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The Worm in the Apple

The Worm in the Apple

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

Uluki healed all the refugees she could find. She was pretty sure she’d gotten to everyone. Most of it was simple malnutrition and related ailments. Nothing that would normally be much of a challenge… but she had used so much magic the night before, every bit of energy she summoned now was a struggle.

The important thing was that the people were healed. Aorle had asked her to help them, the angel had given her the opportunity, and most of all, she wanted to. She wanted to take away any lingering pain. She wanted them to be well.

As the refugees got stronger, Uluki got weaker. Her skin had become very pale, and she was even colder. She thought of going to find the cloak, but it didn’t matter now, not when she was producing so little body heat.

The room was starting to spin a little, and she was afraid she was going to pass out again like she had on the steppe. She had to get outside. She couldn’t let these people see her weakness.

None of the refugees seemed to be paying much attention to her, luckily, so she held onto the wall for support. It was a relief when she was outside in the yard where no one would see her, but there was nothing to hold onto anymore. She took a few steps, lost her balance, and fell.

She heard someone approaching her from behind. “I’m fine,” she called. Her voice was carefully cheerful. “You should go back inside with the others.”

“It’s me.” Rollick crouched beside her. “You don’t have to be fine.”

“They might need you inside.”

“I think you need me more at the moment. You can’t really expect me to just leave you here. Can you stand?”

Her head still felt strange, and her legs were achy. “I don’t think so,” she admitted. So weak. Why was she so damnably weak?

Rollick wrapped the cloak around her. He must have brought it with him. “I’ll stay with you till you feel better. Then we can both go inside.” It was not left open to debate. He was not leaving. He was so stubborn. She loved him so much.

He sat by her for a few minutes, his arms around her, till she felt warmer and less head-swimmy. “I think I can stand now, if you help me. Don’t tell the others.”

“Of course I won’t.” He helped her to her feet, and she didn’t feel too bad, though he was supporting pretty much all of her weight.

“Just give me another minute…”

Post by Quinn on

The young-looking girl who approached the compound gave it a genuine admiring raise of the eyebrows when she saw it. Nothing Panterras or those guys in the tavern had mentioned had prepared her for the scale of the operation here.

Shoeless, the girl was quite short and thin, her hair was black-brown, layered and messy, she wore a faded black riding-jacket over mere rags, and skilful application of makeup made her look gaunt and rather ill. Her bright, blue eyes belied the impression of illness and malnutrition, but everybody liked to believe in spirited urchins whose bright eyes showed their courage in the face of adversity, and getting people to believe in things that they liked to believe in was child's play.

Besides, people didn't tend to eye each other up around here; you were concerned about getting through the day, not what company you kept as you did. Quinn was adept at riding waves of humanity, and here all negotiable currents led to the building where the refugees were being healed. She heard murmurs in the streets as she approched about healing and afflictions. The word 'blue' reached her ears and she began moving more sinuously, quickly but inconspicuously making her way to the building these ripples radiated out from.

A building. At this time in an investigation, she did not want to get involved in buildings until she knew for sure she'd get out of them. She skirted it and couldn't believe her look when she glanced behind it. There was the blue woman! And that, presumably, was the man Panterras spoke of! When things like this happened, Quinn had long since learned not to push her luck. She stayed still, not exactly hidden but at least not in plain view, and listened.
Last edited by Quinn on Sat Oct 20, 2007 8:12 am, edited 1 time in total.

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

Uluki was so focused on keeping her footing, and Rollick so intent on preventing her from taking a tumble, that they didn’t initially see the girl approaching the still-incomplete fortifications. The girl moved painfully slowly, each limping step making little progress, but her pace was steady and her face determined.

It was Rollick who first spotted her, and drew Uluki’s attention to her approach.

“I can stand now. Can you go help her?” Walking out to meet the girl herself seemed to be pushing it a little, but after a few minutes of support Uluki was pretty sure that she was capable of keeping her balance without him to aid her.

Seeing this was indeed the case, Rollick went to assist the girl in the last short distance to the compound. Uluki watched him approach her, but stop when he got close. Something about the girl had shocked him. Rollick was hard to shock. Uluki wondered what was going on. After just a moment’s pause, he recovered himself and offered her his arm. The girl shied away, seemingly unwilling to be touched, and Rollick didn’t push the issue. Instead he simply kept pace with her as she walked, ready to intervene if it seemed she would stumble, but otherwise not interfering.

As they drew close, Uluki saw what her husband had found so disconcerting, and she also stared at the girl. For a split second, she had the sickening thought that she and Dash and both been wrong, that the angel had come to hurt, not to heal. Or was this the sacrifice demanded in exchange for celestial help?

After that split second, she realized this had nothing to do with the angel. The haunted eyes, the frightened set of the mouth, the way she had flinched away from Rollick… none of that was familiar. Uluki wasn’t sure exactly what was going on, but what took priority was the tired, injured, terrified girl who stood before them. Her twisted back and legs and her knotted hands made Uluki’s heart ache with sympathy.

Uluki reached out a hand to the girl… who drew away even more violently than she had from Rollick, her eyes huge and her breath coming fast. Uluki saw Rollick’s face tense in anger— not at the girl, but at whoever had hurt and frightened her so badly.

Drawing closer slowly, making clear she didn’t intend to touch her, Uluki slipped the cloak from her own shoulders. The girl’s black shift was thin, and she looked cold. “Can I put this around you?” The girl nodded, seeming more comfortable with the cloak than Uluki’s hands.

“Why don’t you come inside?” Uluki suggested, her voice gentle and her smile welcoming. “We can get you some food, and you can rest if you’re tired.” Whoever this girl was, she clearly needed all the help they could provide.

Post by Quinn on

Quinn frowned as she watched what was happening in front of the building. The girl had come here? Perhaps she didn't believe the old man's story. Or maybe she assumed that the enemy of her enemy was her friend - that old mistake.

But it appeared that Panterras had not been wrong about appearances being deceiving. The nobleman's femme fatale appeared weak and frail. Of course, Quinn knew that trick herself. But why would she help the girl? There must be more to this.

The spy looked down. She had a bad feeling about this job already. She didn't want to push her luck, but neither did she want to leave the girl in the hands of this evil witch. Of course, she had originally planned to infiltrate as a prostitute, but... ooh. Inspiration struck.

She ran forward, breathing hard so as to appear out of breath. "Miss, miss!" she called, running up to Uluki. She stopped and pretended to catch her breath, leaning over with her hands on her thighs as she sucked in huge gulps of air. "You found her! I was so worried!"

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

Uluki eyed the newcomer rather nervously. Ordinarily such a ragged young woman would have inspired no such concerns, and Uluki would simply have assumed this woman too was fleeing from the horrible life she led in the shanty town. There were certainly enough people who wanted and needed to escape that fate.

What worried her, though, was the association this woman had with the other girl who was so obviously traumatized. Was this latest arrival another victim, or the perpetrator? Uluki had learned long ago that the appearance of innocence could be deceiving, though she had never quite worked out a foolproof way to tell the deceivers from the real innocents. It very well could be that this was the person who had hurt the girl in the first place, come to try to bring her back to whatever horrors haunted her past.

On the other hand, the woman might instead be another victim of the same abuser, undeserving of suspicion and equally in need of help. Someone in need must not be turned away. Uluki would act on that assumption, but keep a close eye on things to make sure no one… this woman or anyone else… hurt the girl.

“It’s more a matter of her finding us than us finding her. My name is Uluki, by the way, and this is my husband, Rollick.” Uluki had taken his hand, needing the comfort after seeing the girl with the face that was so familiar, and yet so very, very unknown. Rollick seemed glad for her touch. She knew this was as difficult for him as it was for her, and she would occasionally give his hand a reassuring little squeeze.

“There’s no need to be worried about her,” she said, referring to the girl, whose name she still didn’t know. “She’s safe with us, as are you.”

This was perfectly true. Uluki didn’t know whether the girl would still be safe if she left with the young woman, and intended her to stay here, at least until they could be sure she wasn’t returning to a dangerous situation. If the young woman wanted to stay too, she was welcome to do so. But there was no way in hell Uluki was going to let her drag this poor girl back to face more abuse.

“I suspect she is much safer here than she was before. What happened?” Uluki asked bluntly. “Someone has been hurting her. She’s terrified.” This was addressed to the young woman, but she included the girl when she said, “Knowing what is wrong makes it easier for me to try to help.”

Before these two had shown up, when she was still trying to find her feet and Rollick had his arms wrapped around her, Uluki had planned to suggest that they both go back inside and, with her work done, try to catch a glimpse of the angel. Uluki would stand so she was concealed by Rollick or Julen or Kaydee, and the angel would never even notice she was there. Surely that wouldn’t ruin anything. She could see the angel! Surely it wouldn’t matter so very much that there was one person who didn’t belong.

There was still a moment of temptation. But then she looked again at the perpetually frightened face and obviously physical suffering of the girl, and the woman’s thinness and rags. The temptation fled as swiftly as it had arrived.

“I’ve just offered that your… friend? sister?... come inside. Why don’t you come along? I’ll find you something to eat, and we can talk more. I want to help you if I can.”

Uluki knew where she did belong.

Post by Quinn on

Quinn stared the blue woman in her eyes as she spoke, taking in the words, but engaging in something else altogether. She brought a hand to her head, as if it hurt, and closed her eyes for a second. This would stretch acting muscles she hadn't used in years. A trained actor might have recognised the way her body moved - weight on the balls of her feet, stance and arms and mannerisms all set. Deep breath. And... go.

Wlid blue eyes darted from Uluki to Kira. "I... I don't know what happened. We.. he... we were locked up. I didn't, I never saw what happened, there were just... there were screams, and these noises. And then - " Quinn's dramatic pause-and-turn-away would have won her awards, "- there were no more screams. I was - I didn't know what would happen because they hadn't touched me yet and then one day this woman came and the door was left open..."

Quinn bit her lip. Even in the cold of the yard, there were beads of sweat on her forehead and her heart beat against her ribs like an angry caged bird, but it wasn't stage fright. It was the state of steady panic that truly great performances are always done in. "I.. I'm sorry. I'm being too... too loud. That's not good." Subtext subtext.

"Y.. you want to help us?" Even while it was a sympathy line that would have people offering her eggs to go with the ham in the Green Room, it was a genuine question, too. What was the witch up to? What did she want with the girl? Not only was it conductive to her investigation that she go with Uluki, Quinn told herself, there was no way she would let her alone with Panterras' girl.

"I'd like that. I'm... I'm Asra. I don't know her name." Quinn looked with crocodile (mainly) tear-filled eyes at the girl's twisted body. The part of her that was doing the out-of-character thinking shuddered. She hadn't seen before just how terrible her injuries were. "She doesn't seem to, uh, talk. A lot." Quinn scanned Kira's face, probing for any signs of recognition. "You remember me, right? When we escaped from our X captors? Remember?"

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

Kira nodded that she did, understanding the game the woman was playing. If she had mentioned Panterras, Kira would have pretended not to know the name. She didn’t want to be identified with him, for fear they’d send her back. She realized what the lady who had called herself X was doing, and she was more than willing to go along. It was Uluki’s angle she didn’t understand. What did the blue woman really want?

Kira recognized someone else, too— the grey-haired man, Rollick. She had heard her father speak of him, of course, sometimes praising him and reminiscing about their friendship, and at other times heaping him with insults and profanity. That wasn’t what Kira was thinking of now. It was one of her own memories, not her father’s. Kira had been very little, just a tiny child. That was back when her father still thought she was a person, and still allowed her to have a life. Before he had started his experiments on her. Her mother had just died, and her father was so very, very sad. Kira had spent a lot of time alone. That’s when she had seen Rollick. He’d had grey hair even then. Kira had still had hands she could use, and still had her words, and Rollick had sat with her for a long time, helping her build a tower out of blocks. He’d been so nice to her, paid her so much more attention than her father ever did. She’d wished, in her own childish way, that he was her real father rather than her godfather. He had such kind eyes, and a friendly smile.

Kira wondered briefly if Rollick was still like that, but doubted it. Back when she was little, she had thought the whole world was nice, and now she knew better. The world was cruel and nasty. She had been wrong about everything else, so she must have been wrong about Rollick too. She was glad he didn’t seem to recognize her… although how could he, now that she looked so different?

Uluki’s heart stirred with sympathy as the young woman told her story. “I’m so glad you were both able to escape. That must have been terrifying.” What Asra said hadn’t really given her any clues as to how to help them begin the process of healing emotionally, but it had been enough to convince her they had both been through a great trauma.

It was a trauma she hated to make them relive, but she was afraid she would need to. Not to satisfy her own curiosity, but because those who had done this still might have other victims. “Can you remember anything about who took you or where they kept you? They might have other people locked up, and if so we need to help them too. I’m sure you don’t want anyone else to go through what the two of you did.”

Rollick hadn’t spoken much, but every line of his body and face radiated sympathy for the girl and young woman. Sometimes there was just nothing that could be said. He simply added, “If we can find those people, we will make sure they never hurt anyone else.” Uluki nodded her agreement.

The unspoken but implied question of why she wanted to help went completely unnoticed by Uluki. It simply did not strike her as something to wonder about. She didn’t need a reason, and would not have done otherwise, so she missed the question entirely.

Her eyes took in the girl and the young woman. She was deeply relieved they had come here. “Both of you will be protected here, and you don’t have to worry the people who hurt you will take you back, or try to get revenge on you. This is a safe place.”

Uluki reached toward Asra to give her a hug, trying to show that her words were true. She was still warm from being held by Rollick, and shouldn’t be uncomfortable to touch, though her temperature would feel lower than normal. Maybe the hug would make Asra feel better... if she would accept it.

Post by Quinn on

Internally, Quinn sighed with relief when she realised that Kira recognised her, even though normally she'd pride herself on not being remembered. She turned her attention back to the couple, still on edge - not that it didn't help her performance - at knowing she now had pretty much no choice but stay, deep into a pretty vulnerable character, here with an evil witch and a man who Panterras had once considered a friend.

The anxiety rose from the following; Quinn was a good actor. Every good actor knows that the key to being in character is not performing the actions or speaking the words of the character, it is thinking the thoughts of the character. The longer you do that the more in character you get, and the character... leaks somewhat. That's why the man playing the villain can often be difficult to hang around with around the time of a show. And that was why Quinn was less than confident in taking Asra - not to mention the other girl - inside. Because - and this was Quinn's special, extra rule that she never shared with the other actors she'd known - if you die In Character, you die in real life.

When Uluki asked about her backstory, Quinn exchanged glances briefly with Kira. Then Asra turned back to her rescuer, and said quietly, "I... I don't remember a lot clearly. They hid their faces. But... there were just us two, weren't there?" She looked at Kira again, and again she was asking a different question at the same time. There was only you, right? "I mean, they had her first..."

Quinn didn't really want to send Uluki on a wild goose chase right now, not before she'd properly assessed what was going on here. Inspiration struck. "They - I think they're dead. We were in this shack somewhere in the Shanty Town, and I guess they must have got into trouble with someone because - when the woman came," she tied it in with her story from before, "She said we wouldn't see them again." Quinn exhaled slowly. She really felt like a nice interval smoke in the Green Room right now.

She stared into the sympathetic faces of Uluki and Rollick. Tiredness apart, at least she was playing opposite real impresarios tonight. You could almost believe they genuinely wanted to help because they were good, kind, people or something. Quinn felt privileged to be working with true masters. It always brought out the best in her own talents.

I'm cold, thought Asra, in the comfort of Quinn's head. I'm frightened and they're helping me out - but I don't quite trust them. I don't quite trust anybody.

She flinched away from the hug, alarmed. "Sorry. I'm sorry, thank you, but, just..." she muttered. Was that it?, Quinn thought eagerly. Was she going to.. do some evil fairy thing to me? Bewitch me? She's smart. We can sacrifice some character depth for the purposes of staying on guard, thank you very much.

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

Uluki was relieved to hear that apparently these mysterious kidnappers had already received their retribution— which was confirmed by the silent girl’s nod that there were only two. Though it meant Uluki would probably never know what had really happened, the full extent of the damage done, more importantly it meant that there would be no more victims, and that she and her friends wouldn’t have to risk a trip to the shanty town again just yet.

She fully intended to go back to the shanty town, as she had told Julen. Those plans hadn’t changed. It was just that when she did so, she wanted to have taken time to prepare, time to reduce the risks as much as possible. Another frantic rescue mission would have put all of them in great danger… especially now.

Her blue skin made her very recognizable. Ordinarily that was a benefit, because it simplified things for people who needed to find her to ask for help. It was a bad thing in the shanty town, though, after last time. Last time she had left the shanty town, it had been with a man and a teenage girl Snyde had beaten and left for dead, four other women he had been exploiting as prostitutes, and one of the women’s small daughter who Snyde had been threatening as leverage against the mother. Not exactly an inconspicuous visit, and Uluki knew that it was not a good tactical decision… but who was she supposed to leave behind? How could she have made a choice?

Uluki regretted nothing about bringing them back here... a decision that had been in her hands, and the responsibility for which was hers alone if it was a mistake. She did regret the danger her friends were in because of her actions. She knew those friends were good people and had accepted the risk willingly and bravely, but she would hate to see anything happen to them. Yes, it was better to avoid the shanty town for now, till they were able to return without forfeiting their own lives. She was confident that day would come… but they weren’t ready today.

“I’m glad to hear that the people who took you won’t be able to hurt anyone else,” she said with relief. She wondered if this mysterious woman who had killed them was any less of a danger, but forced herself to dismiss that thought. The immediate threat was gone. If she tried to protect the whole world from anyone who might pose a risk, she’d drive herself mad. Better to focus on the people who were here, the people she could actually help.

Uluki shrugged off the apology for dodging the hug. She had no desire to make either of the newcomers do something they weren’t comfortable with. She had only been trying to make Asra feel better, and if her gesture wouldn’t do that, it served no purpose. Uluki didn’t expect them to trust her right away, especially under the circumstances. She’d wanted to try, but was neither offended nor particularly surprised by the reaction. “Why don’t we go inside and get you something to eat?” she suggested. “You can look around, and decide whether you want to stay.”

She and her husband led the way inside. Neither wanting to interrupt Aorle’s meeting with the angel nor to subject the two frightened young women to a crowd of people just yet, Uluki instead steered them upstairs, intending to bring the two to the family’s own room, simply because she could think of no other suitable place for them to eat and relax.

The stairs posed a problem. Kira looked up at them as though they were a mountain. It was a daunting task for her, an exhausting one that would take hours. Uluki hadn’t considered that. She was about to suggest they find a place to eat down here instead, but Rollick was quicker with a different suggestion, offering instead to carry the girl up. For an instant Kira seemed doubtful, but then she nodded. Her face was tense the whole time, as though she expected Rollick to let go and drop her down the stairs, but of course he did no such thing. At the top the girl rewarded him with a grateful if extremely fleeting smile.

“Rollick, I can handle things from here.” Uluki felt much better now. She was quite sure she was not going to pass out, and could in fact handle basic tasks, though probably no more magic. “If you want to go down and see…”

“No thank you.” Rollick’s abrupt answer surprised Uluki.

“I appreciate your help, but I don’t want you to miss it.” Her husband deserved to see what Uluki knew would be a beautiful sight.

“I’m perfectly happy to stay here. And… she might need to go downstairs again.”

Uluki raised an eyebrow in puzzlement. That really seemed to be reaching.

“I… I can’t,” he elaborated. “I don’t want to see. Uluki, it’s… Dashie.”

And Uluki suddenly understood. Dash’s body was the angel’s willing host… but if Rollick saw someone else using her face, her form, the image would haunt him for the rest of his life. “Of course. You should stay with us, then. There is something you can help me with. Can you go get them some food?”

“I’m sorry. I know it sounds foolish and weak…”

“No, it doesn’t. It isn’t weakness that you care about our daughter. If you can go get some food for these two to eat, it would really help me. You being human and all. That way no one confuses it for fairy food.”

Rollick nodded, taking her point. There were many tales of the unwary being led astray, and then trapped forever because they ate the food of the fairies. For those who knew the old stories, accepting food from Uluki might not be a straightforward matter… although in truth, food Uluki prepared was no different than anyone else’s. “I’ll be right back,” he said, then went off in search of something for the newcomers to eat.

“This is where we live,” Uluki said, pushing open the door of their room. “My daughter drew the pictures,” she explained about the loving family scenes pinned to the wall. “My daughter… well, she looks a lot like you,” Uluki commented, gesturing toward Kira. Quite the understatement.

Post by Quinn on

Quinn followed cautiously into the building, taking care not to let Kira out of her sight. She let Asra stare around, looking in a good take on bemused wonderment at her surroundings. You've been locked up somewhere for gods know how long, she told herself. This is amazing. I'm amazed.

This was where, sidetracks and changes of persona aside, she had intended to be, after all. Perhaps not this early, but still. Quinn noticed something going on in another part of the building, but decided it would be against character to insist on having a look, instead filing it away for future reference.

It remained for her to decide how much of this she was going to tell Panterras. She would have to see what happened. She was already constructing some plausible misinformation about Kira's whereabouts for her first letter.

Quinn frowned when Rollick offered to carry the girl, but she could see there was no other way to get her upstairs, and resigned herself to watching his every move until he put her down. Rollick, she thought, perhaps posed the most threat of all. He seemed stronger than the fairy woman, but he was under her control, and if her control could be broken, he would still be the kind of person Panterras chose to consort with. Hopefully at least then he would be as easy to deal with as the old nobleman had been.

She listened to the conversation intently. What might he miss? What was going on downstairs? They mentioned a daughter.. Panterras had told her about them. Magically constructed bodyguards. Luckily it didn't sound like they were bringing it here, which was good. Quinn had no idea how she'd fare against something with no mind or personality, but she could guess. No greed? No gullibility? No wishful thinking? That was all she had to work with. She had to avoid the magic creatures at all costs. Dashie, had he called it?

When Uluki pushed open the door, Quinn just stared. Talk about attention to detail! Family scenes drawn up with that winged thing and that horned thing in them as if they were people! She took note of their appearances - all the better to avoid them.

Something Uluki said caught her attention. Why would the girl from Panterras' place look like her 'daughter'? Was it maybe created as a copy of a human? Perhaps when Rollick was still friends with Panterras they had used her as a template? Bizzare.

"Who.. who are all these people?" Quinn asked, looking at the pictures. She always made sure not to ask too many questions because it was a dead giveaway, but it made sense now. Besides - Asra added - I don't want to think about what happened to me. I want to think about different things. This is as good as anything.

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

Uluki was happy to answer Asra’s question.

“Well, you know which one is me, and which one is Rollick.” The way he looked at her in the picture was just the way he really looked at her. So much affection, making it obvious how much she mattered to him. She wondered if her own face looked that way too, so happy with him, and after ten years, even more in love with him than she had been at first. She hoped her face showed that in real life. She certainly felt it.

Uluki pointed to the drawing of herself and the other adult woman, a human. Dash had softened things a little, but she hadn’t completely removed the unhealthy thinness of the woman’s body after years of drug addiction and the battle to escape it, or the haunted look in her eyes from living on the run from the crime boss who had once been her lover. Dash could not have eliminated these details and remained true to her subject. There were several tattoos visible on the woman’s skin, and she had far more piercings than was common.

“That’s Mercedes. She’s my best friend. My sister. When I first met her I was scared to trust her, because someone else had just betrayed me, and I was afraid everyone I got close to would. She never did that, though. She was always a true friend.”

That sent a little stab of pain through Uluki. She missed Mercedes very, very much. She hoped that one day she would see her again; nothing was impossible.

Uluki pointed to three other figures. “Those are Rollick’s and my son and daughters. You’ll meet them later. The baby is Martin. That’s Dash, and that one is Zee. The girls are adopted,” Uluki explained, in case Asra was wondering why they didn’t look like either of their parents.

“I think that the two of you could end up being good friends with our daughters. Dash and Zee are very kind and friendly. You might enjoy spending time together.”

There was only one person left unidentified in the pictures. “That’s Kaydee. I’m sure you’ll meet her too. She’s our new friend, a very sweet girl we’re glad we know. She doesn’t really have wings like that. Dash drew her that way so they could fly together. Dash made the picture for her to keep. But she can have her picture on our wall as long as she wants to.”

Uluki regarded the wall of pictures with a smile.

“So that’s our family. You can see what a lucky woman I am.”

Kira hadn’t seemed to be listening to Uluki. She just stared at the drawings, with her back to the two of them. After awhile, her shoulders started to shake. Though her own attention had been focused on answering Asra, Uluki couldn’t help noticing that. She drew closer and saw, when Kira finally turned to look at her, that tears were streaming down the girl’s face, though she didn’t make a sound.

Kira wiped ineffectually at her eyes with the back of her hand. Feeling she owed Uluki some kind of explanation for sobbing about her nice family pictures, but lacking the words to describe her sadness, she touched the drawings on the wall. Every place Dash’s face appeared... a face so like her own... Kira pressed her fingers, careful not to smudge the pencil lines, but with every gesture expressing deep regret and longing.

Uluki didn’t need to hear words to understand that. She felt like a strong fist had twisted around her heart. “It’s not too late for you. You still have time.”

Kira shook her head violently. She’d lost ten years out of thirteen. That seemed to be the very definition of “too late.”

“Yes you do.” Uluki’s voice was kind and reassuring, but left no room for doubt. “Dash didn’t always have a life like that, like the pictures. She’s only lived with us for a few months, and so has Zee. Our daughters have suffered too. It wasn’t too late for them, and it isn’t for you. You have a chance to start a different life now. The kind of life you want.”

Uluki was standing close to Kira, but Kira didn’t seem to mind. Very, very slowly, Uluki reached toward the girl, who didn’t flinch this time. Uluki’s gentle hands wiped the tears from the Kira’s face. “I can’t take away the pain of the past. I wish I could. But you still have plenty of time to be happy.”

She turned to look at Asra, including her in those words too.

Post by Quinn on

Quinn stared up at the pictures as Uluki spoke. They were so... she wasn't even sure how you drew love, but was there. It was like the ending of some kind of a romantic story, there was even a play, she was sure... the couple overcome adversity when people don't like them because they're different and then live happily ever after. Panterras was right... this was way too good to be true. There had to be magic involved. Panterras might have done better to employ someone with magic talents themselves, but Quinn did at least have a good working knowledge of how it looked from the outside. She'd be on guard.

Uluki had a human sister? Quinn filed it away for future notice. She was actually quite heartened to see Mercedes in the pictures - she was about the only person who actually looked 'real' to her, who'd have fit in with the people she normally hung around with in Marn.

When she moved on to the family pictures, her face narrowed. She'd planned to study the magic creatures in more detail, but she got distracted by an angle on Rollick's face she hadn't noticed when she saw him in real life. He looked sort of familiar... the magic bodyguards soon drew her attention once, more, especially when Uluki suggested they might enjoy spending time with their 'daughters'. What does that mean? Has she figured me out? Are we her prisoners? Will she use them to guard me?

She forced herself to breathe. Calm down. Kaydee, she told herself. Was she that girl Panterras had said was hanging around with the family?

She noticed Kira's movement out of the corner of her eye, and spun around quickly. For a moment she just kind of stood there, ineffectually. Quinn was no use with emotions, particularly other people's. She'd grown so used to turning hers on and off that she no longer understood why other people couldn't do the same.

She bit her lip when Kira touched the pictures. Despite the girl's silence, this much was clear - she wanted a family. It was a dream she'd never shared, but seemed tragic to her nonetheless. She wasn't sure what to say. The thing she'd always heard people do in these situations was claim that everything was going to be alright, but she didn't believe that. It certainly wasn't her experience. Finally she realised that Uluki had said it all and said it better. One of her eyes prickled slightly as Uluki turned to include her. Touched by the stellar performance of a star. That's all.

She turned away from Kira and Uluki, persuing a much safer line of thought - just what was the fairy's angle? Where was the money? That was what she'd have to find out before she wrote to Panterras. Speaking, of which, I'll update my story there. As far as Panterras is concerned, that girl is in the next continent. And when I get the hell out of here... she glanced back, only for a second. I take her with me. If she'll go.

She had no idea how to deal with a traumatised girl who couldn't soeak and could hardly walk, but what sort of a person would leave a girl like that in the hands of a witch?

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

As far as Uluki could see, there were three possibilities to explain the likeness between Dash and this girl who had recently joined them.

It could, she had to admit to herself, simply be coincidence. Rollick had seen it too, so she knew it wasn’t just in her head, but sometimes people looked similar by chance alone. It seemed a bit too convenient, though, that someone who happened to look exactly like her daughter would also just happen to show up here... just too much of a coincidence despite Uluki’s apparent talent for drawing troubled adolescent girls to her. It also seemed improbable that two identical young women would end up so traumatized for unrelated reasons.

Another possibility was that, like Dash and Zee, the silent girl had been created by magic to be a soldier. The girl certainly didn’t appear physically capable of such a role, but Uluki knew from what her daughters had told her that not all of those experiments had been successful. Limited mobility did not necessarily mean the girl hadn’t been produced by such a program. On the other hand, Uluki also knew how harshly her daughters and the others had been treated, and though the very thought horrified her, realistically she wasn’t sure one of the magic soldiers who turned out so badly disabled would have been allowed to live.

The final possibility was that a magic copy of this girl had somehow been made, and formed into part of Dash. Uluki knew that had happened— that the magical soldiers were built from aspects of other people— and she wondered if the silent girl had been used in the creation of some of them.

There was no way to be certain which of these things were true. Other than by what they had experienced, there was no foolproof way to distinguish people like Zee and Dash from anyone else. Although her daughters had developed physical anomalies, they had said some of the others looked quite ordinary. There was no way to be sure simply by looking at them. The only ones who knew the truth about what had happened here were the captors… and this girl.

“Was it magic?” Uluki asked Kira softly. “Were the people who were hurting you doing magic?” Uluki wondered if there was intended to be a magically enhanced soldier who shared Asra’s face. She knew that Dash and Zee weren’t meant to be the last phase of development. The man who ordered their creation was dead, but perhaps one of his underlings was continuing his work. If so… “Did they use you to do experiments on?”

Uluki was hoping the silent girl would shake her head. She was desperately wishing for a confused look, for a reaction of total surprise that such a thing might be possible. Uluki very much wanted to be wrong. Her heart sank when Kira nodded, and Uluki fought back the tears in her own eyes.

“There will be no more of that. Never again. They did that to my daughters, and they did it to you, and as long as there is breath in my body I will do everything I can to prevent it from happening anymore. So will Rollick, and so will everyone here. You don’t have to be afraid now. You’ll be protected here. No one will harm you, or exploit you. ”

The silent girl looked doubtful, but that was to be expected. Uluki hadn’t thought she could win trust with a few simple words, especially after what the girl had been through. That trust would take time, and Uluki would need to prove it through her actions as well as what she said. Uluki was prepared to do so, and to be patient in the meantime.

“How did you know to come here?” Uluki asked, the question directed mostly to Asra, given how clear it was that the younger girl couldn’t talk. “I’m glad you did, of course, but how did you know this was a safe place?”

“The reason I ask is that the people who used and mistreated our daughters would love to have the opportunity to get them back, and I suspect this girl is in the same situation. If they know where we are, then all three girls are in great danger. So I have to ask, how did you find out you should come here? I know you were looking for her, but how did you know to look here?”

Post by Quinn on

Quinn looked in alarmed wonder at Kira when she confirmed that magical experiments had been done on her. By Panterras? She could only assume. So that was what he was worried about me blackmailing him about...

The fairy's story was good, she had to admit. She could almost believe she really was against all this stuff... then again, maybe she was. Maybe this was where the rift between her and Panterras had come about. She was a magical creature, so it followed that she perhaps didn't want people messing about with magic.. people other than her, anyway. But she still used magical bodyguards? Well, you wouldn't let them go to waste, and at least they were where she could see them. She wanted to keep them here, that much was obvious. She wanted them to trust her, and she seemed to be picking the sort of people who, when she picked them up, would learn to trust only her... maybe she was building an army! But, who builds an army out of scared little girls?

It was clear, anyway, that she was getting people together for some sort of purpose. It could just be petty megalomania, of course. Maybe she wanted this little fort to be her own private kingdom, full of bewitched toadies. As for Panterras, an employer's indiscretions were no business of hers. In Quinn's mind, this did not at all conflict with her desire to keep Kira safe. If pressed, she would rationalise it as her decision, on a whim, to protect this one particular girl didn't neccessitate any kind of an action on behalf of all traumatised little girls.

Why here? What to tell Uluki?

"I think..." Oh yeah. It was almost scary how quickly it came these days. "She was in a different room to me. The experimenters... they didn't talk to me. They didn't experiment on me either, I guess maybe they were waiting for something, but they talked to her. I overheard bits of what they said. They talked about... the world, and how it was just as bad outside as inside, and they mentioned this compound. Maybe they mentioned you taking people in? I just followed her. I lost her when I got near, but I heard people talking about this place and how... how you've taken in girls who were being abused by other people. So I thought, maybe you'd find her."

Quinn attempted to convey a pure, unselfish concern for the girl. It had been a hard expression at first, because you so rarely saw it, but Quinn was fiarly sure that by now she knew what people thought it looked like.

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

For the briefest of instants it struck Uluki that there was something strange about Asra’s expression, and Uluki wondered what was going on, but then she dismissed the thought. If she herself was just getting over a trauma, someone would likely think the same about her. Besides, Uluki probably had weird expressions all the time but didn’t know it because she couldn’t see her own face. It was nothing. And anyway, Asra’s explanation was quite reasonable.

“I doubt she came looking for me. It was Aorle and Julen who told some people in the shanty town that they could come to safety here. My family were just refugees too a few days ago. It was probably Aorle and Julen the people were talking about, not me.”

Hadn’t Asra said before that she hadn’t heard anything? Uluki was sure she’d said that, but now the young woman was remembering some pretty specific words. That seemed a little… convenient, perhaps? As soon as the thought crossed her mind, Uluki was angry with herself for it. So Asra had remembered something wrong, that was hardly a crime. Besides, the young woman had much bigger issues on her mind than memorizing every word her captors said. Asra’s focus had been survival and escape, obviously. The fact she forgot a few other details was not evidence of any trickery, just yet another symptom of what she had endured.

“If they were talking about me in particular, they probably heard about what happened in the shanty town two nights ago. There’s a man who is a crime boss there, a very brutal person. He hurt two of my friends, Julen and Kaydee, but some of us from the base came to help them. We also… picked up a few people along the way. People who needed a safe place too. Maybe your captors heard about that.”

Uluki hoped it was as simple as that. It was a problem in that it meant blue skin definitely wasn’t safe in the shanty town. The warriors would in danger too, of course, but they could take off their armour and gear and look pretty much like everyone else— not that it was a good idea, but they could— while Uluki would always stick out. On the other hand, on the good side, it meant that the captors probably didn’t know about Zee and Dash. If they had, they would have been making plans to take them back, not preaching to other frightened young women about how dangerous the world was. Uluki would far rather keep her daughters safe than be safe herself, so she hoped she was the one whose name was getting spread in the shanty town.

Rollick returned with the food— bread, and some of the dried meat and fruit Zamat and Nasima had given to Uluki. Finger food, Uluki noted; clearly he hadn’t been sure whether or not the silent girl could use utensils, given the immobility of her hands. He had cut her portion into small enough chunks that the she could easily pick them up. Uluki smiled at him.

He returned her smile, but his expression quickly shifted when he saw the redness around Kira’s eyes from first her tears and then how she had rubbed at them with the back of her hand. “Is everything alright?” he asked with concern.

“As well as can be expected. I think she’s feeling better now?” Uluki asked, half statement and half question, and Kira nodded agreement. “It turns out she has more in common with Dash than just how she looks.” Her voice was calm and matter-of-fact, but her face tensed when she said it.

“Those bastards! They did this to her?”

“I think so.” Another nod from Kira. Kira knew Uluki didn’t have the details quite right, but she was close enough, and this story was less problematic. It wouldn’t do to bring Panterras into it, not until Kira was sure how they would react.

“Gods, if I knew where they were, I’d…” But he didn’t, and there was nothing he could do. Uluki laid a comforting hand on his arm. “Can you heal her?” he asked.

“Yes, of course, but…” But that would mean magic, and the sudden terror in Kira’s wide eyes told her exactly how the girl felt about that suggestion. “I’m not sure she’s feeling ready for that yet. Are you?” Kira shook her head, grateful she seemed to be getting off the hook. “Later. I’ll heal you when you want me to. Until then, we’ll just help you as best we can.”

Rollick draped his arm around Uluki’s shoulders. “It’ll be alright,” he said, not only to his wife but as a general statement to comfort all of them, including himself.

“It will,” Uluki agreed. Somehow it always turned out alright. “As I said, you’re both welcome to stay here as long as you like. I suppose it’s ultimately Aorle’s decision, but he won’t mind. He’s a very kind man. He wouldn’t turn you away.” She was absolutely certain Aorle would happily extend his generosity to these unfortunates. She couldn’t imagine him doing otherwise; surely he would have compassion for these two. Asra could help around the fort with useful tasks as the other refugees did, anyway. The other girl… well, realistically Uluki couldn’t think of much she’d be able to do to make herself helpful, but Uluki and Rollick could pay for her food and shelter with money from their own wages, so the girl wouldn’t be a burden either way. That should solve all the problems.

“I know this place is strange and new to you. Are there any questions we can answer, to help you settle in?” Again, Uluki’s words were by necessity directed mostly to Asra.

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