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Aftermath


Aftermath

Post by Julen on

When Uluki made her suggestion about Julen and Rosemary finding a room upstairs, Julen expected the Lightswords to set him down so that he could go do so. However, the pair had carried him this far, and it seemed that they intended to finish the job, because they started walking toward the stairs without showing any sign of releasing their burden. Wonderful. Julen had wanted to make a good impression on his new comrades, but all they knew so far was that he weighed about the same as a large sack of potatoes -- and was just as useful as one, too. Still, mindful that he was supposed to be injured, Julen submitted to the continued indignity. There were more important things at stake than his pride.

However, before Julen had been taken very far, Uluki bent over him, speaking in a soft voice. Julen’s eyes widened when she shouldered responsibility for what had happened. Never, not in his most delirious moment, had he thought this was her fault. He was the one who should have informed her where he was going. He was the one who should have thought to bring someone with him. If he’d asked even just Krarug to come along...Julen indulged in a brief and extremely satisfying visualization of what Krarug would have done to Snyde. Opening his mouth, Julen started to assure Uluki that she’d done nothing wrong. But at that moment, Rollick called her name, and as she turned her attention to him, Julen’s escorts considered that a dismissal. With Rosemary tagging along, they resumed their journey upstairs.

After Julen had been deposited in an empty room, the pair of Lightswords left to search for some bedding. Rosemary started to go with them, but Julen caught her hand, holding her back. Now that they were alone, he could finally tell her the truth. “Rosemary, wait. I really am fine. Look.” Without any trace of weakness, Julen stood up. “See?”

His revelation appeared to cause both relief and confusion. “I—I don’t understand. Why were they carrying you if you’re not hurt?”

“I needed to pretend,” Julen admitted. “I did get hurt. But Uluki healed me. Except, it’s not like Aorle healing me, because Uluki doesn’t have a license. She could be arrested for using magic.” Raising his wife’s hand to his lips, Julen placed a gentle kiss on her knuckles. “I’m telling you because I trust you. And because I can’t stand for you to think I’m suffering when I’m not. But you can’t say a word to anyone else. She did a good thing, a brave and selfless thing. We can’t let any harm come to her because of it.”

Rosemary bit her lip, then nodded, her eyes shining fiercely. “I won’t tell anyone,” she vowed. “But what about Aorle? Won’t he need to know?”

That presented a tricky dilemma. Julen wasn’t going to lie to Aorle. But, on the other hand, he didn’t want to betray Uluki. “I’ll speak with Uluki as soon as I have chance. Once she understands that being honest with Aorle presents no danger to her or her family, I’m sure she’ll do the right thing.”

The mention of Aorle reminded Julen that he hadn’t noticed him downstairs. “Where is Aorle, anyway? Still at House Anstrun?”

Rosemary shook her head. “He went looking for you.”

“What?!” Suddenly filled with concern for his friend, Julen started towards the door. “If Snyde set a trap for me, he might set another for him. I can’t just stand by and let him walk into it.”

“You’re not going anywhere.” Firmly, Rosemary caught hold of her husband’s arm. “First of all, you’re supposed to be injured. Second of all, if we start sending search parties to find other search parties, we’ll spend the rest of our lives in the shanty town. And finally, unlike certain people in this room, Aorle can look after himself.”

Julen wanted to protest further. But approaching footsteps announced the return of the two Lightswords. Despite beginning to feel like a child feigning illness in order to avoid his chores, Julen he still got back down on the floor and did his best to look wounded. The Lightswords laid out a piece of padded armor on the floor, which they lifted Julen onto, before spreading a cloak over him. Then they departed again, promising to fetch food and water.

After they’d gone, Rosemary sat down beside her husband, and repeated the question she’d asked much earlier. “What happened? Did you really get hurt defending that girl?”

Now, suddenly, the truth didn’t seem so appealing. But Julen forced himself to speak it. He recounted a fairly accurate description of what had happened, including his various mistakes, right up until he lost his sword in the battle against the six thugs. Here, his resolve finally failed him. He couldn’t torment Rosemary with the image of her husband lying helpless, getting beaten within an inch of his life. He just couldn’t. “Snyde roughed me up a bit. Nothing too bad, but enough that Uluki’s healing made a difference. And he stole my stuff.”

Only as he said it did the enormity of that statement really strike Julen. The armor was gone. His sword and dagger were gone. His money pouch was gone. The cord with his trophy rings was gone. And the locket, which not even Phelan Anstrun had been able to take from him, was gone. “Gods,” Julen groaned. “I’m so sorry, Rosemary. He took everything.”

“Not everything,” Rosemary comforted. Taking Julen’s hand in her own, she turned it, so he could see the simple iron band which still circled one finger. Somehow, Snyde had missed that -- Julen’s first trophy ring, which he wore separately from the others as a small honor paid to the man who had trained him. Seeing it raised Julen’s spirits considerably. Encouraged by his lift in mood, Rosemary continued. “We still have some money, plus my share of the plunder, stashed in your room at the bakery. Your gloves, shield, spear, and bow are waiting for you downstairs. And your gambeson. I finished your gambeson today.”

This final absurdity proved too much for Julen. Because he needed to release some of the emotion pent up inside him, because he couldn’t let himself cry, and because it really was kind of funny, he started to laugh. Rosemary hesitated a moment, giving him a curious look. But she must have decided that her husband wasn’t hysterical, because she joined him, wrapping her arms around him as she giggled.

They both managed to repress their mirth when the Lightswords returned for a final time, bringing water, rags, a bowl of stew, and even a pair of pants. Rosemary thanked the warriors profusely for their help, while they expressed their wishes for Julen’s swift recovery. After that, they left, and Julen was alone with his wife once more.

Pouring some of the water into a cup, Rosemary offered it to Julen. “I love you. As long as they don’t take you from me, nothing else they can steal matters.”

“I love you, too.” Julen sat up, accepting the cup from her. After using the first few swallows of water to rinse the filth from his mouth, Julen drank the rest, along with two additional cupfuls. Then, he felt something cold trickling down his spine. Shuddering, Julen glanced at Rosemary, who held a wet rag in her hand, gripping it just hard enough to squeeze individual drops of water onto his bare skin. A wicked light burned in her hazel eyes.

“Now that we’ve established that you’re alright,” she suggested, “perhaps you’ll let me help you wash up?”

Another drop fell against Julen, awakening all his senses as it caressed his flesh, and he felt his lips curve into a wide grin. “I thought you’d never ask.”
Last edited by Julen on Mon Aug 27, 2007 7:53 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

Post by Falcon Bertille on

Kaydee’s arrival at Lightsword Hall was a confusing cacophony of unfamiliar sights and sounds. She heard a woman cry out, heard her ask what had happened to Julen, and heard someone else tell her. However, when Kaydee tried to see who the woman was, she couldn’t get a clear view. Then, the men who had carried her to this place finally set her down. Unsure whether she was allowed to stand up yet, Kaydee glanced around for Julen, planning to imitate whatever he was doing. Unfortunately, Julen had already been taken elsewhere. His absence added to Kaydee’s nervousness, but she forced herself to remain calm. These people were obviously Julen’s friends. They’d helped them both. They wouldn’t hurt her.

Kaydee was still sitting on the floor, trying to decide what to do, when two girls about her own age approached. Two rather strange girls. The first, who was quite small and slender, had some sort of feathery cape draped over her back. At least, Kaydee thought it was a cape until the girl got closer. Then she saw it was actually a pair of grey wings. As for the second girl, who was fleshier than her companion, she had curved black horns rising up from her blonde hair. Kaydee hadn’t ever seen anything like them. But growing up in the shanty town had a way of jading people, so she wasn’t too shocked.

Smiling at Kaydee -- and revealing a pair of unnaturally pointed teeth as she did so -- the horned girl offered to help her up. But Kaydee shook her head. For the moment, she felt better just sitting.

After a moment, the horned girl was called away, and the remaining girl introduced herself. Kaydee nodded politely, even though she only understood some of what Dash said. What did it mean to be ‘adopted’? Had they been brought here a few months ago, just as she’d been brought here on this night? Was she about to be ‘adopted’ too? Would it hurt? “I’m Kaydee. I don’t have a mother, or a father, or any sisters. Just Snyde. As long as I do what he says, he makes sure no one hurts me too bad. At least, he used to...”

Kaydee trailed off. She’d never been one to dwell on her own problems. Instead, she turned the conversation back toward Dash. She’d found the people often liked you better if you let them talk about themselves. “Were you and your sister whores? Like me? Before you got adopted? I bet men would pay a lot of money for you.” This was meant as a genuine compliment. Both girls struck Kaydee as being quite exotic.

Then, a smaller woman joined them. Uluki, Dash had called her, when pointing her out as her mother. She seemed to be offering Kaydee a white dress. “Wow,” Kaydee murmured, accepting the garment. “This one’s much nicer than the dress I had before. It was all dirty and torn, but Snyde said I couldn’t have new one until I started making more money. Thanks. I’ll pay you back somehow.”

Kaydee felt embarrassed when Uluki reminded her about her panicked reaction to waking in the alley. It had been stupid to lose control like that. “You don’t have to apologize. I wasn’t kicking and punching at you –- I thought you were Snyde. He hit me right before I passed out, so I guess my body was still in defense mode. I know you were trying to help. You made me and Julen feel better, didn’t you?” Rather belatedly, Kaydee had reached this conclusion. It was the only thing that made sense. “Thanks for helping us. Especially Julen. He was only trying to be kind, he didn’t deserve what Snyde did to him. Snyde made me watch while he...” Again, Kaydee trailed off, her mind automatically skittering away from the pain. The horrors that filled her past were too numerous to be faced. To dwell on them was to be consumed by them.

“As for being your friend, I haven’t turned down anyone yet, not as long as they really meant it. The gods know I get few enough offers. Not many people are eager to be friends with the likes of me.”

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

Dash was quite uncomfortable when Kaydee turned the discussion back to her. She'd been hoping to avoid that. Dash wasn't surprised to hear Kaydee had led a difficult life. Seeing her dirty and bloody and apparently naked beneath Martha's shawl confirmed that. In fact, Dash was not at all shocked to hear Kaydee had been a whore; she knew what people had to do to survive. What she and her sister had to do...

Neither Dash nor Zee had ever been a prostitute, and Dash was aware they were in fact both quite sexually naive, except in general terms. She doubted her own mind was any cleaner or less haunted than Kaydee's was, though. Dash might not have sold her body, but she also doubted Kaydee had ever killed anyone...

She thought she had a chance of being friends with Kaydee, and she didn't want to say something that might frighten her, but she also didn't want to lie. Luckily she was saved from having to say anything at all, when Uluki rejoined them a moment later.

"You don't have to pay me back for the dress," Uluki said, looking quite embarrassed. She wished there was more she could do. The dress seemed like so little... “I don't want you to. It was a gift. If you want, I could teach you how to make dresses yourself, so you could give a gift like that to other people.”

“I was glad to heal you, too. You’re right that Julen didn’t deserve what happened, but neither did you. I hope you realize that. You deserve to be treated well. You deserve to be helped, not hurt. You deserve to have friends.”

“Snyde isn’t your family,” Dash said suddenly and apparently out of the blue. “He isn’t your father. I know how easy it is to think that, because I thought it too about a man like him. They hit you and tell you that you have to do things you don’t want to, things that scare you. They treat you like they own you, like you don’t even matter, and you go along with it because you don’t have anything else. You want a family so badly that you cling to the hope that if you could just be better, you could make them love you.”

Dash’s voice didn’t waver, but she reached for Uluki’s hand. “You asked about what it was like before we got adopted. Well, we lived with a man like him. We called him our father because we didn’t know what a father even was. Eventually we… got away, and we were on our own for awhile. It was hard, but it was better because no one was mistreating us anymore. Then we knocked on Uluki and Rollick’s door. It was the middle of the night, raining.” Dash now seemed slightly lost in reverie. “They let us stay. At first we were just going to stay overnight, but we didn’t leave. They didn’t want us to go. They liked having us there. First we were their friends, and then they asked if we wanted to be their daughters. I asked if they loved us, and they… they said of course they did. It wasn’t even in doubt.”

“That’s what family is. It’s people who love you no matter what, people who treat you well. My real mother and father are Uluki and Rollick, even though we’ve only known them for a few months. Snyde doesn’t deserve to be your family.” Dash suddenly went silent, embarrassed by her own boldness.

Uluki was proud of her daughter. She knew it hadn't been an easy thing to say, and she admired Dash for the effort it took. Uluki didn't want to frighten Kaydee, didn't want to come on too strong, but she hoped the care and kindness her own family would show would help heal some of Kaydee's wounds.

Post by Falcon Bertille on

“Thanks,” Kaydee repeated, clutching her new dress. She didn’t receive many presents. Once, she’d caught the eye of a local glass-blower, and he gave her a little unicorn figurine, small enough to be held in the palm of her hand. Snyde always insisted that his girls turn over any trinkets awarded to them by their clients, but the unicorn was just an inexpensive toy. So Kaydee kept it. She carried it around in her pocket, pretended to feed and groom it, and whispered her secrets to it at night. Until one of the other girls noticed her toy. Eager to earn favor with Snyde, the girl reported Kaydee’s disobedience, and Snyde stomped the unicorn into glittering shards.

At the time, it had just seemed like a senseless act of anger. But as she grew older, Kaydee began to understand. Snyde couldn’t allow her to have even a small joy, because joy was addictive, and once tasted she would crave more. He couldn’t allow her to have even the illusion of a friend, because friendship would make her feel less alone, and people who no longer felt alone were harder to control. These realizations had already made Kaydee begin to question a life spent under Snyde’s control. Julen’s speech simply presented the opportunity for escape that she’d been searching for.

“I don’t know if I’ll be any good at sewing. I made a doll once and it didn’t turn out very well. The head fell off. But I’ll try. Only...” Kaydee hesitated, hoping she wouldn’t offend Uluki. “I don’t want to make a dress. Not right away. I want to make a shirt. A nice man’s shirt. Can you show me how to do that?”

Kaydee tried to believe that she hadn’t deserved the beating Snyde gave her. On one hand, she knew that she didn’t deserve to be hurt for trying to leave him. But she still felt responsible for what had happened to Julen. And maybe she deserved to be hurt for that. Maybe she was a bad person, who brought misfortune to everyone around her. Kaydee hoped not. These people seemed so nice. She didn’t want to make any problems for them. “How can you say that I deserve those good things? All I’ve done is cause you trouble. What if Snyde tries again? What if he hurts more of you? Maybe I don’t deserve anything at all.”

Dash’s speech surprised Kaydee, but there was much in it that Kaydee identified with. Snyde had done all the things Dash described -- the threats, the punishment, the endless bullying. And Kaydee had felt trapped, just like Dash. Of course, Kaydee hadn’t ever truly believed that she could make Snyde love her. It didn’t seem possible that Snyde could love anyone. But for years, she’d tried so hard to please him, in the hopes that she could at least make him value her a bit more. And Dash had escaped. Just like she was going to do. In that moment, Kaydee felt her resolve harden. She wasn’t going back to Snyde. Not ever.

“I don’t know if I want a family. I don’t know what having a real family feels like. But I would like to have some friends. And I...I would like someone to love me.” This last admission was deep secret, a wish that Kaydee had spent her life denying, afraid to crave something that would never happen to her. For her to give voice to it showed the strength of the hope she now felt.

Finally, Kaydee stood. “I think I’d like to get cleaned up so I can put on my new dress.” She glanced hopefully at Dash. After Dash’s speech, Kaydee felt a bond with the winged girl, and wanted a chance to speak with her more privately. It wasn’t that she didn’t like Uluki. She just felt more comfortable around someone who had obviously been through much of what she’d endured. “Could you show me where to do that?”

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

Uluki thought she knew who the shirt was to be for, and it worried her a little. Kaydee seemed a kind, thoughtful girl, and Uluki did not doubt for a moment there was a great deal of affection behind the gesture. She wondered, though, how much Kaydee really knew about Julen. Was she aware he was a married man? What were her expectations? What sort of affection did she have for him?

She voiced none of these concerns, however, but simply said, "Of course. You can make anything you like. Don't worry about whether you'll be good at it. No one is born knowing how to sew. I doubt my first few projects turned out any better than your doll did. The only way to learn is to practice."

Uluki's heart ached with sympathy when Kaydee blamed herself for what Snyde had done. She knew how damaging it was to hold yourself responsible for problems you hadn't caused but couldn't prevent. She also knew there was no easy way to talk yourself out of it. Still, she was unable to just let it go, something had to be said.

"Kaydee, you have not been the cause of any trouble. In fact, being able to bring you and Julen back safely has been the sole redeeming feature of this evening. Snyde was the cause of our troubles. If he tries again, if he hurts any of us, the responsibility is on his own head, not yours. No matter what happens in the future, no one here will regret having helped you. If Snyde kills me for my part in bringing you here, I will still consider it fortunate that you are safe. No matter what Snyde has done, and no matter what he does in the future, you do deserve all those good things I said."

"Oh, speaking of killing me, it would be helpful if you didn't mention to anyone to anyone about the healing. What I did was illegal, and if the authorities find out, I will almost certainly die. While that is a sacrifice I am prepared to make, I would prefer to live, and my husband, daughters, and infant son would prefer not to lose me. I assume I can trust you and I will speak no more of it, but I would appreciate if you kept it to yourself."

Uluki suddenly looked rather tired. "You'll have plenty of friends here, you can be sure of that. Whenever you wish to spend time with our family you are welcome to do so; you can learn what a family is like, and whether you want one someday. Everyone here will do what we can to make you feel comfortable. If you need anything at all, just ask."

Uluki didn't address the issue of love, because she wasn't quite sure what Kaydee meant by it. If she meant it in the sense Dash had used it-- having people who cared about and valued her-- she had that already, though she might not know it. If she meant romantic love... Uluki certainly thought she deserved that too, but she seemed so young. Though Uluki wanted Kaydee to be happy, she didn't want her to give up on what little of her youth her hard life had left her. Uluki didn't know where to begin, though, so she decided that wasn't a conversation for tonight.

"I thought perhaps you could share a room with my daughters tonight. My husband and I will sleep elsewhere. I think it would be better if you weren't alone, in case you need something during the night. If that is acceptable, Dash can see you upstairs and help you settle in."

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

Uluki bid the two girls goodnight, and then chose an empty room she and Rollick could sleep in. They’d have to renegotiate the sleeping arrangements at some point, but for now there were enough empty rooms that Uluki felt comfortable claiming a second one for the night. Kaydee should be with someone in case she needed something or had nightmares, and Uluki thought she would be most comfortable with the girls. What they would do after tonight Uluki didn’t know— the family couldn’t permanently tie up two whole rooms— but she didn’t have the energy to think about it at the moment. If Kaydee wanted to stay with them she could, or they could find her other accommodations. For now things were settled enough.

Rollick brought Uluki a bowl of warm water and a towel, and she slipped her dress off. Rollick reached for it. “I’ll wash this when you’re finished. Just relax. You’ve had a busy night.” She wiped the dirt and blood from her skin, enjoying the warm water, and as she dried off, Rollick immersed the dress in the bowl, his strong hands scrubbing at the stains with great efficiency. Uluki wrapped her arms around herself, a little cold in nothing but her chemise. She stared at Rollick, watching the care he took with her garment, and he noticed her eyes on him. “What?”

“I love you. That’s all.” It wasn’t all, though, and the worry was plain on her face. “I’m still scared. When Aorle gets back…”

“There’s no need to be scared. Aorle has already come and gone.”

“You told him about the note?”

“Yes, and he found the slander less than impressive. We have nothing to fear from him. He promised our family would continue to have a safe haven.” In answer to her unspoken question, he added, “Yes, all of us. I think he understood... about all of it.” Rollick said nothing of his attempt to trade his life for her and the children. It didn’t matter now.

She threw her arms around him and kissed his cheek. “I’m so glad. I was so frightened. I was afraid it would be like before, only I wasn’t sure I’d be able to protect you this time.”

“Not to worry, dear one. Aorle gave his word. He’s not the sort of man to give his word and then break it. We’ll all be safe here. I wish you could have heard the speech he gave to the warriors. He said he would never ally with anyone who would harm a child, and they agreed they wouldn’t either. His words were quite impressive. You are hurt,” Rollick said suddenly, noticing the bruise on her leg.

Uluki laughed a little at that. “Hurt is a fireball to the face. Hurt is an arrow through my belly. Hurt is not an accidental kick from a frightened teenage girl. This is nothing. It’s not even worth healing.”

“I was worried. You were gone a long time, and I started to worry something had happened to you…”

“I know, but I’m alright. It was hard tonight, but not because I was in danger. I saw bad things. I saw… they beat Julen, badly. He must have been in a lot of pain. At least he was able to fight back. At least they didn’t chain his arms, like…”

“Like they did to that poor girl? She looked so frightened.”

“Yes, like they did to Kaydee. They chained her up and beat her almost to death, and then they just left her in the street, naked.” Uluki had seen a lot of cruelty— they both had— but somehow it never got any easier. “They treated her like she was trash, like she wasn’t even a person, like she didn’t matter.” Uluki started to cry, burying her face in her hands, and Rollick wrapped a comforting arm around her shoulder. “Like she was trash…” She wiped away the tears with the back of her hand. “They left also Julen there, and I felt horrible for him too, but Kaydee reminded me so much of our daughters…”

“I know, love. I thought that too. I felt like I’d been punched in the gut when I saw her all bloody. She’s barely more than a child.” Though Rollick’s tone didn’t change, Uluki could tell from the way his face tightened how angry it made him that the young woman had been mistreated. Rollick was a fierce warrior, but he was a firm believer that violence should be left on the battlefield, and it always made him angry when the innocent and defenceless were abused.

“I healed her, so her body isn’t in anymore pain, but her mind… she’s lived through some awful things. Not just this. I don’t know the details, but she was a prostitute, and it doesn’t sound like this is the first time Snyde has beaten her, not to mention the kind of life she had to lead. She’s seen and done things no one should have to. I can only imagine the hell going on inside her head.”

“But she’ll be alright?” Rollick asked with concern.

Uluki nodded, then shook her head, then shrugged. Amazingly Rollick understood this strange series of gestures, and made a sympathetic noise. He seemed unsure what more to say, so he changed the subject. “How did you manage to end up without your shoes?”

“I had to trade them for that dress for Kaydee. I didn’t have anything else.”

Rollick looked stricken, with both guilt and shame visible on his face. “Things are so bad you had to trade your shoes?”

Uluki shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t really miss them. How often did I wear them, anyway? No more than half the time, if that.”

“Yes, because you chose to go barefoot, not because we were so wretchedly poor that you didn’t even have shoes to wear.”

“I already told you I don’t care.”

“Well, I do. I feel sick about it. What kind of man can’t even provide…?”

“Provide? Rollick, you’re my husband, not my minder. Our family finances are as much my responsibility as yours.”

“I seem unable to hold up my end of that bargain.”

“Now you’re being ridiculous. It’s just a pair of shoes. What is this really about?”

“You deserve better than this,” Rollick said softly. “You deserve better than what I can give you. A richer man could…”

Uluki dropped the towel and put her clenched hands on her hips. “Stop it. Just… stop it. I don’t want a younger man, I don’t want a richer man, I don’t want any of those men you keep saying I ought to have. I want you. I don’t care about any of those things, and I don’t care about the damn shoes!” She realized her voice had been rising in pitch and volume. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to shout at you. I just hate when you say those things about yourself. No one could love me as much as you do. No one else could make me as happy. There is no one else I trust like I trust you. And frankly, I see a fair bit of irony in the man who took four arrows for me today claiming to be inadequate because of something this… well, this silly.”

“I’m sorry too, dear one. I know you love me. You make that abundantly clear. It’s just…”

“I know. It’s embarrassing. It is for me too. I didn’t tell the others about it because I was afraid they would feel sorry for me, and I couldn’t bear their pity. That doesn’t mean I’m unhappy, though. Money is just money, it doesn’t matter. I have the children, and I have you. And Rollick, you may not be rich, but you are kind, caring, loyal, devoted, wise, strong, brave, and incredibly handsome.”

He smiled a little at that. “Are you going to let me list your good qualities now?”

“No.”

“No?”

“Oh, some other time, by all means. I enjoy it when you list my good qualities. I’m afraid, though, that for the next while you’ll be too busy.”

“I will?” He seemed to realize where this was going, and looked pleased.

“Yes. You saved my life last night, and have yet to claim your promised reward. Would you like it now?”

He said nothing, just kissed her deeply. Through the thin fabric of her chemise, his hands felt warm on her back. Wanting those hands touching her skin instead, she pulled away a little and slipped the garment off, and then she again pressed her body against his. His touch was urgent but, as always, gentle. Her small body was more fragile than a human lover's would have been, and Rollick instinctively took great care; he had never hurt her. She trusted him completely.

With him, Uluki was finally able to let go of all the worries and sadness of the day and enjoy herself, and she saw to it that Rollick received ample repayment for his efforts on her behalf.

Afterward she lay in his arms, feeling safe and secure and loved. He felt asleep before she did, and she lay with her head on his chest, listening to his heartbeat until she too slipped into slumber.

Post by Falcon Bertille on

As Kaydee and Dash started up the stairs, they noticed a pair of warriors heading down -- Kaydee recognized them as the man and woman who had carried Julen back from the alley. The two appeared to be arguing, and as they approached, Kaydee caught some of their debate.

“I’m telling you,” the man insisted, “I heard the moans coming from that room. He’s obviously in agony.”

But the woman shook her head. “And I’m telling you that I couldn’t see one bruise on him. Not one. Something--”

At that moment, the pair seemed to become aware of Kaydee and Dash, bringing their conversation to an abrupt halt. Instead of pursuing whatever topic they’d been discussing, the man grinned at Kaydee through his bushy beard. “Kaydee! It’s good fortune that we happened to run into you just now. My name is Sigvard, and this is my sister, Thetta. We didn’t want to bother you earlier. But I was wondering if you’d feel up to answering a quick question?”

“Uh...sure,” Kaydee agreed.

“About a week ago, did you meet a man passing through the shanty town? A man who called you ‘little sister’?”

Kaydee nodded. That encounter had definitely left an impression on her. It was strange to look back on it now, and think how soliciting two strangers had so drastically changed her life. “Yes, I remember him. Julen’s friend. He never told me his name, but he wore a fine suit of armor, and had a mane of wild blonde hair. Very handsome. And he gave me one of his rings. Why? Are you looking for him?”

“Quite the opposite. He sent us looking for you. And, now that we’ve found you, we’re to provide whatever aid you require.” Sigvard bowed his head politely. “Please consider us at your service.”

“Sure,” Kaydee repeated. She was starting to feel rather overwhelmed by the number of people who suddenly seemed concerned about her welfare. So, it was with some relief that she allowed Sigvard and Thetta to squeeze by her on the staircase, and then watched them descend out sight. She thought that Thetta had given her a rather peculiar look as she passed, but maybe that was her imagination.

Again, Kaydee followed Dash up the stairs. And, as she did so, she tried to think of what she should say. She wanted Dash to like her. And she wanted to learn more about her, without prying too far. Her fellow prostitutes usually gossiped about the men they slept with and discussed tricks they’d learned to improve their looks. But Kaydee wasn’t certain that either of these would be appropriate topics. Finally, her eyes settled on Dash’s feathery grey wings.

“Can you really fly?” To soar up over the squalor of the shanty town, to dip and twirl and feel the wind rushing by, to be beyond the reach of so many grasping hands -- it seemed like a very wondrous thing to Kaydee.

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

((NPC Post))

One might expect a girl with wings to feel proud of them, or exhilarated by the sensation of flight, or intrigued by visits to places no one confined to the ground could ever see. Dash, however, merely seemed embarrassed.

"Yeah, I can fly." She stared at her hands. "I hardly ever do, though." Kaydee had touched a sore spot unintentionally, but that wasn't difficult. Pretty much all of her past before she came to live with Uluki and Rollick was a sore spot. Dash knew Kaydee didn't intend to hurt her... but that if there was to be any honesty between them, Dash would have to talk about the things that hurt, things she'd never told anyone but her parents. Maybe the second telling would be easier.

By now they had arrived at the room, and Dash pulled open the door open so Kaydee could enter. "This is where we sleep. Martha is watching my brother tonight, so it'll just be you and me and my sister. I'll get you some water to wash with. If you..." Dash suddenly sounded a little shy. "If you want, you can look at my pictures while I'm gone." She indicated the drawings tacked to the wall, all pictures of the family.

Dash returned a few minutes later with a pitcher, bowl, and towel. She turned to face the wall to give Kaydee some privacy to bathe, but still allow them to talk.

"I didn't always have wings. I just had little boney things on my shoulders."

She remembered the disappointment those people had felt about that, the irritation over so much money spent, but producing only flawed beings.

"They turned into my wings when..."

They turned into wings after she'd killed the man she'd called her father, and accidentally killed her brother too. Ironically the force that had killed them had reversed the magical damage that caused her body to deviate from its original design.

"That's getting too far ahead, though. That was at the end. I haven't even told you what we were yet."

Dash's voice was low and hesitant. "We weren't whores. We were supposed to be soldiers. Only real soldiers... they get to pick their cause. They may not make the decisions in the battles, but they fight because they agreed to. We didn't get a choice. There was a man named General Williamson. He was the one who told them to make us, the one who paid for us. I don't think he was a real general, though. Maybe he used to be, but when he had us, he didn't work for any army. He just worked for himself, and he made us work for him."

"We all had jobs to do. I was supposed to be the assassin. That's why they gave me wings. I can stick to walls, too." She demonstrated, showing how she could attach herself by her hands and feet.

"They never treated us like people. They said we weren't. They said we were just weapons, just tools. That we only thought we were real."

"I am a person, though. I can think and feel. I can be happy. I can hurt. I can care." It was presented as a rapid-fire list of qualifications, as if she were proving her personhood to Kaydee. As if she expected the other girl to express doubts, to accuse her of being a thing and only pretending to have a heart.

"I wasn't a whore, but sometimes it felt like that. No one really cared about us, except for the things they wanted us to do for them."

"I'm sorry. I'm talking too much about myself, and you only asked a simple question about my wings. We can talk about you now. Where did you live before you lived with Snyde?"

Post by Falcon Bertille on

Kaydee didn’t really understand Dash’s attitude about her wings. If Kaydee had wings, she felt sure she’d want to fly every chance she got. But she could see that the subject caused Dash considerable discomfort, so she didn’t press her inquiries.

While Dash went to fetch water, Kaydee examined the sketches her new friend had tacked to the wall -- pictures of people doing things together, teaching one another, sharing small moments of joy. Was this what it meant to have a family? If so, it seemed like a good thing. Kaydee found herself particularly drawn to one sketch, which depicted Dash and Zee wearing matching flower crowns, huge smiles on their faces. They looked so happy. The picture made Kaydee want to pick up a pencil and draw herself right there beside them. But in her mind’s eye, she saw the flowers on her crown begin to wilt, petals curling and leaves shriveling as they touched her corrupted flesh.

Dash’s return pushed away the unpleasant image. “Your drawings are really good,” Kaydee complimented as she took the pitcher and bowl from her friend. “I bet you could make a lot of money drawing pictures for people. Everyone likes to have things that remind them of happy times.”

Letting the shawl fall to the floor, Kaydee wetted down a rag and began to wash the grime from her skin. Whether Uluki had meant to or not, she’d healed more than just the recent damage inflicted by Snyde. Old scars had vanished. Even the disease which constantly tormented Kaydee with outbreaks of blisters -- one of which had been so kindly healed by Julen’s friend -- seemed to have cleared up. She was still skinnier than a healthy person. But as Kaydee removed layers of dirt, she discovered a body that almost seemed to have been purified and made young again. Given a fresh start.

However, Kaydee didn’t let her fascination with her miraculous rejuvenation distract her from Dash’s story. At first, when Dash said that she and her sister used to be soldiers, Kaydee thought that maybe Dash was kidding. Kaydee had seen soldiers. They were huge, hulking brutes. How could these two young, albeit unusual, girls possibly be soldiers? But Dash’s grim tone quickly convinced Kaydee that she was serious. And when Dash demonstrated her ability to stick to walls, Kaydee realized how such a talent, combined with flying, could be utilized.

“That sounds horrible,” Kaydee sympathized. “Even worse than being a whore. I can’t imagine being told to kill someone and not having any choice in the matter.”

After she’d finished bathing, Kaydee set down the damp cloth and pulled on her new white dress. “Some of the men I slept with were nice. They didn’t need a whore, they needed someone to talk to. But most of them...most of them thought of me as a thing, just like the general thought of you and your sister as things.”

“And a few of the men were really bad.” Kaydee shivered at the memory. “Once, a man went too far and killed the girl he was with. Snyde made him pay twenty bishani. That’s how I learned what I was worth. Twenty bishani.”

When Dash began to list her qualifications as a person, Kaydee walked over and wrapped her arms around her new friend, being careful not to harm Dash’s feathery grey wings. It seemed a little strange to initiate contact with another person without being paid for it, but she felt such kinship with this girl who’d been through so much of what she had. “I know I’m a person, despite what everyone else thought. And I know you’re a person too. I know it.”

Dash’s question surprised Kaydee a little. It was something she hadn’t thought about for a long time. “I used to live with my mother. She was a whore, too, only she didn’t work for anyone but herself. Snyde didn’t appreciate the competition. I...I think he killed her. Or maybe she sold me to him. I don’t really know. All I remember is coming home one day and there were men waiting there. They grabbed me, took me to Snyde, and he gave me to some of the girls to look after until I was old enough to start working.” Tears welled up in Kaydee’s eyes as long-buried emotions began to claw their way to the surface. Attempting to prevent herself from crying, Kaydee buried her face in the soft comfort of grey feathers, while her breath hitched in her throat.

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

((NPC Post))

Twenty bishani for a life? Dash didn't know how to respond to that. She didn't know exactly how a bishan compared to the currency she was used to, but it sounded like an awfully low number. It was hard to fathom placing a monetary value on a life, regardless. Surely Kaydee was far too valuable for her worth to be calculated in mere money.

Dash wrapped her arms around Kaydee, returning the hug. She wished desperately that Uluki was there. Uluki always knew what to say, how to comfort. Soothing words didn't come easily to Dash. She didn't know how to make it better. She didn't know how to take away pain.

It had never occurred to her that Kaydee might also doubt she herself was a person. Kaydee had been born. She'd been a child. She remembered her past, and hadn't been made by magic. Dash had thought everyone like that knew for sure they were people; she didn't think they would worry about it. Snyde obviously hadn't treated her like one, nor had most of her clients, but in Kaydee's case Dash saw no room for doubt, and was surprised Kaydee did.

"It's alright if you cry," she told Kaydee quietly. Dash remembered Uluki had said that, when she first heard the girls' story. Dash had been skeptical. She'd never cried before that, but she'd let herself go then, sobbing against Uluki and feeling Rollick's comforting hand on her shoulder, and it had helped. It helped to stop holding it all inside. “Maybe you’ll feel better if you do.”

“It’ll get easier. I promise it will. It’s hard at first, when you have mostly bad memories, but you’ll have good ones to replace them. Then you start to think about the good ones more and the bad ones less.”

The talk of good memories took her mind in another direction... and now that she had started, it seemed impossible to staunch the flow of words.

“I used to think I was so broken no one would ever want me around. I wanted a family more than anything, but I thought it was impossible.” Dash never spoken aloud what she was about to say, had never tried to put the words together to describe her desires and fears. She suspected Uluki and Rollick knew anyway… but somehow it felt good to be able to say it, and if anybody could understand, maybe it was Kaydee. “I thought with where I’d been, the things I’d done, it was too late for me. I was sure they’d make me leave when they found out what I was, that they’d be afraid I’d contaminate their nice little family. Zee is sweet and loveable and everyone likes her, but I… my mind isn’t clean anymore. I went too far, and I wasn’t the same afterward. I'm not innocent now... or maybe I never was. There are things burned into my memory that I can never forget. I wanted to. I wished I could be a nice little girl, the perfect innocent I thought was the only person who could be a daughter. No one would want an assassin in their home. Surely they'd worry that the dirt would rub off on them too, and on their baby. I wanted to erase my past, be clean and untainted, but I couldn’t, not even for them.”

“At first I didn’t tell them anything, and they didn’t ask. They just let us stay with them. I felt like I was lying, though. I had enough sins hanging over me without adding lying too, so I told them everything. And they…”

Suddenly, unexpectedly, Dash felt her eyes get moist. Her tears didn’t flow, but her eyes swam, blurring her vision. “They didn’t send us away. Instead, they told us about their pasts, and it turns out their minds aren’t so clean either. They were a nice little family, but not because they’d never suffered. Both my parents also had bad memories that wouldn’t go away. They loved each other, though, and they loved their baby. They loved fiercely, deeply, and in spite of everything we were, they loved us too. I wasn’t too broken, or too dirty, or too full of bad things to be their daughter.”

That was straying too far from the point. Kaydee had already expressed mixed feelings about families, and surely she wouldn’t care for Dash blubbering on about her own.

"If you want, I could draw you," Dash said, trying to change the subject. "I know you didn't have a lot of happy times, but you will in the future. It could be for hope, not for memory."

She knew what she would draw. It would be a slight deviation from her standard scenes capturing reality as it was. In her picture she would give Kaydee wings too, and together they would soar over the city.

Post by Falcon Bertille on

“I can’t, I can’t,” Kaydee chanted, when Dash urged her to cry. “There’s so much pressing down on me. If I give into it, I’ll be crushed. If I start crying now, I’ll never stop.”

Desperately, Kaydee shook her head. “I can’t break. I’ve seen what happens to the girls who break. They drink until they can’t feel anything anymore. They get so angry that they hit their own children. They go mad or they kill themselves. But I won’t let that happen to me. I won’t.”

With great effort, Kaydee regained control of herself. But even after her eyes had dried, and her breath had returned to normal, she held onto Dash. She wanted to believe what Dash had said, that the good memories would one day outnumber the bad. But it seemed so impossible. Every time she got a good memory, the bad ones sucked it down and suffocated it, like a butterfly drowned in mud. How could she ever have a good memory? Kaydee still heard Snyde’s voice telling his men to “enjoy” her, she still felt the shackles on her wrists, and she still saw Julen getting beaten because he’d dared to help her. How could any good memory triumph over that?

Dash’s confession initially surprised Kaydee. Who wouldn’t want Dash to be part of their family? She was so kind, and so talented, and her wings made her look a little like an angel. It was hard to imagine a better daughter. But as Dash continued to talk, Kaydee began to understand. And she sympathized. She, too, had done things which she thought would prevent anyone from ever loving her.

“I’m really glad you found Uluki and Rollick. They seem like wonderful people. And I’m really glad that I met you. I hope you won’t take this the wrong way, but I think we’re a lot alike. Not that you’re a whore, but the stuff you talk about, I’ve felt that way too. Seeing you now...strong, happy, loved...it gives me hope that maybe, one day, I’ll be all those things as well.”

Kaydee eagerly accepted Dash’s offer to draw her. “Yes. Yes, I’d like that very much. Thank you.”

In order to allow her friend to begin the sketch, Kaydee finally released her from the hug, and stepped back. However, there was still one thing that she still felt curious about. “Dash? How did you get away from that general who thought he owned you?” Kaydee hoped that hearing Dash’s tale might provide inspiration for her own struggle to escape Snyde.

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

((NPC Post))

Dash was flattered when Kaydee said they were alike. To Dash, Kaydee seemed like a flower growing in the middle of a busy street; you can't imagine how it managed to grow without being trampled, but you can't help but recognize its beauty in spite of the ugliness all around. Dash couldn't fathom how Kaydee still seemed so pure of heart in spite of all she'd been through, in spite of a life one would expect could produce nothing but bitterness and anger.

Dash opened her sketchbook and started to draw. She'd become accustomed to talking while she worked, so she was still able to converse as her hands moved nimbly across the page.

"You're not a whore either. You did that to survive, because you had to, but it isn't who you are. You call me strong, but so are you. You have to be, to have survived. You're strong, and brave, and you care about other people. When I see you... when all the people here see you... that's what we see. A friend, not a whore."

Then, realizing she shouldn't put it off any longer, she answered Kaydee's question.

"Kaydee, I... I don't think it can help you, how we got away. You have to understand how desperate we were. We knew the life ahead of us-- we'd be used over and over for his campaigns, his petty wars, until one day we were the ones who died in battle, or until he figured out how to make better soldiers, and killed us to make room for them. We knew we had to do something fast because there was a village that displeased him. He said they were plotting against him. I don't think it was true. We'd been to that village, and I don't think those people had anything in mind except living their own lives as best they could. I don't think they were plotting against anyone. But the general... he was really paranoid. He always thought someone was trying to go against him. He saw enemies everywhere. I don't know how he decided those villagers were his enemies... but he did, and we were supposed to go kill them. We knew the general wouldn't listen to reason. He never did. We..."

"Oh, it wasn't just me and Zee. We were supposed to be a unit of six people. There were the two of us, and Clover, Gabriel, Scout, and Mu. I know we don't have real names, not like yours. The general never gave us any, because we weren't supposed to be people. We picked our own names, but we didn't know what we should choose, so our names are odd."

"Anyway, we decided that we had to get rid of the general. We were made so we couldn't injure him directly, so he thought we were no threat to him. He thought our only choices were to obey or die."

"He had this... thing in the basement. Some kind of magical being; it was like light, it didn't have a body. He used it to power his base. It was old, and it was angry, but it was trapped. The general said it would probably kill us, and going in there with it was the ultimate test, the ultimate way to win favour."

"I told him I wanted to. I said I wanted to do it so he would be proud of me. I was lying, though. I knew he never would be. I knew by then he didn't have a heart to love me with. I had another reason for going in. I wanted to talk to the creature."

"I made a deal with it. I told it I would set it free... if it would kill the general."

Dash paused. She should have cried. A normal person would have cried. Somehow she didn't feel like she had any tears in her, at least not for this. Instead she took a breath and continued, though her voice sounded a little hollow.

"It scared me how easy it was. Something like that should be hard. The general tried to make me cold, to stop me from feeling, so I could kill and not hesitate, not be swayed from my purpose. The only time I ever felt that way, though, was when I killed him."

"Because I did kill him, Kaydee. I may not have put a crossbow bolt through him, but I took his life none the less. I kept my end of the bargain, and so did the creature. I killed the man I thought of then as my father."

"I didn't know my brother Gabriel was going to die too, though. He had some kind of a link to the general, something the rest of us didn't have, and he couldn't survive once the general was dead. We had found out about the link, but I thought... I thought when the general died, Gabriel would be free. I thought it would help him. If I knew it would kill him, I..."

"...I don't know what I would have done. I think I still would have had to do the same thing. You understand, right?" Dash had a pleading look in her eyes. "Gabriel never would have been free. He would have had the same life as the rest of us, only at least we had had our whole minds. Gabriel never had more than half a life. He never even got to have thoughts that were just his own."

"He, and the rest of us, would have been soldiers under the general's command until we lost any humanity we ever had, until we really were things. The general would have used us to kill people, people who did nothing wrong except in his own paranoid imaginings. My sister... the general didn't care what his men did to Zee. They wanted to use her for sex, and he wasn't going to stop them." It was an awfully blunt way of saying it, but it seemed silly to resort to euphemisms with Kaydee. "I had to get her away from him before that happened to her. Before the bad things happened to all of us."

"There was no other hope. We had to get away. But I'm still not sure... I know I had no choice, but I'm still haunted by it. Being free had such a high cost. I wouldn't wish that cost on you. You're too sweet. You don't deserve to have something like that added to your stock of bad memories. I was never the same after that day."

"You don't have to be scared of me," she added hastily. "No one here has to be scared of me. I would never hurt you. I swear I wouldn't."

Post by Falcon Bertille on

Kaydee’s eyes widened as she listened to Dash’s story. It sounded like such a horrible situation. And Dash had behaved so bravely, facing a creature she thought might kill her in order to save the village and win freedom for her siblings. If Kaydee had been in her position, she knew what she would have done -- whatever the general told her to do. She would have served him, hoping that her obedience would buy her one more day, hoping that someone more courageous would come along and save her. After all, that’s what she’d done with Snyde. It had taken Julen’s promise of protection before she’d been willing to risk even the small defiance of running away.

“You did the right thing,” Kaydee stated when Dash had finished, her voice firm with conviction. “It’s terrible that Gabriel died. But I bet he would have still wanted you to do what you did, in order to save yourselves and all those people in the village. And I’m not the least bit scared of you. I feel safer, knowing that you’d make such a sacrifice to protect those you care about.”

“You’re the strong one. I’m...I’m just a coward.” Not daring to look at Dash, Kaydee picked at a bit of grime under one of her fingernails, which had somehow escaped her earlier cleaning. “I thought about killing Snyde. I thought about it a lot. I planned all the ways I could do it: poison, stabbing him, strangling him when he was asleep. Every time he hurt me or one of the other girls, I resolved to do it. But I was too weak. I was afraid of what he’d do if he caught me. I was afraid that even if I succeeded, whoever took his place might be worse than Snyde. There are people worse than Snyde.”

Kaydee shook her head. “So I didn’t do anything. And because I didn’t do anything, he continued to hurt us. He nearly killed Julen. He presents a threat to you, and your family, and everyone here. All because I couldn’t find the courage to do what you did.”

Hoping that Dash wouldn’t mind, Kaydee walked over and peered down at the sketch her friend was working on. Despite the troubles weighing on her mind, what she saw curved her lips into a smile. Dash had given her wings. Somehow, this made Kaydee feel like she’d been accepted into this strange group of people she now found herself amongst. And the feeling of acceptance gave her the courage to ask another question she’d been wondering about.

“Dash? Have you or Zee ever been with a man? I mean, had sex with one?” The question stumbled out clumsily. Kaydee didn’t want to pry into things that were none of her business. But for better or worse, sex had been a huge part of her life, and she was curious if it was another thing they shared in common. After all, they’d been open with each other about killing people and wanting to kill people. Surely sex was no more personal than that.

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

((NPC Post))

Dash was afraid the motives being ascribed to her actions were more selfless than they actually had been.

"It wasn't courage, Kaydee. It was desperation. It wasn't some noble sacrifice. I wasn't willing to lay down my life because I was brave, it was because I didn't give a damn what happened to me. I just didn't care anymore. I'd rather have been dead than where I was. Either way, it seemed like a better alternative. At least you still cared what happened. I think I'm the one who gave up."

"I was going to take Gabriel with me when I left. I never told him that because the general would have found out-- Gabriel didn't tell him things on purpose, but he didn't have any part of his mind the general couldn't see. That was my plan, though. Once the general was dead I was going to take Gabriel and Zee, and we were going to leave that desert once and for all and find a better place. The others didn't care about that. They liked the desert, and they liked being soldiers. They didn't want to work for the general or have someone own them, but they didn't mind the rest of it."

"I didn't know what Gabriel wanted. I could never tell. Maybe he didn't want anything at all. I was going to take him with me anyway, because he deserved a chance at living a real life. I still imagine sometimes what that would be like. We'd still be together. Gabriel would be happier; he'd smile more knowing he was free of the general."

"I love my baby brother Martin, but I still wish Gabriel was here too. Uluki and Rollick would have adopted him as well, and I'd have two brothers instead of one. I think he would have liked to be their son."

Discussing her family, she unintentionally shifted away from using her parents' given names, instead slipping into what she called them.

"Mama and Papa want more children someday. I don't think they'll have another baby, though. Mama isn't sure she can, and I don't think Papa wants her to. She had a hard time giving birth to Martin. She said it was worth it, but it scared Papa. He doesn't like to see her hurt. Anyway, I think they'll adopt more children someday. I wish they could have adopted Gabriel. They would have. But he died."

Kaydee's question about sex took Dash by surprise. She'd been avoiding the topic as much as possible, fearing it would be a sensitive one for Kaydee. Apparently not.

"I've never slept with a man. Neither has Zee." Dash worried she'd lose Kaydee's respect for this, that Kaydee would think her a child, but it was an honest answer.

"When we first came to live with Uluki and Rollick, I wasn't sure what they... what he... might expect. I was a little bit scared. It wasn't like that, though. He doesn't look at us that way. He hugs and kisses us, but it's not anything sexual. It's just a father's affection for his daughters. He didn't do any of the things I was worried about. He's just nice to us, and makes us feel safe."

"Uluki talked to us about sex once. She said that no one was allowed to force us to do it. We didn't have to if we didn't want to. Men aren't supposed to touch us unless we give them permission, because our bodies belong to us and we aren't things. She's going to tell you that too. That men can only have sex with you if you say yes, and you should only say yes if you really want to."

"I want to someday, when I find some man to be in love with. Not yet, though. I've had so little time to be a daughter. I want to just enjoy that for awhile longer before I try to be someone's lover."

Post by Falcon Bertille on

As Kaydee listened to Dash talk about Gabriel, she could hear the sorrow in her friend’s voice, and it made her want to offer some sort of consolation. But she couldn’t think of what to say. Kaydee never had any siblings, so she couldn’t imagine what it would be like to lose a brother. She didn’t know how to ease that kind of pain.

“Life is full of so many bad things. And sometimes the worst things seem to happen to the people who least deserve them. I wish Gabriel could have escaped and been adopted by Uluki and Rollick. I wish everyone could have the happy ending that they deserve.” Kaydee shrugged, feeling helpless. “Maybe there just aren’t enough happy endings to go around.”

Dash’s answer to Kaydee’s question about sex actually came as something of a relief. When Dash had mentioned what the general’s men wanted to do with Zee, Kaydee worried that Dash might not have rescued her sister in time. Now, learning the truth, she felt glad that Zee hadn’t been taken against her will. That was something Kaydee wouldn’t wish on anyone.

Next, Dash went on to talk about how she still wanted time to be a daughter, which initially puzzled Kaydee. Most of the girls that Kaydee knew considered themselves to be adults by the time they were fourteen or fifteen and felt all too eager to break free from their families. But then, Kaydee remembered that Dash had been created, not born. Although she looked like a girl her own age, she was really much younger, with much less experience. She’d only had a family for a relatively short time. Who could blame her if she wanted to stay with them for a while longer?

“Sex is...I don’t know. Everyone says it’s supposed to be special. But I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to think of it like that. I’ve slept with so many men...so many men who meant nothing at all. Maybe it’s too late for me.”

Wearily, Kaydee sat down on the floor. She’d gotten caught up in the excitement of chatting with Dash. But it had been a long day, and as much as she enjoyed the company of her new friend, she felt tired. With lowered eyes, she traced the shape of a heart on the slightly dusty floor. “But I think other things could still be special. I’d like be with a man who listens when I talk, who really cares about what I say. Someone who makes me laugh when I feel sad. Someone who can just hold me without wanting more. That’s the sort of man I want to fall in love with.”




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