The Worm in the Apple

Factories along the northern quarter of the city for the production of goods like cloth, brewed ale, and construction materials. An old water-wheel provides power for half the city.
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Lylessa Uluki
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Name: Uluki
Race: Duskling - Fae

Post by Lylessa Uluki » Sat Nov 03, 2007 9:19 am

((NPC Post))

Rollick rested a hand on Julen’s shoulder when he saw the anger cross the younger man’s face. It was not a gesture of restraint, but of sympathy and solidarity.

He understood what Julen meant, without needing the words to be spoken. Rollick knew exactly what was threatened… and often done… by men such as these mercenaries. He had seen the results of it many times, much as he wished he hadn’t. Rape horrified Rollick, always had, and he couldn’t imagine how any man could justify such wickedness to himself. He didn’t understand how a man could take any gratification or satisfaction from a woman’s pain. Rollick was very glad Rosemary had escaped that ordeal, though he had no doubt the fear itself held plenty of bad memories for her… and for Julen. The gods knew Rollick had worried often enough that such a thing would happen to Uluki.

The main ill effect from the belief that fairies were promiscuous was not to honour— though Rollick hated the implications made about his wife, he and she both knew she was faithful, and words were just words. No, the real problem came when a man felt he could do anything he wanted to a fairy woman, claiming that simply by existing, she was just asking for it. Claiming to be “bewitched” by her rather than by his own sick, destructive desires…

There was nothing anyone could do to Uluki that would make Rollick stop loving her. That went without saying… though he had said it to her just in case, just to make sure she knew. No matter what, they would get through it together. Still, he didn’t want her to experience that pain. He wanted desperately to protect her from suffering and harm. He only wanted to see her safe and happy, forever.

Rollick tried to convey all that understanding, all that shared concern, through the hand on Julen’s shoulder, though he said nothing. This was one of those times he just didn’t have the words.

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Post by Quinn » Sun Nov 04, 2007 5:05 pm

Quinn listened, doing the 'quiet intensity' thing that had taken her almost a year to perfect for the stage. it was great punctuation for when she had to remain on stage and in character, but not really do much. Her mind was more than pessimistic enough about human nature to fill in the blanks in what Julen was saying, and it almost disgusted even her. She made the decision not to perform a tell-tale downcasting of the eyes on that thought - her cover was deep enough. And some things, perhaps, shouldn't be played at.

For a moment, she allowed her thoughts to flicker back to the people she'd known growing up. Would the mercenaries have gone after Brighella's jewels? Were children she'd known as a child even now being pushed about by mercenaries, or living here as refugees? The thought both excited and terrified her. If she could go in front of someone she'd known as Arlechina and not be recognised, she would feel great about herself, but there was always the fear - however irrational - that she could get caught.

Julen's story, she thought, was a good one. A noble attack, to banish these nasty mercenaries and save the poor little farm boys. She wondered where it fit into Uluki's scheme.

"Thank you," she said, eventually, referring to Julen's welcoming words. "For answering my questions, I mean."

She stopped watching the people she was with so much and started watching the surroundings, looking for anything that would give her an excuse to get away from supervision for a bit. Her best bet to carry out this plan would be to create some kind of plausible alibi, get away, change and come back to where Uluki and Rollick were staying as somebody else. Perhaps later she would have some errand to run, or some job to do.

If Uluki and her family went with the warriors to Shim, Quinn would probably have to follow, if she hadn't finished with them. Interesting thought. She'd been lots of places since she left home, but back was not one of them.

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Post by Julen » Mon Nov 05, 2007 12:16 am

Feeling Rollick’s hand on his shoulder, Julen gave the elder warrior a nod and a small smile of gratitude. He didn’t doubt that Rollick understood what it had been like to return and find Rosemary in such be haunted by nightmares about what might have happened if he’d returned even a few hours later. Uluki could clearly take care of herself, but she seemed so small, inhabiting a world that misunderstood and mistrusted her kind. Like Rosemary, she was vulnerable. Doubtlessly, Rollick spent every day trying to minimize the risks she faced, but there would always be close calls, missteps, times when danger couldn’t be kept completely at bay. Unless they locked their wives in gilded cages, some unpleasantness would inevitably reach them. But knowing that something was unavoidable didn’t necessarily make it any less agonizing.

Rollick’s obvious sympathy reminded Julen of something else he wanted to talk to Uluki’s husband about. But not here. Not in front of Asra and Kira.

“You’re quite welcome,” he assured Asra, after she thanked him. “It’s been a pleasure to meet you both. But there’s much to be done, so I’ll leave Rollick to finish your tour.”

Then, directing his words at Rollick, Julen continued. “I’m going to help with the digging. However, if you get a chance, I’d appreciate some archery lessons. I got a new bow...” Julen hesitated for a moment. He felt sure that his new bow had a name, but for the life of him, he couldn’t remember what it was. Lately, it seemed like his gear changed on a nearly daily basis. And, try as he might, he just couldn’t keep track of all the terminology. “Well, it’s bigger and heavier than my hunting bow. I was hoping you could give me some advice about using it.”

“No rush, though. As time permits.” After bobbing his head to each of the young ladies, and then to Rollick, Julen set off in search of a shovel.
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

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Lylessa Uluki
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Name: Uluki
Race: Duskling - Fae

Post by Lylessa Uluki » Mon Nov 05, 2007 1:42 am

((NPC Post))

Rollick nodded. “Of course. I would be happy to help as I can. I’ll finish showing these two around, then join you shortly.”

He hoped that he would actually be of help to Julen. Rollick had been trained fairly extensively, but hadn’t used a bow frequently in recent years. It had been awhile since he’d owned one. Still, it generally seemed to come back when he needed it to. He’d take a few shots at a target himself before he consulted with Julen, just to get back into the mindset, back into the swing of things.

He mentally debated how to frame the next words. “It would be good for us to have the opportunity to talk, as well. Uluki told me that you and Rosemary offered that if anything should happen to the two of us, you would look after Martin and the girls.” Rollick wasn’t sure how much looking after the girls would really need. They lived with the family more for emotional reasons than for physical support. Still, it would be good for them to have the option. They shouldn’t suddenly be left alone. “I appreciate that. We both do. It sets both our minds at ease. There has been a slight alteration in the situation you should be aware of, though. So you can decide exactly how much you want to get into.”

Rollick tried to avoid looking at Kira when he said this, but didn’t quite manage it. A telltale glance, albeit a brief one, indicated who he meant.

“It’s not a matter we need to discuss now, but we can speak later.” Rollick acknowledged Julen’s departure with an answering bob of his head, then turned back to Kira and Asra.

“So… shall we continue? I’m sure you have many questions about this place, and I’ll do my best to answer satisfactorily.”

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Post by Quinn » Tue Nov 06, 2007 5:17 am

Quinn nodded back at Julen as he left, pleased at the impression she had made in character. She had not really been prepared for how trusting people would be around here.

The line about the girls and Julen was interesting. If Uluki and Rollick planned to leave the bodyguards to Julen, did it mean he was their second in command? Or was there some sort of plan they had that involved faking 'something happening' to them? The glance at Kira had not escaped her attention. She was surprised at how protective she felt of the poor girl, but she wasn't sure she'd trust Julen with her. Never trust anybody who'll trust me. They're too gullible.

"I do have a question," Quinn fixed her eyes on Rollick's, searching for any hints of a magical glint or similar. "You know Uluki, can she..." she lowered her voice, not wanting to come accross as a troublemaker or get anyone arrested... yet. "Can she do magic?"

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Lylessa Uluki
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Post by Lylessa Uluki » Tue Nov 06, 2007 7:02 am

((NPC Post))

For the first time since meeting Asra, Rollick felt uncomfortable. She was staring into his eyes like she was looking for something. He wasn’t sure whether she’d found it or not, but it was disconcerting.

That wasn’t so unusual, though. Rollick was often the subject of curiosity. People would examine his eyes for any trace of madness or evil, any taint that might linger from his possession. They would watch their backs around him, fearful that at any moment the long-banished evil would return. They seemed to expect him to go on a rampage without warning. Rollick hadn’t thought Asra would know about that possession a decade ago, but maybe someone had mentioned it to her when his attention was elsewhere. Yes, that must be it. That must be what she was looking for in his eyes; she must fear him for the same reason others had in the past. The only way to reassure her on that score was to let her see from his behaviour that he was free of darkness and taint. He was a consistent man who posed no danger to her or to any of the others here, and she would see that in time.

He was about to let his guard down again when Asra asked about Uluki and magic. That was the worst thing she could have done right at that moment. The dropped voice didn’t reassure him, not after how she’d stared at him.

If he hadn’t been on edge already he wouldn’t have been suspicious. He wouldn’t have told her anything— he didn’t even know her— but he wouldn’t have been overly concerned. Stories of fairy magic were known to nearly everyone, and it wasn’t strange that she would be curious. But after the way he’d searched his eyes, the question seemed far less innocuous, and he was painfully aware that answering wrongly could mean serious trouble for his wife. He suddenly felt fiercely protective of Uluki… but he didn’t know how to protect her now, when he had to use words instead of a sword. He felt dangerously inadequate to the task.

“Fae are by definition magical creatures, as is common knowledge.” Rollick saw no point in denying that, since it would so obviously be a lie to claim otherwise. “Uluki isn’t like the fairies you may have heard of in the stories. She doesn’t have the power to ensnare, or to manipulate the minds of mortals. She isn’t able to alter the world around her to suit her fancies. She’s simply a kind woman who helps others as much as she can. I think you’ll see that her life is surprisingly mundane.”

Rollick wondered if he was being paranoid. Probably so. But it was Uluki’s life potentially on the line, and he wasn’t going to take any risks. It was too important. Uluki was too important. Innocent as Asra seemed, she could pose a very real danger. Though Rollick saw no reason for major concern yet, he would definitely keep an eye on things. Just to be on the safe side.

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Post by Quinn » Tue Nov 06, 2007 10:14 am

Quinn realised her mistake the second she'd finished speaking, and watched rather more discreetly the emotions flowing over his face. No hint of anything that looked at all magical in his eyes, registered the part of her brain that wasn't worrying about being found out. He seems more hurt than anything - as someone would, she supposed, if you indirectly insinuated something about the person they love.

She could save this, she realised. Not just by the usual procedure of subtly upping the ante on vulnerability, which she was doing anyway without thinking, but in a way that would leave him in no doubt as to her good intentions.

Rollick was, she noticed, as you would expect from most warriors, not a skilled player of the complex game of conversation, and Quinn would have to keep an eye on that so as not to overshoot herself again. She could think of this as a learning experience.

It was a fact, actually, that she rarely felt secure in an assumed identity until she had run into a couple of cases of suspicion and got out of them. Otherwise, how did she know whether she had a good character? How did she know where the boundries lay unless she ran into them? Besides, as believability went, it was child's play to keep someone's belief in a person standing right in front of them, compared to getting them to suspend their disbelief when it came to a person standing on a stage somewhere in the distance.

"Oh." Asra's eyes were downcast, and she looked disappointed, but not surprised. "I just wondered if, maybe..." She turned to Kira.

"I don't know if you'd like it, after what... what happened to you, but I always thought before we met that not all magic was bad. I mean, you can misuse it, but..." She looked back at Rollick, though her gaze kept shifting, as if vaguely embarassed. "I thought she might be able to help Kira." Quinn averted her eyes, anticipating some fear in Kira just at the suggestion. It was a pity, but it had to be done to save her cover. And maybe it was even true. If Uluki could be persuaded to help Kira walk and talk as a way of gaining their trust, not knowing that Asra knew about her evil ways... it was high-risk, but if it could be done it would be worth it. Something to think about.[/code]

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Lylessa Uluki
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Race: Duskling - Fae

Post by Lylessa Uluki » Tue Nov 06, 2007 9:59 pm

((NPC Post))

Kira drew back at the mention of magic being used on her, pulling away from both of them as though she could somehow protect herself by putting a few inches of space between her and them. But then she wondered… what if she let them do it? She knew it would be painful. Magic always was. Her father used to tell her it wasn’t going to hurt, back when he bothered to lie to her, but it always did, and eventually he stopped pretending that it wouldn’t. Uluki’s reassurances of her safety meant no more than her father’s had. Still, she knew she had nothing else to offer them, no reason for them to let her stay, nothing to keep them from sending her back to her father.

And maybe if she let them do this… maybe if she let them hurt her like they wanted to… she could be like the other girls. Maybe she could sit on Uluki’s lap. Maybe Rollick would hug her. The thought of that much physical contact scared her, but at the same time it was oddly enticing. Then she could pretend she wasn’t alone. But she would have to let them hurt her first— she had no other way to make herself acceptable to them. She was no magical bodyguard. She couldn’t give them what the other girls had given in exchange for their affection. But maybe if they did their magic on her, they could learn from what her father did to her. Maybe that would make them like her, because it would advance their knowledge. Her father had told her that was all she was good for, being a test subject to advance the knowledge of magic. That meant pain, and she was scared of pain. But it might be worth it. She needed to give it some more thought.

Rollick was willing to accept Asra’s explanation. How could anyone look at Kira and not want to do something to help? The problem, of course, was how to help Kira without doing damage. Uluki could heal the girl’s body at any time, without asking permission, but that would do more harm to her mind. It couldn’t be a matter of force. The physical injuries would have to wait till she was mentally prepared to accept help.

Yes, he could accept that explanation… but it wasn’t quite enough to restore trust fully, not when things were so dangerous for Uluki. Most likely Asra’s reasons were exactly what she had said they were, but best to remain watchful and not say too much.

“Uluki is quite adept at providing remedies for health problems. When Kira is ready, I’m sure there is much she can do to help.” He glanced at Kira after saying this, but she looked away.

Once again Rollick felt he was losing the game of words. Smooth talk was not his forte. But at least he had done what he could to reassure Asra without any harm to Uluki. The situation should be safe enough, and it was very unlikely Asra posed any kind of threat... but he must not mention magic.

A moment later, Uluki herself joined them, with a smile at all three of them. She carried the baby in the pouch, strapped across the front of her body, leaving her hands free.

“Is Dash…?” Rollick wasn’t sure how to ask.

“She’s alright, I think. But we need to keep an eye out to make sure she stays that way.”

Rollick nodded. “I told Julen I would help him with his archery practice. Do you think you could…?” He didn’t want to make it sound like having her take over with the two young women was a task, a burden, but he wanted to make sure they had what they needed.

“Of course.” She smiled again. “Kira, I’d like to talk to you for a few minutes if you’re willing.” Kira nodded, seeming a little preoccupied. “Asra, you mentioned wanting to help. There are some projects that might interest you. You could learn knitting with Becky, help Martha with the food, or help my daughter begin digging the garden plot. Most people are working on the fortifications, so you could also join them. Then you’d have plenty of company, and get to know people.”

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Post by Quinn » Fri Nov 09, 2007 6:45 am

Quinn internally winced at Kira's reaction to the suggestion, even though it was exactly what she had expected. She hoped, now she'd thought about it, that Kira would come round to the idea.

She noticed that Rollick's reply took care not to mention the m-word, and that interested her. It seemed that Uluki's control did extend to when he wasn't near her, and she didn't want anyone even hearing the word magic in connection with what she did. She was only halfway through thinking about that when Uluki reappeared. Had she somehow known what we were talking about?

Quinn was glad to hear the suggestions of jobs put forward, because it might mean she'd have a chance to slip away, but her eyes flickered to Kira - would she be alright left in the company of the fairy? Quinn eventually decided that she would have to be. If she was going to advance this investigation, it would have to be now.

"I think... if it's alright, I'd like to help at the fortifications. Get to know people, and.. yeah. If I don't see one of you, I'll come back in a few hours." She gave a small, brave smile as she glanced around, as if to indicate that, against all expectations, she felt safe here. The compound was a big, exciting, safe enclosure from the outside world, and if she could help make it safer, then that was even better.

She shot a last glance at Kira. "I'll see you later," she said pointedly, wanting to make sure Kira knew she wasn't being abandoned.

Then she turned away, her thoughts immediately falling back into step with Quinn the spy, buzzing about plans and schemes and plotting her next move carefully.

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Lylessa Uluki
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Post by Lylessa Uluki » Fri Nov 09, 2007 8:38 am

Uluki nodded goodbye to Asra, then gave Rollick a quick peck on the cheek before he set off to find Julen. Left alone with the baby and Kira, she turned to the girl and said, “Shall we find a place to talk?” Going back to their room wasn’t feasible; Uluki couldn’t get Kira up the stairs. Still, there were a few spots downstairs that were private enough.

“Kira, I would never, ever hurt you. I only want to help you. If you let me heal you, it wouldn’t do any harm to you. Your pain would go away. You’d be able to walk, and probably talk. You wouldn’t have to sacrifice anything. All you have to do is accept help willingly given.”

Kira stared at Uluki, trying to understand. Why was she being nice to her? If it was true, if it really wouldn’t hurt, why would Uluki do it? What was the benefit to the fairy woman? Kira couldn’t see any. Surely there were more than enough people here to be servants, whole people who didn’t need to be fixed. Besides, Kira didn’t know how to do anything.

Uluki’s face was kind, and she smiled with her eyes, not just her mouth. It would be so easy to believe her. It would be so easy to imagine her as a giver of gifts…

These thoughts never would have crossed Kira’s mind if it hadn’t been for the other girl, Dash. If Uluki and Rollick had only had the baby and Zee, Kira would never have imagined she could be part of such a family. They would have been a breed apart, unattainably different from her. She would never have considered the possibility she could be like them. But it was seeing Dash, both in the flesh and in the pictures on the wall, that made regret well up in Kira. Seeing the girl who shared her face drove into her heart what she had lost, or maybe never had in the first place. It was like looking into a magic mirror and seeing herself as she could have been, happy and safe. It was deeply painful— but at the same time, it was like a faint flicker of hope. Maybe she could be safe and happy too. Maybe she could trust. Kira’s gnarled fingers reached toward the blue hand…

At the last moment she pulled back, fear and bewilderment on her face. She didn’t want to hurt. She couldn’t trust. Survival first. No one would protect her; she had to protect herself. She couldn’t do it. Kira’s arm dropped back to her side.

“That’s alright. It can wait until you’re ready.”

Uluki occupied the next few hours with mundane tasks, while Kira stayed with Dash and Martin. After awhile Uluki decided to go out to survey the progress being made on the garden, and to try to decide what to plant. She would try more plants on the roof too, but that would take more effort to set up. For now she would be satisfied with a small, compact plot at ground level. Uluki smiled thinking about the garden, but she was interrupted before she made it out the door to check on it.


Uluki was about to correct Jenny, to remind her she didn’t have to talk to Uluki like a superior, but the look on the woman’s face told her it wasn’t the time to quibble over semantics. Jenny’s eyes were huge and wild, and her skin was white as chalk. “What happened? What can I do?”

“It’s Becky, Missus. She fell down the stairs.”

Uluki’s heart skipped a beat. “How badly is she hurt?” Jenny wouldn’t look this frightened if it had only been a close call. Uluki was glad some time had passed since she had healed anyone; she should be able to summon up enough magic for whatever the emergency was.

“She’s hurt pretty bad. I don’t know how long she’d been lying there before I found her. She’s bleeding.”

“Any contractions?”

“I think so.”

That wasn’t the answer Uluki had been hoping for. “Alright. I’ll come check on her.”

Jenny had managed to get Becky off the floor and into an empty storeroom. The pregnant woman’s brow was soaked with sweat, and her breath came in sharp gasps. There was far, far too much blood. Uluki knelt beside her. “Is the baby coming?” Becky asked, sounding a little distant.

“Looks like it. Don’t be scared. It’s going to be alright.”

“Can’t. Not yet. Too early.”

“No, it’s not too early. Your baby is old enough to be born.” Well, close at least. The baby was developed enough Uluki would be able to save it.

“I’m scared.”

“Don’t be. I’ve never lost a mother, and rarely lost a child. I’ve seen worse than this.” She had, although this was pretty damn bad. So much blood, and a lot of damage besides. “You and your baby will be just fine.”

Becky looked a little more confident after hearing that, and tried to grasp Uluki’s hand, but her fingers slipped away as she lost consciousness. That would make things easier. Having quickly surveyed the damage, Uluki knew what would need to be done. This baby needed to be born... and fast.

“Jenny, I need clean cloths, a sharp knife, and a bowl of water, please. Blankets too, if you can find some. As quickly as you can.” Uluki would need string too, but she had some with her. As Jenny went to fetch the other supplies, Uluki began healing the internal damage. As she did so, she felt the baby’s distress as well as the mother’s.

When Jenny returned, Uluki took the knife from her. “You’re going to have to trust me, alright?”

Jenny nodded. She didn’t say anything, though her eyes widened as Uluki cut across Becky’s abdomen. Uluki was careful not to cut the baby because it would be so fragile and she didn’t want to kill it while she tried to save it. She planned to heal Becky fast enough that any injury to her wouldn’t matter. “Jenny, I need you to help me.” She pulled the baby out of Becky, then handed the child to Jenny to hold as she tied off and cut the cord. “Wrap her in a cloth and hold her for a minute. Try to clean out her nostrils a little if you can, so she can breathe better.”

If Jenny was worried that the child hadn’t cried, she didn’t voice the concern. She cradled the baby as Uluki tended to Becky, healing the damage she had done extracting the baby as well as the residual wounds from the fall. As she finished, Becky’s eyes snapped open. “It went fine,” Uluki said soothingly. “You have a little girl.”

“But she’s…”

“I know.” The child was smaller than she should be, and had taken damage too when her mother fell. “It’s not as bad as you think, though.” It was probably worse, but it wouldn’t be for long. Uluki took the cloth-wrapped bundle from Jenny, and pressed the baby gently against her chest and held her for a few moments. That was all it took. Fragile as they were, infants were also deceptively sturdy, and were usually easy to heal. The little one drew a deep, normal breath for the first time, then began to cry. She was still smaller than most newborns, but was healthy now. That accomplished, Uluki handed her to Becky. “Congratulations,” she said with a smile.

Becky looked at the baby, and saw that Uluki was telling the truth. Her little one would be fine. She stroked the child, comforting her. “Do you … do you think that I’ll be a good mother? I mean, I haven’t done so good at looking after myself. You have a baby, so you know what it’s like. Do you think I’ll be able to look after this kid?” Becky’s eyes were huge, full of awe and terror that she was suddenly responsible for a tiny life.

“Yes, I do,” Uluki told her with certainty. “You love your baby, and you want what’s best for her, so you’ll take good care of her. Being worried is normal. I was worried about the same thing when I had my baby. I didn’t know if I would be a good mother or not. I’m not a perfect mother, nor will you be— not because of your past, but because nobody is. There’s no such thing as a perfect parent. You’ll make some mistakes. Everybody does. But you’ll learn from them, and you’ll love your little girl, and it’ll all turn out alright.”

Of course, Becky faced challenges Uluki hadn’t. Rollick was an eager, involved parent, and utterly besides the extra pair of hands, sharing the task of raising the baby with him meant Uluki wasn’t under so much pressure not to mess it up. The responsibility wasn’t all in her hands. It would be in Becky’s. Uluki hadn’t asked who the father was, or if Becky even knew. It didn’t really matter, since he didn’t seem to be in the picture anymore. Becky wasn’t completely alone, though. She had lots of friends who cared about her and the baby.

Becky looked up at Uluki. “I was wondering. I mean, after what you done for us… I know it was bad. I know me and the baby weren’t in good shape, and I don’t know what you did, but we’re alright now, and I know it’s because of your help. So I wondered… I was going to call her Nina after my poor dead mother, but I was wondering… if I could call her after you too?” She sounded hesitant, as though she thought Uluki might say no.

Uluki couldn’t imagine how anyone could turn down such a gift. “I would be deeply honoured. Thank you.” She had never had a baby named for her before. It was a heady feeling. “You should get some rest now. It’s been a rough day. For both of you.” She tucked the blankets around Becky, making her comfortable.

Jenny clearly wanted to stay with Becky and the baby, which seemed a good idea, but her expression suggested she wanted to talk to Uluki first.

Stepping outside the door for a moment, Jenny laid a hand on her arm. “I just wanted to say… it’s amazing what you did. She was bleeding so bad, and you fixed her up with just some herbs and stitching her up. You done a good job.”

Uluki looked at her, puzzled. “But you saw…”

“Yeah, I saw. Everybody already knows, anyway.”

Uluki’s jaw dropped. “Everybody…?” She was dead. It was all over.

“Not every detail. They don’t know exactly what you do. You been clever about keeping it to yourself. But people can’t help but notice that them who were gonna die, they live when you’re around. They can’t help but see you take pain away.” Jenny took in Uluki’s worried expression. “Don’t you worry about it. Ain’t nobody going to say anything. That’s one thing we from the shanty town can do, is keep things to ourselves, and not ask questions we don’t care to know the answers to. Anyone says anything, gets you in trouble, they ain’t going to find any friends among the rest of us. We protect our own.”

“And I… I’m your own?” Uluki sounded hopeful.

“I don’t mean you’re a whore too or nothing. But yeah, you been a friend to us. We’ll look out for you. Anybody asks me, you fixed Becky up with stitches and herbs. They keep asking, we all put on our stupid shanty towner faces and say we don’t know a thing at all. Them people with their magic laws ain’t never done a thing for us. Not likely we’d let ‘em take our friend away.”

Uluki threw her arms around Jenny and hugged her tight.

“Gods, Uluki, you’re shaking. Were you that scared?”

“No. Yes. Not about the magic laws, but I was that scared.”

“About what, then?”

“I was scared I couldn’t save Becky and her baby. I was afraid they were going to die. I didn’t want us to lose them.”

Jenny looked like she couldn’t decide whether to laugh or weep. Uluki felt exactly the same way. They clung to each other, shaking with chuckles, with tears streaming down their faces.

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Post by Quinn » Sat Nov 10, 2007 7:50 am

It was a relief to shed Asra, in somebody's back room that they had carelessly left unattended with only a childishly simple lock on the door. Being scared and hurt and woebegotten really did take it out of you, and for the second time today Quinn felt herself longing for a drink, a smoke, and the company of drunks, gamblers, swindlers, actors and other fellow low-lives. She could sleep, too. She sighed and dismissed the thought.

Quinn took her coat off and spread it out on the floor, quickly removing the ragged dress to reveal a plain black tunic underneath. She folded the rags into a pocket of the coat, and from a discreet hole removed several thin scarves that had been secreted one-layer-deep in the lining. She put the coat on with its bright red side facing out, wound a black scarf round her neck, slightly covering her mouth, and another one round her head, in the style of some women from the lands to the east of Thar Shaddin. A few touches of makeup, some ostentatious earrings, and there she was, some kind of non-specifically foreign, slightly older woman. She looked kind of like a cross between two of Quinn's favourite personas, Zanni and Columbina, but she was the best that could be done in a hurry. Her bland features were now almost completely unrecognisable as the destitute young girl she had been ten minutes ago. There was almost nothing to recognise - the hollow cheeks and contrast between eyes and face had gone, replaced by scarlet slips and kohl-rimmed eyes, and that was really all that was memorable about Asra's appearance.

Now the hard bit. She pulled out some paper and a pen, and started writing, in an elaborate, flowery script. Quinn had as many handwriting styles as she had faces.

She took some time over the phrasing, but essentially she got in what she needed to say. If the sympathy angle had worked before, it might work again. Even if it didn't, the hint that somebody might be on to the magic use would - after all, hadn't Panterras called Rollick a colleague? And once Rollick initiated contact with him, perhaps Panterras could work out some way to break this spell. Just the contact would have to be worth something, money-wise, to Panterras' spy. And if I -

Quinn swore loudly as she heard a door click open elsewhere in the building. Quick as a flash she grabbed the letter and the pen and was over a wall out of sight, but she had had to leave the door unlocked, rather than neatly locking it after her like she usually did. It wasn't neat, that was all. It bugged her.

She got up, regretting her decision to make this trip without any decent shoes, adjusted her scarves and made her way back to where Uluki and Rollick were staying.

Quinn knew she looked slightly conspicuous, but in anything more refugee-ish she'd just look like Asra. Given a good hour with her makeup, wound wax and a decent wig and she felt she could probably manage a refugee who didn't, but not now. She would have to cope with being slightly out of place.

Despite that she managed to slip in pretty much unnoticed; with most people being too busy to pay attention to any random non-threatening person who happens to pass by. How was she going to do this..?

One person she noticed, was much stiller; an older man sitting and doing something with a bit of wood. She crossed over to him, realising suddenly that Uluki was probably still somewhere in the building and feeling the first wave of that heady I-can't-believe-I'm-getting-away-with-this feeling that she practically lived for.

The older man noticed her as she approached. "Excuse me, sir," she said politely, with just a trace of an accent. "You wouldn't happen to know Rollick, would you?"

Quinn saw the recognition warm in his eyes. A friend, she surmised. "I do. Good man," he replied.

"Yes," she said vaguely. "Yes," she added, just in case the old man read the letter, "I was rather hoping he was. It's just... I understand he must be a busy man, but the next time you see him, would you mind giving him this?" She presented him with the letter, unsealed, but with a hair folded into it more out of habit than any real security against being read by others.

She could feel herself being sized up, albeit briefly. Quinn generally did what she could to not have to deal with the wisdom of the ages - older people, in her experience, were so much better at spotting frauds. Apparently she passed for harmless, or at least he failed to see what harm could be caused by a letter.

She was flying again, just a little bit, when he took the letter. It was all so easy. However, she decided he wasn't the type to push for information, so she very politely excused herself. She entertained brief thoughts of staying around, trying to overhear some conversations or something, but she was far too close to the headquarters here. She had great confidence in her diguises, but she still tried not to let people see her as two people on the same day if she could help it. Instead, she found somewhere with well-covered exits to change back into Asra and set back out into the compound.

As she turned her first corner back in costume, she bowed her head for a moment to get into character, and almost winced as the mixture of fear, sadness and pathetic hope flooded back. This was the sort of gig that would take being drunk for a week to get out of her head at the end of it all. It reminded her of the time she'd played the daughter in that tragedy nearly a year ago - she'd gone method with it. Really putting yourself into that mindset night after night... she still had nightmares sometimes. Actors were screwed up people, she realised. Suitably shaken and jaded, but with a faint, slightly wry smile on her face, she headed off to the fortifications, estimating that she still had half an hour or so before she'd be expected.

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Lylessa Uluki
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Post by Lylessa Uluki » Sat Nov 10, 2007 6:40 pm

Rollick read the note that was given to him, his brow furrowing with puzzlement and worry, and then he went to find Uluki. He wanted her opinion on how to resolve the matter— relied on her opinions— and it never occurred to him not to consult her immediately.

He found her with Jenny, still sharing mingled laughter and tears. “Is everything alright?” Rollick recognized a release of tension when he saw one, though he couldn’t guess the cause.

Uluki wiped her tears away with the back of her hand. “We had a bit of a scare with Becky, but everything is alright now. She had a baby girl. She named her Nina-Uluki, after her mother, and after me.” Though her words were matter of fact, it was clear that this pleased her greatly. “Both of them are fine.”

Rollick breathed a silent sigh of relief that all was well now. “I’m glad to hear it. I’m very happy for her.”

“Did you need to talk to me?” Much as she was content to bask in the joy of the new birth, her husband seemed worried about something, and she didn’t want to delay giving it her attention.

Seeing a convenient break in the conversation, Jenny said, “I’d best be getting back to Becky, then.”

“Thank you so much for your help. Also your…” Uluki didn’t want to come out and say “discretion.”

Jenny nodded. “Least I can do.”

“Please give Becky my congratulations,” Rollick requested, and agreeing to do so, Jenny returned to her friend’s side. When she had left, Uluki gave Rollick a questioning look, and Rollick simply passed her the letter.

Her first impression was relief that this note was apparently not from the same sender as the last one. The paper and envelope were of a completely different type, and the writing was feminine and flourishing. That was good. With that settled, she read the text itself.

For the attention of a Mr Rollick,

I am writing to you because I don't know who else to contact about this. I am the neighbour of a man called Barmitheon Panterras. I do not mean to pry, but I could not help noticing that Lord Panterras health seems to be deteriorating, and it has been speculated that this is due to certain dubious illegal activities that he has been involved in. I am sure that these rumours that he is breaking the anti-magic laws are completely unfounded - to me, he just seems to be an old man who needs a friend. My aquaintance with him is not long and he is not free with his speech, but he has mentioned your name. I am given to understand that your friendship is past, but he shows interest in renewing it.

To be honest, I have for weeks been putting off sending this letter, because I know it is none of my business, but it pains me greatly to see an old man so unwell and alone. I understand he recently lost a daughter, too. I hope you will find it in your heart to at least contact him and tell him you would like to speak with him again.

Yours sincerely,
Alliya Lewton
A concerned neighbour

After reading the note, Uluki studied Rollick’s face, trying to figure out the emotions stirred up by the letter. After a moment he told her, saving her having to guess what was on his mind.

“That makes no sense.”

“It doesn’t? You were his closest friend.”

“Well, yes, but why would he show up here? Is he near us by lucky coincidence alone? And if he was aware of where I was and still wanted to know me, why not simply contact me himself?”

Uluki breathed deeply. “Because of me, love.”

“You? Why?”

“Because I doubt he’s forgiven me, and he may not understand why you have.”

“But that was a misunderstanding. You were trying to do the right thing. You didn’t mean to…”

“He lost everything, Rollick. I know you did too, but not everyone is able to accept it so philosophically. If he knows you’re with me, he may think you’ve picked me over him. He might not be sure if you even want to see him.”

“So you think he just misses me?”

“I would miss you.”

He smiled and wrapped an arm around her, drawing her close. When she leaned against him, he kissed the side of her forehead. “You’re sweet. It just seems strange, though.”

She had to agree with that. “And you thought he was dead?”

“Well, yes, Beresford told me they’d found the bodies of all the other Council members.”

“Maybe Beresford made a mistake?”

“Maybe Beresford was lying through his teeth. He was good at that, as you’ll recall we discovered later. And I was in no condition to see the truth for myself, of course.”

Uluki shuddered involuntarily. That was before they were together. Before they were even friends. Back when he was her mortal enemy, along with the rest of the Council, and they all had every intention of fighting to the death. Thinking back on that day, his blood and his shattered face, made her shiver. “I’m so sorry…”

“You’ve apologized over and over for that, and it was no more your fault than mine. No more being sorry.” His tone was gentle, and his arm around her made her feel warm and safe. “That wasn’t the point. All I meant was that I had no proof other than Beresford’s rather questionable word that Barmitheon was dead, but at the time I had no reason to question it. I thought Kira was dead too, and clearly that isn’t the case either.”

“About that, how…?”

“No idea. I didn’t know Beresford well enough at the time to disbelieve him about Barmitheon, but I did have the Diviners try to find Kira. I had little hope she had survived, but Beresford made no claims to have found her body, nor was a living child ever found who matched her description. We all ended up in the same place… or so we thought.”

Uluki nodded. That had seemed to be the case. “And the Diviners said she was dead?”

“Well, they said she didn’t exist anymore, which I took to mean the same thing. Gods, magic is confusing!”

She nodded sympathetically. “So what do you want to do?” She had some ideas of her own on the subject, but it was Rollick’s friend they were talking about, and she wanted to hear his thoughts first.

“Well, I need to go check on him. If his health is failing, he needs my help. I can’t simply stand by and do nothing while he quietly dies somewhere, alone. He was my friend.”

“I agree. We should find him as soon as possible.”

“No, not ‘we.’ I should go alone. It could be dangerous.”

“Yes, it could. Life is dangerous, Rollick.”

“But there’s no reason for you to risk…”

“No reason at all? You can’t imagine how, say, a healer might be useful to your sick friend?” In spite of her playful tone, she was serious about the words.

Rollick suddenly looked deeply torn. He knew she was absolutely right, but he didn’t want her to be, because it meant she would be walking into danger with him. On the other hand, loving worry aside, he knew she was quite capable. “It could be a trap.”

“Yes, it could, and that’s why we’re going to be very, very careful.” Her voice was determined and calm.

“I don’t want you getting hurt.”

“I know, love. This is my job, though. People who need healing are at risk themselves by definition, and sometimes a healer has to take a little risk too. I’ll be alright, Rollick.”

“Yes, you will. You’re strong. But I love you, and I’ll always be concerned for your safety.”

“And I for yours. So it’s good for us to go together.”

He smiled at her. “You’re right. Just remember that although Barmitheon was my friend, I haven’t seen him in a decade, and I don’t know how he’s changed. He seemed to be getting somewhat unstable. And now that we’ve seen Kira, I wonder…”

“We won’t mention Kira to him, of course.”

“Right. She doesn’t go back to him, not till we’re sure what happened, and not unless she wants to. It’s her choice, not his.”

“Rollick, I hope everything will be alright. I hope your friend won’t… disappoint you.”

“I do too, dear one.” Another kiss. “I do too.”

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Post by Quinn » Mon Nov 12, 2007 5:53 am

After a brief visit to the fortifications, where she intoduced herself to a few people who would remember she was there but not how long she'd been there, Quinn returned to the Hall.

She watched the few people she could see for signs of where things were happening, which, in her experience, tended to be where the fairy was, but there wasn't really a strong indication of anything. Either nothing was going on, or whatever was happening was a private party. She wandered until she heard the sounds of Uluki and Rollick's voices. When she heard them Quinn stayed where she was, not frozen in position, but in a loose neutral stance she could stay in for as long as she needed, taking care not to make little noises. Big noises were fine, like other people talking; they would just be ignored, but little noises, like other people whispering, always caught the attention and the imagination.

It sounded promising. Quinn had no idea that Panterras had been thought dead, or what the Council or Beresford was, but she stored away the information for later use. What she did understand of the conversation sounded promising - although hesitant, Rollick seemed willing to believe that Panterras was just a lonely old man.

She was glad that they had decided not to bring up Kira. What she hadn't expected was that they would choose to go tonight, which was what their words implied. That would be fine, though. Quinn was paid to be adaptable.

She took a deep breath and gave it a good minute, then knocked hesitantly on the door of the room. "Uluki... Rollick? Are you in there?"

Edging the door open, she started talking immediately, a little too fast, doing 'slightly overstimulated child' really quite well, and it was what you'd expect from someone with Asra's disposition and history suddenly being let loose on a compound full of mostly friendly people. It was, she hoped, almost heartwarming.

"Is it alright if I go back to the fortifications? 'Cause it's good and it's like I'm helping, and everyone's really friendly, but then I realised I said I'd be back and I didn't want you to worry." A slight frown passed over her face, as if really looking at the couple for the first time. They both looked a little shaken.

"Are you alright?"

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Post by Lylessa Uluki » Mon Nov 12, 2007 6:23 am

Uluki and Rollick couldn’t help but smile at Asra’s enthusiasm. You rarely saw such excitement over digging… except for Zee, but she was quite unique. Uluki was pleased that Asra seemed to be settling in so well, and that she was so eager to help. That spoke well of her.

“Yes, we’re fine, thank you.” Uluki answered. “We’ve received news that one of Rollick’s friends is ill, so we’re concerned, but I think he’ll be alright. It doesn’t sound too serious. We’re going to check on him this evening, so you may not see us around for a bit, but there’s no need to worry.”

Rollick nodded his agreement. “And yes, of course you’re welcome to go back and help. It was kind of you to let us know you’re doing well.”

“If you’ll excuse me, I should get ready to leave.” Uluki had some preparations to make.

“I’ll talk to Merohl and Metellus about accompanying us. I think they’ll be willing, and they can help if things… don’t go as planned,” Rollick said, mostly to inform Uluki but making no attempt to hide his words from Asra.

“Perfect. I’ll see if Rosemary can babysit tonight. Dash has been watching him all day and Zee has been working hard too, so I’m sure they could use a break. I’ll change too, and we can go.”

“Thank you for your help, Asra,” Rollick said.

“Yes, it’s much appreciated,” Uluki agreed, before the couple took their leave of Asra with nods and smiles.

Having settled on the basics of a plan with Rollick, Uluki went upstairs. She washed her face and hands, and then, feeling nervous about the evening and wanting to look her best, her hair.

Once she was clean, she washed her dress. Luckily the bloodstains came out easily; that was something she always looked for in a fabric. She would have hated to see her new clothes ruined. It would take awhile to dry, so she pulled the other new dress on instead. Such pretty colours! She admired the bright yellow and deep green, turning this way and that to see how it looked in the light. It had been awhile since she’d had any new clothes, and she was enjoying it immensely.

She wasn’t able to distract herself entirely from her nervousness, however. Rollick was worried she would get hurt, would be in danger, but that wasn’t her concern. She wanted to make a good impression on Panterras. She wanted to make him understand why Rollick had married her. She didn’t want to embarrass Rollick, or make Panterras think less of him for the wife he’d chosen.

With this in mind, she cast an unusually critical look at her figure. Normally it just didn’t register in her mind as a potential worry. She had a husband who would say she was beautiful even if she was shaped like a potato, and she assumed no one else would have any reason to be concerned about it.

Would she look different than she had when Panterras last saw her? Ten years passing wasn’t enough to change one of the Fae significantly, but having a baby was. Her hips had more shape now, and her breasts were fuller, which was nice— but they suffered the effects of gravity more, which wasn’t. She doubted her belly would ever again be as flat as it had been before her pregnancy.

It wasn’t just the baby, though, she didn’t think. Her face and eyes were different. She had seen more, felt more, lost innocence but gained wisdom. It seemed like maybe she looked more peaceful, somehow. Uluki hoped she looked different. She hoped she looked like a woman, mature and responsible, not a confused girl who ruined things.

Strange that she was so worried about looking her best for the sick old man… but it wasn’t for him, really. He wasn’t the one she wanted to please. It was Rollick whose happiness she was concerned for. However well or poorly things went with Panterras, she wanted to do her best. If it went wrong, she didn’t want to be the inadvertent cause. Like she had been last time…

As she continued to fret, Rollick came in, wrapped his arms around her waist from behind, and planted a kiss on her cheek. “You look nice.”

“I’m going to take my hair down.” She fussed with it a little, trying to see if she could get it into a shape she would consider more acceptable before taking that drastic measure.

“Why? It looks good that way.”

“No it doesn’t. It looks funny.”

“You don’t look funny at all. You look lovely.”

“I don’t want to embarrass you.”

“You couldn’t if you tried.” His arms still around her, he nuzzled his face against her cheek, giving her soft kisses.

“Stop that! Or I’ll forget to be nervous,” she joked.

“That was the point, my love. Although I suppose I could stop if you really want to be nervous…” He started to pull away.

Uluki decided anxiety was overrated, and wrapped her small hands around his wrists and pulled his arms back around her. She felt her worry ebb a little. “Are the girls downstairs?” she asked casually.

“Yes. They seemed quite occupied when I last saw them. I doubt we’ll see much of them any time soon.” He started kissing her again, and she kept her hold on his wrists, keeping him close.

“Do you think they’ll miss us downstairs if we… stay here for a few minutes?”

“I can’t imagine they would,” he managed to get out between kisses.

“Are you sure I look alright?”

He murmured, “You’re the fairest of the Fair,” though his words were slightly muffled by her hair.

She turned to face him, wrapping her arms tightly around his waist. “You’re so wonderful,” she breathed. “I’m so glad you’re with me.”

“Me too, dear one.” He cupped her face in his hands, and she smiled at him.

“If we have a little while… can we…?”

He nodded and took her hand, leading her gently toward the spot where they slept.

A short time later they went back downstairs, arm in arm. Uluki’s hair was a little less perfect, but she was no longer so worried about it. She would do her best, and whatever happened, and it would all turn out alright.