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Re: Casualties

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

It wasn't a small thing.

Though it had been hinted at in the way Kaydee had just referred to Rollick, hearing the news confirmed, in no uncertain terms, flooded Uluki's heart with emotion. It wasn't something she'd counted on. Hoped for, certainly, but the hope had seemed selfish. She'd felt maternal about Kaydee, but hadn't expected that Kaydee would feel any need to reciprocate the relationship.

Uluki hadn't wanted Kaydee to claim anything she didn't feel just to please them. But now she was saying it was true, and real. Uluki's growing family made her feel both useful, like she was doing something good and important, and at the same time utterly humbled by what she was being entrusted with, and the gift they were to her. Uluki counted herself very, very blessed.

"Of course we still want you to come," Uluki assured her. "We want you to be part of our family. We won't change our minds. I'm glad that knowing us has helped you. Knowing you has helped us too. You're a wonderful person, and I'm so happy you came into our lives. And... I'm grateful to you. I realize that leaving is a sacrifice that you're making for us. So thank you. Thank you for what you're doing for us. Thank you for allowing us to be your family."

To Rollick, this news was more important than his hand. Today he'd gained a daughter. Dash and Zee had come home safely, the other family members were safe too, and Uluki still loved him. Compared to all he had, what he had lost seemed less significant. The pall that had been hanging over him seemed to lift, and his perspective changed.

The loss of his hand was a blow to him as a warrior, and to his career. But there was a difference between what he did and who he was. First, before anything else, he was a husband and a father and a friend. His skill in combat was a tool to serve those he loved and others in need of his protection, not an end in itself.

He wasn't sure the clarity of the moment would last. The struggles ahead would make it fade sometimes, make that truth harder to grasp. But he'd caught a glimpse, and he would press toward it. Everything was going to turn out alright, as long as he kept fighting-- not on the battlefield, but to keep in sight of what was important. And of chief importance to him were the people in this room.

"Kaydee, I... thank you," he said haltingly. "For what Uluki said, and for... for bringing comfort at such a time." His voice was thick with emotion, and he felt his eyes swim a little. "This means much to us. I promise to do all I can to protect you. I know with this... injury, that probably doesn't seem likely, but I believe I can still keep my family-- including you-- safe. Lest you fear you put yourself at risk." Something Rollick himself might fear in her place, and nothing he would begrudge.

"Your news... has eased my hurt. Thank you for bringing us this happiness." And in spite of the circumstances, Rollick meant that with all his heart.
"When you feel like you can't go on, love heals.
Hold onto love, and it will lead you home. Love heals." -Rent

Re: Casualties

Post by Falcon Bertille on

A blush spread across Kaydee’s face as Uluki said so many nice things about her. The words made her feel warm inside, but they also caused a rustle of confusing thoughts. How could Uluki be grateful to her? She couldn’t cook, couldn’t sew -- couldn’t do anything useful to help them through this difficult time. She was just another mouth to feed, another life to protect. Still, despite that, Uluki didn’t just welcome her into their family. Uluki was grateful. It didn’t make any sense.

Then again, viewed through the expectations of Kaydee’s old life, most recent events didn’t make any sense. Not Julen’s willingness to risk his life for hers, not Karsimir’s fond acceptance of a former whore, and especially not the generosity Uluki’s family kept displaying. And yet, those were all good things. The best things. Maybe good things didn’t make sense? Or, maybe, they made a sort of sense that she just didn’t understand yet.

Sniffling a little, Kaydee dragged the sleeve of her dress across her eyes, trying to hide the tears forming in them. She still couldn’t quite rid herself of the fear that something this wonderful wouldn’t last, that she would behave stupidly and ruin it. But that just made her all the more determined to treasure her happiness while she had it. “Thank you. Thank you so much. I’ll try to be a good daughter. I-I don’t know much about it yet, but I’m sure that Dash and Zee can teach me.”

When Rollick promised to protect her, Kaydee allowed her weight to rest against him, her cheek supported by his shoulder. “I believe you,” she assured. “When it comes to protecting, a hand doesn’t really make so much difference. I knew plenty of big, strong men who had both their hands, and they never protected anybody in their entire lives. It’s the heart that counts. And nobody’s taken that from you yet.”

Kaydee thought back on her own ordeal. She remembered the things she and Julen had talked about afterward, which helped them both heal. She wanted to offer that healing to Rollick. She wanted him to know he could discuss his experience, if he wanted to. “Did you see anything? After they cut off your hand?” Kaydee paused a moment, then realized that her question might require a bit more context. “When Julen got hurt real bad, he said that he saw a beautiful garden, with his mother standing in it. Like she was waiting for him. But I didn’t see anything except blackness. And I was just wondering...I was just wondering what happened with you.”

Re: Casualties

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

Uluki gave Kaydee a fond look. "Being a good daughter isn't any different from what you're already doing. There's no list of tasks to accomplish. Being a family means caring about each other, and you already have been. You'll be a wonderful daughter, I have no doubt."

Which brought up another point Uluki thought she should mention to Kaydee. "I know you had another mother, before. I'm not trying to replace her in your heart. Being our daughter doesn't mean you have to forget about her. If you aren't ready to call me your mother... or you never want to... I'll understand. We're not trying to take anything away from you. We just want to give you a family. What names you call us won't affect how we'll treat you. It won't hurt our feelings. You can still be our daughter, if you want to be, no matter what names you use."

Kaydee's kind words to him, and the trusting way she leaned on him, brought Rollick to tears. Not tears of pain, quite the opposite-- tears of relief and gratitude. Since he had one arm around Dash and the other around Kaydee, he couldn't wipe away the droplets that traced a path down either cheek, but he believed his family would understand. His show of emotion revealed how much he cared. "Thank you," he said quietly, failing to come up with anything more eloquent.

When she asked her question, he tried to answer as best he could. "At first it was as though there were spots in my vision, dark and bright patches obscuring my ability to see. But then, immediately after, they used a torch to cauterize the wound and stop the bleeding, and I finally lost consciousness. I saw only blackness as well. That's all I've ever seen when I was knocked out, except once."

It wasn't really entirely relevant, but it made a better story than the fact that when he lost his hand, he had simply blacked out because the pain had so overwhelmed him. "It was when I was freed from the god. Ten years ago, not what happened yesterday. During the battle I was badly wounded... wounded past what would ordinarily be the point of survival. I saw something that time."

"No gardens, just an empty white room where I waited. I heard two voices speaking to me. One voice told me I was no longer worth anything, that I had served my purpose and no one had any further use for me. That if I lived, I would always be corrupted, so I might as well give in and die. But I also heard Uluki's voice calling me back, telling me she missed me and cared about me. Hers was the voice I followed."

He reddened, embarrassed at the drawn-out story that had strayed further and further off topic. "But in any case, that was not what I saw today. Only blackness."

Uluki quickly added, "It isn't hell. The dark place. It doesn't mean that's where you'll go when you die. I've seen it too, and I asked Karsimir if it was hell. He said it isn't what's going to happen to us."
"When you feel like you can't go on, love heals.
Hold onto love, and it will lead you home. Love heals." -Rent

Re: Casualties

Post by Falcon Bertille on

Uluki’s assurance that she didn’t want to replace Kaydee’s birth mother was appreciated. In truth, Kaydee didn’t recall much about her first mother -- she’d been so young when they’d been separated. And then she’d spent so many years trying not to think about her mother, for fear of being pulled apart by the immensity of her loss. But now, now that she was finally safe, maybe she could risk searching for a few memories. It felt good to know that Uluki and Rollick wouldn’t mind. “Thank you. That means a lot to me.”

Kaydee was surprised to see the tears trickling down Rollick’s cheeks. In her whole life, she’d never witnessed a man crying. Especially not a warrior. But it didn’t lessen her opinion of Rollick or make her think of him as weak. Instead, she stopped trying to hide the moisture pooling in her own eyes. Maybe it was alright to cry sometimes. It had to be, didn’t it? If even men like Rollick did it.

As Rollick spoke about what happened after his battle with the god, Kaydee listened intently. She wondered what it would be like to end up in a little white room of her own. If she did, she knew it would be Snyde’s voice telling her that she was worthless, and corrupted, and might as well die. But who would she hear calling her back to life? Uluki? Dash? Karsimir? Julen?

“If Big Brother says that the darkness isn’t hell, then it isn’t.” Kaydee felt very certain of this. “Big Brother knows all about that sort of thing. I’ve been listening to the speeches he gives. They sure are pretty, aren’t they? I don’t always understand everything he says -- it’s kind of hard to get those big ideas into your head all at once. But what I do understand makes sense to me.”

For a moment, Kaydee smiled, basking in the remembered words. But then her mouth bent into a frown. “Julen told me that I could come to his garden. And I said I’d like that, because it sounded nicer than the darkness. But, I don’t know. I don’t want to go there if you, and Dash, and everybody are going to be somewhere else.”

“Do you think maybe everybody’s heaven is linked up, so people from one can visit people in a different one? Or maybe it’s all the same place and it just looks different to different people.” Kaydee chewed on her lip, tangled up in the intricacies of the afterlife. “I guess the thing that really matters is that we’re all here together right now. I never expected to have that. It seems kind of greedy to start wishing for more after I die.”

Re: Casualties

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

Uluki took a moment to consider Kaydee's ideas, giving the matter careful thought. "I think everyone gets to be together in heaven. I don't think a real paradise would make you have to choose. I mean... I don't know much about religion. I'm not the sort of person angels want to talk to. But being apart from the people you care about is terrible. I don't think heaven would be like that. I'm not sure how it would work, but I don't think you'd need to decide between Julen's garden and being with us. I think a real heaven would let you have everyone. That isn't greedy at all. It's natural to want to be with the people who matter to you. I don't think you have to worry. I think all of us will be together."

"By the way, Kaydee, we do realize that you aren't a child. Being a family-- being a daughter-- doesn't mean you have to be. We know you're a young woman, and you deserve your independence. Don't ever feel you have to hold yourself back from adulthood for us. But needing people in your life, needing to belong, isn't something you grow out of. I don't see my mother anymore, but I wish..."

No. There was no need to go down that road. This wasn't the time for Uluki to get maudlin about missing her Duskling family. Uluki was the mother, not the one who needed to be mothered. She quickly steered away from that conversational pitfall.

"Anyway, I just wanted you to know that you didn't have to play the little girl to please us. All you have to do is be yourself."

As Kaydee's eyes grew more moist, Rollick gently rubbed her back. He wanted to say something meaningful. Something profound, and yet comforting. He had no brilliant words for her, though. Just a warrior, not a philosopher. He wished he had Karsimir's skill with speech. The young knight would know exactly what to say.

But Rollick was simply Rollick, and rather than sitting awkwardly, he decided to bring up something practical once Uluki had finished speaking. "There is, of course, the matter of inheritance. At present we have little money, and a share in it will not exactly be a great sum. However, should Uluki and I pass away, what we own will be divided equally among our daughters-- including our goddaughter-- and our son. You will, of course, be included in that, Kaydee. The money is hardly worth speaking of, and there is no title, but... I wanted you to know your share would be the same as the others."

As he finished speaking, Zee groggily sat up, swaying a little, and gave a huge yawn. She looked at her family, and confusion was evident on her face. "What happened? What's going on?"
"When you feel like you can't go on, love heals.
Hold onto love, and it will lead you home. Love heals." -Rent

Re: Casualties

Post by Falcon Bertille on

Kaydee nodded when Uluki voiced her views on heaven. It made sense -- no afterlife could be a paradise if it lacked all the people she cared about. But maybe the afterlife wasn’t perfect. Like Uluki, Kaydee didn’t consider herself to be the sort of person with whom angels spoke. And yet, she had seen an angel, beautiful and bleeding. Thinking back on the encounter, it struck Kaydee how sad Amaranda had seemed. Was that because of heaven’s imperfections? Or was there some other reason? Kaydee supposed that there must be a lot to be sad about if you were an angel.

“I hope it’s like you say,” she confessed, after Uluki had finished. “I guess we’ll all find out eventually.”

Uluki’s next comment earned another nod. “I’m not sure I could pretend to be a little girl, even if I tried. I never really got to be one. And it’s too late now.” Kaydee shook her head. There was no sense in denying things lost -- no sense in mourning things which could never be replaced. Besides, she was rather proud of her maturity. It was like a battle scar she wore with pride. It was something she had struggled to achieve. Something so many people in the shanty town never reached. “I’m glad you don’t want me to act like someone I’m not.”

“It’s too bad that you don’t get to see your mother. Maybe...maybe one day you’ll meet her again, and she’ll have missed you as much as you miss her. Maybe she’ll realize how foolishly she behaved.” Kaydee hoped that she hadn’t offended Uluki. But it really did seem terribly wasteful to deliberately alienate someone you cared about, when so many people in the shanty town would give so much to spend just one more day with a husband, a sister, a son. Maybe Uluki’s mother hadn’t understood what she was losing. Maybe, once she felt the pain of separation, she would repent. Maybe.

As for Kaydee, she didn’t care if Zee and Dash married goblins. She wouldn’t ever make them feel unwelcome or judged.

And then Rollick dropped his bombshell. “Inheritance?” Kaydee blurted out. The inconsequential amount didn’t one had ever made any attempt to provide for her in this manner. Kaydee couldn’t believe that, after everything else this family was prepared to do for her, they would also add an inheritance. “No, no. I can’t take any more from you. Don’t worry. If something happens to you, I’ll work hard. I’ll take care of everyone.”

Kaydee abruptly shut her mouth when Zee showed signs of awaking. This was not a conversation the girl should stumble into the middle of. As for Zee’s question, although Kaydee could have answered it, she felt it was not really her place to do so. Better to let Uluki and Rollick explain.

Re: Casualties

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

Uluki wished she could offer Kaydee another chance at the childhood she'd lost. But at sixteen, Kaydee was right that Uluki came too late for that part. They could offer her love, and a family, but not take away the years of hurt. Still, at least it was something, what they had to give.

Uluki smiled sadly when Kaydee suggested that Uluki might reunite with her Duskling family someday. "Perhaps. I hope so. But I... I don't know. It wouldn't be a matter of them just missing me. They'd have to accept the people who are my family too. They never accepted Rollick, really, and they... had a problem with the baby. They didn't like that he was half-human."

That was a major understatement. Uluki's mother had tried to talk her into terminating the pregnancy-- because, her mother reasoned, once Uluki had given birth to a half-human, no Duskling man would want her. Uluki's mother had always held out hope that Uluki would leave Rollick and come back to the Duskling fold, and Baby Martin seemed to have ended that hope.

"And they don't even know about our daughters. The other Dusklings had already moved on before Dash and Zee found us. My Duskling family would have to accept everyone. If they pushed me to make a choice, I'll still choose this family-- the people here. All of you."

Rollick was fully prepared to continue to argue the inheritance point. It wasn't that he thought the money, little as it was, would make any major difference for Kaydee. It was more that the idea of his family members not being treated equally upset him. If Kaydee was to be their daughter, if that was what she wanted, her standing would be the same as any of her adopted siblings. Rollick wasn't prepared to prioritize some of his children over another, regardless of how or when anyone had entered the family.

But Zee's awakening cut off the discussion for the moment, though Rollick resolved to bring it up again later. Rollick gently released Kaydee and Dash so he could hug Zee. Zee immediately noticed the missing hand, and her eyes went wide, then filled with tears. "What happened, Papa?" she whispered again. "I think I fell asleep."

"You were drugged, Zee Bee," Rollick told her gently, using the pet name to try to soften the blow. "People grabbed you and Dash, and took you away. I came to look for you, and that's when they did this to me. But your Mama and some of our friends came to find me."

Dash added, "He traded himself for us. That's how he got hurt. Saving us."

Rollick hadn't been sure whether to mention that part. Zee might find it reassuring that her Papa had come for her, and see that the people who loved her would always come help her if she was in danger. But at the same time, he'd worried that it might make her feel guilty and responsible, as Dash had. Now that it was said, Rollick didn't try to deny it, but merely continued in the same comforting tone. "But I'm home with you, and I'm going to be alright now."

For the first time, Kira spoke, confusion evident in her voice. "The father got hurt to save the daughters?" Half-statement, half-question. It was clear she didn't quite believe it, even after what Dash had said earlier; it was too different from what she'd gotten used to for all those years. Even after Uluki had been willing to take on pain to heal Kira, Kira hadn't imagined a man would do so for a daughter. Panterras had always told Kira that she was his belonging, that he could do whatever he liked to her because she was his. That's why he'd claimed it was his right to hurt her-- and he would never have given up anything for her. Kira studied Rollick, making sure he was sincere... and after a moment, to her surprise, realized he was.

Rollick turned so he was addressing all of them. "No matter what happens, we'll always come for you. Any of you. Your family won't ever abandon you. No matter how hurt you are, we'll find you and help you heal. So please... if anything like this ever happens again, don't give up. Don't ever think it's too late."

He'd had this discussion with Uluki before-- that neither would abandon the other, no matter how severe the physical or emotional injury-- and they'd said the same thing to Dash and Zee. But Kira and Kaydee should hear it too.

"There's some good news, too," Rollick told still-tearful Zee. "Kaydee's decided to join our family. You have a new sister."

Zee's face brightened abruptly. "That's good." She gave Kaydee a toothy grin. "But weren't you already our sister?"

Rollick continued hugging Zee, and Dash sat close to them, also offering her reassurances. Kira still silently had her arms wrapped around Uluki's waist.

Taking advantage of the moment of semi-privacy, Uluki looked over at Kaydee. She hadn't wanted to ask this when everyone's attention was focused on the conversation... but she also didn't want to leave it unasked. "Kaydee, how are you doing? After... in the shanty town, with Snyde? I know it was horrible for you, and I don't want to force you to dwell on it. But if there's ever anything you need to talk about, I'm happy to listen."
"When you feel like you can't go on, love heals.
Hold onto love, and it will lead you home. Love heals." -Rent

Re: Casualties

Post by Falcon Bertille on

Kaydee felt sad that Uluki’s mother had been so biased against Rollick. Of course, prejudice was nothing new to her. She saw it every day in the shanty town. Instead of banding together, instead of making some unified effort to improve their lives, people who lived so close to the bottom of the social ladder expended far more energy stomping on the heads of anyone who might be even just one rung beneath them. It didn’t make sense. But a lot about the world she’d been raised in didn’t make sense.

Still, Kaydee also knew how hard it was to find a good man -- be they human, elf, gnome, or something else. Clearly, Uluki had managed that rare feat when she married Rollick. And it was too bad that Uluki’s mother got so fixated on Rollick’s race that she couldn’t see all the happiness he brought to her daughter.

Zee Bee. Kaydee hadn’t ever heard Rollick use that nickname, but she liked the sound of it. Zee was Zee Bee, Dash was Dashie...did Kira have an affectionate title? Would she be given one? Would Kaydee? Kaydee found herself rather hoping that she would be. She’d been called a variety of things while working for Snyde, but none of them were particularly endearing.

Rollick’s promise to always come for them was met by a solemn nod from Kaydee. It was a promise that went against so much of the behavior she’d seen in the shanty town. Yet, oddly, she believed it. It made her feel safe. “And I’ll always come for any of you,” she vowed. “I won’t ever give up.”

Kaydee smiled at Zee’s assumption that she was already part of the family. It was sweet that Zee had so completely accepted her, even before any bonds had been formalized. Rather than try to explain her previous status, for which no word seemed to exist, Kaydee simply nodded. “I guess I was. But now it’s official.”

“I’m okay,” Kaydee assured, when Uluki asked about what had happened with Snyde. “It wasn’t so bad. I mean, it was. But it wasn’t anything he hadn’t already done to me before then. I won’t say that you ever get used to it. Still, after awhile, you grow kind of numb. You know what’s going to happen. You know that you’ll either survive or die...and you don’t care much either way.” Kaydee shook her head. “The worst part was seeing Julen get beat up so bad.”

“But I appreciate you saying that we can talk about it. And if you ever want to talk to me about anything -- your mom, or the fairy haters, or whatever -- I listen pretty good.” Kaydee felt slightly foolish for making the offer. Uluki had so many friends, so many people who cared about her. Surely she wasn’t hurting for people she could confide in. But Kaydee wanted to do what she could to pay back the duskling, and she was working with limited resources. “I don’t have a lot of advice. But I can listen.”

Mentioning the fairy haters reminded Kaydee of something she and Dash had been talking about earlier. Maybe Uluki or Rollick would have the answer that she and her new sister had been unable to seize hold of. “Uluki? Dash told me that Del was involved in the kidnapping. What are we going to do to stop her?”

Re: Casualties

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

What Kaydee said about Snyde having hurt her before made Uluki's heart ache all the more. It wasn't a surprise. Uluki knew what the man was capable of, and had perceived injuries both old and new while she was healing the girl. No one should have to grow numb to abuse, though, or come to expect it. If only Kaydee could have been spared that, could have been sheltered from it. Uluki would never, as long as she lived, understand why innocent people, good people like Kaydee, were forced to live through those horrors.

"What Snyde did to you was terrible. I could see how badly hurt you were, and I could feel... when I heal people, I can feel the damage that's been done to them. That's part of how the magic works; that way I can figure out what needs to be repaired. So I know how much he made you suffer. I wish I could..."

Uluki wished she could have stopped it. But she couldn't. She was powerless. She hadn't been able to protect Kaydee or Julen from Snyde, or Rollick from the people who had abducted and maimed him, or Kira from Panterras, or Dash and Zee from The General. All Uluki could do was try to help them pick up the pieces after it was over, heal the physical wounds and try to soothe the emotional hurts. That wasn't enough. Healing wasn't enough. The need for healing meant the damage was already done.

"I wish I could have protected you. Not just then, but every time he hurt you. Every time anyone hurt you. But I'm so glad you survived. Not just your body, but your good heart and how much you care about others. I'm so glad you're here."

Uluki smiled at Kaydee, her eyes still sad. "Thanks for saying we can talk if I need to. I think I will need it. I know this isn't going to be an easy time. Thank you for being willing to listen."

Uluki's eyes widened when Kaydee mentioned Delphina. "She was? I didn't know." Uluki had been suspicious when Delphina had tried to send the rescue party to the shanty town, when it turned out Rollick had been held nowhere near there-- but Uluki had come to assume the woman had just been mistaken or confused after her own kidnapping ordeal. An ordeal that apparently hadn't even really happened; Uluki trusted Dash and Kaydee's word over Delphina's. And of course, Uluki's fear for Rollick had soon pushed Delphina to the back of her mind.

Uluki shivered, "Delphina was the one who... she brought back Rollick's hand and gave it to me." She felt her chest tighten again as it had then, but she drew deep breaths and it passed. "She told me she'd been kidnapped too. She's here at the compound!"

Uluki's last exclamation was emphatic enough that Rollick, Dash, and Zee looked over at her in surprise. "Delphina is at the compound," Uluki clarified, her voice shaky with worry.

Dash's eyes flashed with anger. "That bitch! She was the one who brought Papa to those people. She knew they were going to hurt him. She drugged Zee. She stabbed me in the back. They took your hand because of her. Damn her! I'll kill her!"

"We'll find her," Rollick said with deliberate calm. Calm that was hard to maintain after what that horrible woman had done to his daughters. "For the moment we'll lock her up, to ensure she cannot pose a threat to anyone else, and then give her the chance to answer for her crimes. Perhaps there may be some mitigating factor she will wish to speak in her defence. Then an appropriate punishment can be determined."

Rollick wasn't convinced any factor could really mitigate what Delphina had done. It was possible that Delphina had been threatened with death or some form of torture if she had not gone along with the sellswords. It didn't seem likely-- to all appearances she had been acting of her own free will-- but Rollick wasn't certain enough to rule it out.

But even if that was the case, did it excuse what she had done? Rollick could not hold others to the same standard of sacrifice he demanded of himself; sacrifices should be made freely, not compelled by another. He did, however, feel it was universally wrong to bring harm to an innocent person to save one's own life. Even if Delphina was threatened, it was not an excuse for her to stab a teenage girl or help set an ambush for a man who had done nothing to wrong her. Trying to preserve your life wasn't ordinarily a sin... but it was if it came at the expense of other people.

Rollick also wasn't sure if it was appropriate for him to be the one to mete out punishment. As castellan, doing so was part of his duty, up to and including execution. He had accepted that, and would carry it through if need be. The problem was that in this case, he was not an unbiased party, nor was Uluki. It was their family who had been victimized. In a matter of life and death, Delphina needed to be granted a fair hearing. Rollick believed he could be objective-- but what if he was wrong? There could be no doubts about this. Nor could it appear to the other refugees that the decision reached was in any way unfair, particularly should it go against Delphina.

"We should ask others to hear the matter too," Rollick suggested. "Jenny. Zamat. Perhaps Rosemary. We'll listen to what they have to say about the right course of action before proceeding." He valued their input, and hoped that would assure the refugees that justice was being done.

Uluki nodded her agreement... till Rollick stood up and moved to gather his armour. "Leave this to the others," she said firmly. "You need to rest now. We'll tell the warriors what's going on, but you aren't going anywhere till I've finished healing you."

Rollick was about to protest, but standing up had made him lightheaded, and he was forced to lean against the wall for support. Knowing he wasn't going to win this debate, he eased himself down to the floor so Uluki could heal him as she'd said. Uluki passed the baby to Dash to hold, then knelt to do so.

"I'm sorry," Rollick apologized to the family. "I'm so sorry." Sorry for his weakness. For not being the strong warrior they needed.

"Don't. Please." Uluki's voice was barely audible; her face was pressed against him and her her arms were wrapped around him as she used her magic. "Don't be sorry. Nothing to apologize for." After a pause, she whispered, "I love you so much..."

Dash was getting tearful again, and had to look away from her father. "Did you know anything about Delphina from when you were in the shanty town?" she asked Kaydee. "Her habits? Where she would go, or what hiding spot she'd pick, or how we could start looking for her? Or anything ... that might explain what she's doing? What she's thinking or how she's acting?"
"When you feel like you can't go on, love heals.
Hold onto love, and it will lead you home. Love heals." -Rent

Re: Casualties

Post by Falcon Bertille on

“I’m glad that I’m here, too.” Kaydee appreciated Uluki’s compassion for what she’d endured. But all that was in the past. As Kaydee had witnessed too many times, the past was a weight which could crush you beneath it, if you weren’t careful. It was better to stay focused on the present.

Kaydee shuddered at the mention of Rollick’s severed hand. Uluki talked about all that Kaydee had suffered, but could anything be worse than being presented with such a grisly token? The physical embodiment of a loved one’s pain and suffering. If nothing else, Delphina needed to be made to pay for her role in that.

The concept of being judged by your peers was completely unfamiliar to Kaydee. In the shanty town, the people with the power did the judging, and it didn’t matter whether you were innocent or not. All that mattered was if they had the strength to enforce their verdict. And really, from what Kaydee had managed to learn, that was not so different from the rest of Marn. “Maybe we should hold her until Big Brother gets back from Shim? He could judge her. It’s his compound, so no one has any right to argue with what he decides.”

“Oh!” Something else had occurred to Kaydee. Something which made their capture of Delphina all the more urgent. “She might know who wanted to kidnap Rollick. She might know who hired those people to take him. We should question her! Make her talk. I -- I know ways to make people talk. I saw Snyde use them.” Kaydee felt her heart begin thumping the familiar beat of fear as she turned her gaze to Uluki. She couldn’t stand the thought of any harm coming to her new family. “If we don’t know who wants him, they might try again. He might still be in danger!”

Kaydee wanted so much to help. As she considered Dash’s question, she scrunched her face into an expression of fierce concentration. “I don’t know Delphina very well. She was kind of stuck up. I don’t blame no one for dreaming about escaping the shanty town by marrying some rich lord, but with Del, she acted like it was her right. Because she was so much prettier and well-mannered than the rest of us. She could be really mean about it, too. One time, she made Tam cry by going on about how, when she finally became a grand lady, Tam wouldn’t be fit to serve as a scullery maid in her new home.”

“She and Ambrose are kind of together -- although I don’t know how you can truly be with someone when it’s understood that you’re going to ditch them the moment you find someone carrying bigger pouch of gold.” Kaydee shrugged. “I guess Ambrose figures it isn’t going to happen. Or he doesn’t care. Anyway, she might go to him for help. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Mamie was mixed up in this. She pretty much does what Del tells her to.”

“Mamie’s a real piece of work. She goes around quoting the Tomes of the First Settlers, as if that makes her better than everybody else -- as if the First Settlers were just fine with selling your body for cash.”

Re: Casualties

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

Rollick considered Kaydee's idea about waiting for Karsimir to judge Delphina, and was unsure about it. "It is true that all of us at the compound answer to him. And I have no doubt that he would be fair and just. But he has left us in charge in his absence, Uluki and me, and we must do our duties, rather than placing them on his shoulders. I would also hesitate to drag the matter out so long. To do so would only increase the chances that Delphina would simply escape and vanish, or that her cronies might attack in force."

He felt those were good, solid reasons. But if he was fully honest with himself, he had selfish and petty reasons, too. Karsimir was young and strong, noble, well-spoken, educated, and intelligent. He had two hands. He was a knight. Knighthood had been Rollick's lifelong dream, but it had eluded him when he decided to pursue service to the poor and downtrodden rather than service to his king. Karsimir in many ways embodied those things Rollick saw lacking in himself.

It wasn't that Rollick was jealous of Karsimir; he would not have traded lives with the other man, for all that. Uluki and the children were what gave Rollick's existence meaning, and he would not exchange them for anything. No, it was instead that right now, after the loss he had just suffered, in comparison to the shining knight Rollick felt utterly unworthy.

Facing the return of the Lightswords and having to reveal how broken he was now would be enough of an exercise in humiliation for Rollick, without having to admit he couldn't do his job on top of it. He would carry out his responsibilities, so at least he could hold his head high in front of the younger, whole men, and the knight who was their leader.

Rollick shook his head in gentle disagreement when Kaydee suggested ways to make people talk. "No torture. No beatings. I will not have that on my watch. If we stooped to such tactics, we would be no better than those we fight."

He also knew that it probably wouldn't be effective. That people in pain would generally say anything necessary to get relief, true or not. That was not something to say aloud to Kaydee, however, since it would imply that such a thing being done was even a possibility.

"I am fully prepared to be firm with her," Rollick assured Kaydee. "You're right that we do need to try to find out from her who did this. I appreciate your concern for me, and I think it is a valid one. But Snyde's tactics of brutality and bullying have no place here."

Uluki, Rollick, and Dash all listened carefully as Kaydee spoke of Delphina's background. Any piece, any hint, could provide an important clue.

Uluki felt a pang of sympathy for Tam upon learning Delphina had reduced the woman to tears with such cruel and pointless insults. Without bringing it up directly-- since doing so would only be a source of further humiliation-- Uluki resolved to give Tam extra encouragement, to try to counteract whatever damage Delphina had done.

Rollick and Uluki were both a little surprised to learn that Delphina was in a relationship. Her behaviour toward Rollick, which Uluki had walked in on, hardly marked her as a faithful companion to Ambrose.

Rollick reddened deeply at the mention of Delphina's lack of fidelity. Concerned Kaydee might take his reaction to mean that he had actually been involved with the woman, and not wanting to give her the impression that he couldn't be trusted to be loyal, he said rather stoically, "Delphina made an attempt to seduce me, as you may have heard. No doubt the gossip has spread by now. She presented herself to me, naked. It was utterly humiliating. I didn't touch her, of course. I'm faithful to Uluki. Perhaps that is why Delphina hates me so, because I rejected her."

Rollick nodded seriously as Kaydee spoke of Delphina's connection to Mamie. "The Tome of the First Settlers? Is that the 'All magic corrupts; all magic is damnation' nonsense?"

Uluki was a little shocked at his bluntness, especially in from of Kaydee. For all they knew, Kaydee might practice the Puradyne religion... though given her level of comfort with Uluki's magic, not to mention the comments she had just made about how the Puradynes viewed prostitution, she obviously didn't practice it in a completely orthodox way. "Rollick, that's their religion, you shouldn't..."

"A religion that endangers my wife's life. People are free to practice their beliefs as they see fit, up to the point they start doing damage to other people. If that's the book that tells them to hate you, and that you're evil because of the fact you save lives, I can't speak of it with respect."

Uluki couldn't exactly argue that point. "Thank you, Kaydee. Knowing all that might help us a lot. Maybe we should go speak with Mamie and Ambrose. Ambrose first, I think. He doesn't seem as hostile, and he's the one she's with. If she was in trouble, she might go to him, like you said."

Uluki knew Rollick should be resting, ideally lying down, but she also didn't think he was likely to be able to tolerate her going off on her own with Delphina still lurking around the compound. It didn't even seem worth arguing the point. She knew him too well; he would want to protect her. Besides, finding Mamie and Ambrose and just talking would put Rollick under much less strain than chasing high and low all over the compound in search of Delphina-- which he was likely to do if not occupied with some other task. Zee, meanwhile, would be able to protect her sisters while their parents were gone, and the girls could keep the door locked.

Uluki bit her lip as she considered how to approach the situation with the two fairy-haters. "Both of them completely despise us, though. Kaydee, do you think you could come too? They know you, and you're human. They might listen better to you than just to us."

Uluki wasn't entirely confident that was true, since Kaydee's allegiance to the family was so obvious. Still, it seemed like Kaydee was their best hope for getting Mamie and Ambrose to talk.
"When you feel like you can't go on, love heals.
Hold onto love, and it will lead you home. Love heals." -Rent

Re: Casualties

Post by Falcon Bertille on

Kaydee made an earnest effort to conceal her skepticism when Rollick mentioned being firm with Delphina. After all, Big Brother had left Rollick in charge -- so Rollick must be behaving in a manner which he believed the absent knight would approve of. Kaydee knew she was only a former whore with precious little education. Who was she to claim that she understood the situation better than these two wise men? It wasn’t her place to challenge the way things were done at Lightsword Hall.

But misgivings continued to gnaw at Kaydee. Delphina wasn’t some pickpocket who’d stolen a few coins. She’d plunged a knife into Dash’s back, and then returned to the compound to present Uluki with her husband’s severed hand. She was evil, she was dangerous, and by now she was probably desperate. She had much to lose, yet very little to gain. And, like most of the refugees, she’d spent years enduring Snyde’s brutality. Given all that, Kaydee honestly doubted that Delphina would break down and cooperate just because Rollick shook his finger at her, no matter how sternly he did it.

Subtly, Kaydee gave Dash a look. It couldn’t possibly communicate all the things she felt inside. But Kaydee hoped it would at least convey that she, for one, did not plan on letting any well-meaning concepts of morality stand in her way when it came to protecting her new family.

Rollick’s explanation about finding Del naked earned a nod from Kaydee. It was hard to keep secrets in the compound, with so many people living in close proximity to each other, and various versions of that particular story had been circulating. Of course, Kaydee believed Rollick. His devotion to Uluki was so obvious -- only a fool would think that he’d jeopardize their marriage for a quick roll with a piece of work like Delphina. “Maybe that’s why she hates you,” Kaydee conceded. “She’s proud enough to take rejection pretty hard. Although, frankly, if she hated every man who rejected her, she’d be plotting vengeance against half the noble houses in Marn.” A slight shrug followed that statement. “I don’t know. Maybe she is.”

Disdain voiced for the Tome of the First Settlers roused no particular ire in Kaydee. She’d never claimed to live by any moral code. And, as far as she could tell, those who prided themselves in upholding the Puradyne religion acted no better than those who didn’t. The guards seemed indifferent to the plight of battered whores. The battlemages were cruel psychopaths. And the Judges just sat on top of the whole rotten heap, not caring about anything other than maintaining their own personal power. If that was the sort of behavior which the Tome of the First Settlers endorsed, it couldn’t be a very good book.

“I don’t know much about the Tome,” she confessed. “I can’t read and I never went to school. Maybe there’s some good stuff in it. But I judge a religion by the way people who believe in it behave...and, so far, the Puradynes haven’t impressed me much. I like the Teachings of Angels better.”

Kaydee wished she could feel more certain about any positive effects which her presence might have on Ambrose or Mamie. It was true that she used to hold some sway over certain members of the shanty town -- she had, after all, managed to keep them from lynching Julen on his second visit. But her influence had waned considerably since then. With people like Big Brother around to provide wisdom and guidance, why would people rely on the advice of an ignorant street urchin? And neither Mamie nor Ambrose had ever held her in any particular regard. However, Kaydee really wanted to help. And she didn’t think that going with Rollick and Uluki could do any harm. “I don’t know if they’ll listen to me. But, if you think it might work, I’ll be glad to talk to them. Maybe I can convince them this isn’t just some fairy plot or whatever stupid ideas they’ve gotten into their heads.”

Rising from the bed, Kaydee prepared to accompany her new parents.

Re: Casualties

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

Dash noticed and understood Kaydee's look... but was torn about what to do. On an intellectual level, she thought her father was right. If you did the same things to your enemies that they would do to you, the only difference between the sides was who you liked better. The idea of mistreating a prisoner reminded her not only of Snyde, but of The General-- the one who had forced Dash and Zee to be his soldiers, who had tried to turn Dash into a cold-blooded assassin. He had used torture to gain information from people too, and Dash didn't want to drag the stained and ugly parts of her old life into her safe new one. She didn't want to be the killer he'd tried to make her.

But a fire burned in her. Hatred, and a desire for retribution. She wanted to see Delphina suffer. For Delphina's body and mind to experience the same anguish she'd inflicted on others. That yearning for revenge couldn't be suppressed by logical thoughts, or the promise of a fair trial. It wanted to rend flesh, to tear, to burn and hack.

The look Dash gave Kaydee in return, though, was intended to convey only one message. We'll talk later. Dash wanted to give the matter some more thought, to see if her mind could quench the anger that seethed within her.

Uluki merely nodded in response to and agreement with Kaydee about the Tome, but she took note of what Kaydee said about not being able to read. "I could teach you reading and writing, if you wanted. I'm teaching some of the other people, and you could learn too. You don't have to. But... maybe it would be a useful thing to know." Uluki hoped Kaydee didn't take that to mean that Uluki was criticizing her intelligence or the breadth of her knowledge. Kaydee actually struck her as quite bright and able. What Uluki said was meant to be taken at face value-- she thought those skills would be helpful to Kaydee, and she was more than willing to teach her, or any other willing learners.

Just before they left, Rollick quickly exchanged his ripped and bloodstained shirt for a fresh one; Uluki helped him slip it on and button it, doing so as nonchalantly as possible to avoid drawing attention to the fact he would need assistance until he had more practice performing the task one-handed. She couldn't miss the shadow that crossed his face for a moment when he realized he was unable even to button his own garment efficiently, the strain it caused him to be so dependent, even temporarily, and she felt for him.

The fast shirt-changing accomplished, Rollick and Uluki asked the other girls to look after each other and the baby, and not to open the door to anyone unknown. Then, with Kaydee, they set off to look for Ambrose. As they walked, Uluki clung to Rollick's hand-- the left one, now, of course-- both offering reassurance and being reassured by his closeness. Love for him filled her, and she was once again overwhelmed with gratitude that he had survived and returned to her.

Ambrose wasn't hard to find. He was in the room he shared with Delphina-- Rollick couldn't help blushing again, remembering facing Delphina's unwelcome nudity in this same room-- and was apparently sitting completely idle, given Uluki couldn't see anything that might have occupied him.

Even after giving them permission to enter in response to their knock, he didn't get up from the bed, where he was seated. His eyes were red, he was unshaven... and to Uluki's dismay, he smelled strongly of alcohol. Uluki wondered where he'd gotten it, if he'd scrounged it up somewhere in the compound or brought it with him.

Ambrose gave them a lazy glance, at first registering no visible emotion. His gaze finally settled on Rollick. "Ya lookin' for Del?" he asked, his words a tiny bit slurred. "Gonna try to get in her skirts again?"

Rollick quelled a surge of annoyance. Any other day that comment would have been taken in stride, but after almost losing two of his daughters and then losing his hand, he was in no mood for this. "I did not proposition her before, and I do not intend to now. It is urgent that we speak to her."

Ambrose stared at the stump where Rollick had once had a right hand. "Think I'm gonna feel sorry for you on account of that? Feel bad for the man who screws a kid?"

Rollick was puzzled by that accusation. Uluki was small, but she clearly had the mind and the shape of an adult. Surely the refugees understood she was a mother herself, not a child? "My wife was of respectable marriageable age when we wed ten years ago. As for Delphina--"

Ambrose cut him off. "I'm not talkin' 'bout yer wife. I'm talkin' 'bout Kira."

Rollick blinked, more shocked than anything else. "Kira? She's not... I never...!"

Evidently taking the look of bewildered bafflement on Rollick's face as an admission of guilt, Ambrose plunged on. "You never. Uh huh. I know where she came from, that her dad was your enemy. Don't tell me you never once thought how you could get back at him by takin' his little girl for your... what's the nice word for it? Your 'concubine.' What else could you possibly want her for?" Ambrose made a vague gesture toward Kaydee. "And I suppose you keep the whore around for her shining personality and witty conversation, not what she can do between the sheets. Uh huh. Right."

Rollick's anger finally boiled over. "I would not do such a thing! I would never violate the girls." Because it would be a violation, even if it was perfectly willing; to blur the line between father and lover would trespass the boundaries of trust and his position in the family. "And I will not have any woman called a whore, especially my daughter..."

A mocking grimace made its drunken way across Ambrose's face, and he looked past horrified Rollick and dumbfounded Uluki to leer unpleasantly at Kaydee. "Daughter. Yeah. That the game the old pervert plays, then? Wants you to call him 'daddy' while he sticks it in you?"
"When you feel like you can't go on, love heals.
Hold onto love, and it will lead you home. Love heals." -Rent

Re: Casualties

Post by Falcon Bertille on

“Oh! I’d like that.” Kaydee nodded eagerly when Uluki offered to teach her how to read. She remembered her clients mentioning books, describing them as treasured storehouses of knowledge and entertainment. She’d even seen a book, once, although she’d been unable to do more than look at the little symbols which marched across its pages like a procession of strangely-shaped soldiers. The prospect of being able enter the realm that they guarded was indeed an exciting one.

But then Kaydee’s face fell. What if she was too stupid to learn to read? After all, the sewing lessons weren’t exactly proceeding as quickly as she’d hoped. Julen’s new shirt still remained largely unfinished. Kaydee couldn’t count the number of times she’d tried so hard to put in a row of stitches, only to have the thread get knotted, or the seam turn out crooked. What if she couldn’t read...or do anything else, other than lie on her back? Would she disappoint Uluki and Rollick? Would they make her leave?

No. They’d promised that she was their daughter now, no matter what. And she’d never thought of herself as stupid before Snyde turned it into a mantra. Come to think of it, he’d said that to all his whores, and he was wrong about them. Tulip could read and write. Fenella designed things. And Tam and Sasha were going to be warriors. If they could defy his opinion...then so could she. It wouldn’t be easy. But maybe a lot of the things worth doing weren’t easy.

Kaydee’s expression reflected a new determination as she followed after Rollick.

During her career as a prostitute, Kaydee had dealt with a lot of drunken men. So Ambrose’s state wasn’t particularly shocking. Even his words weren’t unprecedented, although it angered her that he was needlessly upsetting Rollick and Uluki. Still, Kaydee kept silent during Ambrose’s tirade, her lips pinched together in a small frown of disapproval. Until he addressed her directly. This, Kaydee decided, was an invitation to step in. Part of her wanted to march over and slap Ambrose out of his alcoholic stupor. But Rollick and Uluki were depending on her to get on Ambrose’s good side -- if he even had one of those -- so she would try to be diplomatic.

Of course, diplomacy was a little different in the shanty town.

“You’re a fine one to talk, Ambrose. You know Snyde took ‘em a lot younger and a lot more broken than me or Kira, but I don’t remember you ever chiding him about it. I guess there ain’t enough booze in the whole wide world to make you that brave. Anyway, Rollick ain’t sticking it to no one but his wife. And, from what I’ve been told, maybe you should consider asking him for some tips.”

Shaking her head, Kaydee approached Ambrose. The alcohol had made him belligerent. But maybe, if she could rattle him, it would also make him careless. “Time to wise up. Del crossed the line -- she stabbed Dash, she cost Rollick his hand. She’s in big trouble. And anyone who aids her, or protects her, shares in her guilt.”

“Tell us where she is, Ambrose. Don’t dig yourself any deeper into this hole she’s put you in.” Kaydee allowed her voice to take on a slightly more compassionate tone. “If you care about her, it’s the best thing you can do. Uluki and Rollick are promising her a fair trial. But there’s plenty of people in this compound who just want to kill her for what she did.”

Kaydee didn’t mention that she was one of those people.

Re: Casualties

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

Ambrose just stared at Kaydee as she railed at him, and his expression became more and more decidedly glum as he listened. When she was finished, he broke down in loud, noisy, sloppy tears.

"I dunno. I dunno where she is." Seeing Rollick was about to cut in with an impatient suggestion, Ambrose waved away the older man's objection and continued. "She ain't here no more. I mean, she might be within these walls, I couldn't say. But she ain't here. She ain't with me."

"Well, we can see she isn't in this room..." Looking around the sparsely furnished chamber, it was clear to Rollick that there was really nowhere to hide, even if Delphina was foolish enough to choose such an obvious spot to run to ground.

Ambrose shook his head impatiently, his eyes still on Kaydee as though he expected her to attack like a wild animal if something he said displeased her. "I mean we ain't together no more. Since today. Del came back here after being gods-know-where, and she up and left me. Left me for some other man, some lord she said was gonna marry her and make her his grand lady. Only reason she come to see me was to tell me that. She don't need me no more."

Uluki almost felt sorry for the bewildered man. She was still angry about his cruel words, but she was beginning to see the hurt behind them, too. He was lashing out at Rollick and Kaydee mainly because of how deeply Delphina had wounded him-- and Uluki knew those wounds herself. She knew how it felt to love someone who professed to love you back, but seemed somehow incapable of being faithful to you. She knew how it felt to have the people you cared about turn their backs on you, how alone it made you. Uluki had gone on with her life, had found happiness with Rollick that far outweighed what she'd lost, but she knew that gave her a perspective that Ambrose, still tossed about in the sea of churning emotion, wouldn't be able to see.

Rollick's view of the situation wasn't quite so charitable. For one thing, he was feeling poorly again, the energy that had waxed when he had realized there was a job to do now waning again. He wanted to be with his family, not listening to a drunken man spout off insults and self-pity. Rollick's stump ached as severed nerves misfired, and he felt a strange and unpleasant tingling where his fingers had once been. The nausea and dizziness that had plagued him since his return were coming and going in waves. But he could not possibly admit that; he had no intention of leaving Uluki and Kaydee alone with the potentially unpredictable Ambrose, especially with Delphina on the prowl as well.

Rollick was also concerned about what Ambrose's accusations, if spread, would do to his family and his reputation. The refugees might cease to trust him. The others in leadership roles at the compound might worry he was a danger to his daughters. Kaydee and Kira would vouch for his innocence, he was sure, but would that be enough to prevent damage to his family? He couldn't lose them. Not now. Not ever.

Ambrose apparently wasn't done. Not content merely to tell them of his sorrows, he had to make clear who was to blame. "My life's been ruined by coming here. Now, I ain't saying it was no picnic with Snyde, and I didn't like Delphina working at that brothel none. But at least she still loved me. At least we was together."

A wavering finger, sent slightly off course by intoxication, pointed in the general direction of Uluki and Rollick. "Was you two that did it. She said she was gonna be faithful to me. No more whorin'. Just her and me. Next thing I know I'm hearin' that she'd stripped off down to her skin, trying to get you in bed with her. That don't just happen. You must've done somethin' to her. You and that fairy, messed with her head and made her crazy. I always knew you was some kind of pervert, from the moment I laid eyes on you. All magic causes corruption and rot, and them Fae are made of magic. It's like disease and filth in a body. I blame her less. She can't help what she is, disgusting as that may be. But you? You take something like that in your bed, tell it you love it... gods, it don't get much worse than that."

Rollick took a step toward Ambrose, visibly angry, but Uluki put a hand on his shoulder, holding him back. A fight, even with someone like Ambrose, was the last thing Rollick needed in his weakened condition.

Ambrose's attention was once more fixed on Kaydee. "Corrupted you too, ain't they? Used her magic on you. Rotted your soul with it. Why should I believe you? Why should you believe their story? I bet Del didn't do nothin'. You're just under some bewitchment, Kaydee, is all it is."
"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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