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Hard Truths

Re: Hard Truths

Post by Angatdan on

The memories poured forth and she lapped at them, tasting the offered boon. Nothing of what she wanted. Human agony at implied pain. Human mourning over deeds done long ago. Emotions which ruined the human mind. Guilt. Sorrow. Shame.


The god's eyes examined the vessel where it knelt before her, prone after the strain of what she'd done to it. Its pain was irrelevant to her, though she fed from it regardless. It rose from the figure in waves and she consumed these with the bits of her which hovered over the body.

Still not what she wanted, though she used it to keep her form.

How did it come to know this flesh?

She was fascinated and envious. The god had possessed this creature and used the body as its own. She could not see how or why. She could penetrate the layers through and through, make the creature writhe in agony and burst the cells from the inside out. But she could not remain inside. Its innermost residence remained closed to her. She could not share this body with the mortal it currently held; she could only manipulate the flesh.

She longed to know how to become. But she could not force these memories to come. She would need to remind the creature, to make it feel as though the possession were happening again. It would reflexively call up the needed memories and she would abandon what was left behind.

She had no hands to touch with, and this was only a boon. She was not limited to the confines of epidermis from one direction or another; she could touch the carcass as deeply as she wished without physicality to bar her path.

She did so again, thrusting a tendril directly through its chest as a spear. It plunged through the ground beneath and twisted back, moving to wrap up and around the arms. She tightened her grip and smiled without pleasure. The heart was surrounded by her and she felt the blood flowing from the muscles outward and back again. Parts of her rode along for the thrill, shooting through the veins and arteries, squeezing through the capillaries and writhing along the surface of the brain.

How did it come to pass?

She knew this mass from hair to feet. Even beyond as bits of the skin flaked away to rest against the cloth. She felt the space between the layers and was tempted to flood these without respite. It would bloat and expand until it could no more; cracks would appear against the skin and organs would spill before they, too, succumbed and dissolved...

The expense of her efforts to come her and try to find the god had taken the excess energies from the sacrifices before. Killing the vessel would only rob her of the memories she so wished to view, and herself of her own power. She refocused her thoughts and slithered against the brain again, searching for the thoughts she needed and ignoring the rest.
I look at people and I see nothing worth liking.

Re: Hard Truths

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

((NPC Post))

A moment later, Rollick was jerked back in, away from Uluki, away from the shelter of her comforting tenderness.

I will tell you nothing. Even if you kill me.

But it was already affecting him. He hadn't spoken the words aloud; he'd allowed it to read them in his mind. That wouldn't do. He wouldn't play its game.

"Nothing," he repeated audibly, speaking with his mouth this time, not his mind. The word didn't come easily, and without context it would be unintelligible, but that wasn't the point. The point was defiance. All he had left.

It stabbed into him again, grinding a piercing coil into his chest. He cried out wordlessly, unable to restrain it, but he would not speak. Not as it wrapped around his arms like as a snake. As his heart was encircled, he groaned again, sure now that he wouldn't survive this. Not unless he told this beast what it wanted to know, and that information was worth more than his life.

Rollick didn't want to die. He hadn't wanted to before, when the god possessed him, and now he had so much more to live for. Not just the faintest of hopes for the future, but a future that had come true. Uluki was with him, loved him, was real and solid, was not just his own fantasy about her. They had their beloved children, the source of so much joy. So many reasons to stay alive... but at the same time, he was willing to die. Not glad of it, but willing.

He would not survive at the expense of others. If this thing forced the information out of him, many others might be killed. Better for Rollick alone to die. He tried to get out more words of refusal, but his chest was too constricted. His lips moved soundlessly.

It was in his mind again. That was worse. Infinitely worse than the physical pain. It was far more violating and... far more like before. The evil god had not wanted to kill Rollick, its host. That would have been suicide. It had tortured him, but the torture had been almost entirely psychological. It was in his brain the sensations still lived the strongest. And as his his mind was penetrated yet again by this new creature, it grew harder and harder to hold back.

It was no longer a question of will. Rollick was no less resolved than he had been that he would sooner die than reveal anything that would help this evil thing. The problem was that the entity was in dangerous territory in terms of potentially triggering a flashback-- something entirely involuntary.

I will give you nothing.

Again the words weren't audible, but not by mistake this time. Rollick was simply no longer able to speak.

Even as this thought formed, he knew it wasn't true. He would give it something; he couldn't help it. He felt the familiar black rush as a flashback overtook him.

No no no no no no damn you stay strong fight this don't let it have control no damn it...

But it was too late. He was plunged back into the memories, reliving them as though they were happening at that instant, not ten years ago.

Things were falling apart quickly. Too much magic, an influx, all at once. Those scientists and their portal. The powerful blood; they couldn't stop what they had started. But it wasn't the magic that worried Rollick, or the strange creatures and bits of geography that seemed to have poured in out of nowhere. A serious concern, but it could wait.

What couldn't wait was locked up and chained and buried in the basement of The Institute. A god. And evil one, dangerous and chaotic. Mindlessly destructive. If it got out, everyone would be in danger. Rollick had to make sure that didn't happen. He ran down the stairs, his sword drawn...

Bodies on the ground, Rollick had to step over them.

It was gone. The basement was darkened, the air was unnaturally chilled and reeked of sulfur, the door stood wide, and the chains lay on the floor, unoccupied. Rollick looked around, peering into the darkness...

There it stood, wrapped in the flesh of a human host. The host was hundreds of years old, but perfectly preserved by the god's tinkering. The only hint of something amiss was the luminescent green glow of the eyes. The god stared at Rollick through the face of the body it inhabited. Somehow, Rollick saw what was coming.

He also understood why it had to be. Why, ultimately, it was better this way.

Rollick knew of the god. He knew it was insane and mindless, and relied on the mental faculties of the human host to have any ability to plan or reason. A willing host would give the god a major advantage-- and the current host was both willing and brilliant. In him, the god would be difficult if not impossible to stop. Rollick, however, would make it fight for every scrap. Rollick would turn every bit of strength he had against it. And that might-- it was doubtful, but it just
might-- be enough to allow his friends to prevail.

The host crumpled at Rollick's feet. The god had sensed strength, had sensed a strong will, and since the prior host had neither, it had decided to claim a new body. Rollick's body.

Agony. Terror and pain as the creature forced its way in. A cascade of bloody images, cruel and sadistic desires, twisted impulses, and all the time a background stream of cackling and babble.

It was strong. Obscenely strong. Rollick had no control, none at all. Cloaked in his body, it charged up the stairs, his blade drawn.

Death. So much death. Dozens perished by Rollick's hands, as Rollick's soul wept.

But not only wept. He

A doorway. Eight Dusklings crouched inside, terrified and bewildered. Not Uluki. Her relatives.

Rollick dropped his sword and ran.

It was the hardest thing he'd ever done, forcing it to give in and allow him to do that. The struggle exhausted him...

The creature knew the answer to its question, but Rollick could not stop the flow of memories any more now than he could before. It poured into him, out of him, holding him in the past he would never be able to forget.

Rollick was in the woods, alone. The creature was trying to force him to go back, to search out victims, but Rollick refused. He sat still, his eyes closed, focused...

Time was passing. Rollick was getting thinner, paler-- yet not weaker. Every day, he was learning better ways to fight it. It wanted to leave. It was tired of its uncooperative host. Rollick refused to let it go. He clutched it with his mind and buried it in his body. This was hell, but it was his hell to bear. He would not condemn someone else to live with this. Nor would he condemn the world to be tormented by this creature in a more willing host.

The visions were the worst part. Those the god had already killed. Those it wanted to kill. In its fantasies, it murdered thousands, including everyone who Rollick was close to. Rollick had to watch. Over and over. The god fed on the sufferings of the people in proximity to it, and Rollick was sentenced to witness and experience that suffering as well. The god gloried in that, and Rollick ached...

The god had figured out which of the visions hurt Rollick the most. Now he was made to watch Uluki die painfully and horrifically, her blood on his own hands, hundreds of times a day...

But there were bright spots, too. Uluki's messages. She missed him. She wouldn't stop fighting for him. She was proud of him. Every word she spoke strengthened Rollick. His dreams of her, of returning to her, of a life with her-- however impossible it was those dreams would ever come true-- eased the pain.

Rollick knew the end was near. The god was weakening. Uluki and Mercedes and their comrades were choking off the chaos it fed on. Soon the time for battle would come.

And that would be the end for Rollick, too. He would die. In agony. But the god would be defeated, and that would be the end...

The battle. His arms folded across his chest. He thanked them. Thanked them for releasing him from his hellish prison, thanked them for helping him defeat the beast, as their blows rained down on him. He was stabbed over and over again. His skin burned. The knife plunged into the back of his skull. Soon it would be over. The sword sliced into him, cleaving downward where his neck met his shoulder.

He fell.

It was done.

He awoke. The first thing he saw was Uluki's beautiful face. He longed to reach out for her, to draw her close, to kiss her and bury his face in her hair and never let her go...

"Enough!" With effort, Rollick forced his mind back to the present, like a swimmer coming up for air. "Enough. It's me you're concerned with, not her. Not 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: Hard Truths

Post by Angatdan on

She drank its pain greedily, feasting on the quivers and trembles the mortal could not control. The stubbornness meant nothing to her. She only needed to wait longer, and she had the human's inner rebellion to keep her satiated until she found what she needed.

The visions came and gripped the mind, and she pressed forward to drink them into her own until she could not separate herself from the thoughts she'd absorbed. The memories continued in an uncontrolled surge and the body spasmed under her grip. It was caught within its own mind and she needed only observe. So much of what the mortal saw was of no consequence to her, and she left these memories alone. She focused herself on the possession and the sensations it wrought on the carcass. How the god had forced its way beyond human struggles to encompass and inevitably control the body.

She watched with a critical eye as the mortal instead overwhelmed and pushed back the god. The god had possessed and controlled up until this point. And she came to the conclusion that the god was a fool, to have possessed a living corpse such as this. Pushing the mortal mind which belonged took constant energy and effort, which taxed the god's natural resources.

The creature made an assertion, and the god couldn't help but reply.

I am not concerned with either of you.

There was no answer here. The god had not acted as a god; it had acted as a common demon, jumping from one corpse to another, and this had been its downfall. It was wasteful to possess that which would fight for its domain; a true possession should eradicate mind and soul as the being draped the host's flesh along its powers to mold to its own will.

Disgusted once more, she withdrew all at once, extracting herself from him with a mental wrench. The pressure lifted from every molecule and air pocket contained within the body as she pulled back, again sloughing off the fragments of human essence clinging to her. This vessel had fulfilled its purpose and the god was gone. She needed nothing more.
I look at people and I see nothing worth liking.

Re: Hard Truths

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

Uluki watched with horror as Rollick pitched forward abruptly. Whatever had been in him, it was gone, and it had left a terrifying amount of damage behind. His body looked as though it had been mangled outward and then collapsed in on itself. Uluki couldn't tell if he was even alive. She wasn't sure someone could be hurt that badly and survive. Cold terror gripped her as she threw herself down beside him and began to heal him. She didn't bother to check for a pulse; she would know once the magic started. She couldn't heal a corpse.

He was alive.

She could feel the life in him, and the tight knot of fear in her belly released, but it was too soon to celebrate. He could still slip away if she wasn't fast enough, so she poured everything the had, everything she was into him. It was going too slowly. His life was ebbing. Uluki began absorbing the damage herself, as much as she could take without killing herself. She would have died for him, but leaving him without a healer would be the end of him, hurt as he was.

The minutes passed like a lifetime. Magic flowed back and forth between them.

Finally, he opened his eyes. "Uluki?" he murmured. "Are you alright?"

The tears came. She lay beside him on the floor, her arms around him, her whole body aching but her heart buoyed with relief. It took a moment before she could squeeze any words past the lump in her throat. "Fine. Are you...?"

He nodded and gently kissed the part of her closest to his lips, which happened to be her right ear. "Fine, thanks to you. I thought... it was over. But you brought me back, yet again."

"I was so scared..."

Uluki and Rollick finally noticed a small knot of refugees staring down at them. No one looked very happy. Uluki realized she had just blatantly and overtly done magic in front of people who hated her. At least Rollick was alive. But Uluki hoped that if she died for it, no one else was implicated in... what they claimed was a crime. The two of them scrambled to their feet, ready to face whatever happened next.

It was Vernon who spoke first. "I knew it! I knew the bastard was hiding something like this, behind that smug veneer of 'goodness'! We all saw what happened. We all felt... something... some kind of aura of evil. Focused on him. It came to find him. Came to find its brother." Rollick started to protest, but Vernon cut him off. "I heard what you said. Didn't like being called the 'little' brother, did you? Don't like the big one getting all the glory? We saw you kneel to it. Kneel to some creature of evil."

"It wasn't like that..." Rollick sounded exhausted.

Vernon drowned him out. "We all know now. You may have fooled that holy knight who protects us all, but you've proven your guilt now nonetheless. Evil things are burned, where I come from. I'll tie you to the stake myself, and then your ashes won't be able to harm us anymore. Spawn of devils! Seed of demons! How dare you fool the good people here into letting you shelter among them?" Vernon was clearly working himself into a frenzy, his terror of the invading creature reacting like alchemy with his previously mundane dislike of Rollick. It was convenient, and Vernon believed every word. "The soldiers in this place talk about eradicating evil when they fight. Time to do so here at home." He took a step toward Rollick, the movement a clear threat of violent confrontation.

Uluki should have logically and rationally explained why Rollick was blameless. She should have told Vernon all the facts he needed to get the story straight. But she was too tired, hurt too much, and had been through too much fear to say anything convincing or reasonable. Instead, she launched herself at Vernon, a small blue bundle of teeth and nails and flailing feet.

Vernon peeled Uluki off easily. "That crazy little freak bit me!" he announced with disgust, rubbing the red mark on his neck. "But everyone will know of this. You can't hide your sins. All the shanty town people will hear about how dangerous you are. That your self-righteous piety is all an act. They won't listen to you anymore. At least till the soldiers kill you." He slammed the door behind him as he went off to spread the news.

Uluki expected Mamie to go on a similar rant, but the woman said nothing. She simply smiled at Uluki-- but the smile was tight and cruel.

"Mamie, wait, don't..." But Mamie had followed Vernon out the door, and injured Uluki couldn't keep up with her. The other refugees followed, looking frightened and confused by what they had seen, though luckily no one else seemed hostile. Uluki knew the gossip would soon be all around the compound, and she hoped most people heard a version other than Vernon's first.

"Maybe he's right, Uluki," Rollick said heavily once they were alone. "Maybe I am a danger. Maybe the rest of you would be safer if..."

"No." She couldn't even let him finish the thought. "It isn't your fault."

"But if I act as a beacon for evil, whether or not I am at fault is a moot point. There is a price..."

"Which you've paid and paid and paid, even though you did nothing wrong."

"Maybe it isn't enough. It... it found out what it wanted from me, Uluki. I tried to stop it, but the memories. It could see. I couldn't... I was weak. I failed."

"No one wins every time, Rollick. You aren't weak. You're so incredibly strong." Uluki didn't even want to broach the next subject, but she knew she had to. "Rollick, we may need to leave. All of us. Not because you're a danger. I don't believe you are. People... might not understand, though. And there was the magic I did. I'm not sorry about it. There's no way I was going to stand there and watch you die. But we may have worn out our welcome here after today."

"I'm so sorry."

"There's nothing you need to be sorry about. We'll get through this. You're safe, and we're together."

"I saw it all again, Uluki. It made me relive it. All of it."

Uluki's heart ached for him. "Then no wonder you're hurting so much. Come sit with me for a little while, alright?"

"Uluki, it... it tainted me. Every fibre of my being, it touched. It left nothing... uncontaminated. You should know that. You don't... you don't have to touch me for awhile, if you don't want to. I can find somewhere else to sleep..."

Uluki reached up and stroked his cheek, then wrapped her arms around him and laid her head on his chest. "I'm not going to stop touching you. Not even for a little while. Actually, I'm planning to cuddle you quite a bit in the immediate future. So... if you want snuggles..."

Rollick did indeed want snuggles, and they sat together on the floor, holding each other, comforting each other. She murmured in his ear, "It's alright. Everything is going to be alright."

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the compound, Mamie bided her time, and Vernon spread his gossip as widely as possible. He made sure word got to Kaydee-- Vernon might have ignored her when she lay bleeding in the shanty town, but at least he wasn't evil like Rollick, and Kaydee had her priorities very skewed if she trusted Rollick but still expected Vernon to apologize. The fact that it was Uluki who thought he should apologize, not Kaydee, never crossed his mind. If this soured things in the happy, sappy little family, Vernon was all for it. He also tried to direct his rumours in such a way that they reached some of the warriors. Vernon's time in the shanty town had taught him that the messenger was often blamed, and he didn't want to take that risk, even though he too was just doing his best to keep the compound safe.
"When you feel like you can't go on, love heals.
Hold onto love, and it will lead you home. Love heals." -Rent

Re: Hard Truths

Post by Julen on

Vernon was right to worry about how the messenger might be treated. But not everyone had the sense to be so wary.

“He’s crazy!” Sasha wailed. Unsurprisingly, her concerns were not about evil spirits, illegal magic use, or even the safety of the compound. She wanted to wriggle out of training. “Everyone saw it. He started shouting at things that weren’t there and then he collapsed. Totally off his head! And to think, you wanted to leave us at his mercy. The gods knows what he might have done while you were away in Shim.”

A single flick of Thetta’s wrist swung the blunt end of her spear toward Sasha’s head, where it collided with an audible smack. The blow certainly hurt. But it probably didn’t warrant the screech Sasha emitted, nor her subsequent drop to the floor. “What was that for!?”

“You’ve had that coming since you attacked one of us with a dagger. And, if you don’t watch your tongue, the next bang you hear will be the door slamming behind you on your way out.” Thetta stared down at her pupil with fury flickering behind the ice of her blue eyes. “Is this your idea of how to treat a comrade? Rollick risked his life to defend this compound! If he’s in trouble, you should help him, not come whining to me with self-serving nonsense.”

Part of Thetta wanted to go make sure Rollick was alright. But if this was a lie concocted by Sasha, in order to send Thetta off on some wild goose chase, Thetta didn’t want it to win the girl a moment’s break from her lessons. Fortunately, there were several other Lightswords nearby.

“Farmer!” Julen hadn’t yet made it onto Thetta’s short list of good men. Which meant she didn’t usually bother with his name. However, he still responded to her call, and hurried over.


Thetta nodded at Sasha. “This girl claims something strange happened to Rollick. Someone should go check on him. However, I need to remain here and keep an eye on these two.”

It was not exactly an order. But it was also clear which one of them she thought should go. Swallowing the smile that threatened to creep across his lips, Julen gave Thetta a respectful nod of his head. “I’ll go find out.”

As he headed across the compound, Julen didn’t feel terribly worried. Sasha would probably claim they were being invaded by a battalion of rabid squirrels if she thought it would allow her to get her way. However, his calm took a blow when he saw Kaydee running toward him, tears already streaming down her cheeks. “Julen? Is it true? Is it?”

Although he had a sinking feeling that he already knew, Julen asked anyway. “Is what true?”

“Vernon is telling everyone that Uluki and Rollick did something bad. He says that they’re evil, that the warriors should kill them for it. But they don’t seem evil to me. Uluki has been really nice, and she’s helping me fix a dress I messed up, and—-and I don’t want her to be killed. You aren’t going to kill her, are you?”

“Gods no!” Right then, Julen did want to kill someone. But not Uluki. “Come on, Kaydee. We’ll get to the bottom of this.”

Now that he was searching with more urgency, it didn’t take Julen long to locate the couple, sitting together on the floor. They both looked like they’d been through hell. Dropping to one knee, Julen expressed his concern for his friends. “Rollick? Uluki? Are you alright?”
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

Re: Hard Truths

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

Uluki was glad that Julen was the warrior they saw first, rather than someone they didn't know as well. While she liked and trusted all the Lightswords, the only two people at the compound besides the family who knew all the the history behind what had happened today were Julen and Aorle, and it would be better not to have to explain the whole thing another time right at this moment-- especially not after Rollick had been forced to experience it all over again. Also, Uluki considered Julen a good friend, and she knew Rollick did too. Julen would give them a fair hearing rather than relying on preconceived notions, and he would be understanding. It was for the best that he was the one who was here.

She was less sure how Kaydee would react. While Uluki cared a great deal about Kaydee and considered her a good and kind person, she found it difficult to predict how Kaydee would take something like this. Kaydee hadn't seemed concerned about the magic before-- but it was a great deal easier not to be concerned when you were the one whose life had been saved. And as for what had happened to Rollick... Uluki simply had no idea what Kaydee would think. She had never seen Kaydee put to the test on such a matter. Still, it was better that she was here. Better that she knew the truth, right away. Since Kaydee was living with the family, and they considered her an honourary member, however loosely defined her role was, she needed to know what she was getting into. And if it was too much for her... the sooner she decided that, the less painful for all concerned.

Uluki wasn't quite sure how to begin explaining. "Something bad came here. I don't know what it was. An evil spirit, or maybe even some kind of god. It only let Rollick see it, but... we didn't need to see it to know it was there. We could feel something dark, and malevolent, and full of hate. It's hard to describe, but even though it was invisible, it was obviously real. And it... it hurt Rollick." She drew a shaky breath, trying to keep her emotions in check.

Rollick took her hand in his reassuringly, and continued where she left off. "I don't know what it was either, not for a certainty, but I think Uluki is correct in suggesting it may have been a god, because it recognized... it came for me. It was looking for the god that inhabited me. It called me 'little brother,' and it..."

Rollick suddenly and inexplicably found it hard to talk about what had happened. How he'd been violated by the creature. It wasn't that he thought he was at fault; he knew he wasn't. And he didn't expect Julen or Kaydee would blame him. If Julen could accept Rollick's innocence in a months-long possession that had resulted in many deaths, he certainly wasn't going to decide Rollick was a monster for a momentary one that had frightened a few refugees. No, the emotions that washed over Rollick were shame and humiliation. He was embarrassed to admit how that thing had desecrated him.

This time it was Uluki's turn to offer comfort. She lifted their clasped hands to her lips and kissed Rollick's, then pressed it to her cheek. The gesture was not only soothing, but claiming. Rollick was the one she loved, no matter what, and she wanted to make sure he knew it. That gave him the resolve he needed to continue his explanation.

"It forced its way inside me. I was unable to keep it out." He tried to keep his tone factual, as though describing an event that had happened to someone else. "It searched my whole body, every inch, in a way that was... very painful. It wanted to know how the god had possessed me. I tried to resist, but my mind... the creature's presence in my body caused flashbacks. I couldn't control them. It saw what it wanted, and it left. But as it..." He paused for a moment, searching for a word that wasn't "violated." Something more neutral. "As it made its assault, it had forced my body open to it, so it could penetrate even the smallest parts of my being looking for the information it sought. It held me together, so I wouldn't be torn apart by the sheer force of its invasion, but when it departed my body was... quite damaged."

Uluki squeezed his hand and snuggled closer to him. "It's like he says. I was afraid it had killed him." Her voice carried a residual tremor of fear and sorrow. "He was hurt really badly. Alive, but... barely. There was nothing in my mind but saving him. I wasn't thinking about laws or rules. Just keeping him from dying, in the only way I could. And even if I had thought about it... I wouldn't have done anything differently. I wouldn't have thrown his life away to save my own. I hope no one else gets hurt because of what I did, but I don't think it was wrong. His death would have been wrong; him being alive is right."

Rollick squeezed her hand and kissed her cheek, then turned back to Julen and Kaydee, looking guilty and ashamed. "I failed. I failed you all. I would have died before I revealed anything to such a creature intentionally, but... I lacked the strength to prevent it from taking what it wanted from me anyway. For that I owe everyone here the greatest of apologies."
"When you feel like you can't go on, love heals.
Hold onto love, and it will lead you home. Love heals." -Rent

Re: Hard Truths

Post by Julen on

Julen listened without interrupting while Rollick described his ordeal. The more he heard, the tighter his lips pressed together. It was hard not to be overwhelmed by the horror of what had happened to his friend. To be invaded, searched, and pulled apart from the inside by a malicious power...Julen couldn’t begin to imagine what that must have been like. An experience such as that could drive a lesser man insane.

When the elder warrior finished speaking, Julen remained silent for a moment longer. Then, he placed a hand on Rollick’s shoulder, clasping his friend firmly. Mostly, the gesture was an offer of sympathy and support. But another, more unconscious, part of Julen was getting a good grip on Rollick in case something else showed up and tried to drag him away from them. “You haven’t failed anyone.” Julen assured. "You were simply unable to resist the will of a god -- I doubt even Aorle could manage as much. None of us require your apology.”

Involuntarily, Julen remembered the beating he’d received in the shanty town. Snyde hadn’t asked any questions. But what if he had? What would Julen have said to make it stop? What would have slipped out as his body and mind succumbed to the madness of pain? No, Rollick certainly had nothing to apologize for.

Nor, for that matter, did Uluki. Keeping his grip on Rollick’s shoulder, Julen reached over and took the fairy’s hand in his own. “Healing him was the right thing to do. If it had been Rosemary, I would have done the same, even if all the Judges and battlemages in Marn were watching.”

“However, we do need to handle some damage control. Do you think that thing -- whatever it was -- will come back? To try to possess you or anyone else?” Julen had no idea what they could do if Rollick said that it might return. How did you defend against a god? But at least they would know what to expect, and maybe the Teaching of Angels mentioned certain rites or spiritual barriers which could be erected.

Fortunately, the next part dealt with humans, not gods. Against humans, Julen figured he stood a fair chance. “Also, I need to know who was here. Who saw what happened? And how upset did they seem about it?” Julen already knew that Vernon was spreading rumors like manure over a freshly planted crop, but there might be other people involved.

He’d nearly forgotten about Kaydee, who’d been standing behind him, silently chewing her lip. But then the young woman hurled herself forward, wrapping her arms around Rollick and holding on tight. “I won’t let them make you go away! We can tell everybody you just had a fit of some sort. And...and it looked like Uluki healed you, but you really just got better on your own. No magic, no evil gods. No reason to make you leave.”
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

Re: Hard Truths

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

Julen's sympathy was deeply reassuring to Rollick. The clasped hand was of great comfort. "Thank you for your understanding. It is... difficult... when one's own body betrays. When the will is strong, but..." He sighed heavily. "The flashbacks have never been something I could control, though with each passing year they became less frequent. Aside from being awkward in social situations-- luckily for me I have a very understanding wife-- it was not of great concern. I suppose it is folly to imagine that it would be different the one time it mattered; that the importance of the situation would be enough to keep the flashbacks in check. I realize I should not expect unreasonable things from myself, but..."

Rollick tried not to expend much energy in considering whether Aorle would have fared better. As far as Rollick knew, Aorle had never been so traumatized that his mind produced involuntary flashbacks of an event. On the other hand, the source of Rollick's trauma was what had drawn the god to him, so if he had never been through such an experience, this creature would not have been assailing his mind in the first place. Imagining someone else in the situation was fruitless. It simply wasn't comparable. Rollick doubted anyone could escape a possession by a god without trauma. Since he knew no one else who had experienced such a possession, he could not say if he handled that trauma better or worse than another. So he did his best to silence the irrational little voice in his mind that insisted that a better man would have been stronger...

"...But what's done is done. And now we move on from here. I am grateful we have such understanding friends, however."

Uluki squeezed Julen's hand in response when he took hers, but there was nothing more to say. Uluki would never follow a law that arbitrarily required the death of a good person. She would sooner follow the principles of goodness and compassion. And when the person in danger was the man she loved, there was simply no question. She was not prepared to sacrifice Rollick's life to the laws of Marn, even if it meant giving her own life in exchange.

Rollick could answer Julen's question with certainty. "It will not return. I told it that Uluki was none of its concern, and it replied that it was not concerned with either of us. Then it departed. But I am not sure why. I hope it is because nothing it learned from me was useful to it, and it saw no sense in continuing an unprofitable activity. But I fear that it simply found out all it needed to know, and will now put that information to some horrible use. Either way, I am certain it is finished with me. Nor did it show any interest in anyone else here. Only the god that was in me those many years ago. I do not fear we will see this creature again... but I do fear whatever drew it to me in the first place. That it sensed me, and was able to seek me out. What if my presence draws other evil creatures down upon us as well?"

Uluki shook her head. "It's been ten years since the god. If you really had some kind of pull that drew evil things toward you, wouldn't we have seen it by now? Everyone who has tried to harm us in the meantime has been fully mortal. The bad god invaded you while you were trying to stop it from hurting people. The thing today came because of the other one. Neither time was it because you were doing anything wrong. Two in ten years, Rollick. When Aorle fought two demons in a single night, you didn't suggest he was evil."

"That's different..."

"No it isn't. When you try to protect people from evil things, evil things don't like you, so they want to hurt you. It doesn't mean you're a bad person. It doesn't mean you're some kind of magnet for them. If you'd sat around and never cared about anyone, neither of these things would have happened to you. But a lot of other people would be dead. Evil things aren't drawn to you because you're tainted. You face evil because you fight it."

Rollick's expression was a little less gloomy by the time Uluki had finished speaking. "I hope that is true. I would never wish to bring harm to the people here."

When asked, Uluki listed the names of those who had been present and witnessed what the creature did to Rollick. "Masha. Louise. Gilly. Mamie. Vernon. That was all. Masha and Louise came back from the shanty town with me, right at the beginning. They seemed scared just now, but not like they blamed us. And they probably at least suspected about the magic already. Gilly we don't know well, but she also just seemed confused and frighted, not accusing. Mamie and Vernon are the ones who could be a danger. Mamie already hates me because I'm Fae, and she probably doesn't like Rollick much either because he's my husband. She might try to use this to hurt us. And Vernon... he threatened Rollick's life."

Uluki looked down, embarrassed. "I bit him and kicked him. I shouldn't have. But I was so scared, and Rollick had almost died, and-- and it was like before. With the mean paladin. I was afraid it was all happening again, and I'm sick of people wanting to hurt Rollick because of things that aren't his fault. I think Vernon may try to turn other people against Rollick, like the other paladin tried to convince me to let him die. And I'm afraid... what if people believe him? What if this makes them think Rollick is bad?"

Rollick was startled by Kaydee's abrupt hug, but he returned the embrace warmly. "You are very kind, Kaydee. I am grateful for your concern for me. But I would not lie to the people here about things that might endanger them. Particularly the warriors, who have a right to know who they risk their lives to defend. If they do not wish to take such a risk for me, it would be wrong for me to make them do so by telling them falsehoods. They must make the decision freely about what my life is worth to them, should they be called upon to make sacrifices."

"Mine too," Uluki agreed. "Protecting rogue mages isn't what Aorle had in mind for the compound. If someone's life is in danger, I will break the law to save them. Every time. To promise I would do anything else would be a lie. I'm not going to go around the compound announcing to everyone that I did magic, but I'm not going to lie to Aorle and the Lightswords and claim I did otherwise."

"I hardly think we're going to be chased out with torches and pitchforks," Rollick said lightly, trying to comfort Kaydee. "You need not fear for our safety. But we cannot take advantage of the people here. We cannot be false to gain their kindness."
"When you feel like you can't go on, love heals.
Hold onto love, and it will lead you home. Love heals." -Rent

Re: Hard Truths

Post by Julen on

Julen couldn’t help looking relieved when Rollick assured him that the evil presence was unlikely to return. With luck, it would be unable to apply any information it had ripped from the elder warrior. And, even if it was, it would not do so here. Julen knew that such a malevolent being could not be allowed to continue harming others. Eventually, they would need to confront it. But, since it seemed like a battle they currently had no hope of winning, he felt grateful for the chance to postpone it.

However, the look of relief vanished when Rollick voiced a concern about attracting other evil creatures. Prepared to refute his friend’s apprehensions, Julen opened his mouth, but Uluki was already speaking. And her words earned her a nod of approval from Julen. Most of the arguments she made were ones that he himself would have put forward. “Listen to your wife,” Julen suggested, after Uluki had finished. “Her words make sense. Anyone who stands in evil’s path is likely to find themselves confronting it more than those who run away and hide under their beds.”

“Besides, we already have a magnet for evil in our midst. When I first met Aorle, and he began my training, I suggested that we practice in the forest. But he declined, fearing the sort of creatures he might attract. Apparently infernal beings find his soul to be particularly...tasty. I hope you’re not suggesting that he should leave because of that.” Julen’s tone was mostly playful, since he felt sure that neither Uluki nor Rollick would suggest any such thing. But somewhere beneath the jesting was a slight undercurrent, which made it clear that if anyone ever did try to drive off Aorle, they would need to come through him first.

And the undercurrent surged to the surface when Julen heard that Vernon had actually threatened Rollick’s life. “I think you showed amazing restraint,” he admitted to Uluki. “If I had been here, he would still be picking his teeth up off the floor.” Julen shook his head. “What in the name of the gods is wrong with these people? Aorle rescued them from poverty. Gave them a chance for a better life. And they’re willing to throw it all away, just because they can’t get it through their thick skulls that--”

Julen bit his tongue, aware that a rant wouldn’t help anyone. Instead, he addressed Uluki’s fears about Vernon turning others against Rollick. “I don’t think you need to worry about the warriors. The ones who know you are loyal to you. And the newer ones, who don’t yet know you, are loyal to Aorle. He could tell them to defend a rock, and I honestly believe they would die doing it. But I’m less sure about all of the refugees. And certainly, if this tale gets beyond the compound, we could find a battlemage knocking on our door.”

“Aorle should be made aware of what happened.” Pushing himself to his feet, Julen tried to decide what to do next. “We’ll keep a careful watch on Mamie. But until she actually does something, we can’t take any direct action. Vernon, on the other hand, has been spreading malicious gossip all over this compound, and it needs to stop. If there’s nothing I can do for either of you, I intend to go speak to him.”

Yet, Julen lingered a moment longer, listening to Rollick and Uluki answer Kaydee. Uluki’s comment about rogue mages caused a pang of guilt. She was not the only mage hiding in this compound. And none of the warriors who fought beside Julen knew his secret, knew the risk he posed to them. But Julen could not speak about his forbidden talent with Kaydee present. And, in any case, he agreed that telling the truth was probably best in this instance. Lies would only make people think they were trying to hide something.

Kaydee, however, looked considerably less convinced and kept clinging to Rollick. “I won’t let them make you go away. I won’t.”
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

Re: Hard Truths

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

"I make it a policy to listen to my wife," Rollick said with a smile. "She's generally right." Uluki responded with a joking nod of agreement, and for just a moment things seemed back to normal. But inevitably, the conversation had to return to the painful aftermath of what had just happened. "I am sorry to hear that Aorle is in danger from such malicious creatures. But certainly it is best that he remain among friends, who can aid him should it become necessary. Better not to have to fight alone. I can assure you that if he is threatened and it is in my power to assist him, I will do all I can. As, I'm sure, will Uluki."

"Of course," Uluki agreed. "We would always help." She knew Aorle preferred not to be healed by illegal magic, but if it was a matter of life and death, she would do so and risk his displeasure; at least he would be alive to be displeased. Besides, healing wasn't necessarily the only assistance she'd be able to provide. She would do whatever she could.

Uluki knew Julen's question about why Vernon and the fairy-haters would behave in such a way was probably rhetorical. Rhetorical questions did not exist among Dusklings; if you asked something, someone would attempt to provide a response. Uluki was getting used to the fact humans asked rhetorical questions, and sometimes even recognized them-- as she did now-- but she answered anyway.

"They're used to being hurt. In their whole lives, most of them will never have lived anyplace where it was really safe. Where no one would turn on them. They've learned there's always someone to be afraid of, and it's hard to just turn that off." Something Uluki knew from experience. "When you're used to looking for danger, sometimes you see it where it doesn't exist. In the shanty town, that's probably what kept them alive. Here... here they don't need to do that, but it'll take time to unlearn. And in the meantime, things like this will happen."

Julen's reassurances about the warriors eased Uluki's mind considerably, though they were far from the only danger. They would follow Aorle, and Aorle would understand. He would. Julen had understood the truth, even though to others things might have looked bad for Rollick, and Aorle would see the truth too. Uluki was glad she didn't fear Aorle anymore as she once had, or she would be a lot more scared of what would happen.

Rollick actually did feel rather apprehensive about telling Aorle. He didn't expect Aorle would attack him-- in fact, the idea didn't even cross Rollick's mind. Rollick's concern was on an emotional level. How did you tell a pure, unblemished, holy knight about the evil creature that had contaminated and violated you? True, Rollick had done so before, but it was a different matter to speak of an ordeal that had passed a decade ago, however horrible at the time, than one so fresh he could practically still feel the beast's touch. It had been hard enough telling Julen, with whom Rollick had already shared extremely personal conversation. Aorle spoke with angels. How could Rollick tell such a man of this desecration of his body and mind? This fresh corruption? The knight's purity would serve as contrast to heighten Rollick's shame. "You are right that Aorle should be informed. Best that he know as soon as possible."

"Thank you for your willingness to speak with Vernon," Rollick said in response to Julen's plan. "I intend to do so myself as well, but it is probably best that I wait until he is... calmer... or it may do more harm than good. I do not wish to increase whatever trouble is between us. Perhaps you can do a better job of persuading him that I mean no harm to him or any of the other refugees."

Rollick continued to hold Kaydee comfortingly. "Whatever happens, and wherever we are, you should know you will always have a place with our family, should you desire it. I know you have many friends here at the compound, and are building a life here. But know our door is always open to you. Whatever door it is."

Uluki placed a hand on Kaydee's shoulder. "We will not simply disappear from your life, no matter how this turns out. You will always find a welcome with us. Regardless of where any of us are living, we will not forget you or shut you out. You've become like family to us, and that won't change."
"When you feel like you can't go on, love heals.
Hold onto love, and it will lead you home. Love heals." -Rent

Re: Hard Truths

Post by Julen on

Julen gave Uluki and Rollick grateful smiles as they voiced their support of Karzomir. He knew they meant what they said, that they would do everything in their power to help their friend. Or to help anyone, really. They were so good. It was frustrating that mindless prejudice kept some people from seeing that.

“I will do my best to avoid increasing the trouble between you and Vernon. But he needs to realize that there is some behavior which we have no intention of tolerating.” If Vernon had threatened violence against any other member of the compound, Julen felt certain that Rollick would be more interested in reprimanding the man than persuading him. But their difficult past seemed to have made both Rollick and Uluki unable to demand the same decent treatment that they expected for everyone else.

Julen tapped his fist against his chest, saluting his friends. Then he went to carry out his mission.

Searching the compound for Vernon gave Julen’s temper a chance to cool. In his mind, he repeated all that Uluki had said in defense of the refugees, until he could finally accept its truth. Fear was not an easy thing to cast aside. After all, even Julen harbored his own unreasoning terror. The battlemages could give him shelter, heal him, and brew him a nice warm pot of tea, but it would change nothing. They were battlemages, and he would be afraid of them until the day he died -- especially if he died at their hands, which his forbidden talent didn’t make entirely unlikely.

But fear only excused some of the refugees. Those that avoided Uluki, or watched her with wary eyes, or flinched away from her touch even as she tried to help them. Clearly, Vernon was driven by something other than terror. Angrily confronting Rollick was not the act of a man who feared him. Unless that man was considerably more inclined toward self-sacrifice than Julen had any reason to believe Vernon was.

Still, by the time Julen finally found Vernon, his emotions were considerably more under control. Instead of grabbing Vernon by the shirt collar and shaking him until he could hear the man’s bones rattle, Julen managed to keep his tone fairly cordial. “I understand that you threatened the life of a member of this compound. This is a serious offense. Please explain yourself.”
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

Re: Hard Truths

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

Once Kaydee seemed at least somewhat comforted, Uluki and Rollick knew they needed to go talk to Dash, Zee, and Kira. Heaven only knew what rumours they were hearing about their family. If they were told that Rollick was going to die, or that the family would be sent away, it would of course be deeply frightening. Best they learned the truth from their parents right away, rather than being terrified by false reports of their family's fate.

Dash and Zee listened with concern-- it was doubtful Zee understood all the details, but she had no trouble comprehending that something bad had come and hurt Rollick-- then hugged and clung to their parents as they received reassurances that everything would be alright; Rollick was safe and the family would remain together.

Kira's reaction was more difficult to read. The only indication she was listening as Rollick and Uluki spoke was her slightly cocked head. Her expression didn't change, and she didn't join in the hugging. She merely stood like a statue, staring at Rollick.

Rollick wasn't sure quite what to say to her. Finally he asked, "Kira, did you have any concerns or... or questions?"

When he asked about concerns she started to shake her head, but when he got to the mention of questions, she changed her mind and nodded. "Did it hurt?"

Rollick had avoided any description of pain in his account. There was nothing the girls could do about it, and no reason for them to imagine the horrors their father had faced in any more detail than was absolutely necessary. But when asked directly, he felt it wrong to lie, though he kept his answer as basic as possible. "Yes, it hurt."

Kira looked utterly confused. "But you're the father."

Rollick had no idea what that had to do with anything. "Yes. I am."

Kira thought that over, and no one prodded her while she took her time to process. Finally, she came up with another question, and directed it at Uluki. "An experiment?" Her eyes searched the Duskling's with surprising focus.

Uluki shook her head. "No. The bad thing just came. No one brought it here on purpose."

"Didn't want it?"

"Right," Uluki agreed. "We didn't want it to come. We didn't want it to hurt him."

"Bringing another one?" Kira's eyes narrowed as she continued her interrogation.

"No," Uluki said unequivocally. "Rollick won't get hurt any more if we can prevent it. Nor will we let it hurt anyone else."

Kira continued to stare at Uluki, searching for lies. "Promise?"

"I can't promise nothing bad will ever happen again. But I can promise I won't make it happen on purpose, and that I'll do everything possible to protect everyone here. Including Rollick. Including you."

Satisfied, Kira finally relaxed. She hugged Rollick and Uluki fiercely in turn. "It's safe here," she assured Rollick. "Safe here." Rollick couldn't help but smile at her protectiveness, but it was a smile of pride.

Rollick was not inclined to delay speaking to Karzomir, but he wanted to at least take a good bath first. He knew it didn't make any real difference, but he felt he'd be better able to stand in the knight's presence having cleaned any remaining traces of the beast from his skin.

Uluki had recovered somewhat from the magic she had used, so once they reached their bedroom, she finished healing them both. Then, as Rollick undressed for his bath, she quietly suggested, "Let me help." She took the cloth from him and cleaned his skin, being far more gentle than the harsh scrubbing he would have given himself, but all the same her touch somehow made him feel cleaner than washing alone could have. The movement of her hands relaxed him, comforted him. Impulsively he drew her close, and she nuzzled her face against his wet skin.

As she washed between his legs, she felt his body respond to her, his excitement building in reaction to her touch. She said nothing, but slipped off her dress and chemise and drew him toward the bed with her. She climbed on top of him and straddled him, caressing and kissing him.

It was a strange time to make love. The god's invasion had not been at all sexy, its penetration an act of violence. But Uluki giving her body to him in spite of all that had happened, and his own ability to share intimacy in a consensual way with the one he loved, somehow made him feel even cleaner than the bath had. Even though Uluki was using no magic, his closeness to her relieved some of the emotional pain, and, at least for a little while, dulled the horrors he had experienced. Rollick was not a religious man, but Uluki was sacred to him, and his connection with her body seemed to purge a little of the taint he felt. Making love to her, and then lying beside her, holding her close, Rollick felt strangely at peace.


Vernon was very relieved to see Julen. He'd started to worry that none of the warriors were taking the news seriously, and he wasn't looking forward to having to point out their error. He was rather confused, however, that Julen seemed displeased with him. Shouldn't Vernon be receiving praise for confronting evil as the Lightswords did? It seemed clear Julen was mistaken on the facts.

"I guess you've only heard one side of the story. I would never tell you to kill some innocent person." Vernon was actually shocked by that idea. When Mamie and Delphina had suggested doing in that freakish little baby, Vernon had thought they were way out of line. The baby might be strange, but it hadn't actually done anything wrong. Rollick, on the other hand, clearly had it coming.

"I don't much like the man. Begging your pardon, but he's an arrogant, judgmental arse who always acts like he's better than everyone else. But did I say anything? No, I bit my tongue, because I know that knight and you warriors know best." Vernon actually didn't think that was true at all-- he had never been one to admit anyone else could possibly know best-- but it seemed diplomatic to say so. "I didn't mind putting up with the old bugger, for the sake of having food to eat and a roof over my head. Didn't want him dead just for him being a prick. Never started any fights with him."

"But, again begging your pardon, sir, you weren't there today. You didn't see what happened. You didn't see some hellbeast come upon us all, and hear it recognize the old man as its brother. It called him that. Called him 'little brother.'" Vernon hadn't actually heard the hellbeast speak. He was piecing that together from Rollick's side of the conversation, but from Rollick's responses it seemed obvious. "Then the old man went down on his knees before it. He obviously worships it. He let it into his body. Consorting with demons like that is the ultimate sacrilege. It's an affront to all the gods. And all the angels," he added shrewdly, suspecting this might be of more concern.

"The proper punishment for that is death. It's justice, sir, not meanness. The flames are the only thing that can purge the evil from a soul that's tainted by devils. I don't imagine watching a man burn is pleasant, but it's necessary." He was surprised Julen was questioning this. Weren't warriors supposed to be hardened to this kind of thing? Odd that Julen was so squeamish.

"I just said that-- obvious truth, anyone could see it-- and his little blue pet went berserk. Bit me." He indicated the mark on his neck, which was slightly reddened, but the skin was unbroken. "Probably gave me rabies or something. Kicked me, too. Got me right in the knee. Not like I was saying anything about her. But I'd forgive her for it, if she apologizes," Vernon offered magnanimously.
"When you feel like you can't go on, love heals.
Hold onto love, and it will lead you home. Love heals." -Rent

Re: Hard Truths

Post by Julen on

Julen’s initial expression revealed a mixture of confusion and wide-eyed astonishment. Arrogant? Judgmental? Had Vernon encountered some evil doppelganger impersonating Rollick? Surely he couldn’t be talking about the same man Julen knew. However, as Vernon continued, it became clear that he was indeed describing Rollick -- although, in Julen’s opinion, the description fit Vernon himself far more accurately. That seemed to be the nature of some people. They couldn’t accept their own shortcomings, so they projected them onto someone else, and then got annoyed at that person.

Gradually, the astonishment on Julen’s face was replaced by the sort of tightness usually found in traps waiting to be sprung. If Vernon had been a more perceptive man, he would have shut up and started backpedaling fast. But instead, he swaggered onward, confident that Julen would be persuaded by insults and hysterical accusations. Sadly, he was wrong. By the time Vernon referred to Uluki as Rollick’s pet, he’d not only crossed the line, but actually turned around and pissed on it.

For a moment, Julen couldn’t speak. So much of what Vernon had said was so very, very wrong -- Julen didn’t know what to address first. And the time he took to sort it out in his head was all that saved Vernon from being seized by his hair, dragged to the nearest exit, and unceremoniously booted out onto the street.

“Uluki is no more Rollick’s ‘pet’ than Rosemary is mine, or Petra is yours. She is his wife. And, since she is also my friend, I would ask you to speak about her with the proper respect.” Julen shook his head. “As for your apology, I’m sure you’ll get it. Uluki blames herself for too much. But you should be grateful that a few bruises are the worst of your injuries. If you’d suggested burning my spouse, regardless of how evil you imagined her to be, your head would no longer be resting on your shoulders.”

Julen paused, allowing time for that to sink in. Then he moved on to Vernon’s other complaints. “It’s your right to dislike whoever you choose. However, speaking for myself, I’ve never seen Rollick treat anyone with anything less than complete courtesy. If I traded days for years, I still wouldn’t have his experience as warrior. Yet, there is nothing condescending in his manner toward me -- not even when he’s correcting my archery stance for the tenth time.” Julen hesitated, wondering if imparting an observation would just upset Vernon even more. Probably. But the man needed to hear it. “Sometimes we perceive people as thinking that they’re better than us, when what we really fear is that we’re worse than they are. I advise you to give that some honest thought. And if you find it to be true, apply your energy to improving yourself, not tearing down Rollick.”

“As for the event you described, you’re right. I did hear a different version of the story. I heard the version which came from the man himself. The same version you could have heard, if you’d stopped to listen, instead of running off to spread wild rumors. The thing called him ‘Little Brother’ because of something that happened many years ago. Both Karzomir and I were already aware of the incident, and I’m sure that Rollick will tell you all about it, if you ask him. Suffice to say, Rollick behaved like a hero. Many lives were saved because of the sacrifices he made during that time.”

“Furthermore, he didn’t drop to his knees because he intended to worship the thing. He dropped to his knees because it was tearing his insides apart. And suggesting that he let it inside his body is like saying that Kaydee allowed Snyde’s thugs inside hers.”

Up until this point, Julen had managed to keep his voice level. But now anger sparked beneath his words. No matter how much he struggled with it, some part of him couldn’t let go, couldn’t forget, couldn’t forgive. “You remember Kaydee, don’t you? The girl you wouldn’t help? You imagine that it would be hard to watch a man burn. Was it any easier to watch a woman lying in the street, quietly struggling for each breath? Was that why you could just walk away? Tell me, since you seem to know so much about it, what’s the proper punishment for just walking away?”

Aware that he’d veered rather far from the subject, Julen forced himself to take a deep breath. And, as he did so, he realized that he’d fallen into the same trap as Vernon. Because he hadn’t been able to protect Kaydee, he was screaming at someone else for their inability to help her. “I’m sorry,” Julen apologized, genuinely regretting his outburst. “That’s not what I came to talk with you about. You did what you did, and you get to live with it. It’s not my place to chastise you.”

“However, I will not tolerate any more threats against my friend, or any more attempts to slur his character. If you have a problem with Rollick, talk to him. Or to Karzomir. And if you feel that we’re wrong, that Rollick truly presents a threat to this compound, you’re welcome to leave.” Something in Julen’s tone suggested that he would be more than happy to hold the door.
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

Re: Hard Truths

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

((NPC Post))

Vernon saw Julen's initial astonishment as a good sign, and took it as encouragement to continue. It was obvious Julen didn't know what Rollick was really like, and Vernon was glad to be able to share his insights. Vernon had always considered himself a good judge of character. Yet somehow he got so engrossed in his story that he didn't notice the gradual tightening of the warrior's face, which would have made a more careful person reconsider the direction the conversation was going.

"Didn't mean disrespect to the little blue-- erm, Uluki." Vernon was glad he'd be getting his apology. It was the least the crazy fairy could do to make it up to him. "Like I said, she says she's sorry, I'll overlook it. But she'd best learn to control her temper, or some other man might not be so nice about it. Wouldn't want to see her get hurt." That should pacify Julen, who seemed strangely attached to the cranky little blue woman. He tried to ignore the chill that passed over him when the warrior told him what would have happened if he'd threatened Rosemary. But he wasn't really threatening anyone, he reminded himself. He was doing his duty to the compound, even if the more simple-minded couldn't see it.

Vernon nodded in agreement that he had the right to dislike anyone he chose, but paid less attention to the rest. Julen had probably just gotten used to the old man. It didn't mean Vernon was wrong about him. He bristled, however, when Julen implied that Vernon himself might be making up for his own inadequacies. Even Vernon had the sense not to interrupt right at that moment, but his quiet resentment of Julen began to simmer. Julen and Rollick were clearly two peas in a pod when it came to pride and smugness, and Vernon wasn't going to forget it.

It was all he could do not to roll his eyes as Julen continued speaking. Yes, he could have stayed and talked to Rollick, and the old man would have lied. Why would Vernon believe the word of a man who was apparently spawned by devils? Of course he'd denied it all. Of course he'd claimed innocence. What else would anyone do, when facing being burned at the stake? Vernon was interested in Julen's mention of a prior incident, though. He decided to try to get more information about that. Even if the paladin and his warriors had accepted the story, there might be more proof Vernon could use against the old man. Ways Vernon could show Rollick's words to be lies. Yes, he would do as Julen suggested and ask about that... but not quite for the reasons Julen intended.

Julen's initial mention of Kaydee confused Vernon. The girl was a whore; what did she expect? Flowers and candlelit dinners? It was a shame if some man had hurt her, Vernon certainly didn't condone it and wouldn't have done something like that himself, but Kaydee was the one who'd put it out that her body was available to men. And now she was surprised men had taken her up on it?

Truth be told, seeing her lying in the street had been difficult, and he'd felt pretty bad just walking away. But what was he supposed to do, give his own life for some whore? Those words were almost on his lips when he realized what a mistake that would have been. Kaydee hadn't been alone lying on the street, but she'd made a bigger impression because he knew her. Not well, they'd barely ever spoken, but she wasn't a stranger to him. It was harder to ignore her than the man who'd lain bleeding beside her, because the man could have been anyone. Kaydee was... well, Vernon was used to seeing her around. He knew her name, and her face, and it was more difficult to tell himself she wasn't his problem.

But just in time, he remembered what Uluki had said, and recognized Julen's face. Someone who apparently would die for a whore, and almost had. And so Vernon continued to listen in silence, and his anger grew by the moment. Finally, he just couldn't take it anymore, and the words he'd been holding in, however unwise they were, just spilled out. His defensiveness about Kaydee, his anger at Rollick, his frustration with Petra, it all blended together in a volatile mixture of wrath and self-righteousness.

"And you're just going to take his word for it, are you?" he snapped when Julen was finished. "Just going to believe he told you the truth? Can't think of any reason he might lie to you? It figures, it really figures. You people always want me to be the bad one. First with Kaydee, now with Rollick, and you know what? It's not my fault. Kaydee should have kept her legs closed, and she shouldn't have crossed Snyde. If the old man doesn't want demons, he shouldn't whore himself out to them either. I'm not going to pretend Rollick doesn't deserve to burn. You want me to keep quiet about it, I will... after the holy knight gives his judgment. And I reckon he'll agree with me. You're not going to chase me out because of something the old bastard brought down on himself."
"When you feel like you can't go on, love heals.
Hold onto love, and it will lead you home. Love heals." -Rent

Re: Hard Truths

Post by Julen on

Julen hadn’t expected an apology. He hadn’t expected a group hug. If anything, he’d expected Vernon to stomp off and sulk. However, despite Julen’s low expectations, he wasn’t prepared for the explosion of bile which burst from Vernon’s lips. Bad enough to suggest that Rollick was lying. Bad enough to suggest that Julen’s trust in his friend was an advanced form of stupidity. But when Vernon voiced his opinion that Kaydee got what she deserved, Julen lost it.

“You heartless bastard.” The words were hissed through clenched teeth. Julen’s mind burned with visions of backhanding Vernon so hard that his head spun around like a top. Then he’d knock Vernon to the ground and start stomping on him -- stomping, stomping, stomping, until nothing was left but an ugly stain on the floor. Let that be Vernon’s monument. If the man was so determined to despoil everything he touched, let him spend the rest of eternity doing no greater harm than thwarting mops.

Julen raised his hand, prepared to strike the first blow. But, by chance, his eyes strayed past Vernon, to where Callie and several of the other refugees stood huddled together. Their attention was fixed on the scene unfolding before them. And the emotion written across their faces wasn’t curiosity, wasn’t surprise, wasn’t even was fear. At first, Julen didn’t understand. Fear of what? Vernon? No, not Vernon. Him. They were afraid of him.

In a rush of remembered wisdom, Karzomir’s words came back to Julen. The refugees have heard of enough acts of deliberate cruelty...that is what kept them living in fear...they need not hear of any such acts by us... This was not how a Lightsword should behave. This was how Snyde did things. When someone spoke their mind, when they refused to back down, he beat them. No one knew that better than Julen. How could he have come so close to doing it to someone else? Vernon was an ass. Maybe even a dangerous ass. But he was also a civilian who stood almost no chance against a trained warrior.

Like a lead weight, Julen’s hand dropped back to his side. “No. You’re not worth it.” Not worth getting his hands dirty. Not worth scaring the other refugees. Not worth adding another shadow to the dark place inside his soul.

“We all crossed Snyde. You crossed him when you came here. I wonder, Vernon, if you’ll get what you deserve?” Deciding against violence didn’t mean that Julen was also going to let Vernon’s statements stand unchallenged. “You think you’ve got it all figured out, don’t you? But you don’t understand a thing. Rollick gets trust because he gave trust. When you need to be believed, everyone will remember the lies you told today. Kaydee gets help because she gave help. When you need aid, you’ll get the same that you offered to us. None at all.”

Turning away from Vernon, Julen beckoned for him to follow. “I was hoping to spare Karzomir from your poison. But since you’re intent on seeing him, let’s get it over with.”

It was then that Julen realized Karzomir had already arrived on the scene.
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.


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