Diverged Roads: Road Less Traveled

Between Marn and Shim, along the Ofriyu Mar river, is a stretch of dense woodland known as the Virdara Woods.
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Re: Diverged Roads: Road Less Traveled

Post by Saruna » Wed Sep 04, 2013 12:05 am

The red-haired carefully bent to be at eye level with Breda. The eyes reflected the greenery of that place, all life and golden sunlight. The red-haired was dazzling, to Saruna's eye, a study of colors so deep and vivid that they might have been precious jewels. The expression that darkened that face was filled with understanding and shared sorrow. "Understand, and with it find strength: this is what your city should be. This is what your city could be. That is why it is your city, and not ours; we have had our home stolen from us. Together we shall make everything right. But if you decide to forsake us. . ." the red-haired paused, and those luminous eyes shone with tears, "it is your right to choose. It was our selfish hope that in finding you we might convince you to join us. To fight for this city not with violence, but with life."

The red-haired reached out as if to touch Breda's face, though at the last moment there was a marked hesitation. Standing, the red-haired turned away, shoulders bowed. It paced away, clasping arms around a slender body, and looked out into the depths of the forest. Saruna felt jealousy then. Why Breda, and not her? Why not both of them?

Still, she held on to Breda's hand, and watched the graceful form that stood before them: the only thing in the world that really mattered at that moment.

"The children?" Saruna repeated Breda, her voice a distant echo. Her eyes were glazed over.

"We must keep them here, where it is safe. Their parents have not survived your city."

Saruna watched the hair as it moved in a tentative breeze, the strands reflecting copper and cherry-red iron. "How can we help?"

"You must come to the river," the red-haired said, a quaver in its voice. "You shall see for yourself."
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Re: Diverged Roads: Road Less Traveled

Post by Breda Dreaughan » Sat Sep 07, 2013 8:04 am

But this is not what I want the city to be. She realized that that particular argument was useless. For reasons unbeknownst to her, both the redhair and Saruna considered this to be the perfect heaven. Surely, it was stunningly beautiful, but it was still nature, and to her consequently still unnerving.

She froze and closer her eyes when the creature reached to touch her, and then blinked in confusion when it didn't. Why are you so nervous? You were ready to join forces with the print crew, and these people haven't so much as drawn a weapon at you. And they're not the first unrecognisable creatures you've met. Or touched.

"Fine," she said hoarsely. "Show us the river, then. I just don't want anyone else to die."

That was a pointless thing to say. As if people would just stop dying.

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Re: Diverged Roads: Road Less Traveled

Post by Saruna » Mon Sep 09, 2013 1:21 am

The red-haired looked at them through its hair, her eyes contrasting its color with such intensity that Saruna found herself fighting off a shiver. Then they were all three moving down the path through the trees. The air was fragrant with honeysuckle and something else Saruna could not place, though she counted it as familiar. It blended together, overwhelming her senses until she was nearly drowsy with its combined effects. Several times she would catch herself straying towards the path and its edge, flirting with stepping off of it and exploring the depths of the green haven.

Breda's hand in hers kept her moving in the right direction. Soon enough, the sound of the water overtook the soporific effects of the rest of the forest, and she started to walk faster. Always, always her eyes were drawn to the red-haired, to the glorious cascade down its back. There was something about that color that made her want to touch it, hold it loosely in her hands and put it to her wheel. Surely she could spin it into something finer than silk that would be as liquid to touch and hold.

That line of thought was broken apart by the sight of the wide, sluggish river. The trees parted before them to follow the length of the river. Branches heavy with leaves, and in some cases fruit, hung over the river. Occasionally they dipped into the slow flow, creating miniature streaming ripples. The river seemed swollen. Its waters crept over the edges of its banks, touching the luscious growth that skirted around it. Saruna's eyes followed the length of it away, her mind sluggishly processing what she saw. It was only the movement of the red-haired to the side, revealing the center of the river before them, that she looked back.

There was Tanobi and the children. They stood several feet in, Tanobi up to his knees and the water and the children up to their hips. The little girl looked strangely satisfied, as if this was where she had always wanted to be. She held onto the little boy with a strong grip; her fingers were pressed into his flesh so that his sleeves dimpled around her fingers. The little boy, strangely, held onto Tanobi with a grip that was no less strong. His expression, however, was strange; there was a fascination in him as he watched the brown-eyed, but his face was pale yet with fear. It was not a good expression on him. Saruna did not like to see it there. She took another step forward, dream-slow, but then her attention was drawn by the brown-eyed: it stood behind Tanobi, facing the blue-eyed who stood in front of him. Both of them had their arms spread wide. Both of their mouths were moving.

Saruna could not hear a sound.

"Peace," the red-haired said.

Correction, Saruna could hear. She brushed a few errant strands of hair away from her ears, and heard the sound of her heartbeat in her ears. She could also hear the sound of her fingertips on her skin if she focused, and oh! Now that she was thinking about it, she could hear the river.

Yet as soon as she looked back at the river, it was as if all other sound was drowned out by the nothingness of the scene in front of them. It puzzled her, but she was not disturbed by it. Why should she be? That thought puzzled her, as well. She thought of turning to Breda and asking her. . .something? Yes, she should talk to Breda -- but then her attention was drawn back to the river. Suddenly, she could not see the little boy any more. The little girl had lifted her own hands up to the sky, and Tanobi was left in the center of the three of them -- the little girl, the blue-eyed and the brown-eyed -- and he was glowing. Something was -- something --

The red haired stepped into the river, and the water turned red-gold like a liquid, perfect sky at sunset.
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Re: Diverged Roads: Road Less Traveled

Post by Breda Dreaughan » Mon Sep 09, 2013 12:43 pm

The water alone was a frightening sight. The memory of the recent ferry trip across Ofriyu Mar was enough to make her stomach churn. And this was not normal water, this was… more. Or possibly less. Emptiness like the night sky turned liquid.

Tanobi and the children were already in the water. "I knew it! I'm not going in. I can't swim, and I still don't seem to have developed gills." She tried to retreat away from the water, but Saruna was still holding her hand. Saruna, who had an unpleasantly empty look in her eyes.

She glanced back at the other three, and realized that the beings from the carriage and the girl had surrounded Tanobi. They all seemed to be in some kind of trance, and nobody was struggling, yet the sight aroused almost nauseating panic. She tried to call at the man, but the sound of the river drowned her voice.

The water had turned red, like fresh blood. Saruna was staring at it, and the red-haired being wading graciously forward. Encouraged by pure terror, Breda turned and with her free hand slapped the human woman on the chin. "Saruna! We have to leave!"

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Re: Diverged Roads: Road Less Traveled

Post by Saruna » Thu Sep 12, 2013 7:16 pm

Saruna pulled her eyes away from the scene before them, but it was hard. Dogged, she forced them to look in Breda's direction. She blinked at the other woman. Her hand swept towards the water. "But look, Breda, can't you see? They need us, can't you see that?"

Her chin was suddenly stinging. Her head went back, and she took a step back. When she gathered herself enough to look at Breda there was hurt in her eyes. Free hand rising to her chin, Saruna stared down at Breda. "Why. . .?"

Behind her, in the water, something was rising behind Tanobi. The light from the sun sparkled through it, giving it a radiant halo that made it glow like a ruby. A shape formed, slowly, the water moving as if at the behest of a glass-blower. A trunk formed, and then arms, a neck and a face. The form was obviously female, its curves thick and ripe like a middle-aged mother. She bent, dipping her arms back into the water, and when she rose she lifted the body of the boy with her. He was not obviously moving, but neither would he appear dead.

The details of the woman's face would be surprisingly clear. It was a beautiful face, as such things were reckoned in Thar Shaddin, but distant in some respects; a regal matron, this water-woman. She saw them all, looking at and then through them -- even Saruna and Breda locked within their private moment.

"You have wakened me with your sacrifice," the water-woman said. Her voice was arresting and clear, neutral of intent. "What boon do you seek?"

The red-haired bowed, gesturing to the triad who stood around Tanobi and the water spirit.

"We beg your power and your intervention. We beg you to clear their eyes of the smog and detritus of their city, and show them our truth. Show them the purity of our cause, that they may make their decision."

The water-woman looked from the red-haired to Tanobi, Saruna and Breda. "Very well," she said. Water engulfed Tanobi.

The banks overflowed as rivulets, and then rushing streams of red water darted out to catch Breda and Saruna.
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Re: Diverged Roads: Road Less Traveled

Post by Breda Dreaughan » Mon Sep 23, 2013 9:39 am

There was something about the sight of the water-woman holding the motionless body of the boy that moved Breda more than anything they had seen. A mother cradling a child. A dead child. The stabbing pain in her chest was almost physical.

The word 'sacrifice' was the final straw. Ever since the appearance of the carriage, she had unconsciously expecting to hear it. She turned and ran.

The water was faster than her. When the first wave caught her it reached her ankles, and within seconds it was over her knees. To her, it looked like the shore was escaping. She stumbled, fell on her knees. The water reached her hips and her stomach instantly cramped, as if the freeloader had recoiled from the touch.

The water was now blood-red. She had a fleeting impression that it was coming from her. Show them our truth. No. She struggled back to her feet, although the water felt like tar. Fuelled by pure survival instinct, she waded desperately forward.

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Re: Diverged Roads: Road Less Traveled

Post by Saruna » Tue Sep 24, 2013 8:59 pm

Ankles. Calves. Hips. Shoulders.

Everything slowed and sped at once. Saruna knew she had no hope to escape, but even so -- even so there was fear in her driving her to run. The web gilding her sight had not burned away by her rush of adrenaline, but there was still instinct buried deep, telling her that water -- even tinted like sunset -- would drown her if it covered her like it had Tanobi. It was like being wrapped in a blanket she could not touch, wrestled down by a force she had no hope against. She tossed her head and saw the gold and green of the trees, just as beautiful -- dangerous in that beauty. She saw Breda straining, struggling to continue forward. Escape. They needed to escape this!

It was in that moment before the water took both of them that Saruna considered everything that had happened to her. It was in that moment that, in light of everything that had happened, Saruna let go. She let it go.

The water took them.

It was tumultuous and confusing, a swirl of darkness and fiery red that cushioned as much as it tore. Saruna curled into herself, closing her eyes and letting herself move with the water. She held her breath for as long as she could, until finally her body would not hold any longer, until she gasped the water in, drew it deep until her reflexive choking took her in all the way. Then, nothing.

Everything. She could feel it pulsing at her as she erupted back into the world with a shock. She opened her eyes and sucked in a breath, and though it tasted of water fresh from a spring and flowed through her like water, it was a breath. She looked around. The room, the space that surrounded her -- bit more like some huge round chambers -- retreated into darkness. It was circular, and made her think of rough-hewn stone, lit by murky light. She looked up. Light was filtering down, scattered and reflecting off a myriad of specks in the water. Giant columns were set in slightly from the outermost boundary, smooth hewn in comparison to the twisted shape of the wall.

Everything looked slightly red-orange to Saruna. She stood -- when had she laid down? -- and caught sight of the woman from the water. The glorious, beautiful woman, wrapped in flowing garments that moved over her body like myths made real. Saruna's eyes stuck there, and held steady.

"Breda? Tanobi?" She said their names, though she was uncertain if she was dreaming or even still alive.
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Re: Diverged Roads: Road Less Traveled

Post by Breda Dreaughan » Sat Sep 28, 2013 10:38 am

When Breda came to, the only thing she could remember was the horrible pain in her chest when there was no more air, and the darkness that had engulfed her from every direction at once. She was laying on her back, and with her bulging stomach on top, she momentarily felt like a turtle turned upside down. After some struggling and swearing she managed to turn on her side, but as all her muscles were burning, and her stomach was still cramping rather aggressively, she quickly decided it was best to remain on the floor.

The room seemed to be almost perfectly circular, and the colour of the walls and the floor was an odd shade of brown, almost pink. Flesh, suggested a voice in her head, and she shuddered. Swallowed by a bloody whale? Not bloody likely.

The waterwoman was sitting cross-legged on the floor, watching Breda with a disinterested expression on her face. There didn't seem to be anyone else in the cave.

"Saruna?" Breda asked hoarsely. Breda? Someone said at the same time. Or so the dwarf thought, but there was no-one else there.

The woman smiled at her. "What are you afraid of?" Her voice was gentle and melodic. "Why do you hate so much?"

Breda swallowed. "T-this isn't right. I didn't want to be here. This is not what I was told would happen."

The woman laughed "So trustful. You, of all people, Breda Dreaughan."

She wasn't particularly surprised by the fact that the woman knew her name. Nor was she particularly pleased. "Nothing to do with trust. This just doesn't make any sense."

The woman stood up, her water-coloured clothes flowing around her. "But that is exactly why you are here. I can make it make sense."

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Re: Diverged Roads: Road Less Traveled

Post by Saruna » Tue Oct 01, 2013 4:01 pm

Saruna?

Though she tore her eyes away from the woman, Saruna did not see anyone else. She could have sworn -- she shook her head and closed her eyes. She tried again. Her, the columns, the redness, and the woman.

"You wish for things you cannot have," the woman said, and Saruna reluctantly looked back to her.

"Doesn't everyone?" Saruna asked. She could not stop the bitterness that tainted her voice.

"They are not here," the woman said.

Something in her voice made Saruna feel as though she had spoken out of turn, and she bowed her head. "No. I am." Why was her voice always so quiet, so timid? She ground her teeth together.

"You are, with so much to gain."

Saruna looked up. Her heart squeezed. What had she to gain but more misery and death? Even everything she strove for now was just to wring blood from rocks. In the end, she would still be useless to all and only her ghosts would be satisfied. What of the living? What of her children? Her eyes grew hot and heavy at the thought of them, so long gone from her side. How were they? What were they doing? Did they think of her?

Did they miss her?

Her silence had been noticed, and weighed.

"Shall I show you what you stand to have?"

The hotness spilled down Saruna's cheeks. Teeth still clenched, she nodded against the gaping pit in her center, against everything she used to be and could never be again. This was her life now.

The floor dropped out from beneath her. The columns bled away. All around her every drop, every molecule of water reflected a glory that Saruna had never dreamed of, nor expected. Everything.

Do you see?

She saw.
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Re: Diverged Roads: Road Less Traveled

Post by Breda Dreaughan » Tue Oct 01, 2013 6:43 pm

"This is how things were supposed to be," the woman said gently. She walked slowly closer. "Here you can have what you've always wanted."

Breda struggled to a sitting position. Her stomach had stopped contracting, so her back had moved to the head of the complaints queue. The joints of her lower back had tied themselves to knots.

"I already have everything I've always wanted," she said defiantly.

The woman knelt in front of her, reaching to touch the dwarf's face with her slender fingers. "Is that so?"

Breda turned her head away and closed her eyes. "I have everything. A job. A place. A purpose. All I ever wanted. And a family."

The woman placed her hands on Breda's belly. "A family?" She smiled, in an almost teasing manner.

Breda shoved her hands away. "A family," she repeated. "My master, and his wife."

For a split second, she thought she saw a twitch of annoyance on the woman's face, but in a blink it was gone again. "I'm sure there is something you would rather have changed," she said with her gentle, sweet voice.

"I'd like to be in the same place with Saruna and Tanobi again, thank you."

The woman shook her head sadly. "You poor thing. You poor little dwarf. How misled you are. How little you know. How small and misguided are your ambitions." She stood up and extended a hand to Breda. "Come. Let us show you how much more your life could be. How much more you deserve, after everything you have been through."

"I don't want anything more," she protested, but allowed the woman to pull her on her feet.

"Let us show you what you could want. What you should want."

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Re: Diverged Roads: Road Less Traveled

Post by Saruna » Thu Oct 03, 2013 12:49 am

The world spiralled up, breaking into streams. It separated until every individual infinetesimal piece became an acute representation of the whole; boundless possibilities collected in droplets and rolled down Saruna's cheeks, dripped into her cupped palms and waited there. The sun was setting, but it had stopped to wait. To wait for her. It touched her, feather-light, its presence unmistakeable but not oppressive for it. She was okay. She was okay.

Okay wasn't good enough any more.

Children spilled from her eyes, soaked her clothing. Saruna saw and felt all of them, seeds caught up in her skirts and between her fingers. So, so small, but they grew. They always grew, and turned into people with their own wants and desires separated from her own hopes and wishes. It was inevitable, and she understood that. Even so, she trailed after them as they slipped through her fingers and spun away from her. This was her life, to watch them from afar. Correct their mistakes, love them so, so much -- but they never turned back to her. Ahh, it was so hard to breathe, so hard to understand why they didn't. The alternative, to think that they did understand, was to give in to the pain. Saruna could not do that, no, no. She was so old now, to watch them all and envy and want the things she could never again have. Mother . . . yes, that was the word. That was the feeling, the emotion, the all-consuming position that had comforted her when her parents had slipped away one after the other. Jodof? Ahh, the father of her children.

Her tears slipped down her face, and when they dripped down between her palms she saw her children reflected there. Even with the world's children collected and caught in their own growing spurts, she needed no key to find those of her blood. Ah. Ah, such sweet pain.

Cool, silky arms slipped around her shoulders from behind. They were like cushions, those arms, pillows made of life's nectar sent to cradle her against her hurts and her loves and all the beauty that had been leeched from her life. They were there, squeezing her, when her children finally slipped free from her palms, frozen at the ages she had last seen them. Gone. And once they had gone, Saruna could not see for the squeezing blurry haze in her eyes, for the body-wracking cries that were finally released in grief.

"Come to me," the mother-voice whispered in her ear, so full of empathy. It knew, and for the first time in her years Saruna felt the understanding of another. Not even Jodof had known. "Come, and I will make this right."
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Re: Diverged Roads: Road Less Traveled

Post by Breda Dreaughan » Sat Oct 05, 2013 2:26 pm

The woman took Breda's both hands, and she felt like an armor made of lead had been taken off her. She was light, she was agile, and she was free of all pains and aches like never before. Even her hunger was gone. The woman smiled at her again.

"You are young, Breda Dreaughan. You deserve to be healthy. You deserve to be strong."

She felt like she could run. Truly, properly run. When was the last time she had felt like that? Surely there had been a time. Before the pregnancy, after the starvation, somewhere between all the aches and ailments.

"You can pick up your hammer," the woman said softly. "There will be no backache, and no stomach cramps. Your leg will not bother you. You will not have to spend a day in bed because your bowels disagree with yesterday's meal. You will suffer no excruciating fevers. You will never have to let your Master down because your body has let you down."

Breda knew she should have looked away, but she didn't dare to. She knew for certain that as soon as she broke the eye contact, or let go of the woman's hands, the lightness would be gone.

"It's not real," she said hoarsely. There was a painful lump in her throat.

"Not yet," the woman said, with a hint of sadness in her voice. "But it will be. We just need you to do something for us first."

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Re: Diverged Roads: Road Less Traveled

Post by Saruna » Wed Oct 09, 2013 3:35 pm

There it was: everything Saruna wanted, slipping through her fingers. Did she even really need to think about what to choose? No. "Please," she said, nearly begging for things she could scarcely put words to.

The arms drew away from her, and Saruna was turned. It was so odd to be treated as a child might have been. Still, what other way was there to act besides this motherly creature? Age and wisdom were a mantle upon her shoulders. Every movement was a memory; every smile contained loss and sorrow. More than that, the promise of past and future happiness shadowed her eyes in the same manner that the wrinkles of past emotions shadowed Saruna's. They were alike, and unalike, in that way. That kinship was what kept Saruna from bolting, from protesting or feeling shy or awkward. It was true that she had fallen out of the social loop that formed most of Shim's relationships, but here -- here she was everything she was meant to be. Here she could stand up and look another person, another being in the eye.

The water-woman was moving backwards, drawing her back to the center of the room. The children were no longer seen in the grand scope of life's flow, but they were still there in every iota of matter. It was reassuring to Saruna. It kept her balanced. It allowed her to feel as if this place was in some way hers, no matter how strange and unexpected.

Light bathed her as she stepped into the very center of the room. It was a friendly warmth, and Saruna uplifted her face to it.

"Is this what you want?" The water-woman asked, stroking Saruna's hair.

"Yes."

"This is your desire?"

"Yes."

"You are set upon this path?"

"Yes."

The water woman's hands slipped down to cradle Saruna's cheeks, lifting her face so she looked not towards the light, but towards the woman. "Thrice have I asked, and thrice have you replied. Let it be so."

Cradled by the motherly warmth of the water-woman, Saruna felt herself smote from the only existence she had ever known.
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Re: Diverged Roads: Road Less Traveled

Post by Breda Dreaughan » Wed Oct 09, 2013 7:55 pm

The woman let go. The weight of the lead armor came crushing back down on Breda. Her vertebrae cracked and her knees buckled. The water-woman watched with a sad expression as the dwarf collapsed on the cavern floor.

Breda looked up, tears running down her face. "Don't leave me like this."

"For now, I must. Do what we ask of you, and we can give you all that back."

Suddenly, a warm light was flooding to the cavern. The woman reached down and again pulled Breda on her feet.

"Is this what you want?" She asked.

"No," Breda said. Her stomach hurt so much she wanted to double over. "Yes." Again, there was the faint echo of someone else's voice. Yes.

"This is your desire?"

"Yes." Yes.

"You are set upon this path?"

"Yes." Yes.

"Thrice have I asked, and thrice have you replied. Let it be so."

Breda ran a callused hand across her face. The weight of her own body was becoming easier to bear. "So, what is it what you want me to do?"

The water-woman was smiling now, rather more jubilantly than Breda would have liked. "All in due time."

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Re: Diverged Roads: Road Less Traveled

Post by Saruna » Thu Oct 10, 2013 7:11 pm

If Saruna's soul and spirit was the meat, her removal from the world felt much like a chicken's corpse in her hands as she peeled skin away from flesh. It was not painful, not for her, but the inexplicable sense of something that belonged being removed was present. Irrevocable, that sensation. Not that she was dead -- or at least she didn't think she was dead. Granted, she was experiencing sensations she'd never felt before, but she suspected feeling dead would somehow be less. . .wonderful. Was it wonderful, then? Perhaps it was more a feeling of being unchained, released from her worries, stripped down to her bones. There was a purity to bones, once absent of flesh and blood. Saruna didn't know what else she could have been: the scab had been removed and what was left wasn't at all like where she'd been left. If she could see, surely it wouldn't be the hazy green and gold that now stretched before her, with an overlay of sunset red.

The colors were in her mind. They were her. They were stretching, and pulling, thinning her until she was nothing more than membrane. After that, it was like the great weight of water she had been in was all pressing from the outside, and she was inside her fragile shell. An egg, a great cosmic egg, soft and so easily ripped. But the pressure, she could sense, was not seeking to tear her apart -- it merely wanted in. She wanted to rescue her father, didn't she? She wanted to keep the city safe, rescue the children from the great grinding gears that was the Marn government. Think of all that she had lost: was it worth it? She was so powerless alone. There was that word -- and it was true. She was isolated within herself, separated from all else. A revolution was impossible, that way. There was nothing she could do.

Fingers penetrated the membrane, followed by a hand and an arm. It was symbolic, she thought, her thoughts slow and churning. Because she was no longer part of the physical world. It was the skin, and she was the bones, and they had been peeled like onions. If she welcomed that hand, if she took it and brought it in, she would have allies. Strong allies who could shore her up, who would not leave her. She reached, with her stretched out, weary self, for that hand.

She never had to be alone again.
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