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Hard Truths


Re: Hard Truths

Post by Falcon Bertille on

Kaydee hesitated just outside the door of the bedroom she shared with the other girls. At first, she’d been so certain that Dash would be as upset about this as she was. But now doubts had begun to plague her. Maybe Dash wanted to go live with the nomads. After all, surely it would be exciting to travel around and see new places -- maybe being stuck in the compound seemed boring by comparison. Maybe Dash welcomed the chance to meet new people, make new friends. Better friends. Friends who weren’t so dirty and broken inside. Maybe she’d even find a place where she wouldn’t need to hide her wings. Kaydee imagined Dash dancing across the sky, as carefree as a butterfly, and she wanted that for her friend.

So she dragged her arm across her eyes, obliterating any lingering traces of tears, and forced her mouth into a smile. If this was what Dash wanted, Kaydee was determined to be supportive.

But when Kaydee pushed open the door, and noticed Dash clutching one of her hands, her thoughts immediately turned to concern for her friend. “Dash? Are you okay?” Hurrying over, she examined the damage, although she didn’t dare touch Dash’s fingers for fear of causing additional pain. Her face paled when she saw the scraped and bleeding knuckles. “Did someone hurt you?” Kaydee was used to people being hurt. Even in the safety of the compound, she couldn’t believe that it wouldn’t ever happen again. “If they did, we’ll tell Big Brother, and he’ll make them stop.”

Then, Kaydee noticed the wall. Or, rather, the fist-sized hole in the wall. And the truth of the situation struck her. “Oh...” That couldn’t be good. People got mad when you damaged their property. Kaydee’s thoughts whirled as she tried to think of some way to shield Dash. “Don’t worry. We’ll find something to put over the hole and they’ll never notice.”

Scanning the room, Kaydee’s eyes came to rest on the fallen piece of paper. Reaching over, she snatched it up off the mattress, and placed it over the hole. “See? No one will ever know. They’ll just think you hung up this nice drawing of...of...”

Kaydee’s voice cracked as she realized what the picture depicted. Uluki’s family, with her and Kira both added, as if they actually belonged. Again, tears stung Kaydee’s eyes, and the piece of paper fell from her trembling fingers, fluttering softly to the floor. All plans to be supportive fled from her head. “I don’t want you to go,” she whispered, her voice raw with pain. “Please don’t go.”
Last edited by Falcon Bertille on Sun Jun 08, 2008 2:35 am, edited 1 time in total.

Re: Hard Truths

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

((NPC Post))

Dash could only watch Kaydee's unfolding realization play out before her. She was about to reassure her friend about the hole in the wall, that Dash would just tell her parents and sort it out, when Kaydee picked up the drawing. Dash froze like a startled rabbit.

She hadn't asked permission to add Kaydee or Kira to the drawing. Hadn't even mentioned it. Wasn't sure if they'd want to be included. But she'd done it anyway, and now Kaydee knew. Dash hoped she wouldn't be too angry. When Kaydee's face fell and tears came to her eyes, Dashed gave her a hug.

"Kaydee, don't cry, alright? Please? Don't cry." Dash wished she herself could just dissolve into tears, and they could cry together, and then it would all be out and she could move on. But somehow, tears wouldn't come, even now, much as she wanted the release of crying.

"I wish we could stay. If I could make everything happen the way I wanted, we could just stay here forever. I don't want to leave my friends, and Mama and Papa don't want to either. But..."

But what would happen if they stayed? How long before the battlemages came pounding on the gates? Before people shouted for her parents' blood? Both Uluki and Rollick's lives had already been threatened, along with poor little Martin's. What could anybody here do if the family was reported to the authorities? It was only a matter of time before that happened.

"...But I don't want them to die. I'm so scared. I'm scared of what will happen if we go, but I know we won't be safe if we stay, either. After what happened today, both of my parents' lives are in danger."

Dash wondered how they killed people in Marn, and tried to banish the image of her parents being dragged to the stake or the gallows. Was that what she wanted to stay for? For blood and death?

"I can't leave my parents. I yelled at them earlier, said I wouldn't go with them, but I have to. I can't just walk away from them, not after... not now that we're a family. You could be part of the family too. Then I wouldn't have to say goodbye to you. Then we could all be together. Because I would miss you. A lot."

Dash had spoken to Kaydee about family before. She'd asked if Kaydee wanted Uluki and Rollick to be her godparents, and Kaydee had said she wasn't ready for such a step. Dash had dropped the subject, and at the time had decided not to bring it up again till Kaydee did, if she ever did. But now time was running short, and Dash couldn't just... not.

"I hope you aren't mad about the drawing. I should have asked if you'd let me. But I made the drawing for Mama and Papa, and I knew they'd want you in it. I... I wanted you in it too."
"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 Falcon Bertille on

Kaydee returned Dash’s hug with shaky desperation. As much as she wanted to beg her friend to stay, she couldn’t ignore the danger which Dash clearly believed her family to be in. Maybe Uluki was right. Maybe this was too big to fight. After all, Julen was neither infallible nor invincible -- she’d seen that firsthand. Maybe even Karsimir had his limits. “It’s not fair! What sorts of people threaten a baby? If they’d just give you a chance...if they’d just take the time to know you a little better...they’d see how good you are.”

A sense of defeat overwhelmed Kaydee, and she released Dash. She’d wanted to brainstorm with her friend. Surely, between the two of them, they could have come up with some plan to keep Uluki from leaving. But now that just seemed futile. What good would it do to make her new friends stay, if it only led to them all being killed? Kaydee would rather know they were far away and safe.

“I...I can’t go with you.” And as she said it, Kaydee knew it was true. “Not because I don’t want to be part of your family. I think I’d like that, actually. But there’s someone here that I care about. Someone I can’t leave.”

“Of course, I care about all of you. I’ll miss you so much.” Tugging at the folds of her skirt, Kaydee tried to decide how to explain. She’d never told Dash about her feelings for Julen, or the kiss, or Julen’s rejection. Not because she didn’t trust her friend with the most private of secrets. But because Dash had never expressed any romantic interest in men, and Kaydee was worried she might not understand. “This person...I care about him like your mother and father care about each other. You know? And when the time comes, when he finally understands, we’re going to be together. So I have to stay.”

Listlessly, Kaydee drifted over to the bed. Again, her eyes settled on Dash’s pencil sketch, coaxing a sad smile from her lips as she lifted it. “I’m glad you put me in the picture. It’s very nice. This way, at least we can be together on the paper. And in our dreams.” Kaydee hesitated. She didn’t want to ask for too much. But it would really, really mean a lot to her. “Do you think maybe I could keep it? To remind me? It’s been so long, I don’t even remember what my mother looked like. I don’t want to forget all of you.”

Re: Hard Truths

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

((NPC Post))

Dash felt like the world was slowly spinning to a stop. She wasn't surprised, not really. She'd been trying not to think about it, but some part of her knew. If she hadn't known, deep down, why would she have begged Kaydee to stay? Looking back, that was the action of someone who realized that the opposite thing was likely. Still, somehow she hadn't quite allowed it to bubble to the surface.

As Kaydee moved toward the bed, Dash wrapped her arms around herself, doubling over slightly, her breath coming in soft, uneven gasps. She tried to keep her voice normal. "Sure. Keep it. I'll make another one for my parents, so they'll..."

How could this be happening? She'd finally made a friend, only to be ripped away again. In such a short time, this place had come to seem like home, and Kaydee like a family member. Dash supposed she'd only been seeing what she wanted to. She'd projected her own dreams onto other people, and now it was time to wake up. Time to stop trying to pull people into the whirlpool of her own life. It had worked with Uluki and Rollick. But Kaydee...

Kaydee had her own life, and she needed to live it. Dash shouldn't keep trying to hold her back. Kaydee cared about them, and would miss them. Dash had to make that enough, because that was all there was.

"I understand. I understand why you need to stay. That's really important."

Why couldn't Dash cry? People cried. Maybe she wasn't as much of a person as she liked to believe she was. Maybe she was just a thing, a thing that couldn't cry, even when she felt like she was shredded inside.

Dash unwrapped her arms and leaned against the wall, grinding her scraped knuckles into the plaster. Not punching, not angrily, but steadily. She felt the blood trickling down her fingers; she knew it was hot and salty, like tears. Maybe she was a person after all. There was more than one way to cry.

"You should just be happy. That's the important thing. Your lover... I hope it works out."

On an ordinary day, Dash would have demanded details. What words had been exchanged? What kisses? How did this man make Kaydee feel inside? Uluki had said being in love with Rollick made her feel fluttery-- was that how Kaydee felt too? Any other day, Dash would have been desperate to know such things, desperately curious.

But she couldn't. Not right now. She couldn't so much as ask his name, this man who was keeping Kaydee, who was the reason Dash was being parted from her best friend. Most of the people who were at the compound were her friends, and she didn't want to have to be jealous of one of them. She couldn't ask.

"Just... you should be happy." She hoped the red tears hidden between her hand and the wall wouldn't leave a stain on the white plaster.
"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 Falcon Bertille on

Kaydee clutched the drawing to her chest when Dash said she could have it. Fresh tears had started to spill from her eyes, and she didn’t want any of them to mar the wonderful portrait. “Thank you. I’ll keep it forever. And if you need to make another one, for your parents, I’ll be happy to pose, or...or whatever you need.”

“I wish it could be different. I really do.” Despite Dash’s effort to be supportive, Kaydee could tell how upset her friend really was. All because of Kaydee. A sick feeling settled in Kaydee’s stomach, like she’d swallowed sewer water. Julen had nearly died trying to help her. And then everyone in Uluki’s family had been so nice, only to have their kindness repaid with misery. Maybe she was bad luck. Maybe she should just go -- not with the nomads, but somewhere else, far away from everyone she didn’t want to hurt.

But then Dash mentioned Kaydee’s “lover”, and Kaydee couldn’t repress the way her body warmed when she heard the word. Yes. One day -- if she was patient, if she was brave -- Julen would be her lover. She couldn’t abandon her chance for that, not any more than she could cut out her own heart. “I wish I could go with you. But this man...I can’t live without him. Just like Uluki and Rollick couldn’t live without each other.”

Impelled by Dash’s pain, Kaydee moved to embrace her friend once more. But, at the last minute, she remembered the drawing. Carefully, Kaydee set it in a safe place. Then she wrapped her arms around Dash. “Don’t cry, Dash. It’ll be alright.” Somehow, the fact that Dash wasn’t crying had eluded Kaydee -- perhaps because the tears in her own eyes made it look like the whole world was weeping. “You’ll still have Zee and Kira to be your sisters. And you don’t have to go right away. Not until after the warriors get back from Shim. We still have lots of time together.”

Perhaps not everyone would have considered a handful of days to be “lots of time”. But Kaydee was accustomed to a world where everything could be snatched away in a matter of minutes. For her, even a week seemed like forever.

Re: Hard Truths

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

Seeing that Kaydee intended to hug her, Dash quickly rubbed her hand against the back of her dress, cleaning off the worst of the blood. Then she returned the embrace, keeping her right hand slightly away, careful not to stain Kaydee's dress or leave traces on her skin.

Dash had no way to get rid of or hide the stain on the wall, so she could only hope Kaydee wouldn't notice it. It would just upset her friend, and it wouldn't change anything. Dash could no more wish away the blood on the plaster than she could keep Kaydee with her, or make her parents change their minds. If Kaydee went with Dash and her family, she'd be miserable, and Dash didn't want that. Kaydee deserved to be happy. If Uluki and Rollick stayed in Marn, they would die needlessly, and Dash would do anything she could to prevent it. So this was as it had to be, and no amount of wishing could make it different.

"A lot of time," she agreed, because she didn't know what else to say. Would that time make things better, or worse? Would things stay the same, or would there be a distance, a pulling back? A gradual disengaging from one another's lives as they prepared to go their separate ways? Dash didn't even know which thing would hurt more: another week of close friendship that ended in an abrupt, painful goodbye, or a week spent as polite, careful strangers.

The thing that ached the most, that dug the deepest hole in Dash's heart, was what Kaydee said about Zee and Kira still being Dash's sisters. Dash knew that wasn't meant to hurt, it was meant to make her feel better, but it destroyed the one hope she was holding out. Even though she knew Kaydee wasn't going to come along, and didn't want her to change her mind out of pity, Dash had thought she could still pretend Kaydee was her sister too. They didn't have to live in the same place to be sisters. Someday Dash and her siblings would live on their own, when they were old enough and ready, but that didn't mean they wouldn't still be sisters and brother, wouldn't still be Uluki and Rollick's children. Dash had thought that, like the siblings' future selves, and like Mercedes when she was traveling, they could be in different places and Kaydee could still be family.

But Kaydee didn't want them at all. Not even that.

Dash tried hard not to feel the sting of rejection, not to see it as her family being so easily replaced. Kaydee had never promised anything. Enjoying having a friend was different from wanting a sister. If Kaydee wanted to make her own family, one she chose, one she built with her lover, Dash shouldn't feel hurt. She should just wish Kaydee well, and she would try to. She needed some time alone to get her emotions in check, but she would gather up her wayward feelings and do it.

"I need to find my mother and get her to fix my hand. I can't draw or knit or sew or anything when it's like this. Maybe you could pose for another drawing when our chores are done."

Dash didn't really need Kaydee to pose. She knew what Kaydee looked like, and could draw from memory. It was an excuse, a way to keep Kaydee around, to spend time with her, to prolong their connection. It was selfish, but Dash didn't care. Kaydee's lover would have her for always, so Dash felt justified demanding a few minutes, minutes she didn't need but just wanted. Besides, Kaydee had said they could spend time together, between now and... and goodbye.


***


For a long moment, Zamat and Uluki regarded one another. Uluki's face was anxious and apologetic, Zamat's cautious but otherwise unreadable. She nervously clutched her hands together as she waited for him to speak, to respond to her request, but his answer did not come quickly.

After a long pause, he asked carefully, mildly, "I understood our debt to you was paid, wise one? That it was enough for us to remain and help protect this place until the Bright Swords returned, to bring you food and news about the one who wished to harm you. We are grateful for your help with the Ancestor Spirits, but..."

The "but..." left his meaning unspoken but plain. They were thankful for Uluki's help, but that didn't mean she was always free to ask for anything she wanted from them. Their resources were limited.

"You have more than repaid me," Uluki agreed. "What we ask now is not because of debt. You do not owe me anything. But our families are friends now, and we have few places to turn."

Zamat looked down. "We are indeed friends. But what you ask..."

Uluki knew it was too much. The Triazee family, the nomads, consisted of seven adults and three children. Uluki's family joining them would be a huge swell in their numbers, a heavy drain on their resources. "We will not stay with you long. Only till we can find a permanent place to stay. We'll bring our own food, our own horses. I can heal you when you need it, and Rollick can fight by your side, and share his knowledge of swordsmanship with you. Our daughters are hard workers."

"Food only lasts so long, wise one. Horses go lame." Zamat seemed disgusted with himself for saying the words, but he pushed on. "You bring us a healer and a warrior. That is well. But these two come with five, or perhaps only four others, who must be defended, fed, and sheltered. The girls do not fight?"

"No." Uluki said nothing about Dash and Zee. Regardless of their past, her "no" still stood. She and Rollick had made a promise, and if that promise held only when it was convenient or easy, their word to their daughters meant nothing. If she and her husband kept their vow only when it was useful to do so, how were they any better than the men who created the girls in the first place? They only difference would be that their agenda was more pleasant; the treatment of the girls as things instead of people would be the same.

Zamat made a noise in his throat. "Then one warrior can hardly be said to be balance, wise one. Your healing is helpful, but if defending your others makes it more likely we will be wounded, that also does not seem like much of a trade."

Uluki felt cornered, trapped, with nothing to offer. "Then your answer is no?"

Zamat sighed and shook his head. "I did not say that. Surely the Triazee family is more hospitable than to turn away friends in need. But what you ask is... much."

Uluki felt guilty for the bind she was placing Zamat in. If she had any other options, she would have withdrawn her request, spared him the shame of rationing his hospitality. But she was too desperate. "I know. I know it's a lot. But we'll bring all the supplies we can, and leave as soon as we find a safe place..."

"There are few safe places on the steppe, wise one. I am not sure it will live up to your optimism." Zamat was making it clear in all but words that he assumed once Uluki's family joined his, the Triazees would be permanently burdened; Uluki had no idea how to change his mind.

"Zamat, please. I know it's too much, but please. We have no other options. I have no other way to keep my family alive..."

Zamat sighed again. "Very well. Your family may ride with us when we leave the city."
"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 Lylessa Uluki on

Martha, Callie, and Jenny carried the sacks to Uluki, three bags of the same size, and a smaller one. "Mister Numidar said to bring these to you, Miss-- um, I mean, Uluki," Callie told her, sounding as shy and tentative as she usually did. "Said they were things you wanted, that he looked for in the shanty town for you. From Mister Snyde's people." If the fact that one of Snyde's people was her late husband upset or bothered her, there was no indication in her voice, and her manner was pleasant. Uluki thanked the three women, then knelt on the floor to open the bags.

The first large sack was full of various types of cloth. It ranged from fine to coarse, and Uluki smiled approvingly at the wide array of colours. Probably black market goods, but the material could be put to good use clothing the refugees-- certainly a better use than to add to the profits of corrupt crime bosses. It seemed fitting that Snyde's victims should be the ones to benefit.

The second was full of candles, tied in bunches, and stacked bars of soap, neatly wrapped in scraps of paper. Uluki smiled approvingly. The compound already had a good supply of those things, but since they were used regularly, it never hurt to add to the stock. A sack full of such necessities meant it would be that much longer before they ran out, or had to spend money from the treasury. Uluki directed the refugee women where to store the soap, candles, and cloth so the items would be accessible when needed, then turned her attention to the other two sacks.

She untied the mouth of the larger bag and peered inside, curious and hopeful. She was not disappointed. There were books in the sack; a few were fancy and bound in handsome leather, maybe from the library of some wealthy house or more black market goods, while others were cheaply made texts on business and economics. At the bottom of the sack were empty ledger books.

Uluki's hands were shaking with happy surprise as she opened the smaller sack. She was shocked at how well Numidar had done, and that the things she'd asked him to keep an eye out for had actually been available to find. This bag too did not disappoint. Pieces of slate, chalk, some pencils, pens, and ink.

All she could have hoped for and more. Now she would have everything she needed to provide the education, at least basic education, that she so wanted for the refugees. No, she reminded herself, not everything she needed. She wasn't the one who would be teaching them. She would be gone soon, and all the projects she'd been so excited about would be in someone else's hands. She tried to focus on her dreams for the refugees, not her sadness that she wouldn't be able to see them to fruition herself. The refugees didn't need her around to make a better life; there were plenty of other people who could help them just as well, probably even better. Uluki tucked the supplies safely away, ready for when someone would use them to teach.

Dash didn't go to Uluki immediately. She sat in a storeroom, alone with her thoughts, undisturbed, until the blood had stopped flowing and dried on her hand. Calmer, less stormy, she was finally ready to talk, and Uluki wasn't hard to find. "I hurt my hand," Dash said without preamble, holding it close to her body. "I also made a hole in the wall. And there was blood. It'll probably leave a mark."

Uluki's face was full of concern, but not about the wall. "Dash, what happened?" She took Dash aside to an empty room where she could assess the damage and heal it.

"I scraped it. I think I broke my fingers." Seeing Uluki wasn't going to accept the deliberate evasiveness, she added. "I punched the wall because I was mad at you and Papa."

Uluki nodded sympathetically, taking Dash's hand in hers. "Are you feeling any better now?"

Dash wasn't sure how to reply. "I'm not mad anymore. I know you and Papa are doing what you need to. I'm sad that we have to go, but I'd rather that than having anyone die. I wouldn't really leave you. I'm sorry I said I would." Dash stared at her feet.

Uluki gently stroked Dash's hair with her free hand. "I know you wouldn't. You were just upset. You don't have to be sorry. But... you're still upset? About leaving, or something else?"

"Sort of that. Kaydee isn't going with us."

"Oh, Dashie..." Uluki pulled her daughter close and hugged her. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I know how much you care about her. We all care about her very much, and we'll miss her. But she'll always be your friend, you know that, right?"

"Yes. We'll still be friends." Dash snuggled close to Uluki. She didn't tell Uluki about the other thing, that Kaydee didn't want to be part of their family. Maybe Kaydee would still change her mind. Maybe if Dash was really nice to her, she'd want to after all. Dash wouldn't try to convince her in words, but maybe she could in actions. Then Uluki wouldn't have to cry.

The fact Kaydee was staying was itself hard for Uluki, but not a surprise. She had already prepared herself, so now that it had happened, it was like a cut made to anesthetized skin-- it would hurt later, but for now, there was only awareness of future pain. All she could do, though, was enjoy the short time they had left.


***


It was not a restful night for Uluki and Rollick. It seemed liked the moment Rollick closed his eyes, the nightmares started: nightmares about the attack that morning, about his months of possession, and strange blurrings of the two. Many times during the night Rollick woke in a cold sweat, gasping for breath, still muttering unintelligibly. Uluki, sleeping snuggled close to him, would wake too, caress his face and wrap her arms around him, murmuring, "You're safe. It's alright, you're safe, I'm here," until she felt his body relax and his heartbeat slow.

Several times Rollick offered to sleep elsewhere so Uluki could get some uninterrupted rest, but she shook her head, wanting him to stay. She didn't like to sleep without him, but even more, she didn't want him to wake up alone in the darkness, hurting and afraid with no one to comfort him. It was better to be together, nightmares and all.

When morning came, both Uluki and Rollick still looked bleary and tired, but they smiled as they bid the warriors leaving for Shim goodbye, and wished them well. Uluki tried not to worry about them; they were good at what they did, and if anyone could prevail, they would. She hoped they would all come back safely, but gave no indication in her words or manner that she considered anything else a possibility.

Once they had said their farewells and the group had departed, and the two of them were alone, Rollick turned to Uluki, looking slightly wistful. "There was a time when I rode off to battle in such companies too, when I was a younger man. But in the end, all old warriors must put themselves out to pasture, I suppose."

She raised an eyebrow. "Your job here is important too. Someone has to defend the base, as well as look after the refugees. Sending every able warrior to Shim and leaving home unprotected wouldn't make sense."

"Then you do not... wish that I was going as well? To return to you covered in glory?"

"Or covered in blood, or maybe not return at all. I know as well as anyone that even the best and the strongest sometimes die in battle. Helping the people in Shim is a good thing, and an important one, and I'm glad they're helping. But do I wish you were going along? Of course not. I have no desire to be made a widow. I don't want our children to be left without a father. Nor, for that matter, do I want to spend the next week missing you, even if everything went just fine. Plus I feel a lot safer knowing you're here to defend our home."

"Very well. I simply... I do not want you to be disappointed in me."

Uluki laughed out loud at that. "Disappointed? Never, Rollick. Never. I'm so very, very proud of you."

"I haven't exactly been showing my best and strongest sides lately. The fight with Panterras..."

"Which you won."

"Or when that creature attacked me..."

"Which you survived, and kept your sanity, and defied the thing every step of the way. Rollick, please," Uluki said gently. "No one gets through life never taking a hit. That doesn't make you weak. It makes you human. You're so brave, and so strong, and I've never stopped being proud of you."

Rollick gave an awkward shrug of one shoulder, but Uluki could tell he found her words reassuring, and she enjoyed the kiss her gave her in return.
"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 Lylessa Uluki on

As Uluki and Rollick shared their kiss, Ambrose ran through the compound, screeching, "We're under attack! We're under attack!"

The couple pulled back and exchanged a look, confusion on both their faces. Ambrose, Uluki remembered, was Delphina's beau, and had recently shared in the panic about fairies. His fear in itself was hardly cause for anyone else to snap to attention.

Still, the threat of an attack couldn't be dismissed out of hand. It was possible-- improbable, but possible-- that some armed force had been awaiting the Lightswords' departure before mounting an attack on the compound. It would be foolish to disregard such a warning simply because of the messenger.

"I'll see to it," Rollick told Ambrose shortly, and Uluki followed him, anxious to get a glimpse at the potential threat so she could know what preparations, if any, could be made.

As they regarded the ragtag group approaching, however, it was clear that no attack was imminent. It was a mixed crowd: a number of Goblins, a handful who looked like Elves, a pair who might might be Trolls or part-Trolls, a Half-Orc, a Centaur, and a lone human, his very plainness making him stand out in the diverse group nearing the compound. All looked tired, dirty, frightened, hopeless, half-starved, or utterly spent-- or some combination. No weapons were visible, though most of them carried bundles that looked like blankets, clothing, or household goods. None of those approaching seemed to have the will to mount an attack, let alone the ability to carry it out.

Jenny raised her hand to her eyes as she gazed toward the new arrivals. "I know 'em, Rollick," she informed the warrior, certainty and surprise mingling in her voice. "They're from the shanty town, all of 'em. I didn't figure they were going to come here, since they didn't already, but I seen all of 'em around before. They ain't the type to do harm. They mostly keep to themselves and try not to get in anyone's way." Rollick nodded his thanks, and he and Uluki went down to meet the group, with Jenny trailing behind them. It was clear that these were more refugees, not an invading army.

The new arrivals stared with wide eyes at the group from the compound. Uluki wasn't sure what they were afraid of-- the impressive fortifications at the base, or the judgment they would have faced so often before in a xenophobic place like Marn. Maybe it was some of both. Rollick spoke first, his voice resonant so they could all hear, but unaggressive and reassuring. "Welcome to Lightsword Hall. We have been informed by someone trustworthy that you mean no harm. You will find friendship with us in return. All are welcome here."

Uluki stepped forward, feeling shy in front of the crowd but thinking that drawing attention to her presence might further calm them. "It isn't just for humans here. You don't have to be afraid." Uluki's presence did indeed seem to reassure them, and they relaxed visibly as Uluki and Rollick introduced themselves.

One of the Goblins very solemnly and ceremonially passed Uluki a slip of paper, folded tightly over and over, and the other Goblins added grave nods and bowed heads. Once Uluki had the note open, she stared at it, unable to make any sense of it. It looked like random squiggles made with thick globs of ink. "Sorry, I don't understand what this means," she said apologetically. "I... can't read Goblin," she added, taking a stab at what this was supposed to be. It didn't look like any language she'd ever seen, but it made no sense for them to hand her a page of doodles, particularly in such an extravagant display.

The Goblins all started tittering. "It's our Certificate of Good Conduct," one of them explained. "So you'll know we're good Goblins who want to be your friends." Another piped up from the back, "Only none of us can write, so we just made scribbles." Half of the Goblins made hushing noises about this revelation, while the the others nodded approval of what they saw as a sensible procedure.

Uluki couldn't help but chuckle, but in a pleased way, not a mocking one. "I'm glad to hear you want to be friends. We'll put your Certificate of Good Conduct where everyone can see it, so everyone will know. What are your names?"

The Goblins seemed thrilled with Uluki's suggestion, and they all started shouting their names, barely taking turns, so fast Uluki hoped she'd be able to remember them all...

Flur! Treebug! Olives! Ecko! Fizzy! Pippa! Nerk! Eemay!

Once they were finished with their shouting, Eemay, who seemed to be the shyest of the Goblins, indicated the baby balanced on her hip. "She's Lillibell," Eemay offered, unmistakably the proud mother. The human seemed about to speak, but the Centaur, not noticing, was already talking, so the man kept silent.

"I'm Rhona," the Centaur introduced herself, "And you are part of the reason we came, Uluki. The rumour has spread fast in the shanty town that a group of Snyde's whores were led away by a blue fairy. It seemed like a silly story, the kind you tell to children, but people swore it was true. Then the warriors came and fought Snyde, and we decided to take a chance and come here. We debated amongst ourselves... intensely... whether it was safe for such as us. Those who aren't human. Those among us who were willing to take the risk came together, the better to protect ourselves from harm."

"I'm glad you came," Uluki said sincerely.

The two who appeared to be trollish informed those from the compound that they were Half-Trolls, and gave their names; the female was Oatsie and the male was Grog. They seemed hesitant to discuss their backgrounds, but gave friendly smiles. The Half-Orc spoke only his name, Vorakh. Uluki couldn't be sure, but their reluctance and... it almost seemed like shame... might come from their origins, from how such half-creatures almost invariably came to be, rather than from anything they'd actually done.

Uluki was startled by the Elves. She'd seen Elves before, many times, and knew lots of Elves lived in Marn, but somehow it had never occurred to her that beings who seemed so wise and noble might live in the shanty town. That they might stand before her as any other refugee did, frightened, hungry, and desperate.

There were two females Elves, Dianarra and Aurora-- upon looking closer, Uluki figured that Aurora was more likely a Half-Elf-- and one male, Orion. Uluki wasn't sure if those were their original names, but suspected not, especially when she learned that all three of them had been used as prostitutes by Snyde.

"Snyde used us for... special clients," Dianarra said, without pride. "That's why we weren't with the others. But when Snyde went into hiding, there was no one to make sure we didn't run, and we got away." She lifted her skirt off her ankle to reveal red, bruised skin that had until recently worn a shackle. Uluki had no doubt that Aurora and Orion bore similar marks, and her heart ached for these people, and all they had suffered.

The one person in the group who puzzled Uluki was the single human. He seemed ordinary: of average height, with red shoulder-length hair tied back, beard and mustache, freckles. Uluki couldn't figure out his connection to his more exotic companions, since there was nothing very noteworthy about him. Then the baby goblin started crying, and the human scooped her up, cradling her against his chest, singing her a soft lullaby. Eemay gave the two of them a loving look and took the man's hand.

Uluki finally understood. Understood why the man had come with these non-humans, why he had been about to introduce himself with the Goblins, why his eyes were so guarded. Uluki knew well the scorn, derision, and even violence couples faced when others judged they were too different.

Making sure the man was paying attention to what she was doing, Uluki moved closer to Rollick and wrapped her arm around him. Rollick returned the embrace and kissed her cheek.

The red-haired man's eyes widened with surprise for a split second, then he broke into a grin. "I'm Jasper," he said easily, his tension of a moment before completely gone. "I think we're going to like it here."
"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 Lylessa Uluki on

As usual when a new group of refugees arrived, Uluki's first task would be to make sure they were healthy. She would stick to the procedure that had worked so far-- see them individually, and offer them the fake "medicine" that was really just water, while it was her magic that actually healed them.

As Uluki approached Orion with the water skin, he smiled at her but shook his head. "You don't have to play these games, healer, not with Elves. I know what you can do, and what you are."

Uluki's heart seemed to miss a beat, and she grabbed the wall for support. She couldn't help but consider the irony that these refugees, who came here for safety, were such a danger to her. There was the option of not healing them, of course... but it wasn't really an option. Healing was her calling, not the thing that happened to be her job. To deny her magic to those who needed it would be to deny a fundamental part of her nature. Many of the refugees were sick or injured enough that their problems would eventually be fatal without some sort of healing, and Uluki wasn't about to let that happen just to keep herself a little safer.

"What are you going to do?" she asked carefully, trying to come up with some sort of bargain she could make with him.

Orion laughed. "What am I going to do? Nothing. Why would I? What kind of idiot reports a healer, particularly one who seems inclined to heal him? I'm not that stupid, or that suicidal. I'm planning to survive, thanks."

The self-preservation motive did sort of make sense, but Uluki wasn't entirely convinced. "But... the law? You aren't afraid of getting in trouble?"

Orion laughed again, but this time he didn't sound quite so mirthful. "The law didn't exactly save me, did it? I think I've got better odds with you people." A long cough racked his slender frame, and his bravado fell away like an old blanket. He suddenly sounded younger, more vulnerable. "I don't give a damn if you do magic or not, as long as you take the pain away," he said with surprising candor, revealing for an instant the deep wounds inflicted on the soul as well as the body.

Taking the pain away was something she was good at, and she was able to do so for him and the other refugees, who were in various states of health and ill-health. The Goblins were surprisingly robust, a little malnourished but with no serious injuries or sickness, while the Elves were in the worst shape, riddled with disease and suffering far more physical damage from their abuse than their human counterparts had. The other refugees each fell somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, and all benefited from healing magic.

After she had finished healing the refugees and making sure they had food, bedding, and places to sleep, Uluki was making her way back to check on the others and their progress with their various projects, when Mamie stopped her in the corridor.

"The knight told me to make sure the others are nice to you, so there wouldn't be no arguing or nothing like that. Make us all get along," Mamie informed her impassively.

Uluki's conversation with Orion had given her hope; maybe Mamie was also finally coming around. "Well, that's good. I don't want us to argue. Thank you."

Mamie snorted. "I wouldn't thank me if I was you. Just because we ain't arguing doesn't mean I like you, or I ain't got my eye on you. Sooner or later, you're gonna learn there's no place for your kind here. And you know what? There's not a thing you can do about it. You think the knight will save you? Not likely. Reporting those as use magic is the law-- knight ain't gonna do nothing to us for keeping the law, now is he? Seeing as we're the ones being good citizens, and you and your old man are the criminals. And maybe your man will kill me, or Ambrose, or Del, or whoever else is saying they'll report you, but you know what? It ain't gonna make any difference. You start doing harm to folks for keeping the law, when they ain't doing nothing wrong, everyone else will turn against you too. You gonna kill us all to save yourselves?"

Uluki just listened, dumbfounded, till Mamie paused for breath. "Why are you doing this? We never hurt you. We helped you."

Mamie smiled, but not in a nice way. "It's a new world, fairy. You may try to fool us and bribe us, but we won't just take it anymore. You got no soul, so what's to say you ain't gonna turn on us the moment you feel like it? Now that I'm finally away from Snyde, I ain't gonna live in fear. I ain't gonna let you hurt me, or my kid, or my friends."

"I would never hurt any of you!" But Uluki knew the words would be meaningless to Mamie, even as they left her mouth.

"So you say. But fairies are liars, ain't they? So I don't much care for your words. Wonder if the Judges will, once they find out what you did?"

Uluki wasn't sure how to respond to that. Mamie was, in fact, right about one thing; the law was on Mamie's side, and Uluki had broken it. "He would have died," she said, seizing the only moral high ground she could see to take. "If I did what the law said, people would die."

"Sure they would, but they'd die pure and uncorrupted." The word 'uncorrupted' rolled off her tongue awkwardly, like she was repeating someone else's words, not saying her own. "That's better than living with the stains of magic. 'What is bought with magic is stolen. What is learned by magic is falsehood. What is gained through magic is damnation. What is lost through magic is everything.' That's what it says in the First Settler book, fairy. That's the truth."

Uluki stared at Mamie, trying to figure out if it was a ploy, and to Uluki's surprise, Mamie really seemed to take to heart what she said. There was a certain fire in her eyes, the mark of a true believer. "If you think we're so dangerous, why don't you just leave?" Uluki asked bluntly.

"Because I like it here, and don't reckon I want to. Because it's a good place for my son, aside from a few people like you spoiling it. Because I ain't gonna leave because you saw fit to break the law. And of course, you force me out and I go straight to the Judges. You kill me, and other refugees are gonna start turning against you. I think you're about out of options, fairy."


***


If Rollick had known Mamie would threaten Uluki, he would have stayed and defended his wife. But of course, he couldn't have predicted that, would have had no way to anticipate that his supply trip would give Mamie the idea of cornering the Duskling, since she could do so without his interference.

There was much to do in the way of preparations before the family set off for... wherever they ended up, including trying to find better travel clothes for the girls. Uluki, tired from the healing she had done, had decided to remain behind, as had Kira, not yet ready to face the crowded downtown area, but Dash, Zee, and Rollick would all be going shopping, accompanied by the Half-Orc Vorakh and one of the nomads, Doeni.

Rollick didn't want to leave the compound vulnerable by taking too many warriors along, especially since the fighting in Shim left them quite short-handed as compared to usual, but he also wanted to make sure the girls were safe. He and Doeni were both trained warriors, and Vorakh, though untrained, was capable in a fight. As, for that matter, was Zee, but she was so unpredictable that her participation in a brawl might not be the most helpful.

It wasn't that Rollick expected them to be attacked while shopping. It was just that, as a warrior, and simply as a person living in various dangerous places, he'd come to expect that an attack was always at least a possibility, even if the circumstances seemed safe enough. And of course, Snyde was still at large, even if he was currently lying low.

Their departure from the compound did not go unobserved... though it was not Snyde who was watching them. Another, with an entirely different agenda, ran ahead, unseen, to inform his sellsword band, and their leader, Ianna Hij, that the quarry was on the move and ripe for the taking.


((Continued: viewtopic.php?f=6&t=1731))
"When you feel like you can't go on, love heals.
Hold onto love, and it will lead you home. Love heals." -Rent

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