speak to you, my friend...if I may call you that now?" Emiliana understood that she had been replaced, and Johanna was the perky, better replacement.

Should I even care? Emiliana wondered as more sobs wracked her body. She tried to convince herself that the plight of a vampire and her criminal lover was not her concern, but she simply could not force herself to disregard the potential for a beautifully tragic story. Neither could she deny herself the notion that the unknown male vampire in the Necropolis had looked at her with something other than predatory intentions - or was she simply romanticizing a story in her own mind? She was no longer certain.

Her thoughts drifted to the man she had slain near the Legion's camp bordering the Viridale. She wondered if he had a family; she wondered what was his name. Did he blame her for his fate? Did his family blame her? A vampire was responsible for setting into motion the course of events that had resulted in Emiliana ending an innocent man's life. Was her entire life defined by vampires?

She had left Johanna with Lilene after the latter had plucked the former out of Emiliana's way and allowed her to leave the changing room in which she had been trapped. She barely took the time to dry herself from the bath before yanking her dress over her head and gathering the rest of her things with hurried haste. She did not even slip her feet into her boots; they were clutched in her hands as she left the bath house. The fear of William's wrath kept her from dallying; she half-expected her lover to be waiting around the corner with a harsh judgment for the few moments she had already wasted. Fear kept her bare feet moving throughout the city until she reached the safety of her room, and once the fear had left her, the adrenaline gave way to the empty, terrifying realization that she was there alone.

She would have stopped herself from crying, but she knew that she needed the release. And so she cried until her eyes were bloodshot and puffy, and she screamed into her pillow until her voice was hoarse and rasping. The only other time she had allowed herself to cry and scream with such abandon was when she had been wrapped in razor wire and stretched between two stone pillars in that rank, foul crypt where the Banite had kept her. She had shoved the memories of those days into the furthest recesses of her mind, but the time she spent as a helpless captive had affected her far more than she would ever admit. She did not speak about the incident for a reason, but she weeped about it now all the same.

She cried until she finally had no more tears left to cry, and then she panted for breath as she stared at the ceiling of the room. She felt weak and drained; she felt oddly cleansed and dirtied at the same time by the entire experience. She felt better, though.

In the end, she felt a lot better.
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She was suffocating.

She felt as if the weight of the entire Valley was pressed upon her petite shoulders, and although she weakly tried to fight against it, the sea of red was consuming her.

Legion.

She had never wanted to be in the military. She had never wanted to be like Matthias Blackwell, who was one of the most decorated soldiers in Waterdeep. She never wanted to salute. She never wanted to file reports. She never wanted to lead.

The uniform demanded that she do all of these things, though. People looked to her - and then they looked through her. She could feel their eyes upon her. They were judging her unworthy to wear the red, and so she, in her stubborn rebellion, had plunged headfirst into the rank-and-file she detested. Her smile faded. Her laughter died. Her worries increased. Her compassion disappeared. What had she become?

Legion.

She could not breath. She was grasping and clawing for something, but she did not even know for what she was searching. She wanted guidance. She wanted training. She wanted a mentor - someone who could help her cope with all the new experiences and changes she encountered. She had asked William, and he told her that he was just a soldier. His duties kept him busy; he did not have the time (or the desire, she suspected) to assist her. He received promotions and rewards every other day; her submitted reports went unnoticed, and her questions went unanswered. She doubted that the upper echelons even knew her name aside from 'that blonde who belongs to Shepard'.

She pressed her face into her hands. She was crumbling, and no one was there to pick up the broken pieces. The fire in her young eyes was fading, and the conviction and optimism that had marked her bubbly appearance in the Valley was slowly but surely being replaced by the same dull, emotionless 'stick up the rear' attitude that marked the worn faces of everyone else in the Legion.

Her stomach gurgled in an odd manner, and she found herself moving towards the wastebasket in her study. Her hands clutched the edge of the basket once she fell to her knees, and wide blue eyes stared at the half-composed letter of resignation that her brother had found and tossed earlier in the day. It would be so easy to quit, she thought to herself before she convulsed with the first gag. It would be so easy to quit.

She wiped the back of her hand against her mouth when she was finished, and then she turned so that she could lean against the side of her desk. Her conversation with William, long before they became lovers, suddenly swirled in her thoughts. They had been sitting at the bar at the Second Wind Inn, and his question was abrupt and random. "Why do you want to join? Besides all that parental influence."

She had inhaled through her nose and taken another sip of the tea she had been drinking as she contemplated the query. Finally, she answered him. "Familial influence aside, and not factoring my desire to be close to Lizzy into the decision, I want to be a part of something that is greater than myself. I realize that it sounds terribly cliché to say that I want to serve 'the greater good', but..." She had trailed off for a moment. "...I want to serve the greater good. When my time in this life has ended, I want to go to my final destination knowing that I helped change the world for the better."

Her eyes closed, and she rested a hand against her still-gurgling stomach. She had never expected that serving 'the greater good' would crush her spirit in so short a time. She had heard that the Legion branded its people; the brand now upon her was something far worse than permanent ink, but she felt she had to prove that she could survive. Her superiors would never know her name if she quit now.

She was every bit of her father's daughter as she pushed herself back to her feet. She missed laughing. She missed happiness. She knew that she had to find a balance, but she was not sure where to start. Did her own happiness even matter when compared to 'the greater good'? Was 'the greater good' even relevant? After a time, she feared, there was only one thing that was important in the life of a soldier.

Legion.
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Vampire Bride: Part I

The vampire's voice sounded like a deadly blade wrapped in the finest silk as he eyed Emiliana while speaking to the paladin at her side. "I came back to feed. Perhaps your charming miss will do."

Darius Blackwell charged the ebon-haired creature at those words, and soon the two were engaged in an ages-old battle between good and evil. Emiliana barely had time to think; unarmored, she encased herself in a haven of protective song and did her best to infuse her brother with healing while he battled. She thought that her music would be enough to save both of them, but she soon discovered that the vampire was merely toying with Darius. A few swings of metal later, and the paladin was profusely bleeding and unconscious upon the ground. The vampire's feral eyes turned towards her again, and that same deadly, silken voice cut through the night silence. "You... you are mine now."

She turned to run, but pain shot through her body as she was struck. She staggered; a hand clutched the ground as she futilely tried to keep herself upright. More pain rattled her, and soon she was too weak to move. She saw the creature stalking towards its prey - her - and she knew with painstakingly crystal clarity what would happen next.

The sensation felt like the worst possible headache she had ever experienced multiplied tenfold. He was not gentle with her; Iosolde at least had the 'courtesy' to twist Emiliana's thoughts and make her believe that the feeding was something to be enjoyed. Emiliana was locked into a helpless state of domination, and the vampire delighted in his torment of her. In the back of her mind, she knew that if the sun did not hover upon the edges of the horizon, waiting for its coming moment to rise, the creature would endlessly toy with her like a cat toys with its mouse.

She stood there, unable to move and unable to protest, as an unnaturally strong, cold hand snaked around her arm. He firmly hauled her towards him, possessive in the way he held her, and then kept her close as he dipped her backwards and sank his fangs into the soft flesh of her neck. She was forced to cling to him as he drank, and drank, and drank her lifeblood - he gorged himself upon the sweet, coppery claret until she was in danger of losing consciousness.

"A shame it had to be so... violent..." he purred near her ear once he had slaked his thirst. She could do nothing but regard him with a delirious, dreamy expression as he eased his arms from around her. Her knees buckled, but the vampire's will - not her own - kept her from tumbling to the ground. She took shaky steps to follow him as he moved towards Darius; every part of her screamed for release, but she was a prisoner of the creature's whim. "It felt good getting some of this frustration out.." the vampire sneered as he looked down at the paladin with intense hatred.

Emiliana looked down at her brother's crumpled form for a brief moment before the vampire stepped back close to her. A necklace, glinting silver in the last moments of moonlight, was in his hands. "A gift for you, miss - to remember me by. Cherish it always..."

"Sun comin'," an unknown male voice warned.

The vampire did not move with his signature alacrity, though. Instead, he lifted the blond tresses of the young woman he still had bent to his will, and he affectionately fastened the necklace around the neck that he had just bitten. His movements were tender as he arranged the necklace just-so upon Emiliana, but the intimate moment was interrupted by the rasping voice of the paladin struggling to move. "Be gone... fiend."

"Yes, yes.. I know,"the vampire replied, but still he did not move or take his eyes off Emiliana.

She felt her lips curve into a silly, feeble smile that she did not truly feel. "Thank you," she cooed, and her unwilling response seemed to placate the creature. He smiled towards her in return, and then he turned to depart. To her utter despair, she was still bound to him, and so she followed him like an obedient puppy follows its master. She tripped over her brother, but she caught herself and continued to stumble after the vampire.

"Her mind is weak," grunted the unknown man. "As most women's are," he added.

"Indeed," agreed the vampire before he released Emiliana from her enthralled state and continued onwards. Weak from blood loss and pain, she collapsed upon the ground just as the first rays of sunlight pushed back the edges of night.

She could hear voices swirl around her, and she was aware that something was amiss. Her eyes fluttered open, and she gazed at a dark-armored man with blurry non-comprehension until she heard one of the voices say "Sir Tornbrook". He had healed the bite marks, she dimly realized before she struggled at first to push herself to her elbows, and then into a sitting position.

"How many?" she heard the austere paladin ask.

"At least two. I didn't know the male, and he had a soldier with him. I fought him in the barn after watching him sneak in... then Iosolde was at the crossroads... ran her off... then the first came back," her brother's voice replied, and she felt a surge of relief flow through her. He was alive; he was safe.

"...urgh..." she groaned as she tried to move again. The bite had left her too frail to do much at all. Dain Tornbrook looked down at her, and then he knelt beside her so that he could rest a hand upon her shoulder and pray. She felt another surge of relief flow through her as the paladin's holy words eased her suffering, and she finally exhaled a pain-free breath. "Th-thank you..." she stammered.

Although physically healed, her mind was still a tumult of images and voices. A crowd had gathered near her; she was vaguely aware of pieces of the conversation near her. Darius was close to her, and she used his help to rise to her feet even though he was still battered and bloodied from his own ordeal. One hand stayed upon her neck, and she leaned against her brother for support as she maintained a soft, soothing melody near him to help ease his pains.

She participated in the conversation as best she could, and eventually the hand upon her neck found the necklace that had been so tenderly fastened. "...what is this..." she asked to no one in particular as she glanced at the silver links.

"It appears to be a necklace, m'lady," replied Xavier Goodman.

Emiliana was confused. She could not remember the entirety of the events that had happened while she was under the vampire's spell. "I do not remembering owning a silver necklace," she murmured before she shook her head.

Darius shrugged at her. "Sorry Emiliana... not sure what to make of that."

An energetic female halfling supplied the answer. "Ohh hey! Ya sucker man tossed that on ya after gulpin'."

Everyone spoke at once after the halfling's statement.

"...what?" Emiliana asked.

"Is there a symbol upon it?" queried Dain.

"Perhaps you should let one of us look at that - it might be magicked by those that set upon you," said Xavier.

"You might want to get rid of it," called a woman's voice in the crowd.
"May I look at it? " she then added.

"Take it off," declared Darius.

Emiliana fumbled with the clasp in her haste to rid herself of the unwanted piece of jewelry, and she flung the glittering links into the dirt at her feet. Someone grabbed it, but she did not notice who claimed the vampire's gift since her attention was now back upon the chattering halfling.

"Duh... ain't ya listenin' lady? I said sucker man strapped that 'round ya like ya a lady in waitin' or somethin'. Probably gonna make ya his bride and stuff and he is giftin' ya."

The halfling said something else, but by this point, Emiliana was staring at her with absolute horror.

"No vampire is going to make any sort of bride of Emiliana - not now or ever," Darius assured.

"Agreed, brother," echoed Xavier.

"I would rather be dead than be associated with those... those creatures," Emiliana finally replied.

The halfling was undeterred. "Hey... I don't know! I ain't the sucker head library. I just sayin' ya know? Could be what he is plannin'. Like vampire courtin'."

Emiliana swallowed hard as a slow, sickening dread crept into her body. Why, she glumly wondered, did vampires seem to find her so damned appealing?
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