Private Tales Cold Stone Hearts

Gerra

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Annuakat, lower levels.

Beneath the coastal city were a network of catacombs and natural caverns. The upper tier were used as storage. Below this lay the dungeons for the worst prisoners, where no light shines. And below even this? The bones of the ancient city. Former houses and walls.

In the middle of the day, Gerra had the princess of Salitra brought to one of these lower caverns. The tunnel ended in a dead end. Torches illuminated the circular chamber, which scholars believed had been used for magic rituals for they could find no other purpose for the smoothly carved chamber.

When she arrived, the guards left.

He looked on her and wondered if she thought she was about to die.

Probably.

Noelani suggested we spar. So we will,” he rumbled, putting an end to thoughts of immediate execution.

A pile of wooden swords, staves, clubs, daggers and other weapon facsimiles lay in the corner.

Torchlight played with shadows across Gerra’s features.

“Choose your weapon.”
 
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Nymeasha

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“I swear if you don’t take your hands off of me I’ll slit your throats in your sleep!

Nym’s bellowing voice could be heard echoing down the tunnel, her bare feet planted in the gravel as she skidded along the path, a guard on either side of her. Yes, there was fear that she was being brought to her death, marched toward it to the sound of her drumming heart, and there was the rage that anyone would dare summon her in such a way.

The guards seemed more than happy to turn and leave Nym in the cavern. She’d given them nothing but trouble and they’d had to all but drag her here. She rubbed at the indents they’d left above her elbows as she turned to sneer at them as they backed away.

Her jaw clenched at the Emperor's words. What in Arethil was Lani thinking? Her thoughts on the matter remained locked behind her teeth and she let out a quiet huff. "A polite invitation would have sufficed." Nym growled quietly and straightened up, raising her chin to regain a little of her lost pride. Hate roared in her eyes as she watched him, the torchlight seeking out her glassy emerald gaze to reflect upon.

This was meant to hurt... A beating disguised as a spar, a 'friendly' duel, a way for each of them to express their hatred and frustration of one another. Perfect.

Luckily, Nym was dressed for the occasion, in a white halter top and baggy white pants caught in at the ankles and tied at the waist, adorned with gold wrist guards and pauldrons. She pulled her raven waves up away from her face and tied it into a knot as she ran her eyes over the half-giant, as though strategising how exactly she was going to hurt him.

She stepped toward the array of training weapons and measured them against her before choosing her usual staff, each end of it shaved where the blades would normally be. She tested the weight and feel of it with a quick flourish, and decided that it would do before she stepped back in to face him, and readied her stance.

If he was planning on killing her, she wouldn't make it easy for him. She only wished she'd worn her spikes in her hair today.
 
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Gerra

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He ground his teeth as she walked forward, alone, and picked up a staff. The way the white of her garments contrasted with her umber skin. The way the tying back of her hair exposed her neck.

Gerra looked away from her as felt the anger stirring again. Anger that what he looked upon he could never touch.

Damn her.

He passed over swords, daggers, and axes, settling instead on a club with a leather wrapped and sweat stained handle. A veritable skull cracker, though it looked small in his hands.

“You would have ignored it,” he rumbled. “Come then, strike me down like you did that day. If you can.”
 
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Nymeasha

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Nym's knuckles paled as she briefly tightened her grip on the staff, jade pools betraying a flicker of anxiety as she dropped her gaze toward the weapon he'd chosen. She'd have to keep her distance, he was much too strong for her as it was, the club would hurt if swung by any normal man let alone the half-giant.

"You'd find me more than capable of diplomatic discussion if you'd given me half a chance." she told him as she paced, her eyes studying his form as she moved.. "But let's not lie to one another and pretend that you've planned a cordial exchange when you fully intend on punishing me.." she pursed her lips and chewed on her cheek.

Nym kept her heels off of the ground and seemed to move weightlessly toward him, slowly at first and then a burst of steps as she flourished her staff and aimed her first blow in a hard swing at the Emperor's face with a growl of rage.
 
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Gerra

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“You have run out of chances.”

She moved explosively. Gerra was no skilled warrior. It took years of practice with a weapon to understand it as an art, just as it took years to form a blacksmith. No, he was far from a blade master, but what he lacked in skill he made up for in sheet, unadulterated strength.

“Now we will speak...”

With a ridiculous reach advantage, he swung his club to intercept the oncoming blow with the sort of raw and hideous might that stove in helmets in a single blow and shattered stone. He did not seek to avoid her attack, but to overwhelm it with a parry that would likely cause the end of her staff to burst into splinters.

”... as equals.”
 
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Nymeasha

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The weight of the blow almost caused her to lose grip on the weapon as it was forced downward, splintering the wood and rattling almost painfully through her bones. She didn't waste much time on it and spun herself back around on her tiptoes to bring the other end of the staff up and around to aim another blow at the opposite side of his head. "As have you.." she hissed back.

With luck, he'd be slow enough to recover from the power behind his first deflection.
 
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Gerra

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The other end of her staff whipped around faster than a striking viper her and struck him alongside the head. He rocked backward, stunned and blinking away dancing motes of light from his vision as his brain registered that she’d struck him.

The muscles in his jaw bunched into knots as he grit his teeth and swung his club up to deflect any more incoming blows.

“You still don’t understand. Your father,” he rumbled, regaining his balance, “he made you an assassin. Used you. Until you let go of him and accept the truth of his nature that’s all you’ll ever be.”
 
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Nymeasha

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"Kill." Nym hissed through gritted teeth as she struck his head. If it'd been a real pole arm she'd have taken half of his head off already...If only.

"And what else would you have me be, Gerra?.." she asked, her tone not withholding her hatred of the man.

She threw the splintered weapon against the cavern wall irritably as she strode to pick two short swords from the remaining display of weapons, and she twisted them in her palms as she walked back out to face him again.

"Don't pretend that you would do anything but use me." she sneered.

The bastard knew how to push her buttons, generally speaking of her father was the way to do it. The truth was a difficult thing for Nym to come to terms with, but she knew what her father was and how he’d manipulated her, and the slow realisation had been tearing her apart.

“You’re all the fucking same.” her jaw clenched, and she rushed forward almost weightlessly to take an agile leap to balance out that extra few feet he had over her. One sword stabbed out toward his chest, the other a backhanded slash at his throat.
 
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Gerra

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So much hate swirling within her, enraging her, blinding her. He knew the inferno that blazed in her heart, for it seared in his own also.

“You don’t hate me. You don’t even hate him.”

She ran at him with her twin swords and leaped into the air. Just as she became airborne, when she could no longer maneuver fluidly without an anchor point to the ground, Gerra attacked.

“You hate,” he rumbled as he gripped his club in both hands, arched his back, then whipped it forward in a two-handed throw that sent the chunk of solid wood spinning toward her torso before she reached him.

YOURSELF.”
 
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Nymeasha

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Her tempestuous rage had forever been a weakness to her, even as a child..she'd never outgrown it. It'd been buried deep, a fire seed she'd swallowed at birth that grew and burned inside her and his words were smoky tendrils that crept in past her poorly attempted façade of stoney indifference and caused her to lash out.

Distracted, she hadn't expected him to throw and was too late to avoid his deflection. The club struck her right side with a sickening crack, the force of it sending her backward through the air to land hard on her back and roll to a stop. She cried out as she hit the ground. It hurt to breathe, and pain seared through her body as she gingerly touched at her cracked ribs.

"Fuck!!..." she growled out and slammed a fist into the ground.

Nym shot a glare up at the man from the ground and grit her teeth as she slowly began pushing herself to her feet. "Perhaps I do.. But not nearly as much as I loathe you." she spat, and reached to grab for her weapon again.
 
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Gerra

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"Stay down, girl," disgust dripped from his words like venom from an adder's fangs.

"Loathe me all you want." He picked the club off the ground and pointed it at her. "Until you learn to conquer your fear of what he made you, you will never be capable of emerging from the chrysalis of suffering."

Gerra spread his arms.

"You think I could have become an emperor if I was still concerned with the Ash King's wants and needs? And now, I am greater than he. You could surpass your father. You could give your people hope when he gave them only suffering. Don't you see?"
 
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Nymeasha

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Nym glared up at him with a seething anger mingled with the strain of agony on her face as she tried to mollify it with a few staggered breaths. She made it to her feet and found a firmer hold on both weapons, and she tried to push the pain from her mind, though as well practiced as she was at doing so, cracked ribs were difficult to ignore.

She pulled deep breaths through her nose and pursed her lips to blow them back out slowly as she shifted her weight from side to side, testing her threshold. "Oh you care.. If you didn't you wouldn't have let your temper get the better of you.." she smiled at him, though the burn on her arm was now entirely gone, she still kept it in mind.

"And I'm not afraid of what he made me." she scowled as she started to pace and circle him again. Her brow knit as she let his words in, more poison that would fester away at her mind. How could she offer her people anything?

With a growl she moved on her toes again, a quick flurry of blows aimed at his neck and torso, her jaw clenched through the pain.
 
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Gerra

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The club whipped up and wood clattered against wood with a loud, continuous thunking. Her assault was too swift and too ferocious, Gerra could not block all her strikes as they came down like buffeting sheets of rain. She struck him in the forearms, in the side, and his hip, each impact a meaty thud that left swelling bruises.

Gerra tossed aside his club with a grunt of pain and frustration, and simply seized the incoming swords by their wooden blades - one in each hand. Then he yanked, hard, seeking to drag her straight into his upcoming knee.
 
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Each rigorous strike was agony, but she landed them hard regardless. The moment he threw his weapon down and reached for her own she let go and folded her body backwards to avoid the rising knee and planted her hands on the ground, proceeding to push herself back over onto her feet though she buckled slightly as she landed and clutched at her ribs with a growl of pain.

If they'd been real blades it'd have been a ridiculous move. She composed herself quickly and jogged to pick herself another weapon, a spear this time and she ran at him with another storm of merciless attack and an attempt at jutting the weapon upward and stabbing him in the throat.
 
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Gerra

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Gerra tossed the short swords up and plucked them from the air by their hilts, wielding them like daggers in his oversized hands. He parried the thrusts of her new weapon, but barely.

“The spear counters my reach. A good choice.”

A jab came for his throat and he shunted it aside with the edge of a wooden sword, pushing it off to one side and then stepping in toward her, whipping his other sword in toward her unprotected side. He followed it up with a barrage of strikes, no longer on the defensive, seeking to beat her into the ground as he might pound an unruly scrap of metal on an anvil.

Amid the furor, he rumbled deeply, “Would that all your choices were as wise.”
 
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Nymeasha

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Nym's gaze narrowed as he commented on her choice. As though she needed any training from him. She only just managed to twist herself away from the strike aimed at her side, but the grimace on her face betrayed just how painful it was to move like that. She knew she should stop before things got worse, but she wanted to inflict a few more bruises and regain a little of her pride and control he seemed to have the ability to make her feel that she lacked in his company.

Now Nym was on the defensive, and it was precisely where she hadn't wanted to be. Her strength was feeble in comparison, but she moved fluidly on her feet and parried quickly enough to avoid any more strikes for the time being, and she tried for any opportunity to get out of his path before they reached the cavern wall. He pushed her back, and every block she made sent agonising shockwaves through her bones and right to her feet, her muscles shuddering in protest.

Her skin was clammy with sweat, causing a few unruly locks of hair to stick to her face. She attempted to push back, aware of how close to the wall she was.. "Gerra, stop." she spoke in a shuddered breath, and give her lack of space, she pressed in against him with a quick, upward thrust of her spear to the underside of his chin.
 
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Gerra

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The wooden swords came together in an X, caught the spear haft between them, and pushed it up. The tip scraped along the side of Gerra’s jaw. If it had been a real spear it would have left a nasty scar.

He dropped the swords, grabbed the spear haft in his hands, and sought to yank it away from her.

“Enough. Do not seek mercy and then strike. Betrayal begets betrayal.”
 
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Nymeasha

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Wood burned against her hands as the spear was yanked free and she leaned back against the wall, her chest lifting and falling in rapid succession as she fought for an easy breath. Nym was unarmed, cornered the man she least wanted to be cornered by and in a tremendous amount of pain. She had to resist the urge to lash out at him despite every muscle tensing in protest, beseeching her to fight or run. Neither would help her right now.

"We can only betray our friends.." she muttered, her voice strained by injury and her arm wrapped tightly around her right side. She had to tilt her head back to look up at him and she watched him warily through her narrowed gaze as she seethed her breaths through her gritted teeth, her pulse pitched to frantic.
 
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Gerra

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The emperor tossed aside the spear and looked down at the girl before him. She could not have been over twenty and while he had only ever seen her beauty - and desired it - now he saw what dwelled within, that animal that had been caged by her father and trained as a tool. A girl who would fight him to the bitter end because all she had ever known was the rankness of her father's court. Gerra had had friends in Molthal, though they all perished. He wondered how many of Nymeasha's friends he had killed that day when they took Salitra. Not by his own hand, but by those of the rebels.

She blamed him for all her woes. And, in a way, she was right to do so. Had he not acted rashly in his treatment of her? Had he not overstepped his bounds, not as emperor, but as Gerra? What had motivated him to such decisions? Could it really have been so mere a thing as lust, or was there darker work at play. The tattooed wards that guarded his mind from interference were not perfect. Had someone slipped through to tug on his emotions, or were these decisions all his own?

How could I have been so reckless?

Slowly, Gerra knelt before her so that they were at eye level.

"We are not friends," he rumbled, "You made that choice the day you pushed a needle toward my heart. And I worsened it when I burned you. I have acted foolishly. Your stubbornness awakens a temper within me that few others can."

His head still throbbed from where her staff had smashed into it, but he fought through the pain and did not give in to the anger, though he desperately wanted to grind her into a pulped red smear against the wall.

"I am sorry."

He paused, a hand reaching out, on it glittered many rings.

"Your ribs. Let me heal them."
 
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Nymeasha

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She wasn't sure whether it was sheer panic that was making her breathing difficult, or the broken ribs currently pressing against her lung, but her skin was flushed and hot. Her soft green gaze narrowed and followed his as he knelt before her, glancing briefly toward his throat and clenching her jaw. She wished she had a weapon, now that his jugular was so easily within her reach. She had none however, and she was in desperate need of space and pressed back against the wall, as though pushing back harder might allow her to break through..

Nym's brow creased as she listened to his words, and she'd been about to bite back about her reasons for stabbing him before he started admitting some responsibility of his own. She didn't quite know what to do with his apology, and she searched his fiery gaze, searching incredulously for the truth in his motive.

Was he sorry?...Was this a new tactic?...

She reacted instinctively before she had time to think, pure reflex sending a hand out with the speed of a viper to grab hold of his wrist and keep it away from her broken bones, a few short, tremulous breaths the only sound between them for a moment as she thought.

"Why?.." she asked simply and stared at him.. "I tried to kill you... Why let me live in the first place? Why let me go. What is it that you want from me now exactly, Gerra? I've declined your...desires. We've insulted and wounded each other and still you drag me here to drag it out and let us wound one another a little more and offer to heal me.." her head shook. "I've had enough of mind games and manipulation.." she huffed.

"You stole my life from me."
 
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Gerra

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“I dragged you here because Noelani suggested sparring might exhaust our anger. Perhaps she was right.”

He glanced at the hand clutching his wrist, feeble, but feral.

“Or perhaps not.”

Gerra did not believe he had stolen her life. Her father had seen to that. But he did not remind her of that fact. It would only enrage her further.

“I want you to help me help Amol-Kalit. There is no trickery here, but I cannot make you believe. It is your choice.”
 

Nymeasha

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The sparring had certainly exhausted her, but she wasn't so sure about her anger. She wasn't sure that would ever leave her. Her knuckles paled as her fingers tightened on his wrist for a moment as he spoke..

Why should she help him?...It was the question that came to mind, but not the one that she asked. He was giving her choices, apparently, something she had found difficult to understand when Medja had presented the same. She'd never been given options.. In this case, it was listen to him or don't, but as he spoke to her she felt her fear very slightly ebb and in flowed curiosity with caution.

"How?.." she asked bluntly, and she loosened her grip on his wrist, and slowly let go.
 
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Gerra

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As her hand slowly came away from his wrist, he reached out to touch her stomach, carefully, like he would a wild animal. A ring on his hand began to glow softly and magical energy flooded into her just as it had done the day he reattached her fingers.

"This will itch," he warned, then continued to speak as the magic took its course to knit fractured ribs whole. "I told you before, but you did not see. I want a better future for the people of Amol-Kalit. One where people do not fear that the next season will bring starvation or bandits. That is the purpose of this empire. We will establish justice and secure prosperity. You can help me, if you choose to do so."
 

Nymeasha

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Her body was rigid as his hand reached to her stomach and she flinched at his touch. As usual she hated how small she felt next to him, and she hated even more that the same hand that’d burned into her flesh was now having to heal her. Should she be grateful when he’d caused her the injury in the first place?

She looked over the head wound and the bruises she’d inflicted upon him and she huffed sharply with a grimace at the sensation of his healing.. “Thank you.” she offered begrudgingly..

“But you still haven’t explained how you think I can help you. Forgive me if I find it difficult to believe that you care about starvation and bandits..” she frowned at him.
 
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Gerra

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"Your skills lay in assassination. You could use them to eliminate the leaders of such bandits. Or if you wish to abandon that path, you could see to the rebuilding of Salitra and ensure that its people are properly cared for so that they will never starve to death en masse again."

He removed his hand from her.

"I don't need you to believe in me. I only need you to believe in what we are doing."
 
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