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Adjustments

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

((Continued from: viewtopic.php?f=7&t=1445&st=0&sk=t&sd=a))


As Uluki, Rollick, Metellus, and Merohl headed back to the base, they walked in silence for the most part, each lost in his or her own thoughts. Uluki kept looking at Rollick, trying to gauge how he was taking what had just happened, and the things they had learned. She suspected he was still processing it all. As she looked at her husband, she was once again deeply proud of him. He’d been so brave tonight, so strong, kept such self-control in the face of so much emotional pain… which was even worse than physical pain, as she well knew. She was also very glad he hadn’t believed that foolish lie Panterras had told.

Having an affair was not something Uluki found tempting. The biggest part of it was how much she loved Rollick, how deeply she felt bonded to him, and how well suited she was to the stability of being married. That wasn’t the whole of it, though. The idea of sex with somebody besides Rollick wasn’t just unappealing… it was scary. She trusted Rollick completely, felt safe with him, and knew he would never hurt her. The sheer vulnerability of sleeping beside someone, of being naked together, would always require that level of trust for her. She wouldn’t have that with another man, and what if he hurt her? What if she got scared and he wouldn’t stop? Uluki was incapable of so much as a fantasy without that fear coming up, let alone actually acting on it. It wasn’t that she had desires for other men besides Rollick and suppressed the urge, it was that her marriage made her feel safe, and it was only when she felt safe that she wanted to have sex. She clung tightly to Rollick’s hand, glad he was the one who shared her bed.

There was a street vendor sitting on the sidewalk with his wares laid out on a blanket. He had all kinds of things, an astonishing assortment of items with no apparent connection to each other. His merchandise was inexpensive and in fairly good condition, though most items were used. The vendor liked to take things in trade just to keep his inventory fresh whether or not he profited directly from the deals, so people would bring him household cast-offs that were still in good enough shape to sell, and take the cast-offs of others in exchange. What wasn’t traded he sold cheaply, keeping his prices as low as possible to appeal to buyers of modest incomes, his most likely customers anyway. If the local authorities seemed to be taking an interest— or words like “permit,” “transient,” or “proper district” were getting thrown around too much— he would simply scoop up his entire setup, blanket and all, and go do business on a friendlier corner.

Uluki wondered idly if this was the person Jenny had gone to when she had been so helpful in trading the shoes, but Rollick took a greater interest and wanted to stop. He had been given some money as part of the spoils of the battle, and it had been such a long time since the children had gotten anything new. He and Uluki loved bringing them gifts, but money had always been tight, so all their income was generally reserved for the necessities with nothing much left over. They ought to save this money too, really, he supposed, but they were going to have a regular wage that should cover their expenses, and they weren’t in immediate need of anything. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to splurge this once… like a celebration of their new home.

With Uluki’s help, Rollick picked out a paintbrush and some paints for Dash, a soft and furry stuffed dog for Martin, and a book of stories for Zee, who would enjoy the bright colours of the illustrations and the happy endings of all the tales, but wouldn’t find the text too complex to read.

It passed unspoken between then that they should buy something for Kira too since she was essentially a part of the family now that it had become clear she would never return to her father; they were her godparents, after all. Uluki reminded Rollick they should also get a baby gift for her own tiny namesake. They saw a little dress and soft blanket that would be perfect for Nina-Uluki, who had arrived before her clothes were finished, and a smaller size than expected. Kira was more difficult to buy for since they barely knew her and didn’t have any idea what sort of things she liked, but there was a pretty locket— obviously not real gold, not that this price nor available for purchase in such a situation, but nice-looking nonetheless, and it seemed an appropriate gift for a new family member.

Rollick spotted a small keepsake box of the sort a young girl might use to store her treasures, wood carved with flower designs, and he pointed out that it might be a nice thing to give to Kaydee, to which Uluki agreed. The girl wasn’t technically part of the family, but they saw no point in splitting hairs. Kaydee hadn't brought any such girlish treasures with her, but giving her the box suggested that she would have some in the future, so it was a sort of promise, in a way. A promise that she would have a better life in the future, that Kaydee would be safe and protected now, surrounded by her many friends.

Rollick noticed Uluki’s eyes kept coming back to a small, delicate pair of earrings shaped like butterflies. Since their daughters didn’t have pierced ears and she didn’t recall that any of the others did either, she hadn’t suggested them as a present for anyone, but it was clear she liked them. When Uluki’s attention was elsewhere, Rollick signaled to the vendor that he wanted to buy the earrings too. The vendor seemed to feel he’d had great luck in selling so many items at once, so he kindly provided them with an empty sack to carry their purchases.

And that was definitely the end of the money, though under the circumstances of their shopping it had gone quite far. Rollick felt it was money well spent. He only wished he had enough to buy presents for all their friends. Regardless, he was happy with what they had purchased, and he hoped the gifts would please the recipients.

There was one more thing they had already decided they needed, but it wasn’t something they would buy. They kept their eyes open till they saw what they were looking for… a pair of dirty, skinny stray cats pawing through a pile of garbage at the end of an alley. One was a grey tabby, and the other was solid brown and was missing an ear. Uluki knelt down and extended her hands to the cats, and after a cautious moment they approached and sniffed her, then started rubbing against her. She nodded to Rollick; the cats were clearly used to being around people and liked attention, though they were now living as strays. Uluki picked up the tabby, and Rollick took the brown cat.

Metellus gave them a puzzled look, and Rollick explained, “They’ll keep mice away from the food stores.” That was the main reason, of course… but Dash and Zee loved animals, as did their parents, and maybe the other young people would as well. It would be good for them to have pets to look after. It would also be nice to see the grubby, half-starved cats leading a more comfortable life at the base. With their sack of newly-bought gifts and now their strays too, they were ready to head home.

As they continued walking, Uluki’s mind kept drifting back to Kira. She tried to remind herself that Kira was safe, and she knew that was a good thing, but it couldn’t change the past. Uluki longed to run home, embrace Kira, hold her and comfort her and make everything alright, but she couldn’t. Everything wasn’t alright. There would always be scars. There was too much fear for Kira even to accept a hug from her or Rollick, and that made Uluki both sad and angry. It shouldn’t be this hard. Kira didn’t deserve this.

Must as she wanted to, Uluki’s caring could not erase the pain that had already been inflicted. She wished she could have prevented this. She wished Kira was her daughter, and that Kaydee was too, and that she could have protected them. She wished Dash and Zee had always been under her care, never hurt, never exploited. Uluki felt desperately maternal, but utterly unable to act on it, unable to comfort those who needed peace. The thoughts kept circling through her head… Kaydee naked and left to die, the log book dispassionately recording Kira’s sufferings, Kaydee telling her Snyde wouldn’t have allowed her a new dress till she made more money, Kira shying away from her and Rollick as though she expected to be attacked… words and images rushing by till Uluki wanted to scream at the injustice of it all.

Uluki hugged the stray cat closer to her body, and the small creature start to purr and nuzzled against her chin. She smiled at that, and couldn’t wait to be home.
"When you feel like you can't go on, love heals.
Hold onto love, and it will lead you home. Love heals." -Rent

Re: Adjustments

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

When they arrived back at the base and after expressing heartfelt gratitude to Metellus and Merohl for accompanying them, Uluki and Rollick’s first reaction was, of course, to check on their children. They felt a particular sense of urgency given some of Panterras’s more unsettling comments, so it would be a relief to make sure all concerned were safe and sound. They took Martin back first, thanking Rosemary for babysitting, and once he was settled in Uluki’s arms, they went to find the others. Zee and Kira had stayed in the room after Dash and Kaydee had left, so they were of course the easiest to locate.

Kira, who had been smiling happily, suddenly seemed alarmed when Uluki and Rollick entered the room. The girl’s face clouded, and she looked around, trying to find someplace to hide. Nothing convenient presented itself— there were no pieces of furniture or objects large enough for concealment— so she scooted back as quickly as she could, attempting to use Zee’s larger frame to block herself from view. It didn’t really work, and something twisted in Uluki’s stomach when she saw what Kira was trying to do.

Zee noticed none of this, and grinned widely to welcome them back. She stood to give each of them a hug, and suddenly Kira sat alone, looking terrified and exposed.

“Did you see Lord Panterras? Is everything alright?” Zee asked innocently. Rollick and Uluki exchanged a look, utterly unsure how to answer the question. They didn’t want to upset their daughter, but she would be able to tell they were worried, and surely it would be worse for her not to know why.

It was Kira, surprisingly, who interrupted before they could answer. Her breath started to come in harsh gasps again, and she was trembling visibly.

“She did that before,” Zee informed her parents, meaning to be helpful rather than unkind. “She cried too, but Dash and I didn’t know why.”

Another look passed between Uluki and Rollick, who did know why. Rollick’s jaw tightened as he thought of the things Panterras had done, the abuses that had caused this reaction.

Uluki moved to comfort Kira, but Kira skittered backward awkwardly, out of reach. Uluki was surprised; they seemed to have lost some ground while they were gone. Kira stared at them, her eyes wide, then slowly, haltingly, she forced her uncooperative body into a kneeling position. She raised her hands in a gesture of supplication, and her lips moved in a silent plea for mercy…

Uluki started to cry. She tried not to, tried to fight back the tears, tried to be strong— not only for the sake of Kira, but for Zee and Martin too. It was just too much, though. After what they now knew Kira had suffered, to see her so desperate and fearful, to see her beg for her life… it was too much. The tears rolled down Uluki’s cheeks and plopped onto Martin’s head. The baby looked up at her, confused by the sudden droplets of water, and when he saw his mother was crying, he started to cry too. Zee surveyed the scene in uncomprehending puzzlement, unsure what was going on and why things abruptly weren’t happy anymore. Uluki turned away to comfort the baby, oddly grateful for the excuse to hide her face.

Rollick, meanwhile, knelt down in front of Kira, taking her hands in his. She started to shake violently, but didn’t pull away as he talked to her in a low, gentle, reassuring voice. “No one is going to hurt you, Kira. Not us, not anyone here, and I swear we will do everything in our power to protect you from anyone else who would try.”

Kira was torn, wanting to believe him but unable to. What if he was lying? What if he was trying to gain her trust so he could take her back there? If she went back, she would die. She didn’t want to die. She didn’t know how to defend herself, though.

Rollick continued to talk, speaking in the same comforting tone. “We met with your father tonight. Now we know what he did. We know he hurt you. It’s not going to happen again. Not ever.” He wasn’t sure about the next part, whether it would help or harm, but it needed to be said. “Your father wanted to reclaim you. He offered us money for you, lots of money. We turned him down. We had no interest in accepting his offer. We would never trade you away. We would never sell you. You are worth more than all the money in the world. You don’t have to be scared of that. You’re safe here. You have a home with us for as long as you want it.”

A single tear ran down Kira’s cheek, and she reached out for Rollick to hug her. He did so, holding her like a small child, the child she had been when he last saw her. Kira shyly beckoned Uluki and Zee over too, and the two of them knelt as well, also wrapping their arms around Rollick and Kira, with now-calm baby also enfolded in the embrace. Uluki knew that Kira would still have a rough road ahead of her, and so would the family as they helped her travel it. This didn’t make things fine and perfect. But just for now, just for this moment, a hug was a lot to be thankful for.
"When you feel like you can't go on, love heals.
Hold onto love, and it will lead you home. Love heals." -Rent

Re: Adjustments

Post by Quinn on

Quinn was more sure of what she had to do than of how she could do it; a normal state of affairs for her, but it was more usually accompanied by a well-concealed giddiness and a dazzling smile than by the grim air of forboding that now settled, an unwelcome and infrequent visitor, heavily on her shoulders. And at the same time, she felt the usual soaring feeling somewhere in her solar plexus that meant, more or less, that whatever she was doing right now would make an interesting fiction. Not for the first time - although it wasn't a common thought for her - she thought it was better as fiction than as reality.

If it didn't go well, though? She wasn't sure. She'd never thought of herself as the kind of character who was forever on the run from an arch-nemesis, but she supposed it could work. It had potential as an idea.

On a deeper level, she was aware that whenever she didn't like to think about the direction her life was taking, she thought about it as if she was back in theatre. And, for now, she preferred it that way, but she forced herself back to reality. It was a self-preservation instinct.

Uluki and Rollick would by now know, she thought, that Asra was a fraud. Who could hunt through Panterras' house and come to any other conclusion? On the other hand, they were probably suckers enough for her not to have to come out explicitly with who she was. Or at least she could put off saying who she was. The fact was that nobody knew about her the conwoman/actor/spy, and just the idea of even a little bit of the truth about her being out there, in someone else's mind, both excited and terrified her. 'Her the conwoman/actor/spy' didn't even have a name. It was who Quinn meant in the privacy of her head when she thought about 'me', but nobody else had ever spoken about her. Nobody else had even thought about her. For all intents and purposes, she didn't exist outside her own head. X and Lewton and Asra existed, but she didn't. And if that was to change... she didn't even know what to think about it.

The ride back seemed shorter than the ride out; mainly because Quinn was alternately dreading and eagerly anticipating her return. She'd stopped to pick up some more multi-purpose items from her box of tricks before she left, and was burdened with a larger bag than usual, containing among other things Asra, Lewton's wig, and another completely different disguise just in case. Now she wore her X gear and her coat, but by her makeup and scarf she was still recognisable as Alliya Lewton.

She entered the Hall, looking as if she knew what she was doing, and made her way quietly to Uluki's family's room, idly wondering what touching family scene she'd be interrupting. Before she went in, Quinn had to pause to collect her thoughts and take an extra deep breath. I'm tired. I need a drink. How did I get myself into this mess? My head itches. That really is a crap wig. I'm going to die.

All in all, they were pretty whiny thoughts. She gently gave them the boot out of her head, and focused on the task in hand. Letting go of that breath, feeling a little lightheaded, and taking a deep but not quite as deep one, she plucked up the courage to knock.

Re: Adjustments

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

Eventually Kira relaxed, and Uluki and Rollick decided it was time to start giving out their presents. Zee was visibly pleased with the book they bought her and went on at length about its merits, making Uluki and Rollick smile. The baby was unable to provide such commentary, but promptly stuffed one of the toy dog’s legs in his mouth, which they took for a sign of approval.

Uluki showed Kira the necklace they had bought for her, and Kira initially seemed confused. They’d said it was a gift, but she didn’t seem to understand. Uluki asked her if she wanted help putting it around her neck and she nodded, finally catching on that it was for her. Once it was on she looked at it for a long time, then she pressed her hand to it. Uluki knew then that their present was accepted, and was liked.

Kira was, in fact, completely unfamiliar with the concept of gift-giving. Her father had provided for her basic material needs, but hadn’t given her a present since she was practically still a baby. She occasionally saw other people, but not on a regular basis or the same people frequently, and they were invariably the types who saw her as just an experimental subject, as her father did. Nor had Kira ever had the opportunity to give a gift to anyone else. The idea of presents simply hadn’t occurred to her and she had never felt a lack, so now that she was being given something, it took a moment to figure out how to react— though when she finally did figure it out, she was happy.

Another thing that puzzled her was the hugging, though that was also pleasant. Kira’s father hadn’t hugged her since she was three years old— the age at which so many things in her life had changed, the cut-off point of childhood— and he had refused her childish attempts at affection, prying her arms off his neck and explaining yet again why that wasn’t allowed. It would interfere with his work, he told her, if he was too close to her. He had to maintain his detachment. He couldn’t become emotional about her, or it would prevent him from doing what needed to be done. She hadn’t understood, but eventually she’d simply gotten used to it.

Rollick seemed to be a very different type of father. Kira knew he loved his family, but her father had claimed to love her too, and she wasn’t even sure what that meant anymore. Rollick didn’t seem at all hesitant to hug his children, to talk to them, to touch and interact with them. He didn’t seem bothered that it would make him care about them. He didn’t seem worried about getting attached. And… as far as she could see, he never hurt them. Kira didn’t understand that kind of father, though it seemed much nicer. Was it possible, though? Was it possible to have a family without people being hurt, and others doing the hurting? She wasn’t sure, but it was a pleasant fantasy.

There was a knock, and Uluki stood. Her eyes were still puffy from crying, but that couldn’t be helped. She answered the door without concern; there were only so many people it could be, and all of them were friends. “Miss… Miss Lewton?” It was a surprise, and not a pleasant one. Yes, Uluki had liked the woman, but her arrival at the base could signal only bad things.

Had she brought the City Guard with her? Uluki had not done any magic, nor hinted at it, but Panterras had, in a very obvious way, and there were bound to be questions at the very least, if not accusations that the couple were his accomplices. Not to mention the fact that things had deteriorated into violence in this woman’s sitting room— that hadn’t been Rollick’s fault, at least Uluki didn’t think it had, but she wouldn’t have been surprised if local law enforcement considered it a disturbance of the public order or something like that. Or worst of all, what if she had brought Panterras here…?

Miss Lewton seemed to be alone as Uluki peered out into the corridor. With the door open, though, the woman would be able to see into the room. She would be able to see Kira. There was no hiding her now. Whether or not Miss Lewton knew what Panterras had done, she was his friend, and he would have the woman’s loyalty. This had the potential to be a very, very dangerous situation. “We aren’t giving Kira back,” Uluki announced defiantly. “We aren’t going to let her suffer anymore at his hands. If you’re going to tell him what you’ve seen here, tell him that!”
"When you feel like you can't go on, love heals.
Hold onto love, and it will lead you home. Love heals." -Rent

Re: Adjustments

Post by Quinn on

Quinn took in Uluki's appearance. She'd been crying? There could, she supposed, be any number of reasons... Peering through the crack of the door, Quinn kept her eyes down and did not announce the reason for her visit, waiting for Uluki to jump to a different conclusion in the hopes that what she said would be relatively good or neutral news beside it.

"I'm not here to take Kira," she said, her eyes meeting Uluki's easily, in truth-telling mode. "This... may I speak with you alone for a moment? This is information your family needs to hear, but I think that when I have finished you will agree that it is better I tell you and you explain it to them."

As usual, once she was actually engaged in being someone her chattering thoughts quietened down, and she was focused only on saying what she'd rehearsed in her head several times on the ride over.

"Mrs Uluki, Kira is in danger. I was not, as I told you, sent here to take her away. I was sent here to kill her." She paused for a moment, examining Uluki's reaction. Just how much did she care about Panterras' kid, anyway? It looked like a lot. And she supposed, if she hadn't believed that nonsense about bewitchment, that would have been obvious long ago. "Panterras ordered her assassination. If the assassin fails, he will choose another, and they are unlikely to be as flexible as I am." That one still caused a small feeling of panic. Quinn had mentioned the fact that Kira would die anyway, but neglected to mention that so would she. It was important that she be seen to be holding all the cards - not so much for the scam to work, but just because she felt quite weak at the moment, and she'd take all the feeling of power she could get her slimy little claws on.

A this point she moved forward imperceptibly. It was the part of the sale that was called 'closing the deal'. "I am making you all an offer here. Help me to make it look to Panterras as if I have murdered Kira. I realise I've given you no reason to trust me.." and that, just there, flew in the face of everything Quinn knew about the Game, but this was important, "So here it is in black and white. If you trust me on this... Kira might live."

Punchy. She liked it. You couldn't get much clearer than that.

Re: Adjustments

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

Uluki stepped outside the room with Miss Lewton, and she was unsurprised that Rollick followed her. The two girls and the baby would be perfectly safe with the two of them right outside the door, and Rollick wasn’t about to watch his wife go off out of sight with a friend of the man whose last words to them had been a threat against their family.

Uluki listened with wide eyes as Miss Lewton spoke. That was the last thing Uluki expected to hear, and it took her a moment to moment to process the information. Once she did, she wondered why she was surprised. Panterras had done horrible things to his daughter for years. Why wouldn’t he take the final step in completing her pain?

Still, it was something Uluki could not begin to comprehend. How could you send someone to kill your own child? She thought of her own daughters, how much joy they brought, how much she and Rollick loved them, and she couldn’t even come close to imagining how anyone could choose to break that bond, especially to break it with violence. She thought of their baby, so full of promise, still forming and yet already a unique little person; Panterras had gotten to hold and be near Kira at that age. Even Uluki could see how precious Kira was, and she had known her for less than a day— how could the man who had been with her from infancy hold her life so cheap? Could he not see how lucky he was? That he was throwing away his most precious gift? How could he ever hurt her? How could he send someone to take her life? Uluki almost cried again, but the tears were blocked by a strange mixture of anger and ice-cold fear.

“Lord Panterras has to die,” Rollick said quietly. “He’s made her life into a hell for the last ten years, and now he seeks to bring about her death. He is a danger, not just to her, but to any others around him. Kira will be safe when he’s dead.” Rollick’s voice was matter-of-fact, but heavy. It was very clear to Uluki the toll the words were taking, how much he hated that they had to be said.

“But in the meantime?” Uluki asked gently. “Rollick, we don’t even know where Panterras is. We’ll do what we can to keep her safe, but he’s sending assassins, not warriors. Subterfuge, not open combat. Not to mention that he can teleport, so he is less likely to be deterred by physical limitations and secure surroundings. We need to explore every option for keeping Kira safe from him.” She looked steadily at Miss Lewton, if that was really her name. It was true, Uluki had no reason to trust the woman… but that didn’t mean she couldn’t listen to her ideas. Maybe she would have a good suggestion for how to protect Kira effectively. If it seemed workable, if it didn’t seem likely to be a source of more harm than good, maybe it would be worth a try. “What exactly did you have in mind?”
"When you feel like you can't go on, love heals.
Hold onto love, and it will lead you home. Love heals." -Rent

Re: Adjustments

Post by Quinn on

Quinn was completely unfazed at Rollick's deciding to join them as she'd figured it was even odds either way, although personally she'd have wanted someone to stay with Kira, because there was rarely only one possible entrance to any room. Still, the girl was probably safe enough in the company of two magical soldiers.

The lack of suspicion she encountered was gratifying, but not, under the circumstances, surprising. Constant suspicion required a certain defocusing of the mind, and she had no doubt that Rollick's and Uluki's were pretty focused at the moment. This was probably, she figured, why the most devious minds usually belonged to the less morally pure; righteous fervour or honest compassion didn't leave a lot of room for cold-blooded assessment of the possibilities.

She avoided Rollick's gaze when he proclaimed what sounded very much like Panterras' death sentence. Even righteous killing - or maybe especially righteous killing - lay very much outside Quinn's agenda. But then she had no delusions that her 'principle', such as it was, was anything more than the product of cowardice. But in this case? She might be able to lend herself to a little assistance. If this didn't work, it would be self-defence, anyway. She would keep quiet about it now, but kept the possibility on hold.

Now... the plan. The easiest way to fake death was suicide, of course, but that probably wasn't an option. Most methods would be inaccessible to someone of Kira's disabilities, anyway.

"I thought - look, you'll realise I have information that you thought private. I can't help but reveal that. It won't surprise you to learn that Panterras has been spying on you." She sighed. "I would advise that you convince Kira to submit to being healed of her disability, as far as you can do that, Mrs Uluki. This is because, if she is to remain here, it must be in disguise, and you can hardly disguise a problem as severe as hers. She can be another refugee from the Shanty Town, I'm sure, perhaps... perhaps we can spread the story that she is facially scarred, as you must know sometimes happens to girls who work under... certain unscrupulous masters, and thus hides her face."

She was worried that this suggestion might hit a little close to home, as the compound was full of former prostitutes, but it was the only way she could think of. Quinn's excuse for covering her face when she had to revisit people who'd seen her recently was usually pretending to be foreign, but a foreigner would stand out here and that was the last thing Kira must do, but at the same time they could not risk Panterras or some ally recognising her.

"As for feigning the death itself, one solution in particular presents itself, as it would satisfy both our need that there must be no body to identify and Panterras desire to see the girl suffer; fire. If a building burns down and screaming is heard, who is to say who was and wasn't inside apart from the person who started the fire? All that is left is ash."

She realised she was painting some rather grisly pictures, but she couldn't slow down and soften the blow; there may well be no time to lose. "There is an alternative, however, that may be better. Panterras has expressed a desire for suffering; I am sure nothing would satisfy him more by seeing it with his own eyes. Now, I am no illusionist, but I have heard tell that there is one in this city; he was seen at a tavern some weeks ago, and I know some people who have very good memories for faces when paid well who could help me find him. If he has any sense of human compassion," or if he doesn't want to come to the attention of the Judges, "he could be a great help."

Re: Adjustments

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

“Kira is among friends here,” Uluki reassured Miss Lewton. “We know all the people at the base, and no one would betray her. The warriors are of the highest character and are extremely loyal. The civilians have, for the most part, come from desperate situations themselves, but in spite of their sufferings they are good people and would not betray an innocent young girl. In addition, they are fond of our family; if we ask them to say nothing, they will say nothing. Kira is safe within these walls.”

Rollick suspected Miss Lewton would need a somewhat firmer reason for trust. “The refugees know Uluki saves people’s lives. My wife is skilled at tending to illnesses and injuries, which she has had to do for some of them, as well as having brought a number of them back from the shanty town with her and thus protecting them from the man who exploited and beat them. She has given all of them reasons to like her— reasons like saving their own lives, or the life of a mother, or child, or friend. If Uluki asks them not to speak of Kira to anyone else, they will not, because they know they can rely on Uluki, and they consider her a friend. Though of course if Kira is to be seen by anyone outside the compound, she will indeed need to be disguised.”

“I think trying to deceive the others here would be counterproductive,” Uluki agreed. “It would be a bad precedent to set, not being honest with one another, concealing things, especially since Panterras may be indirectly putting them in danger too. If our trust with them breaks down, we have nothing left. That trust provides safety for everyone here. Still, you are right that it would be better to treat her physical problems as quickly as possible.” Uluki did not specify how she would do that, didn’t specify magic. Just in case. “Kira knows that option is available to her when she is ready. Until then… it’s her body. It isn’t my choice to make. I’ll talk to her again, but if she says no, I will not force her to accept my help against her will. The decision is entirely hers.”

There was another concern on her mind too. “Panterras had another victim, Asra. He hadn’t started hurting her and she would not be able to identify him, but Panterras may still be concerned. Has he made any threats against her? Perhaps we should consider some kind of extra protection for her too. We could fake her death along with Kira’s… although that might seem too convenient.”

The fire suggestion made Uluki nervous. “There are certainly plenty of abandoned buildings that could go up in smoke, probably with no harm to anyone, but it would be hard to be sure. Sometimes transients and homeless people sleep in old buildings no one is using. We would have to make absolutely sure that wasn’t the case. Also, it might be hard to keep the fire under control when it has so much fuel and no real barriers. We might accidentally burn down the entire district.”

Uluki’s worries did not come from an unwillingness to engage in arson under any circumstances; it wasn’t on her list of things she would never do, actually quite the opposite. It was, rather, that she and her friends had tried it before, and while it had been gratifying, it had been a rather spectacular failure as a strategy for combating the evil it was intended to hamper. Uluki was wary of trying it again because of how badly it had gone.

The idea of the illusionist seemed to hold more promise, though Uluki still had reservations. “I see advantages and disadvantages to Panterras witnessing her ‘death.’ On the one hand it would give us an opportunity to deal with him in a situation where we have the upper hand. That could be an ideal time to…” Uluki exchanged a look with Rollick. “…To settle the matter in a more permanent way. Of course, the downside is that when he’s around, Kira is in danger. If things went wrong, we would be basically handing him the opportunity to take her back.”

Uluki knew there was one person who could take Kira’s place, could convince Panterras he was looking at his daughter when in fact he wasn’t— but Uluki wasn’t willing to take that risk. She would not risk sacrificing Dash for Kira… just as she would not sacrifice Kira for Dash. If it ever came down to that, she would try to find a way to keep both girls safe, not choose between them. If the situation was too dangerous to put Kira in, it was too dangerous for Dash. If that was the case, it would be better to try to protect both girls back here at the fort.

There was also another disadvantage, though Uluki didn’t voice it. Such a suggestion could be a trap for all of them, a set-up to take Kira back and to ambush Uluki and Rollick. It could be that Miss Lewton was in league with Panterras, and that though she was pretending to switch sides, she was presenting an idea that had been Panterras’s all along.

“How could we guarantee Kira’s safety?” Uluki asked bluntly. “How can we be sure we aren’t putting her in greater danger by essentially providing him access to her?”
"When you feel like you can't go on, love heals.
Hold onto love, and it will lead you home. Love heals." -Rent

Re: Adjustments

Post by Quinn on

On the one hand, Uluki's conviction that there was nobody who wasn't what they appeared within the compound was flattering. On the other hand it was quite annoying. How gullible can you be? Not to figure me out - although I was expecting that after they searched Panterras' place - but to not even accept the possibility that he could fool you? She sighed. "Panterras has been spying on you. I have told you that, and I could tell you things that would prove it, if necessary. That means he has already had a spy of his in the compound without you noticing. He could easily do the same again, and if that person saw Kira, whatever we plan now will be useless."

She could tell Uluki was unlikely to be swayed into lying, so she continued, "I suppose it would do no harm to tell people you explicitly and individually trust about what you are doing, but you can't act like this compound is some kind of impenetrable fortress, becuase it isn't." After all, I fooled you. It doesn't follow that anybody can because I'm damn good, but Panterras can pay for damn good. And they wouldn't have to fool you for long. "Please, think critically before you tell people of this. A spy could be anyone - an old man, a scared little girl, a pregnant woman, anyone." Not who you least suspect, and not who you most suspect, but someone in-between.

It surprised Quinn to learn that Uluki still believed in Asra. Perhaps this would not be as hard as she had thought. "I did ask Panterras about Asra. He considers her no threat, and has no desire for personal revenge against her because she's not his daughter." Lewton's eyes flickered momentarily. "I may have led him to believe that she had gone to the shanty town. He says he doesn't doubt that wherever she is she is suffering enough."

"When it comes to the mechanics of burning buildings, it's something I've done before with considerable success. I would set it from the inside so we'll know that no one was in there. Then, to stop the fire spreading, a team could arrive with sand and water, tragically, too late.

As for the other option... Panterras trusts me. For a given value of 'trusts'. If I were to instruct him to keep clear for his safety, he would do so. We could perhaps conceal some of the soldiers here to halt any attempt by him to retrive her."

Quinn stopped trying to explain her plan when it became much more interesting to watch the wheels turning behind Uluki's face. There it was! Finally, the suspicious streak.

"Good question," she replied darkly. "All I can tell you is this. Panterras wants Kira assassinated. Does that sound like something he'd do to you? Your reason tells you to believe that. If I'm telling the truth, you have a chance to save her by trusting me and working with me. If I'm lying, then she's screwed either way, to put it quite bluntly. You just can't protect her against the kind of assassins Panterras can afford. They'll infiltrate as friends, gain your trust, and the second they get the chance, she's dead. You, too, if you get in the way. You don't think he'd be adverse to seeing the two of you dead?"

She shook her head as if in disbelief. "I just wandered right in here. If I tried to get into the room maybe your daughters could have done something about me, but as soon as I got you two into the corridor, what stopped me stabbing you as you walked through the door? You have two choices," Quinn said, rather proud of herself for getting this far without hardly pausing for breath, "Two rational choices. Either you trust me now, or you spend the rest of your life with your family in a small room with a loaded crossbow pointed at the door. I'll wait, shall I? While you make your mind up."

Re: Adjustments

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

Uluki and Rollick turned to look at each other abruptly as Miss Lewton spoke of a person being sent to spy on them. They had not, in fact, considered this a very likely way Panterras could be getting information about them. They trusted all their friends here at the base, and they knew based on Rollick’s previous experience with him that Panterras was adept at Scrying. Logically, that seemed a more likely method of espionage than someone reporting back to him.

It was possible, of course, that Miss Lewton was unaware of this power, and was making assumptions. On the other hand, she had seemed to know for certain that they were being spied on, so it stood to reason she would also know how it was being done. And if that was the case…

Miss Lewton’s suggestion to reveal the information only to those they trusted seemed, in theory, a good one, but who could they trust? They had considered everyone here friends, but someone had sold them out.

It wasn’t the first time something like this had happened to Uluki, not the first by a longshot. Betrayal was something Uluki seemed to inspire, the way people like Aorle and Julen inspired loyalty and goodness. Mara stabbing her, Reginald aiming a fireball at her as the evil god’s magic tore into her flesh, the smiling paladin Aronus suddenly aiming a mailled fist toward her face, her employer Beresford ordering her death… and other hurts too, less violent ones… her family’s silent backs turned toward her, her then-fiancé telling them he didn’t want her, so many friends, more than she could count, who had walked out of her life without so much as a goodbye. The daily hurt, in their old home, of hearing people who she had healed and saved screaming for her fairy blood, wanting her to die in spite of how much she’d tried to give them. All people who, when it came down to it, saw Uluki as disposable.

Uluki thought she knew why that was true. It was because she wasn’t good enough to be a real friend. It was because almost everybody who looked at her saw how broken and scarred she was, how bad inside. She tried so hard to help people, but her attempts were stupid and pathetic, and probably made them feel even more contempt for her. She shouldn’t be surprised people turned on her; she should be surprised anyone didn’t.

She leaned against Rollick as the emotions overwhelmed her, but then realized she shouldn’t have. Panterras was right; she wasn’t good enough for her husband. Not good enough to be a friend, not good enough to be a wife. It was wrong to be so clingy. It was wrong to need him so much. Surely it was manipulative. She should pull away… but Rollick’s arm was already around her, already holding her close, a silent affirmation of his promise that he would never leave her. Uluki felt deep love for him, and horrible shame.

She was ashamed because now Rollick and Kira, and even Uluki’s children were caught up in the whirlpool of negativity and betrayal that Uluki inspired, and she hated herself for it. She hated it that, as much as she loved them, they would be better off without her. Uluki drew betrayal like a lightning rod, and it was betrayal that threatened them.

It was Rollick who answered Miss Lewton. “You’re right on the one hand. We do need to do something about this situation. I’m curious, though… why are you helping us? What do you hope to gain from it? You tell us not to trust our friends, but that we should trust you, but you have yet to tell us your motives. Perhaps if you explained them to us, we would better understand your position. Aside from the necessity you seem to be trying so hard to convince us of, to be blunt, how can we be sure it isn’t you we ought to be pointing the crossbow at?” The question wasn’t particularly threatening, but it was also clear he didn’t plan to budge until the woman explained why she seemed to be switching sides.
"When you feel like you can't go on, love heals.
Hold onto love, and it will lead you home. Love heals." -Rent

Re: Adjustments

Post by Quinn on

Quinn was grimly satisfied when a look she knew well crossed Uluki's face. it was the 'but who can I trust?' look, which Quinn had picked up at about age 13 and never really let the feeling go.

But then... the hurt on her face grew deeper, and it became apparent that this probably wasn't the first time this had happened to her - that or for some reason it stung that much more than it usually would. Probably it was because she was a fairy. No one expected a fairy as nice as her - well, in Quinn's world, nobody expected anyone as nice as her not to have some kind of ulterior motive.

Quinn only spared Uluki's emotions a brief thought in her mind that was currently focused almost completely - and too much, to keep up a healthy suspicion going - on the prospect of killing or being killed. Still, on some kind of level she wished she could explain that it hadn't been Uluki - it had just been the money, and the knowledge that this was another job, something different and exciting.

While she was thinking, Rollick started speaking, and Quinn locked eyes utterly impassively with him, which if you knew her better would be a sure sign that whatever you're saying is having some kind of big effect on her and she's determined not to show it.

She'd seen that question coming - even tried to pre-empt it by explaining that her motives weren't important, it was a case of Kira having a chance or not, but the question was bound to come. And there was no way to explain it without talking about the feelings of her the person, not a persona.

"My motives aren't important," she said, a little sulkily, but she knew that wouldn't be enough. She was lucky, she reminded herself, to have got this far without them even questioning Asra. Time to really go for it. Okay. "I don't want to kill Kira. I don't want to kill. That's my motive here. I spied on you, okay - it was me." She glanced at Uluki before adding, "It was just a job, nothing personal. I got you to go see Panterras - that was part of the job, too. He wanted you back, Rollick. And before that, when I showed up at Panterras' house to take the job, I left doors open and that was how Kira escaped. I saw her leaving and distracted him until she'd gone. Do you see? If it wasn't for me, he wouldn't be putting a hit out on his daughter. She might still be locked up, but alive. So whether I kill her myself or not, if she dies because of this, I've still killed her. The only way I haven't killed her is if I save her. And that's why I'm here."

She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry for spying on you," she said, not feeling particularly sorry, except for herself. Not feeling particularly anything. She figured - maybe if she looked repentant, Uluki would be more likely to trust her and agree with the plan. "If it helps, I believed him that you were evil, and that you were bewitched." Now that was a truth that implied a barefaced lie. She'd have spied on them if she hadn't believed him. Then, what was the point? They might as well know the truth now. They knew enough of it already, more than anybody ever had.

She took another deep breath, and exhaled slowly. Having Uluki and Rollick wondering who the spy was all the time wouldn't help her.

"I was Asra."

Re: Adjustments

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

That revelation hit Uluki like a kick. Asra? Surely not…

She liked Asra. Had liked Asra, she reminded herself, back when she thought Asra was real. The fact this woman— whoever she really was— had thought Uluki was evil didn’t help as much as it should have. People often assumed she was evil. Mostly she felt bad that they were afraid, guilty for not being good enough or nice enough or helpful enough to make them like her... though in her very rare cynical moods, she wondered if it was because they needed someone to blame for their problems, and assuming she was an awful person made it easier to take out their frustrations on her.

She had tried to help Asra, listened sympathetically, tried to make her feel better. She had suggested Asra and her daughters be friends. What kind of mother allowed a spy access to her daughters, actually encouraged…? Uluki felt sick.

“Oh, well…” she wasn’t sure how to respond. “I guess… well, it’s good you’re helping Kira now.”

Asra. She had liked and trusted Asra.

“Whatever Kira’s fate, it will not be your fault,” Rollick pointed out in an even tone. “We found Panterras’s logs. The experiments he was doing would have killed her. He commented several times he expected her to live only a short time.” He tried to imagine he was talking about something else, that he was imparting some kind of basic information, tried to keep the emotion out of his tone, but was not entirely successful. He couldn’t speak with detachment about the death of his goddaughter, even if it hadn’t come to pass. “Your actions likely saved her life. Her coming here will ensure she continues to be safe. We will protect her… with your help, of course. You have done a great deal for her.” Rollick was struggling now to keep the irritation out of his voice, to give credit where credit was due. He had been taken in utterly, and he felt like an idiot. He knew that Uluki would be hurt too, and that bothered him. It also deeply troubled him that his family’s safety suddenly seemed so fragile. He wanted to protect them from everything… and not being able to, he felt useless. He felt like a failure.

“So, what will you do now?” Uluki asked the woman. “I mean, I’m not saying you have to leave. We promised you a place to stay, and…” As long as her staying didn’t pose any imminent danger, which seemed to be the case, there was no reason to break that promise. “Well, you said you’d help Kira, so I wonder how… Are you going to try to find this illusionist? Do you really think he’ll help?”

Uluki felt cold… not physically, but like her heart had been dropped in a pail of ice water. She felt hurt, and sad, and betrayed, and idiotic… but first priority now was Kira.

“Do you still wish us to call you Asra?” Rollick asked a tiny bit tartly.
"When you feel like you can't go on, love heals.
Hold onto love, and it will lead you home. Love heals." -Rent

Re: Adjustments

Post by Quinn on

Quinn forced herself to keep looking at Uluki as her revelation, to her atuned eyes and slightly hyperbolic mind, seemed to impact like a stone in water. Yes, it sucked to be tricked. Suckered out of money was one thing, but to suddenly have the knowledge that you weren't safe... that must be it. It's almost painful to watch someone being brought down to my level. But Uluki would recover; they all did. Quinn had been found out before. People trusted again. They couldn't handle having the mental barriers down, they didn't seem to be able to cope without the dozy little fake knowledge that people were generally halfway decent and there was nothing wrong with taking them at face value. The idea of feeling betrayed, a connection sullied by deceit, never really crossed her mind. All Quinn's relationships were like that.

She had to admit - to herself - that hearing Rollick tell her it wasn't her fault was gratifying, but it changed nothing really. Whatever might have happened to Kira otherwise, what was going to happen to her if she didn't intervene was Quinn's fault because she had created the situation. She didn't really trust herself to formulate a coherant reply, feeling ridiculously naked without a metaphorical mask, and resorted to simply nodding, attempting to convey gratitude for his words and apology for his irritation. In reality she probably just looked rather dazed.

A brain-stem kind of a response was saying 'get out now', and the thought was rather tempting. Just being looked at, still in her Lewton/X getup but undeniably Herself, was almost painful - sort of like the unpleasant, oversensitive feeling of a limb that's been bandaged for weeks suddenly exposed to the air. But, just like in that situation, she realised bandaging it back up again would be no solution - she had to work with these people.

She could still disappear, was her mantra. You fooled them once, you can do it again, and there's no name they can identify you as to anyone and there's a million disguises, a million places to hide. Just finish the job - then decide.

She had to smile at Uluki's baffling civility. "You didn't offer me a place to stay. One would be somewhat worried about you if you had. I won't... intrude on you any more, for the time being. I'm going to try and find this man. I'm sure he'll help. I can be quite persuasive." The phrase held none of the emphasis it would normally have carried, although she meant the same thing. She just didn't have the energy really to do much but state things now. How the hell did you talk without a character to work from anyway?

And then he had to ask that question.

"You can call me what you like. The person you're talking to now - the conwoman, the spy - doesn't have a name. I use aliases as convenient, but I've never needed a name for myself." This was also said in a monotone, to hide from how insane it sounded to her ears. "I... I can perhaps get back to you on that. It may be that soon I will need one."

The uncomfortable feeling was getting worse, and she ached to be out of sight of anyone - behind a mask again. "If there's nothing else you need to know? I have an illusionist to track down." She shot them an awkward smile, trying not to betray her inner fidgeting.

Re: Adjustments

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

Uluki was surprised at how eager the spy seemed to get away from them. She was surprised even though Mara had done the same thing, had avoided Uluki for some time after attacking and almost killing her. They’d had to talk about it eventually, of course— you can’t live and work with someone day in and day out and have no contact— but Uluki remembered several heartsick weeks when Mara wouldn’t come near her, leaving Uluki wondering what she had done to make Mara hate her badly enough to want her dead. No, what surprised Uluki wasn’t the avoidance of the object of betrayal, which was only logical… it was that Uluki was surprised that Asra, or Miss Lewton, or whoever she was felt strongly enough about the situation to have such a reaction. Mara had been one of Uluki’s closest friends. This woman didn’t even really know them. Uluki was surprised there seemed to be any emotional component at all. Uluki wouldn’t have thought she would care. Maybe the woman really didn’t, though. Maybe she just felt awkward.

Regardless, Uluki saw no real reason to detain her. “We can discuss this more later, and make a more specific plan. I think you’re right that the best first step is to find this illusionist. He may not even be willing to help, so we should find out for sure before we make too much of the plan depend on him. If he will, we’ll… well, we don’t have very much money, but we’ll pay him what we can. Tell him we’ll reimburse him for his trouble, though we can’t promise him a large sum. Maybe that will help him decide,” Uluki suggested. “In the meantime, try to stay safe.” After all, this illusionist might prove to be a dangerous man. “We’ll see you soon,” she added, having run out of conversational ideas. Rollick nodded his agreement, but had nothing to add to her words.

Once the spy had taken her leave, Rollick turned to his still rather shell-shocked looking wife. “Uluki, can I talk to you alone for a minute before we go back to the children?” The concern was evident in Rollick’s voice. She nodded, and they sat side by side in the hallway outside the door to the room. He draped his arm around her shoulders. “What’s wrong, love?”

“It was a very bad evening.”

“It was. Is there any specific reason for the glum face?”

“I’m damaged, Rollick. I can’t be fixed.”

If that answer surprised him, he gave no indication. “I can’t be fixed either.”

Uluki reacted to that instinctively, without making the comparison. “You don’t need to. I love you the way you are.”

“That cuts both ways, dear one,” Rollick reminded her.

“I’m too clingy.”

“It feels damn good to be clung to. I know I matter to you. And I would point out that the attachment is quite mutual.”

“I have scars…”

“So do I. My scars have never bothered you.”

“I just wonder… what if you were with someone who didn’t have any? What if you were with a woman who was less physically fragile, whose body you didn’t have to be so careful not to do accidental harm to? What if you were with a woman whose heart had never been wounded, who you didn’t have to work so hard not to hurt emotionally? What if you didn’t have to spend every day navigating around damage other people did? What if you… what if you were with someone without scars?”

“I’d be miserable,” Rollick said bluntly. Uluki made a disbelieving noise, but he shook his head. “I can talk to you. You understand me. I don’t have to paint on a brave face for you. I can tell you anything— without worrying about being eloquent or witty— and I know you won’t make me feel like a fool. When I’m hurt, or frightened, or confused, I know you won’t consider it weakness. This hypothetical woman you’re talking about, one who had never been hurt, she wouldn’t understand that I have. Someone without any scars of her own wouldn’t be so willing to accept my scars. I wouldn’t be able to talk to her and be understood. I’d be lonely. I’d be miserable.”

“I… I don’t know what I would do without you, Rollick. I don’t think I could… You’re like sunlight. You’re like warmth.” She knew how strange that sounded, but she wasn’t sure how else to say it.

“As long there’s breath in my body, you’ll have your sun and your heat. I will never walk away from you. I will never leave you.”

“I know.” She did know, and that security was a source of great happiness.

“Is this because of what Panterras said to you? I’m still fuming over it.”

“He said I wasn’t good enough for you,” she admitted. “That thing he said that you didn’t hear. He said everyone pities you because I’m your wife.”

“Gods, Uluki, that’s absurd.” Rollick was angry and horrified that his supposed friend had said something like that to her, but he put those feelings aside for the moment for the sake of comforting her. “You’re perfect for me. Surely everyone can see that. If anybody does pity me, it proves that person a fool, because only a fool would pity a happy man. No one could be happier than I am with you and the children. I’m in paradise, Uluki. No one pities a man in paradise.”

Uluki was about to object to the exaggeration, but then she thought about how good it felt to be held, how much she liked to talk to him, seeing the children’s bright faces, so eager to give love… “I’m in paradise too,” she told him, resting in his arms and leaning against him.

After a few minutes of this comforting embrace, Uluki felt much better. “The girls are probably wondering what’s keeping us, and I don’t want them to worry. We should go make sure they understand that everything is going to be alright. I don’t want them to be scared.”

“One more thing first, dear one.” Rollick reached into his pocket, then held out his closed hand to Uluki. She tugged gently on his fingers to open them, and he smilingly obliged.

Uluki gasped with delight when she saw what he was holding. “You bought the earrings for me! Thank you!” They were even more beautiful than she remembered, so delicate, and the butterfly shapes looked even prettier here in the light than they had in the darkness of the street. “I didn’t know…”

“That was the point. I wanted to surprise you. You had a bad night, and… well, I know things don’t provide any real comfort, don’t in themselves show how much I love and appreciate you, but I wanted to give you something tangible, just this once, since I’ve so rarely been able to, and…” Rollick sounded a bit awkward, struggling to explain.

“Thank you,” Uluki repeated. She liked the earrings very much, but it was also meant to be a thank you for his thoughtfulness, for valuing her so highly, for being so caring and considerate. Rather than trying to explain all that, she just kissed him tenderly, her lips lingering against his.

After that affectionate moment they went back into the room to where Zee, Martin, and Kira waited for them. Uluki hoped Dash and Kaydee would return soon. She didn’t want to go bother them— she was well aware girls their age needed some privacy, and they were entitled to their own conversation without her barging in— but it would be good to see them again after such a wretched evening. Besides, she and Rollick had presents to give the two of them as well.
"When you feel like you can't go on, love heals.
Hold onto love, and it will lead you home. Love heals." -Rent

Re: Adjustments

Post by Falcon Bertille on

Kaydee was glad that her refusal hadn’t offended Dash. It hadn’t been meant as a commentary on Dash’s family -- of all the families that Kaydee had ever met, they were the nicest. If she was going to join any family, she’d join theirs. However, for the moment, calling Aorle “Big Brother” was as much of a step in that direction as she felt comfortable taking.

Letting the subject drop, Kaydee hurried after Dash.

When they arrived back at their room, Kaydee let Dash enter first, not wanting to get in the way of any hugs or other family greetings. But Uluki and Rollick didn’t rise from the floor. Kaydee thought they looked a little tired, or maybe sad, although that might have been her imagination.

Upon seeing Kira, Kaydee immediately glanced at Dash. She wasn’t sure how close Dash would need to get to Kira before being harmed by her, so she wanted to be ready, in case her friend needed her. But for the moment, Dash looked fine. Reassured, Kaydee approached Rollick and Uluki, greeting them with a bright smile.

“I’m glad to see that you both got back alright. I’ve been waiting to give you something.” With less nervousness than before, Kaydee pulled the last cookie from her pouch. After all, everyone else had really liked them, so surely Uluki and Rollick would too. “I remembered earlier, when you were talking to Aorle and Julen, you said you’d never tasted a cookie. So I got some. Kira, Dash, and Zee have already had theirs, and here’s yours. I--I hope you don’t mind sharing.”




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