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The Worm in the Apple

Post by Quinn on

Quinn hadn't heard the names Aorle and Julen before, but she nodded as if that made sense. Who were they, more bewitched helpers?

She watched Uluki's face carefully, as she could have sworn she saw a hint of suspicion cross it. Almost instinctively, she made herself look smaller and more pathetic, simply by slouching her shoulders and looking sad, a change she disguised as the result of glancing back at Kira. Normally this would have the effect on anyone who doubted her of causing them to feel bad for doing so, and not do it again - the 'break' in her cover actually became stronger where it healed - but she had no idea what effect it would have on a true villain, so she snapped herself out of it.

She settled for, "I'm sorry, I didn't really listen all the time, so I can't really tell you. Just... she came here. I don't know if she was looking for those people or you."

She just listened in to the conversation until they mentioned the fairy 'healing' Kira... that sounded like the perfect cover-up for whatever spell it was she bewitched people with. Quinn was gratified when Kira flinched away from the idea, and silently she shifted closer to her, attempting to signify to her that, for what good it would do, she was on her side. Tentatively, she reached out to place a hand on Kira's shoulder, but thought the better of it. She was no good at that emotional stuff.

She was glad to be distracted from that, especially if it meant being invited to ask questions, which was what she was here for, after all.

"Thankyou, I... Aorle and Julen. Who are they? Did they start this...?" she gestured vaguely, indicating the whole refugee/military camp. "I mean, I'd like to help here, if I can, I guess I should know people..."

She liked the hesitant question style, she decided. It would cover up a lot of spying.

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

Uluki felt awful. Asra had apparently seen the slight doubt flicker across Uluki’s face, and she looked so upset about it. Uluki hadn’t meant anything by it. What kind of horrible person must she be to cause this innocent young woman more pain? She should never have even thought such bad things.

“It’s alright,” she said, her tone the most gentle and reconciling she was capable of. “What they said isn’t important. You’re here now, and you’re out of danger. That’s the important thing.”

Uluki wished she could apologize for her own awful behaviour, but she thought that drawing attention to it would only drive the knife deeper into this poor young woman. Why oh why did Uluki make so many mistakes? She sometimes felt like she couldn’t go more than a moment without doing or saying something wrong. This was exactly why she hadn’t gone to see the angel. That had been a good decision; she couldn’t bear to have messed that up.

She tried not to dwell on her error, although surely it made Asra think less of her. Her head was starting to hurt again, so she sat down on the floor, but she answered the question that had been asked.

“Aorle and Julen are both very, very good people. They’ve been such kind friends to our family. Aorle was the one who brought us to this place. He’s providing shelter for all the people here. He’s the one in charge, but you don’t need to be scared of him. He’s very compassionate. Julen is his friend, and he helps with all the things that happen here. He cares a lot about everybody. He was the one who helped Kaydee when she got hurt. There are other people here who help too, the warriors, including my husband, who protect us, and Martha and Ian and Sean, the civilians who work here. You’ll meet all of them soon. They’re all very generous and kind, and I think you’ll like them.”

No job titles. Uluki didn’t really understand job titles. But she did her best to convey her respect for and gratitude to all of them.

“It’s wonderful that you want to help. There’s certainly plenty to do. I’m planning to teach the refugees to sew and knit and garden, so you’d be welcome to join in, and I’m sure Martha would be pleased to have an extra pair of hands with the food.”

Uluki had barely finished the words, and hadn’t had a chance to suggest projects for the other girl at all, when the door opened a little. “Mama? Papa?” Zee called.

“Yes, we’re here. Come on in,” Rollick responded.

The door swung open the rest of the way and Zee bounded in, her expression characteristically exuberant, and Dash followed her more slowly, her face thoughtful and preoccupied, but not unhappy. Rollick took the baby from Dash and returned Zee’s side-hug.

“Did everything go alright?” Uluki asked Dash. “Did the angel help Aorle? Is he better now? How are you feeling yourself?”

“I feel fine. She did heal Aorle. She made him a knight, too.”

“That’s wonderful. He certainly couldn’t be more deserving.” Uluki was very happy to hear it, and Rollick also looked quite impressed.

“The angel and Aorle both thanked me,” Dash said, and it seemed to please her.

Dash climbed into Uluki’s lap, curled up and laid her head on her mother’s chest. Uluki wrapped her arms around her daughter and kissed the top of her head. “I’m so proud of you, Dashie.”

Dash was about to respond, but caught sight of the two young women before the words had formed. Naturally it was Kira who drew her attention. Dash’s eyes widened. Uluki had hoped to have time to talk to Dash privately, to prepare her for this, but it was too late for such considerations. Uluki was about to explain…

“Please let her stay here,” Dash said abruptly. “Please don’t send her away! Don’t let them hurt her!”

“Of course we aren’t going to send her away. We aren’t going to send either of them into danger. We would never do that. Both of them are welcome to stay here if they want to.”

“She’s... like me.” Dash was shaking a little, still snuggled tightly against Uluki.

“I know. And she’s safe, just like you are. Both of them are safe. That’s Asra.” Uluki indicated her. Then the other girl... “She isn’t able to tell us her name.”

Kira smiled shyly at Dash as though trying on the facial expression. She was nervous, but she felt a deep connection to the girl who looked liked her. This gave her added confidence, and she decided to take a risk. Dash’s paper and pencil were lying nearby, and she patiently worked her fingers around them so she could write. Laboriously, she produced a single word, then held it up.

Rollick looked quite startled, and Uluki looked mildly surprised. “Kira was my goddaughter’s name too,” he explained after a momentary pause. “I haven’t seen her in years, so hearing it again is quite unexpected. I suppose it’s not uncommon, though. It’s a pretty name.”

It looked to Kira like neither Rollick nor Uluki had made the connection that she in fact was his goddaughter. Kira was relieved. She was also glad they could now call her by her name rather than “you.” She’d thought of giving them a false one, but she wasn’t sure she’d remember to answer to it. She had hoped that they would simply assume she was another girl who happened to share the name, and they seemed to have done so.

“It’s good to know that, Kira,” Uluki said with a smile.

“Yes, it’s nice to meet you. Both of you,” Dash said, seeming calmer, though she didn’t move from Uluki’s arms. She suddenly drew in her breath and clutched one hand with the other, but when Uluki shot her a questioning look, she shook her head as if to say it was nothing. “Kira. Asra. Sorry for being so rude and ignoring you, Asra. I was just... surprised. But I’m glad you’re here. I hope we can all be friends.”

“Me too!” Zee said enthusiastically, flashing them a huge, joyous, fangy smile.

Uluki nodded, then asked Asra, “Did you have any other questions?”

Post by Quinn on

Quinn kept her eyes on the fairy for a moment, taking care to look comforted by her words, but in actual fact working like mad. Whatever suspicion she saw obviously was not going to be acted upon now. Or it could have just been her imagination... had the pathetic act counted for or against her? Uluki was a lot harder to read than most people. It could just have been that Quinn was used to humans, or, of course, the result of one of her assumptions being wrong... it was no time to play that game now, but later, maybe.

So she claimed Aorle was in charge... an act, or had Panterras been misinformed? Quinn knew that it was often much easier to get your own way on all levels from a position of rather less presige, so it could be either, particularly if magical mind-control was involved. 'Generous and kind', she thought. A suspicious and would have suspected that such a sugar-coated view of the compound and its people as that Uluki presented may be the type conjured up by a regime with something to hide. A deeply devious mind, like Quinn's, would have wondered if it wasn't the case that a lie that bad had to be the truth... or she had overestimated her opponent. But there was no sense in assuming that. If she overestimated all she wasted was time and brainpower. If she underestimated, she could end up dead.

"I'd love to help," she began to respond to Uluki, "I'd..."

She was interrupted by the arrival of the magical creatures. She flinched automatically when Zee, to her mind, practically exploded into the room, covering her face with her hands, for all the good that would do against a magical soldier. Quinn's normal response, she realises, would have been to make for the window and spider her way out of there, which meant she was reacting in character, except that Asra thought the bodyguards were just kids who'd been experimented on. What a tangled web we weave. And when I say we, I mean I. Which... just about sums it up.

She dropped her hands immediately when she saw Dash notice Kira. Naturally it was interesting to see the resemblance this close up, but that wasn't why. Dash exhibited a true emotional response. Sure, you could fake emotion, but only, in Quinn's experience, if you had emotions to begin with, and (this was the important bit) everything that came with emotions, like desires, and dreams... weaknesses. So, Panterras had been wrong about the girls (the word seemed more appropiate now). They were not automata, and Quinn was back in the game.

Having a name for Kira was merely a bonus, and... wait, Goddaughter? It didn't seem likely to Quinn that there had been two Kiras, which meant - probably - that Panterras had been telling the truth about her being his daughter. Along with Kira, Quinn was relieved that nobody else made the connection, mainly because she didn't want this linked to her employer, but also, partly - and this worried her slightly - because it was clear that Kira was relieved. Don't get emotionally invested. It never ends well.

Meanwhile, however, she was just recovering from the incredible good news about Dash and Zee. It could almost be said that she enjoyed playing up people who could kill her if they felt like it. Danger and the Game kind of went together. It was the whole reason she hadn't stuck to the stage.

"I'd like that, Dash, Zee..." she replied with a shy smile.

She turned to Uluki. "I'm sure there are many more things I should know.. but I'm not sure I know the questions yet, never mind the answers," she said. She would be unassumingly open and quietly charming, she decided. She would develop a wry sense of humour as she came out of her shell as a coping mechanism for her tragic past. She would be likable and easy to talk to. That was important.

"I suppose... if you don't mind me asking, do you know what made Aorle decide to do this in the first place, and you to join him? I mean, obviously, I'm very glad it's here, but why...?"

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

Uluki had expected to be asked that question at some point, but she nonetheless wasn’t quite sure how to answer. “Well, Aorle needed a base for his soldiers, I suppose. As for why he chose to open it to civilians and refugees… it’s just because he’s kind, I think. He felt sorry for them because of how they were being treated, and how hard things are in the shanty town, and he wanted to help. We all want to help. That’s the whole reason, as far as I know. It’s because Aorle and Julen and the others are very compassionate, like I said before.” She knew that wasn’t a very satisfying response, but she couldn’t think of what else to say about it.

“That’s how my family came here. We were refugees. Still are in a way, I suppose, though we’ve been very fortunate. We didn’t have a place to stay, so Aorle let us come here, even though… well, some people wouldn’t have. People are scared of us sometimes. The girls look a little bit different from most people.” That was an incredible understatement, but Uluki didn’t think it was the time to expound at length about the troubles her daughters faced. This wasn’t the day for it, and she didn’t think the girls were in a frame of mind to discuss it in any detail.

“Most people don’t like fairies, either. They think we tell lies and trick people. Some people have even thought my husband was bewitched.” Uluki would have laughed at such a ridiculous assumption if it weren’t so painful. “They think all Fae are… well, very promiscuous,” said Uluki, who had slept with a grand total of two people in her whole life, one of whom was her husband. Before that was the one who had been her fiancé so long ago, a mistake of her youth, long regretted and learned from before she ever met Rollick. Far from promiscuous.

“I’m sure some Fae are like that, but so are some humans. There will always be devious ones in any group. But when it comes to fairies, people assume every single one of us is bad. Most people don’t want someone like me around. But none of the people here seem to mind.”

“I’m quite fond of Fae, myself. One in particular,” Rollick said mildly. Uluki grinned at him. He winked in response. Then he seemed about to say something else, something more serious, but his attention was suddenly drawn to his daughter. As her parents spoke, Dash had been toying with a button that had fallen off her sleeve, passing it from hand to hand.

She dropped it.

Uluki looked up sharply. She couldn’t recall Dash ever dropping any object before. In fact, she had never seen Dash make a clumsy motion, or seem anything less than perfectly aware of the physical space she inhabited. Dash looked equally puzzled, and for a moment worry creased her face. She leaned forward and picked the button up with a very deliberate movement, then clutched it in her fist and leaned back against Uluki.

Uluki exchanged a worried glance with Rollick. She was starting to fear something was wrong with Dash, something beyond the obvious mental stress of meeting someone who looked so like her. There seemed little they could do about it at the moment, though. They could talk to Dash later, privately, but there was no sense creating an issue that would serve only to put everyone on edge.

Rollick made another try at what he had been about to say before Dash dropped the button, and this time succeeded. He looked directly at Kira, making eye contact.

“The Kira who was my goddaughter was the child of my friend Barmitheon Panterras. Barmitheon was… well, he was a brilliant man, but frankly I was starting to worry about him. He would sometimes say things that seemed so unlike him, do things that were incredibly rash. He wasn’t always like that. It started when his wife died. I don’t think he was ever the same after Noemi… had that horrible accident. I feared for his sanity, and I was concerned about my goddaughter. I offered to take care of her, just for a little while, till he was feeling better, but he… exploded. It was like nothing I’d ever seen. He assumed terrible motives on my part. He said I was trying to steal his child from him. He accused me of… horrible things. I only wanted to keep her safe. I’d never seen him mistreat his daughter— if I had, I would have taken her immediately, no matter what he said about it— but he seemed so changed, I was worried that… she was a good girl, but small children are demanding, and I was afraid he would lose patience with her, or forget to look after her entirely. I was going to broach the matter again once he’d calmed down, maybe see if he and the child would both come stay with me so at least I could keep an eye on things, but… I never got the opportunity. I tried to find her, but the diviners told me she was dead. If that was not the case… if I ever saw her again… I would do everything I could to protect her. I would put her welfare above any friendship I once had with her father. I promise that.”

Someone who didn’t know how to read Rollick might have assumed his slightly rambling story was merely a reminiscence brought on by a girl who shared the name of a dead child. Maybe the first steps into becoming an old man. Uluki knew Rollick better than that. He’d had a very specific point, and he had addressed it directly to Kira. It was enough to tell Uluki that Rollick believed this was the same girl. Uluki trusted Rollick with her life; she could trust him to be right about this. She just wasn’t sure what they were going to do about it.

“Asra, we have plenty of extra room here,” she said, simply glossing over the matter for the moment. “Do you have any family? Any friends in the shanty town? If so, I’m sure we could bring them here too, so you can all be together, and be safe.”

All being together, and safe. That was what mattered. Uluki was glad that was true of her own family, and however it might disrupt their comfortable routines, she was glad Kira was with them now too. They would sort out the details later. Rollick’s goddaughter— and Uluki’s by marriage, she supposed, though she wasn’t quite sure how that worked— was here, even if that was a complication, first and foremost it was a blessing.

Post by Quinn on

Quinn wasn't entirely sure what to make of the complete lack of the elaborate explanation she had been sure was coming for the creation of this place. 'They just wanted to help people'? What kind of a lie is that?

So Uluki too was posing as a refugee. Seems we all are... Now refugee was a ruse Quinn had used before, though generally as a facet of a more complex persona. It was a useful lie, because if you were a refugee you had every reason in the world not to talk about your past (which you hadn't made up yet), not to have friends and relatives (because nobody has a cover that good) and to be inquisitive, because everything is new to you. What was Uluki getting out of it? Sympathy? Trust? And of course she plays the fairy card. Now Quinn always told herself she didn't mind fairies. Wouldn't trust the buggers as far as I could spit them, but I don't have a problem with them. And as a matter of fact, Quinn was completely unpredjudiced towards fairies as a whole. She didn't trust anyone.

She was surprised Uluki mentioned the idea that Rollick was bewitched. Was it a hint that she knew what Quinn was up to? Or - which seemed more likely - true rumours had a way of spreading.

The tale of Dash and the button was lost on Quinn and she focused on updating her mental image of Panterras. Forget crazy old man with a grudge. Think crazy old magical experimenter man who uses his own daughter as a test subject. And it's on his bidding I'm here. Whatever evil lurked here, he must have been at least as bad - but she was fairly sure she had him on the defensive, which made him boring. Here was where she had to be.

Quinn fought to keep her jaw from dropping when Rollick mentioned Panterras. She took in everything he said, treating it with as much gravitas as she had the words of her employer. It was obvious to her that Rollick believed this Kira was the same girl. His promise rang almost true. Interesting. Perhaps I should... hmmm. An idea struck, and a plan formed in her mind. Later. Won't that be fun...

She turned her attention, for now, back to Uluki. "I don't really... I don't have anyone, really." It was a line pretty much all her personas came out with sooner or later, and it was also the truth. Brighella - she'd never called him Dad - was a distant memory of a distant man, and it was a pretty lonely life when you were never one person for more than a week at a time.

"Thank you for the offer, though; I appreciate it."

Her eyes flickered back to Kira, and something unreadable washed over her face. Was she lucky, or not? Kira might have suggested that family was somewhat overrated.

Well, Quinn's plan might change that. It might change that altogether, but it would have to wait until she could be out of sight of Uluki and her family somewhere, and outside. It remained to decide if she would tell - or show - Kira what she was doing. She already knew she was a fraud; what harm could it do? Besides, it wasn't (probably) as if she could go spill on her, was it?

She smiled distantly, talking to Uluki, but really looking at Kira. "It is better when people are together..." she murmured, not expecting Kira to guess what she was doing from that; talking more out of mental calculation that desire to communicate.

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

Kira was surprised by what X… or Asra, she was calling herself here… had said. Apparently the woman trusted Uluki and Rollick now. After all, what else could she have meant by saying it was better to be together? Kira wanted to trust too. She wanted to believe what Rollick said. She wanted to believe he would protect her. She just didn’t understand why he would. What use was Kira to him? What use was she to the fairy woman, or to any of them? No, trust was too much. There could be no trust given, at least not yet. But it was better to be together…

Slowly, encouraged by Asra’s words, she made a few halting steps toward Rollick. She took one of his hands in both of her nearly useless ones. His was a large, strong hand, a little rough. The wedding band was simple, and was buffed to a gentle shine with wear. Rollick offered no resistance to Kira’s touch, but neither did he make any move to increase the contact. Reassured by his non-aggressiveness, Kira smiled at him again like she had at the top of the stairs, and he returned her smile.

Kira turned, and took a few more slow steps to where Uluki was sitting. Very cautiously, she reached out and touched Uluki’s cheek, just a couple of fingers making fleeting contact. Uluki felt a mixture of joy at the apparent progress they were making and sadness that the girl had been hurt so badly that even basic human contact was such a struggle. She exchanged a smile with Kira just as Rollick had. It seemed almost like a ritual completed.

Dash had fallen asleep in Uluki’s lap. Uluki supposed her daughter was tired from having an angel in her; surely that would tire anyone out. Of course that was all it was, she told herself. But there was a part of her that wasn’t sure, a nagging voice in the back of her mind that kept insisting that Dash and Zee had both seemed energized when they returned from their meeting with the angel. Dash had been thoughtful, as one would expect, but she hadn’t looked or sounded tired then. This seemed to have come on very fast, and that worried Uluki.

Indicating her sleeping daughter, Uluki said quietly, so as not to wake her, “I think Dash needs to get some rest. Rollick, maybe you can show Kira and Asra around? They should get the chance to see where they’ll be living.” Zee was also looking concerned, and Uluki figured she would want to stay with her sister. “I’m sure Dash just needs a bit of sleep after all the excitement, but I’ll check to be sure she’s alright, then catch up to you later. You can leave the baby with me.”

Rollick nodded, and after a last worried look at Dash asked Asra and Kira, “So, are you ready for the tour?”

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

Uluki continued holding Dash, with Zee crouched silently beside them. After only a few minutes, Dash’s eyes opened, and the tiredness seemed to have drained from her face.

“Mama? Where is everyone?”

“Your father took Asra and Kira to show them around. They’ll be staying here, so we thought it would be good for them to see their new home.” She paused for a moment, weighing the words. “We were worried about you, Dashie. How are you feeling?”

“Good. I feel good now. I was starting to feel sick, but I think I just needed some rest.”

Uluki wasn’t so sure about that. Rest was indeed a great cure… but Dash had been sleeping for only a few minutes. Surely it wasn’t enough to make such a change?

“Are you sure? If something is wrong…”

“No, Mama. I’m fine. I feel much better now.”

Uluki still looked concerned, but accepted that answer.

It was true, Dash was feeling better. Before she had gone to sleep, her head had been pounding, and she had felt like she couldn’t keep her eyes open. Her whole body had ached. All of that was gone now. She wasn’t as fine as she insisted, though. Her right hand still hurt, a pain deep in her joints, and a few of the fingers on her left hand were also starting to tingle.

She didn’t tell her mother that, though, because she was afraid to. Dash was afraid she was dying. As far as Dash knew, none of the magical soldiers like her had ever survived, except the six who were her unit. All the other attempts, the other creations, had succumbed to the physical afflictions that had come as part and parcel of their magical enhancements. Dash didn’t know how long she would live… only that even with less than a year having passed since they were created, she and her sister had survived many times over the lifespan of any of the other attempts at making soldiers. Dash was afraid because her hands hurt, and because she was starting to get clumsy. Was that how it started? Was this how her body would begin to fail? Was this all the time she would be allowed?

Dash wanted to tell Uluki her fears, but she wasn’t sure how to begin. Loss was the downside of love, and her mother had lost so many people already. Dash didn’t want to be the source of more grief. They would cry, her mother and father and Zee, they would all cry for the dead assassin who wasn’t meant to be in the first place…

No, not the assassin. Her mother and father didn’t think of her like that. They loved her. She wasn’t just a bred killer to them, she was a person, deep and complex. She was a daughter. Sometimes, in her darkest moments, Dash had wondered if it was all pretend. Maybe they had made up things to love about her. Maybe she was nothing more than she was created to be, and all they saw in her was their own goodness and caring reflected. What if Dash’s new life was a fantasy, a dream that they would all wake up from on some inevitable day?

But… but surely an angel wouldn’t fall prey to such fantasies? Surely an angel would realize it, if it was all a sham. If Dash wasn’t real, if she wasn’t a person after all, an angel would never have used her body. An angel would know. The angel had said that Dash had the power to lift others. That would seem to confirm once and for all that Dash was a person indeed, and that this wasn’t some game of well-meaning wishful thinking her family had tricked themselves into playing. Dash found that thought deeply, deeply reassuring.

“Mama, the angel said I could help people. Do you think that’s true?”

“Yes, of course it is. You help people all the time. I think talking to you really helped Kaydee, for instance.”

Dash hadn’t thought of it that way. “I wasn’t trying to. I mean, I’m glad if I made her feel better, but I liked talking to her too.”

“That’s because you were being yourself. You were using your gifts. Helping people doesn’t have to be painful. Helping Kaydee doesn’t mean she can’t help you too.”

“I think you would have liked the angel, Mama. She was so beautiful, and so kind.”

“I’m sure she was. I’m glad you were able to help her.” Uluki felt she needed to provide some explanation for avoiding the angelic visitor, but didn’t want to let her daughter see the depths of her insecurities and fears. “I’m not the kind of person who sees angels, Dashie. Angels are for people like you and Aorle and Julen and Kaydee. I see refugees. I see people who are hurt and broken. Angels don’t need healers.”

“Do you think she’ll ever come back? I hope she does.”

“I’m sure she will.” Uluki said confidently. After all, with a group like their friends, future angelic visits were all but guaranteed.

Post by Quinn on

Despite supposedly being on a tour, Quinn was watching her two companions more than her surroundings at large. She knew she'd have to learn the layout at some point and that Panterras would want to know it, but in her experience you learnt far more watching people. She was good at doing so without being spotted, so it was unlikely that the other two would notice anything unusual.

Rollick came under the closest scrutiny. You'd expect something to look weird about him. His eyes or something. Does it get weaker when we're away from Uluki? Kira's little exchange with him had given Quinn a lot to think about. Maybe Panterras - whatever he was - had been right about Rollick being redeemable. If the spell could be broken, he might even be trustable with Kira. Maybe.

Kira's walk troubled her, and she kept being tempted to offer an arm, but she thought about how she'd feel in Kira's situation and knew she'd rather walk herself, however difficult it was. Kira - she had decided - was an actual admirable person, something she did not encounter very often. She was both brave and vulnerable, and such morality as Quinn still had persuaded her that she could not let such a person be taken advantage of if she could help it - by fairies or fathers.

She kept Rollick's gaze, still searching for some kind of mark of enchantment in his eyes. "Thank you so much for taking us..." she said, wondering how she could go about examining a bewitchment. Nobody could be surprised if she was surprised by a fairy-human couple, she supposed.

"I hope you don't mind me asking, and it's kind of a stupid question, but... are you human? You don't look like a fairy, but I thought... you know."

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

((NPC Post))

Rollick was completely unaware of the scrutiny he was being subjected to. His focus was on pointing out important areas of the building, and he assumed both Kira and Asra would be interested in the same thing. It didn’t occur to him that he himself would be a source of any mystery or curiosity, not till Asra asked her question.

“Yes,” he said in response. “I’m quite an ordinary human, utterly non-magical.” His relationship with Uluki often provoked questions. It was no new thing to answer them. “Many people find it surprising that we’re together. They think it’s odd that two people from such different backgrounds could love each other. Humans think she bewitched me, and fairies think I forced myself on her. It’s hard for anyone to accept that we can just… have a life together. That we can just be happy.”

Rollick realized how that sounded. “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to imply that you would believe such things. I suppose I’ve gotten so used to having to justify our relationship, and my love for her, that I do it by habit. But you’ve seen us together. You’ve met her. I’m sure it’s obvious that she wouldn’t need to use magic to win my heart. All it took was her just being herself.”

“Uluki stood by me at a time in my life when I had nothing else. Nothing. I had lost my position in the world, my friends, everything I owned… even my own mind and body were taken from me. Her compassion and loyalty never wavered. She rode out the storm with me, and then she helped me rebuild my life again. I was attracted to her even before that, but that was when I knew…”

He’d known he wanted her, in a deep and permanent way. He had wanted to give her his heart. He just hadn’t been sure if she’d accept it. He’d worried, and wondered, and doubted he had any chance with her. Then there was the kiss on his cheek, a soft touch that felt like butterfly wings against his skin. That kiss was followed by a tearful apology for the gesture— an apology he’d interrupted by kissing her back, lingering longer than he should have, caught up in the smooth warmth of her cheek as his lips touched her…

“Uluki is fiercely, fiercely loyal. She never gives up on anyone. She would walk through hell by your side, and then thank you for your company.”

He realized his explanation had gone far, far beyond the scope of the question. “That’s probably more than you cared to know, though.” He smiled apologetically for what was almost certainly excessive information about their personal lives.

Post by Julen on

Now feeling considerably better than he’d felt upon waking, Julen helped Rosemary get settled down with her day’s sewing. Then, after giving her a fond parting kiss on the cheek, Julen glanced around for Aorle. But his friend didn’t appear to be anywhere within sight. However, Julen did spot Ian, who he beckoned over. “Where’s Aorle?”

“He’s outside, working on the fortifications.” This fact seemed to perplex Ian more than Amaranda’s visit. “He just got knighted by an angel, but he’s down in a ditch, digging alongside everyone else. That’s crazy.”

Julen couldn’t quite repress his smile. “No, that’s Aorle.” It was a true answer, but Ian still seemed dissatisfied, so Julen gave the boy a friendly pat on the shoulder. “Trust me. You get used to it after awhile.”

“What...what should I do?”

“I’d get a shovel and go help him.”


Ian hurried off, leaving Julen to decide on his own course of action. Join the digging? Or get in some more archery practice? Giving the matter a moment’s consideration, Julen picked archery practice. Part of his share from the recent spoils had been a new bow, more powerful than his previous one, and he wanted to get Rollick’s advice about handling it.

A quick survey of the compound soon revealed Rollick, accompanied by two female refugees. From a distance, Julen didn’t recognize them, but judging by the ragged clothes worn by one and the labored movement exhibited by the other, they were both worthy candidates for Aorle’s charity. Rollick appeared to be giving them a tour of their new home. As Julen approached, he overheard the veteran warrior speaking about Uluki’s loyalty. That was certainly a virtue Julen could vouch for. After knowing him for less than an hour, she’d risked the wrath of the Judges to save his life, along with the life of teenage girl she didn’t even know.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Julen apologized. Not wanting to take Rollick away from what he was doing, Julen only intended to bring up the possibility of archery practice when Rollick had finished, and maybe introduce himself to the two women. Then, in an instant, shock pushed all previous plans from Julen’s mind. Even up close, it had taken him a moment to see it -- the bent, crippled body was so different from the one he’d just been watching. But the face was unmistakably the same.

“Dash?” Part of Julen wanted to grab her and part of him was afraid that the lightest touch might break her. With horror shining clearly in his eyes, Julen looked at Rollick. “What happened? She was fine just a moment ago, I swear she was.”
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

Post by Quinn on

Rollick's passionate description of Uluki was interesting, but as of yet Quinn was unable to come to any conclusion about it, and she was almost pleased when she was saved from having to reply by some strange man.

A quick sizing up of the newcomer said 'warrior'. That was as specific as Quinn's descriptions got, having always taken care to avoid being around wars and generally heavily armed people who could disembowel you as soon as they smell a rat.

The misunderstanding here was almost farcical. Quinn was sure she'd seen something like it with identical twins, only the man who mixes them up is the love interest, and... anyway.

A little uncomfortable with life imitating rather questionable art right now, Quinn intervened. "This isn't Dash," she said, taking care to make her body language that of a young, traumatised yet spirited girl speaking to some strange man in armour. Her shoulders dipped, her head slightly lowered and she met his eyes looking up through her eyelashes. "It's... her name is Kira. Dash is inside, with Uluki."

That sentence felt good. It was an exposition line, but it helped her feel part of the setting. She felt she should add more... find out who this man is, at least. "I'm Asra."

She decided not to tell her story for the time being. Hearing it out of her mouth all in one go would help cement it in her mind, but it was hardly in character for a trauma victim, and besides, the more she talked about it, the more likely it was an inconsistency would appear, or somebody would question it. Besides, if you didn't say, people had to use their imaginations, and nothing she could make up would be as bad as the worst an onlooker's mind could conjure.

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

((NPC Post))

Rollick nodded to confirm what Asra had said about their daughter. “We were surprised by the resemblance too. We still aren’t certain what to make of it.” They had some ideas, but he wasn’t sure this was the time to get into it. “Dash seems to be doing alright.” At least, he hoped that was the case, and would assume so until Uluki told him differently.

Rollick tried to think of a subtle way to let Julen in on who Kira was, that she was his goddaughter. He intended to restrict the information to those who needed to know… and Julen clearly needed to. Julen had promised to look after their children if anything happened to Uluki and Rollick— Uluki had told him about that promise, and he had been equally relieved to know that their daughters and son wouldn’t be left alone in the world no matter what happened to their parents— and Julen needed to know that the situation had changed, and to decide whether his offer extended to Kira as well. If not, Rollick would need to make other arrangements for her. Their lives were too dangerous not to prepare for such eventualities, and however Kira had ended up here, she was Rollick’s responsibility now… well, his and Uluki’s. He was the one who had volunteered for this, not his wife, but it was her family too, and he had no doubt how she would feel about the matter. Rollick wouldn’t have to be alone in this, and that thought was incredibly comforting.

He couldn’t think of any subtle way to convey the information to Julen, though. There weren’t many people close by, but if Rollick mentioned it at all, he’d have to say to keep it quiet… and explain why. That was a conversation he and Julen should have privately. Later, probably.

“Kira and Asra have escaped from a very difficult situation, and will be joining us here.” Then, to the two young women, “This is Julen. He’s one of the people Uluki mentioned, if you recall. It’s good that you’re getting a chance to meet him now, and I’m sure you’ll be seeing him around a great deal.”

Post by Julen on

For a moment, Julen just gawked at Kira. The resemblance was...disturbing. Of course, he was glad to hear that Dash hadn’t been struck by some sudden illness, but now he felt a rush of pity for this poor girl. Trying to survive in Marn was hard enough, never mind trying to survive when you could barely walk. Julen wondered whether she’d been born this way. If she had been, it was a miracle that she’d endured so long. Although Julen loathed the practice, he knew that there were many families who would not have allowed such a badly crippled child to live, considering them to be cursed or simply too much of a drain on already strained finances. Or perhaps she’d been locked away. Julen repressed a shudder when he thought about the madhouse he and Aorle had passed when searching for a place to train. Whatever situation Kira had come from, she was almost certainly better off here.

Then, noticing Asra’s dipped shoulders and downcast eyes, Julen realized that his outburst had probably startled both of the new arrivals. He still wasn’t entirely accustomed to the idea that anyone might find him intimidating. Indeed, if he could have heard Quinn’s quick assessment of him as a “warrior”, he would have reacted with mild surprise -- despite the armor, and the training, and the battles already fought, “farmer” was still the word he heard most loudly inside his own head.

Attempting to ease any discomfort he’d caused the two women, Julen backed off a step, and bowed from waist. He was mimicking a gesture he’d observed Aorle use when greeting ladies, although Aorle doubtlessly performed it with considerably more confidence and grace. “Julen of Shim, at your service. You’re both very welcome here. If you need anything, please let me know. Or, incase you can’t find me, feel free to speak with my wife.” Julen pointed to where Rosemary sat sewing.

“We’re both refugees ourselves,” Julen admitted, hoping that revealing their shared situation might help Asra and Kira feel more comfortable around him. “Mercenaries have overrun Shim, and we were forced to temporarily abandon our farm. But this is a good place. We all help each other here.”
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

Post by Quinn on

Oh dear, thought Quinn, grinning on the inside like a clown mask. How quixotic. He would be from Shim. It wasn't a city characteristic.

Meeting people from Shim had at one point been something of a worry for Quinn, but now she had enough trust in her disguises that she was not afraid of being remembered. It still freaked her out, though - to think, they might have heard the name 'Arlechina Quinn' before. That name might have a seperate existence that she couldn't control inside their heads. It was best not to think about it.

For the first time, Quinn was very glad Kira was there - distraction and complication and all that she was, she at least diverted attention from her.

Farm boy, she thought. Generally she didn't touch those - the whole wisdom of the land thing, the stakes were high, the takings were scarce. And she'd grown up around them. Well - to be fair - she hadn't really grown up until she went to Marn, and she wasn't sure how people could do it otherwise.

"Hello," Asra said shyly, very slightly relaxing her body language. "It does seem like a good place here."

Everybody seemed to be a refugee. She almost had enough information to send off her first letter already, but she wasn't sure if she would. What kind of a message would that give? It might look too easy, or he might even suspect she was making it up. Give it a day. He needs to stew about Kira and what he suspects I know, but not quite to the point of panic. And I don't know he won't think to look here for her, I mean her Godfather's here. They might have been close. That was probably why she came, come to think of it. Maybe she'd heard Panterras mention him, knew he didn't like him anymore, and thought anyone Panterras no longer likes has to be alright.

From Julen's second reaction to Kira - when he knew she was Kira - Quinn surmised that none of the refugees was in that bad of a shape physically. Enough exposure to anything breeds apathy. So what were they refugees from anyway? How would it look if she asked? Like she was concerned for her own safety, she supposed. Not unreasonable.

"Erm.. Mister Julen. Do you know why the mercenaries came here in the first place? It seems so... unreasonable. Why would anyone attack Shim?""

Post by Julen on

Julen smiled at Asra, pleased that she felt comfortable enough to ask him a question. She seemed like a nice girl. Despite the gauntness of her face, and the hard life implied by it, her blue eyes still shone with spirit and intelligence. Julen wondered what her story was. Later, when he had a moment alone with Rollick or Uluki, he’d have to ask them. But for now, he’d restrain his curiosity. Asra was clearly traumatized -- Rollick had said she’d come from a difficult situation -- and being forced to repeat her story over and over would only make her relive unpleasant memories. Better to let her focus on someone else’s troubles.

“I’m not really sure why the mercenaries are in Shim,” Julen admitted. That bit of missing information still bothered him. For Aorle, all that mattered was that they were there and that they were abusing their power. But Julen always wondered about the reasons behind things.

“They didn’t actually attack the village. There are just a lot of them, hanging around, like they’re waiting for something to start. Many of the less scrupulous ones have been using their swords to intimidate people, demanding free board and other services. I’d been away in Marn, looking for work. When I got back, one was in my home, ordering my wife around like a slave and taunting her about what he planned to do to her in our--” Julen caught himself before he actually said ‘marriage bed’. Hearing about intended rape was too harsh a subject for a pair of young women fleeing from their own misery. Still, even thinking the words caused Julen’s face to twist in a rare moment of fury.

Gaining control of his emotions, Julen hurried on to a more upbeat part of the story. “Aorle and I stood up to them. We freed Rosemary, as well as aiding the local smith, but there were just too many mercenaries for us to deal with. In the end, we were forced to return to Marn. But Aorle sent out a call for warriors, and then set up this place, as base for the ones who volunteered to join him. Rollick is helping us train. When Aorle judges us ready, we’re going back to Shim, to deal with the mercenaries once and for all.”

“That’s who’s here, mostly. Warriors. Their families. And some refugees from the shanty town. Good people, all of them. I’m sure you’ll fit right in.”
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.


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