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  #1  
Old 09-22-2012
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Red face Dribs and Drabs

The air is the first thing to seep into her mind. Each breath takes in a heavy and stale miasma reeking with pain, despair, and horror; this, however, only serves as a backdrop to the cries assaulting her ears, each wail of misery building atop each other and piercing her mind like needles. She claps her hands to her ears, but she can still hear their screams in her head, multiplying, pressing her down underneath their suffering, because they are also her own.

She is here, yet also there, both standing before and within the great wall stretching out before her. It was a wall with no end to its height or distance, an ugly, grey thing stretching across the pale horizon like a massive, bloated worm...if worms had moving, screaming faces bubbling from their flesh, features twisted in an eternal rictus of pain, contorted hands dripping greenish mold and fluids reaching out in supplication, only to be clawed back and replaced by other faces, other hands. Even as she watches, she can feel the weight and pain of her own self being crushed amidst all these other beings, all scrambling to have a distinct voice and identity to evade their fate, only to have their cries blend into other faces and voices, nameless and devoid of self, to writhe in their crucifix of torment, reserved for those who swear allegiance to no god.

Slowly, but surely, she feels herself drawn to this wall, to the other her dissolving there, a feeling not unlike being at the edge of a cliff while battered by a screaming gale. She resists, pushing herself as far back as she could, but she knows, deep in the part that remains lucid, that mere resistance will not suffice. She could feel herself merging, the suffering and horror of her devoured self becoming more real, more oppressive, like a specter given form.

Then she stops. Out of the corner of her eye is a glow of pale green, filling her with new fear. She turns to face the source, a green flame pulsating softly like a heartbeat, its light somehow warding the force trying to pull her into the wall. It pulses and whispers in a voice filled with promise, and though she could not hear the words being spoken, she could feel the fear building in her heart until there was nothing left: no wall, no misery weighing her down; just her, the green flame, and the fear. Yet, instead of overwhelming her, the fear seems to come and go, goading her to run and take it in her hands and mold it as a weapon.

As if on cue, green flame bursts from her hands, taking the shape of a large sword. In her grasp, it is a cold, reassuring thing, caressing her with knowledge, direction, and power. Wielding this flame, nothing would stop her. She would impose the order she always wanted, and her might will sunder the heavens, and all would shudder as she walks. And all she needed to do was one little thing, one tiny thing, a thing that would be so easy for her to do.

She hesitates.

The flame pulses before her.

She shakes her head.

Green flame caresses her calloused hands, a last promise before it fades away...as well as the void protecting her.

The agony, horror, and torment crashes down upon her, and she is now fully into the wall, ground down to nameless obscurity, the weight of countless damned souls gradually dissolving her mind, her will, her very self until there is no more need for reason, just the screaming and suffering--


--And she is still screaming as she wakes up.
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  #2  
Old 09-25-2012
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"Not now, Meebs."

The cat rubbing Julius' leg gave a plaintive meow, and with a sigh the young man knelt to give her a thorough rubbing at the base of her ears. With a purr, she slid bonelessly over Julius' feet, tail swaying, legs outstretched, effectively rooting him in place.

"Now I'll never get to my slave driver in time," he grumbled, even as he continued to scratch the cat's ears. "Julia, your cat really needs to learn some manners."

"Not my fault you keep spoiling Meebles all the time," Julia retorted as she reached up to her tiptoes to grip the shelf above her and shake it back and forth, trying to jostle a box loose. She held out a hand as the box began to fall, but she was not quick enough. She yelped as the box bounced off her forehead and tumbled to the floor, spilling paper and sundries everywhere. Rubbing her injury, she knelt to collect the wayward paraphernalia. "You know she likes that kind of petting, but you do it anyway. I hope you have a good excuse for your teacher." She wrinkled her nose. "I hear he doesn't like students who are late."

"Meebles," Julius pleaded at the insensate cat, "please."

With a sigh, Julia crawled over and gently hauled Meebles up. The cat grumbled token protest, but quieted down as Julia gently scratched her ruff. "You'd better leave before Meebles gets second thoughts," she remarked.

"Ain't that right," he muttered as he buckled his bag closed before standing up, hauling it over one shoulder. Whistling a merry tune, he quickly scuttled out of the room, leaving Julia to pick up the spilled paraphernalia. She quickly found and corralled the various quills and ink bottles, and stacks upon stacks of blank scrolls, and put them all in her own bag. The rest she gathered and sorted out to return into the box; bits of writing, doodles, little odds and ends a younger self thought fascinating and magical: A shiny pebble, a piece of glass from a broken flask, a shred of a visitor's cloak, and other such bits and pieces.

She stopped at one rolled-up scroll and picked it up, smoothing it out, remembering. Meebles meowed at her feet, but she shushed the cat with an absentminded rubbing behind her ears.



She quietly put it back, closed the box, and resumed packing.
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Old 09-28-2012
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The equations just won't balance. No matter how many numbers, lines, or abstract doodles Julia wasted ink on, the solution, a solution her teacher and a number of well-meaning classmates insisted was right there, continued to elude her no matter how she wrote the sequences. Uttering the third groan of defeat for her day, she lay down her quill and gazed out the window of the empty classroom, where a few birds puttered on a nearby rooftop before something interesting caught their eye, and as one they spread their wings and launched themselves off to a point beyond her line of sight.

She could always leave, she knew, and she had already seen her equally inept and less responsible classmates do so to face it another time and build up a debt of unanswered questions, literally. Such an option was not nearly as attractive to her, though, owing to her dislike of unanswered questions and that there was really nowhere else to go to, in a sense. Her father had gone from returning home every night to returning home once or twice a month, mostly to say hello and mumble half-hearted apologies about being very busy with work, and leave before they could engage in any meaningful discussion. Julius was little better; the last letter he sent was months ago, and even that stepped quietly around various magical experiments of such a sensitive nature that he didn't want to risk a thousand demerits up his nose explaining, as he put it. His letters always brought a smile to her face and made her lonely stays at home a little more bearable, and she would sometimes wait at the front porch for hours at a time for an incoming letter, watching cats prowl by the streets, giving a wide berth to anyone with booted feet.

The sound of footsteps entering the room turned her head, and her mood grew blacker: Arthur Tordos, a short, but well muscled sprat of a man with a brain he seemed too fond of using, and the source of utter scorn for many a girl, Julia included. His face was not one to die for; a narrow thing with high cheekbones and studded with pimples that offset whatever attractiveness his grey eyes and dark hair could extract, and his head barely topped off at Julia's shoulders, but despite his shortcomings, he carried himself in a manner that made her feel the sheer gawkiness of her frame all too keenly. A growth spurt that had her throwing away clothes almost every other month left the once-short Julia towering over most of her classmates, but her body had not yet fleshed out all that height, leaving her feeling like a plucked bird, all elbows and knees. Arthur was looking towards the front of the classroom as he entered, but Julia clearing her throat turned him towards her, and he stopped.

"Oh, hello, Florence." That was another thing that made Julia despise him. Nobody ever called her by her middle name, as everyone who remotely knew her understood. Oh, her mother probably would--she gave her that name, after all--but due to her being essentially nonexistent, she didn't count in Julia's eyes.

Arthur, however, didn't seem particularly fazed by the glare she trained on him, and he smiled at her. "I thought I'd see you here. Ramirez gave you some hard questions again?"

She could only nod curtly at that, and Arthur stepped over to her desk to look over the mess of scribbles and doodles. "I see," he mused, making clicking sounds under his breath. "You're not applying this"--he pointed--"to the other side as well. In order to get the equation to work, you need to do it for both sides, and cancel this out. Like this." He takes her thoroughly abused quill and scribbled a set of numbers that seemed to come right out of left field, and she stared at it, trying to make sense of the logic that led him there in the first place. "If you like, you can come over to my house and we can work over some of these equations."

She hesitated. Arthur was the top of the math class and the teacher's assistant for a good reason, and he was nice and patient enough to deal with her as he had dealt with other similarly unskilled students, but the thought of her own classmates and friends seeing her walk with Arthur Tordos to his home made her want to crawl under her desk.

"I'd like to, but I can't." The lie came easily to her lips. "My father's coming home tonight and I'd like to spend some time with him." She slid her gaze sideways to regard that face, so patient, so passive, even in the wake of her words. Was he used to this kind of rejection, of peers inventing excuses to not be seen around him beyond the times they want to use him as a portable answer key? Guilt churned in her belly, but she stamped it down with a shrug. "Sorry."

Arthur nodded. "It's okay. You'll probably want some time alone to understand it." He smiled. "But if you ever need any help, you know where I live. I'm always happy to take in classmates in trouble." He chuckled a little before turning to take a seat on the desk well in the back. As she watched, he pulled out a sheaf of papers--likely the tests he had yet to mark--and placed them on the desk, joined by a quill and a red ink bottle. Humming to himself, he dipped the quill and began to work.

Julia turned back and continued staring at her paper, her own quill motionless in her hand.
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Old 10-01-2012
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[UNPLEASANT CONTENT WARNING]

---

Thump. Thump. Thump. Plated boots echo down the silent corridors as she reached the top of the staircase. She stops, looking around, before making her way down the lonely halls, towards her room. Exhaustion--or duty?--drags her limbs like chains, yet she moves, one grueling step at a time, closer and closer. The room, once such a short distance away, now seems like continents, but she forces herself onward, spurred by determination and need, though for what she does this for, she can no longer recall the thoughts, for they have turned hazy and indistinct, slipping through the fingers of her mind like dry sand.

Eventually, impossibly, she reaches the door to her own room. With what seems like a great effort for so small a gesture, she reaches a hand to turn the knob, open the door--

--and the sickly stench of scorched meat and burning fat hits her nose, and he is lying there, burning as she watches in horror, the sheer heat of the flames devouring him melting flesh and charring bone, and even as he dies before her, he speaks no word, makes no movement, save for those eyes gazing towards her petrified at the doorway, his eyelids seared off, naked eyeballs staring at her, numb with agony, pleading her to do something, anything, make the pain stop and she is hurting with him and trying to scream to give voice as he could not and--

And another stands from a nearby chair--a chair that was never there before--and he looks at her, tall and rakish, with dark eyes and hair with a touch of red, but it is the madness in his eyes that draw her. Madness no longer unfocused, directed only by pain and whim, but now taken, molded, and sharpened like a weapon. That purpose glitters in his eyes like a pulsating flame, and in that gaze lies only horror and destruction.

A pulsating green flame...

"Hello," Julius says. He smiles broadly, and begins walking towards her, stepping over the burning pile that had once been him.



Julia's eyes snap open as she sits bolt upright, chest heaving with panicked breaths as she huddles herself and shivers, cold sweat running down her face and soaking the collar of her tunic. Wresting off the cloak that was tangled around her, she staggers to her feet, feeling strangely weightless without the familiar burden of her armour and weaponry, and stumbles out of the room, closing the door behind her.

The icy chill of the water hits her like a slap to the face, a much-needed sensation to shake the feeling of heat searing her skin, the awful slickness clinging to her. She swore she could still smell burned flesh and fat as she doused her face with cold water, over and over again, as if by the action she could wash away the memory of the dream even faster, to forget him lying there eaten by flames, Julius' awful stare, and her growing terror...

During a pause between soaks, she stops to look at the mirror in front of her, and stares, uncomprehending. That hollow-eyed fatigue, shoulder-length hair plastered to a battered face glistening with water, could not possibly be her; or, at least, not the her she saw since the last time she looked in a mirror. She closes one eye, then the other, wincing a little as she sees the reflection return the gestures.

She sighs, and buries her face in another splash of cold water, adding another memory to forget.



It was some time before she returns to her room, a portion of it due to her hand hesitating at the doorknob before opening it, and looking in with a sigh of relief. No stench of burnt flesh and fat. No mockery of a corpse, eaten by flames. No ghosts of the past inflicting wounds. Just her, the suit of armour scattered off to the corner of the empty room, and the cloak on the floor.

She walks over to the set of armour and kneels down, digging into the various pouches. There should be a parchment and charcoal somewhere...
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Old 10-07-2012
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Dawn teases over the bluff overlooking the crater colloquially known as the 'Pit', where Sundren City once stood, a peaceful scene of rural farmland tainted by corpses fresh and old, either lying sprawled on the ground or propped up by stakes driven into the ground, their presence a grim testament to the brutality of the war that scarred the earth. Crows hop around, their cries profuse as they squabble over choice bits of carrion, or congregate around the burned husks of houses unlucky enough to be in the path of whatever conflict formerly raged there. Not all the corpses are present on the bluff, though: Some lie at the bottom of the sheer cliff spanning the Pit, marked as victims of banditry by their wounds and relative lack of possessions, while one or two remain untouched, possibly other victims either careless or suicidal enough to fall to their deaths.

In the impromptu gravesite and the stories their bodies tell, the newest arrival dropped down the bluff before the war zone seems fairly unusual in comparison. Recent drag marks following to the edge of the bluff it was dropped from indicates the unfortunate victim was pulled there, but nothing was taken from the body; neither the potions lining the pouches around one of its belts, nor the shield still strapped tightly to its left arm, nor the bloodied sword whose weathered hilt a plated hand clenches in a death-grip. The body's helmeted head is lolled limply, glazed eyes rolling upwards from an ashen face, the mouth hanging slightly open, and though there are no obvious injuries, there is a particularly large dent marring the body's breastplate, implying the cause of death.

It is under such circumstances that one would wonder what lay in the whimsy of the god, or gods, who permitted what happened next; the culmination of a series of innocuous events weaving together to catalyse a shift, a lengthening of the thread about to be cut short. If a crow peering over a cliff had not nudged a small pebble off the edge as it shifted its feet, if the little pebble had fallen down on even a slightly different trajectory, if it had not struck the rock perched precariously partway down the ledge just so, if the rock had endured the impact instead of breaking loose and tumbling down, if it had tumbled down at a different direction instead of towards the body, if it had struck the body at any other place but the breastplate, near the dent...nothing would have changed. The corpse would remain a corpse, yet another victim of the valley's savagery, even if the cause is a little more mysterious than most.

But the improbabilities happened, the questions continue, and within the shell of adamantine, steel, and flesh that lies limply within the Pit, a heart begins to beat again.

Last edited by Lugwy; 10-07-2012 at 12:53 PM.
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Old 10-07-2012
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As Ronan Olson turned his head to gaze at Julia to smile at her, a thrill would surge through her body, sending electricity tingling down her fingers. She felt this way every time he talked to her, every time they sat next to each other helping (or copying off) each others' homework, and every time he looked at her, smiling that charming smile. He had short tousled auburn hair, a hint of a five-o'-clock shadow framing those smiling lips, and the deepest blue eyes she had ever seen, eyes that one could get lost in, as she had in more than one case when they walked down the streets, holding hands and chatting amiably.

Before Ronan paid attention to her, she was fairly indifferent about her own appearance, doing little more than the necessary things in order to look presentable, as she doubted she could salvage anything from her skinny, tomboyish looks, and the most time she ever spent managing her appearance was cursing through the hairband in her teeth as she tried to bundle as much of her thick brown hair as she can into a horsetail. Unlike the other girls, who seemed to have no trouble tying their hair in whatever shape they wanted, no matter how thick or fine, Julia's hair was not nearly so cooperative, and whenever she tried to get the hairband in place, a lock or two would slip free, forcing her to start all over again.

But when Ronan defied all possibilities and started doting on her with a frequency and intensity that toed the line between "adorable" and "sickening", Julia caught herself comparing her qualities with the other girls'. Pear had a more attractive body and a sweeter personality that would make a friend out of a rabid black bear. Jasmine was the year's popular girl, perpetually entertaining peers with a smile and a few well-placed words to drive her rapt audience to adoring insanity. Seyne was the top of the class, and while Julia was no slacker, she knew that she wouldn't be accepted in any prestigious academies any time soon, and Seyne had enough under her belt to guarantee a solid career. Yet despite the superior competition and her relative mediocrity, Ronan had pursued her.

They were walking along the outskirts of Baldur's Gate with Julius, who, to Julia's delight, had actually requested a few days off to spend time with his younger sister and her boyfriend. Despite his visit and his too-active mouth, he would talk little about the many years he spent learning magic, instead leaving bits and pieces dangling for her to snap up and smiling at her evident frustration, albeit a smile that seemed slightly strained these days. Often, she would catch him lifting a hand to rub his forehead, as if he were nursing a headache, but questioning him on that line only got evasive banter in return.

"My sister?" He'd crack. "You're a mother hen! Laid any eggs yet? I'm hungry."

"I'm serious," she would reply sternly. "Are you ill?"

"Nah. It'll go away." And he'd wink before walking on.

Even as they walked, stars peeking through the foliage over their heads, Julia felt a growing sense of apprehension. Adult citizens were not forbidden to wander the outskirts, but the many dangers lurking beyond, from wildlife to bandits lucky enough to evade Flaming Fist patrols, discouraged most from doing so, and under the cloak of night the occasional rustle in the gloomy distance, the shadows looming over them, and their hoarse breathing in the night made for a fertile imagination and a horrible harvest. Julius' orb of light hovering over his head, its bobbing presence illuminating an area no larger than a few feet, was small comfort against her building fear.

"Why are we walking at night?" She whispered. In the relative silence, even her voice seemed too loud. "You know we're going to get in trouble if someone catches us."

"Shh, Julia." She felt a hand close over hers, and Ronan's blue eyes crinkling as he smiled. "We'll be fine. I paid the guards to ignore us. We'll be there and back before you know it."

"But--"

"This is the tree?" Julius suddenly spoke up, stopping in front of them so suddenly Julia nearly ran into him. She blinked, peering around her brother, and her eyes widened.

It was a huge tree, its trunk almost too wide to be seen within her field of vision. She craned her neck up, and up, and up, eyes bulging as even with her head tilted back, she could not see the top. Her mind began calculating at how old this tree could possibly be, only getting to the thousands before it reeled, uncomprehending, in defeat. "Wow," was all she could say, awe lowering her voice as much as caution.

"I know, right?" Ronan replied with a grin showing teeth. "Cutter's Bane, it's called. It's the tallest and oldest tree around here, predating the founding of Baldur's Gate...and likely beyond. Rumours say it's lived this long because it's also the home of a very powerful dryad who's kept her tree safe from woodcutters, and placed a curse on anyone trying to chop it down." He looked at the tree and shrugged. "I'm not sure if it's true or not, but everyone avoids the tree, as the stories say that the dryad often has a...delicate temper." He turned to face Julia and smiled. "At least I'm sure that it does not compare with you, though." Julia flushed and quickly occupied herself with scanning the undergrowth around them.

"A dryad?" Julius perked, eyes gleaming. "Oh, this I want to see." He approached the tree, the light bobbing over his head, and rapped the wood with his knuckles. "Miss dryad?" He called in a sing-song voice. "Good evening. I'm Julius Alexander Arvison, and I'd like to have a lovely discussion with you."

"What in the name of the gods are you doing?" Julia hissed at her brother. Even Ronan seemed startled. "If there is really a dryad in there--"

"I would certainly love to have a discussion with you," came the reply from the direction of the tree, and everyone jumped, even Julius. It took a while for Julia to realize the voice was male, and very, very familiar; and as she squinted, she could see a short, loping shadow...

"Arthur?" She called, disregarding Julius' indignant squawk as she shoved him towards the shadow.

Arthur Tordos blinked and squinted under the intense orb of light hovering over Julius' head. His eyes landed on Julia, and he waved, earning him a scowl in return. Years had not done anything significant to his appearance; it had improved somewhat, with less pimples and more fleshed-out cheekbones, but he would never make anyone's heart beat faster.

"Good evening, Florence," Arthur replied cheerfully as he walked around the tree to look at the three, ignoring Julia's glare. "And you must be Alexander," he added, smiling at Julius.

"That I am," Julius replied with a grin. "My sister apparently said you had a thing for middle names. Seems she was right." Julia rolled her eyes, and Arthur nodded.

"I like middle names. They tend to be the most creative. If you want to know mine, it's Asvel." Arthur Asvel Tordos. Nope, still awful. "Going walking at this time of night? It's dangerous."

"And it's not dangerous for you?" Ronan said disbelievingly.

Arthur shrugged. "I come here all the time, day or night. It's a very quiet place to study and this tree makes great company, dryad legends or no."

"Your parents let you?"

"They do."

Julia could only stare. No wonder Arthur seemed so strange; he came from a strange family. No parent ever let their children wander outside. She opened her mouth to interject when a scream pierced the air, shrill and sudden. Everyone clapped their hands to their ears even as they looked around, trying to find the source of the noise.

"There!" Ronan yelled, pointing, and as Julia squinted her eyes, she could barely make out a woman's shape, bright wild eyes staring at them before she turned and disappeared into the blackness. Julius quickly muttered something, arcane power surging up around him, and with a grunt and a startled yelp from Julia, he took off after the woman with a speed he never had before, quickly dropping the others into blackness.

Julia hesitated for a moment before taking a step forward, only to have a hand clamp around her arm, plus a burst of light as Arthur lit a torch. "Are you crazy?" Ronan hissed into her ear. "You don't know where your brother's going! He could be killed!"

"He's my brother!" Julia hollered, pulling her arm free. "You're telling me to leave him?"

"We need to go back to the city to warn the Flaming Fist! He could be anywhere!"

"You do that!" She stared into Ronan's eyes, her own gaze challenging. "I'm going to find my brother and that woman, and bring them back. I looked into that woman's eyes, Ronan. She was sick, and needed help. I'm going after them."

As they locked gazes, Julia realized that this was the first time she had challenged Ronan. During their courtship, she had always deferred to what she believed was his superior intelligence and decision-making process, and even now, she felt her will falter. Was what she was doing wrong? Insane? Should she follow him to the Flaming Fist barracks and wait for them to conduct a search?

Then she remembered Julius, and the woman and her wild, pleading eyes. She clenched her jaw and met Ronan gaze for gaze, until he finally looked away.

"Fine," he replied, his voice neutral. "Arthur and I will go back. Be at the gates by dawn."

Arthur looked at Julia, his expression unreadable, before holding out his torch. "Might want to take this, Florence," he added. "No telling what you'll trip over in the dark. Don't worry," he added at her hesitation, "I have more." He kept it held out until Julia finally relented and took the torch, and he turned to pull another from his pack.

As Arthur began lighting the second torch, Julia took a deep breath and plunged into the black undergrowth.
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Old 10-08-2012
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What is normal?

Is it when you have your head on straight when everyone's doing the headless chicken run plotting like maniacs? Is it when you're the hapless pawn tossed from player to player, trying to survive and figure out what's going on? Is it when you're the only one still human enough to weep and be afraid, blustering through tears while everyone else stands around with dead faces, smiling and nodding in the face of absolute terror, making you wonder if
you were the mad one all along?

Is the feeling I get when I am surrounded by the
abnormal a reminder on how normal I am? To compare myself with what should never be compared, cats and dogs? There are times I feel I am a cat pretending to be a dog, preening and barking and showing teeth and yet there is still enough of a difference for the others to know I am a cat. There is always a desire to belong, but when there's so much difference you know you can never be one of them, what is left to be done?

I have friends that I would smile and joke with, that will eventually know the extent of my crimes, and I may give my life for them--forgive my cowardice, all who I have
failed--but I am still alone. What is left to be done, when even those closest can be ripped away, friends and family turned against you or dead? What is left to be done when your heart is so sore and sick that you cannot wear it on your sleeve anymore? What is left to be done when you stay awake, sleeping as little as possible because the nightmares are waiting and there is no longer a father, brother, or close friend to comfort you through your tears without judgment?

I grow stronger, but it is never enough to protect. I fall and get up, only to fall again. I have grazed oblivion many times, but I do not feel the enlightenment or resolve all those stories talk about when I wake. Instead, I feel
tired. Too bound by duty and the human desire of living to die, yet too broken to live. Perhaps he was right: I am a coward, unable to pick a side. I can't even decide if I want to keep living or dying, so I taunt, I goad, I bluster, I cast my lot over and over again.

I wonder, in the end, who will hold the final lot, and turn the pawn into any piece on the board...or take it out entirely.
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Old 10-15-2012
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Dusk had fallen over Baldur's Gate, the sunset casting beautiful hues over the weathered rooftops. The air was crisp, hanging in suspense like lips pursed, as if admiring the beauty with others who had time to stop and watch. Birds cooed as they flew to their nests to roost for the night, and cats began crawling out of whatever hiding places they took shelter in, seeing the opportunity for uninterrupted hunting. It was a normal sunset, like any other, but for some people, the sight never loses its wonder.

Julia stared out the window towards the fiery sky, trying to feel the amazement and peace she had always felt when she looked, but nothing filled the dead hollowness in her gut. Ronan had been morose and taciturn ever since Julia returned with Julius and the woman, now unconscious, in tow, and the woman taken to the shrine of Ilmater to be tended to while the rest were taken to a holding cell to sit through a lecture that bordered on interrogation at times when questions were asked. Not even Arthur's occasional discussion hook roused Ronan from his sulking.

"It was because you had to be the hero that I'm sitting here like this," Ronan grumbled, shifting on the single available cot he had commandeered at the first opportunity.

"Ronan," Julia said gently, "we're all sitting here for that. Not just you. Just ask Arthur."

"And they make you like some sort of angel because you saved your brother and the woman."

"I couldn't leave them alone. She was sick, and needed help."

"And so you come out the savior, and I get all the blame."

She dropped the conversation after that. There was no getting around Ronan's ability to colour anything with his remarkable memory of the past, and she herself was too tired to argue further. She turned to look at Arthur, who shrugged helplessly, and Julius, sprawled asleep on the floor as if exhausted, though she did not know from what. Even in sleep, Julius' brow was furrowed with pain.

It was true that the Ilmatari were grateful for the return of their lost sister. Abandoned by her family and mentally ill since she was a child, she had always been fascinated by tales of the dryad living within Cutter's Bane, and used her fascination to stoke the suffering so exalted by her god. She had been cooperative and fairly normal until the last week, when she had somehow managed to leave the city and take up residence within the woods, pretending she was the dryad in question. While the Flaming Fist frowned upon such children traipsing around the woods at night, they admitted that their presence likely averted an oncoming tragedy, though that did not stop them from sternly reprimanding the four and informing that their parents will know of it, something which Julia shrugged at. She knew her father would do nothing, not even a token scolding. He was too busy to care.

Ever since then, she had tried to get in touch, but Ronan seemed to be avoiding her. He used to always be available when she came looking, but now, he made himself as scarce as the cats did during the day. Asking his parents proved equally as fruitless; they had no idea where he went either, and could only give vague directions. Eventually, she cornered him in one of the classrooms where he was writing something madly, though he did not acknowledge her presence until she cleared her throat, which got her a scowl.

"Ronan," she said, "what's gone over you?"

Ronan scowled again and ran his hand through his auburn hair. She had found its tousled state charming before; now it just looked foppish. "And what's gone over you?" He replied crossly. "You never bothered people when they're studying. Why start now?"

"Because you've been avoiding me!" She slammed her hands against his desk. "I've been meaning to talk to you, to get everything worked out, but you're never around!" Her voice cracked, but she was too upset, too hurt to control it. "Why?"

"Because you were never there!" Ronan snapped back, standing bolt upright and slamming his own hands against the desk, causing Julia to start in surprise. "Before, it's always been Ronan this, Ronan that. Ronan, you're pretty, let's go talk over by your flower garden. Now, you're hardly around at all. Have you realized how cold you've been? How distant?"

"Me?" Julia reeled. She had never...he always had...yet a little part of her began doubting. Had she been like that as of late, not so much as him avoiding her, but her avoiding him? Her memory was no help, jumbling any meetings recalled, any words exchanged, while Ronan gazed at her with those tired blue eyes, as if pleading.

"Yes, you." His words came out tired, bitter. "I've just gotten used to spending my days without you...and now you walk in here and demand that I explain. What gives you the right?"

"The right..." her mind was still reeling, and it was becoming difficult to formulate a rebuttal. "Because I thought...you needed help."

"If this is what you call 'help', then I'm scared, Julia." He bent to retrieve his supplies to put them in his pack. "I'm going. Hope I don't see you again." Before she could react, he shoved past her and walked out of the classroom, and she just stood there, hearing his footsteps recede down the hall. And true to his word, she never saw him again, and shortly after, his family moved, turning the possibility of reconciliation from slim to none.

Looking out the window, Julia could feel the tears running down her face as the horizon swallowed the last rays of light.
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Old 11-05-2012
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Too many books, was the thought to cross Julia's mind as she laboriously wound down the well-dusted path, the strap of the satchel cutting into the bit of exposed flesh between neck and pauldron. Perhaps, in hindsight, she should have asked for another one to even the weight out, but it had not crossed her mind at the time--searching for every article with a relation to the subject at hand took precedence over practicalities involving transportation.

"...damning herself with pride."

After what seems like an eternity of walking, hard cobble clatters underfoot, and Julia treads gratefully up the stone steps, dropping the satchel with some relief as she fumbles for the key, muttering a little as she tries to work it into the keyhole. She jams a foot to keep the door open as she hauls the satchel forward and over her shoulder, and stumbles inside, nearly teetering under the weight of her awkward burden.

Faces hands screaming what is you you are not are not not not

The door to her room opens with a soft click, a sound greeted by a happy mew from the other side. She barely gets the door open before quickly finding her feet assaulted by a small cat, barely more than a kitten, who left her worrying over a wooden carved lizard--the same one she had "found", she remembered with some nausea--to rub at her owner's steel-toed boots, uttering her low rumbling purr.

"Hey, Noba," she murmurs, lowering her satchel and extending her fingers to rub the cat's ears. The cat's purr intensifies as she leans into the scratching.

"Do you not think yourself capable?"

Noba rolls around in Julia's helmet, finding delight in the racket the headgear makes as she bumps and stumbles around. Julia spares an amused smile towards the cat's antics before cracking open a book, her nose twitching as she catches the faint scent of stale paper and old ink.

Flames. Green, red, white, silver, blue, yellow, brown, and more. Shining and flickering amidst grey ashes.

Taking a deep breath, she begins to read.
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Old 11-19-2012
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The wind whistling into Julia's ears does nothing to ease the sounds of armoured feet walking away, each clattering step jabbing her like a knife. She hears one set of feet pause, shuffle a little for a while...and remain still for so long that she looks up only to see the woman's armoured figure look back at her. She regards the other's scrutiny, holding her face still, until the other woman turns to join the others heading north, towards the campfire, leaving Julia alone with the softly babbling river, the lilypads bobbing on its surface, rushes weaving around them. Motes of green light blink in and out softly, as if trying to reassure her...but there is nothing left to be done.


It was a very large shield, and it would have passed for a portable door if it were a little larger. It bore the marks of dwarven craft, exquisite yet practical, form molded perfectly with function. She looked at it in disbelief, then back up at him, at his face so perfectly calm.

Trusting.



She closes her eyes and lifts a hand to feel her cheeks. The many crisscrossing scars, juxtaposed against the softened skin, seem to belong to a different woman, and perhaps they do. A different woman from another time, where she burned with her own flame, untouched and unbroken; full of purpose, even if she was blind to its use.

A different flame than the one she stokes now.


"And has there been troubles other than that?"

Her eyes seemed concerned, curious, nonjudgmental...and for some reason, that made her feel
worse. She hesitated, her face grim, trying to muster the strength to speak further.

"Other than losing my swords shortly after that," she replied evenly, "likely one or the other took them from my senseless body--there has been no problem you need to know."

It hurt. Oh, it hurt. For the briefest of seconds, looking at that innocent yet determined face, she wanted to take it all back, to break and tell her everything...but the flame burned, devouring the urge. She must be strong for the sake of her friend, and she will not inflict such a worry upon her. She had been enough of a burden as is.

Yet the silver sword's presence burned against her back like a white-hot brand, a pain not unlike the one deep within her chest.



She shrugs her shoulders to feel the reassuring weight of her arms and armour, almost a second skin now. She tucks the oiled fur cloak around herself and lowers to one knee, looking down at the lilypads bobbing carelessly over the stream.


"As for you--" His face leaned down into hers, their gazes locking. His normally disarming features were thick with scorn, scorn that permeated his voice.

"You think the Blackwood is happy with your decision to jump into every scrap on a whim, for no pay?" He reached out to pull a scrap of parchment, where he hastily wrote a bank note to leave it beside her. "Consider this payment on the Legion's behalf for all of those times you got involved, little girl."

Her being simmered with fury and fear and hate so perfectly balanced--it would be so easy to reach up and drive lightning-forged fingers into his eyes, listen to his screaming--and yet she was all too aware of the other gazes focused on her, weapons at the ready. Her effect would hardly be lasting, and she would be cut down before she could do anything more.

Muscles protrude from her neck and she grits her teeth as she forcefully cooled the rage, banked the flame that demanded his flesh, his blood, his life.



Julia feels her eyes sting, and she takes a deep, shuddering breath. Her vision blurs as a tear forms and falls, followed by another and another until her armoured shoulders are rigid and trembling with the vain effort to hold back her weeping. For a while she kneels there, giving sight and feeling to the raw anguish, grief, rage, and hatred bottled in to feed the flame banked within.

"Forgive me," she whispers through her tears, her voice too choked for anything louder. So many faces flit through her mind, so many to beseech, and so many turning away.

"Forgive me."

Last edited by Lugwy; 11-19-2012 at 01:49 AM. Reason: y so tense
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