Private Tales Duals with Demons

  • Distant lands call to you, Guest. The next world event coming soon.

    A land once ruled by Dragons and Gods opens, but not every secret of Arethil's past is safe to uncover.

    Titanfall

A private roleplay only for those invited by the first writer

Nathaira

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Nathaira was troubled. She had been looking forwards to returning to Vel Anir, a feeling that she rarely felt. The place rarely contained anything more than darkness, pain, and a quick reassignment. She would enter the fortress beneath the surface through a secret doorway, walk its cold, damp halls and deliver her debrief in an uncomfortable room. From here she may be sent out immediately on another mission or she may be beaten and tortured for some small mistake or failure... or sometimes just to remind her of her station. Rarely, she would be praised, and even more rarely rewarded.

It was not something she was eager to face, and so Nathaira usually did her best to enjoy the fleeting moments to herself on her way to and from missions.

But this time had been different. She had been looking forward to reuniting with Rumer, the young girl who had joined their ranks just months prior. She had been progressing rapidly, and Nathaira was eager to restart their training. More than that, she had started to care for the child. It was a dangerous emotion, and she took great pains to hide it from her masters. Of course they knew anyway. They always knew.

This caring... this affection... it had made it even more difficult to hear the news of the girl’s latest “encounter” with their handler, Norris. Nathaira had received his letter praising the girl, a glowing review of her ferocity and powerful rage. She had read his instructions to her, and his threats, but what had not been written in the letter concerned her even more.

The girl had attacked him. She had killed an enforcer. She had earned herself a rune.

Looking down at Rumer as she slept, Nathaira’s face was hard. She had been responsible for the girl up until her trip into the woods, and so any failure of Rumer’s was a failure of hers. She had failed to break the child, failed to mold her adequately. She flexed the fingers of her right hand. How many times had they been severed and magically reattached in the past 48 hours? How many times had the dogs gnawed at the exposed bones until she fainted? She had lost count.

Moving without sound, Nathaira placed several glass syringes on the floor, out of the way. They were finely crafted, with shining silver points, and they were filled with a dull red liquid. She returned to stand over the child one more time, savoring the last images of peace. Rumer would sleep no more this night.

She leaned down as a mother would lean to kiss her child goodnight, and sank her venom-soaked fangs into the girl’s neck. As she had done with Rumer’s first introduction to the Forsaken the dose would not be fatal, but it would paralyze, it would make it difficult to breath, and it would hurt more than words could describe.
 
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Rumer

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Glassy green eyes shot open in instant terror as she felt the fangs sink into her neck. The venom took less than a second to flood through her system, lighting every nerve on fire, her gasp catching in her throat so that she could not even scream straight away, her lungs drawing as much air as possible. Her mind burned and a hand slammed to her neck as she stared at Nathaira, tears already streaming from her eyes onto her beaten face, pouring out fear and confusion. It hurt too much to be a nightmare..

As soon as her lungs were full, she screamed so hard her throat felt like it might tear open. Rumer had been beaten, burned, had bones broken and dragged about on meat hooks, but no pain compared to what Nathaira's venom did to her. It felt like her blood was melting her from the inside, there wasn't an inch of her body not in paralysing agony and her lungs were trying to shut down, causing her breathing to rasp and wheeze as she writhed and sobbed. She continued to stare at the woman, hissing through her teeth, but her eyes showed no anger, only hurt, turmoil and bewilderment.

"Nath...aira" she choked, her body jerking with each violent wave of pain and she cried hopelessly. "Make it stop.. Make it.. stop." she begged, a tremulous hand reaching out toward the woman.
 

Nathaira

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Despite the brutality of the situation, Rumer tasted as she always had, and this was comforting. Her skin was soft and warm against the cold lips, and he blood was sweet.

She had been ready for the screams, but they were harder to hear now. They threw her back to the terrible illusions that Malphias had corrupted her mind with, the visions that forced her to acknowledge that she did hold affection in her icy heart, that she did not want her friends to suffer.

Now Rumer suffered by her hand, but like all of her lessons, it was for Rumer’s benefit. She stared down at her, the twitching, rigid movements, the eyes wide with agony. She took the reaching hand by its wrist and held it to the bed, leaning over her.

”You disssappointed me again,” she hissed with menace. She fought hard to keep the steely barricade up around her emotions, seeing the torment she was causing Rumer. ”You killed one of them. You attacked him. She brought her face inches from Rumer’s, reptile eyes reflecting off of wide green mirrors. Her jaw was still unhinged, and she spoke with the maw of a monster.

”I cannot protect you from them,” she continued. ”And I will not protect you now.” Rumer had surely already learned the gravity of her crimes. Nathaira was shocked that the girl had been allowed to live after she’d found out the true events of the cabin. This punishment would be expected of her, and she did not have the will to disobey, nor the option.

She cupped her hand around the back of Rumer’s neck and lifted the shaking head, bringing her mouth down for a second horrifying injection. If the screams stopped, they would notice.

But her fingers felt something, an abnormality on the girl’s skin, like a burn or a carving, and immediately the serpent woman went rigid with sickness. No.

It was too soon, the girl wasn’t ready. She knew what she felt and her fingers could not stop tracing the lines of the rune. She closed her eyes and whispered into the shivering child’s ear. ”I am ssorry... I am so ssorry...” She held Rumer’s head close to hers, keeping her in a tight embrace, feeling the shudders that rippled through her poisoned body. ”I am sorry...”

She would never have dared to speak the words if she thought the masters would hear her. She would not have spoken them if Rumer’s mind had not already been distracted by pain and unlikely to truly hear them. To say these things was to acknowledge that the runes were evil, and such thoughts were treason.

And then, she lowered her head, and bit the girl again. Such would continue until the sun broke the horizon. The antivenom had been brought it case Rumer succumbed too deeply, but Nathaira was practiced, and it was unlikely to be needed.

If the screams stopped, they would notice.
 
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Rumer

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Rumer's body convulsed, her eyes never leaving the woman as she spoke to her, only just able to make out her muffled words. She rasped a breath and tried to speak, choking over her words

"I tried...To help you..Please make it stop Nathaira."

With the second bite, Rumer somehow screamed with her whole body. Her eyes widening with horror, her mouth rigid and open, chalky face gaunt and immobile, fists clenched with blanched knuckles and the nails digging deeply into the palms of her hand, drawing blood.

She heard no apology. She screamed again, and again, until she had no voice left to scream with, until she'd vomited so many times that there was no bile left in the pit of her stomach.

Three times, Rumer's little body came so dangerously close to death that she'd need the antivenom, her thundering heart stopping and starting as it tried to flee her ribcage. But the reprieve of antidote wouldn't last long as she was punctured again, and again with more of the half naga's poison.

If she hadn't been broken enough already, she was broken by the time the sun broke the horizon. Mind, body and soul. She had nothing left.
 

Nathaira

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Nathaira sat on the floor of the cell, three empty and discarded vials of antivenom on the ground beside her. She watched Rumer’s body twitch, the screams faded away to rasping. She had given the last bite nearly half an hour ago, and it was just beginning to clear the girl’s system.

The sunlight that reached them was filtered by several feet of dark stone, a miniscule pit in the earth above them to give faded light to the sad room. Nathaira did not want the light, it would force her to see Rumer’s face more clearly.

She saw the betrayal in the girl’s eyes, and she had watched throughout the night as hope finally left them. The girl had been strong willed and disobedient, and more than once Nathaira had needed to challenge her. It seemed, finally, that willfulness had been overcome. In the end, pain always won.

This is a good thing, she told herself. Her life will be better now. She will hurt less if she does not resist. Nathaira’s eyes were dry, she knew this was the truth.

Then why did it hurt? She did not like this feeling. It was another unfamiliar emotion to add to the growing number that had plagued her in the past year. Rumer was Forsaken. Being Forsaken is pain. Pain brings strength. Trust leads to death.

She stood and approached the girl as her breathing slowed, and gave a last dose of antivenom. She would give the girl some more time to rest.

”Come,” she said after a time, resting a hand on the girl’s shoulder. ”Kassimir is waiting for uss.” She helped Rumer rise, for the girl’s muscles would be stiff and sore. Outside the door, Genevieve had arrived. Right at dawn, as Nathaira had requested. She would heal Rumer, ease the frayed nerve endings and repair the damage to the girl’s heart, lungs, and other organs.

It was not far to the training grounds where the shadowmancer would be waiting for them. Despite her internal conflict regarding the torture of her ward, Nathaira was looking forward to seeing him again.
 
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Kasimir

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Kasimir's training was ruthless, hard, and many of the Forsaken's most favourite few hours of their days off. Unlike the handlers who used pain as a way to control, manipulate and install fear - Kasimir taught them how to turn it into a fuel for the battlefield. The Tiefling seemed to have a natural gift at teaching too and the handlers hadn't been able to dispute his ability to turn even the weakest into better swordsmen and women. So they allowed him to keep the ruins of the old training ground as his own small domain. As long as he kept giving them results.

As Nat and Rumer were making their way to his arena he was finishing up a lesson with some of the older and more skilled Forsaken. Four of them were attempting to land a blow on his smooth red skin. These were not blunt weapons either; the whistle through the air and thin and nasty cuts already on a few of their arms and faces was evident enough of the way Kasimir was teaching them to stay ahead of his blades. There were two half elves, a half Kivren and a half orc.

Kasimir held a curved shadow blade in each hand. One came up in a sweep to parry an elf's blow whilst the other swept down and bit into the orcs knee who gave a bellow and stumbled. In the reprise he slammed his foot onto the mans chest and sent him sprawling onto his back where he then slammed his boot down sharply on his ankle. Another howl of pain but Kas barely cast the man a glance. He was focused instead on turning his blade to another incoming blow - this time from the Kivren - who wielded a trident in her hands. He slid the blade in between the prongs of the weapon and then used his new leverage to pull her forward and send her sprawling into the elf who was still desperately trying to get a hit on him. They went sprawling to the ground which was when the fourth lunged at him. One blade vanished from his hand and he merely grabbed the man by the front of his shirt, lifted him into the air and sent him flying.

A series of groans filled the air as Kasimir used the back of his arm to wipe a little sweat from his forehead. He had stripped down to just his breeches and his chest was glistening with the sweat of a good work out. There were even one of two fresh cuts along the silvery scars that caught now and then in the odd lighting of the Undercity.

"Your bruises will remind you of what you did wrong. But, they are not as many as last week," he offered a hand to the orc who took it with a grunt and allowed the Tiefling to pull him to his feet. The pair shared a mutual nod of respect before the orc limped off, helping the others as he went. Kasimir watched them leave, which was when his eyes fell on Nat and Rumer.

For a moment his expression softened.

"Welcome."
 
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Rumer

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Rumer was much more of a ghastly sight than she had been the last time she'd seen Kasimir. She was scrawnier, her face gaunt, bruised and unfathomably pale, her eyes sunken and empty. She kept her gaze downcast as she followed almost mindlessly behind Nathaira, hugging her arms to herself.

She stopped when Nathaira did, and though she heard the training she didn't watch. Her eyes remained glazed and lifeless and her body trembled slightly with exhaustion, her knees wanting to buckle under her but she made herself stay standing. Rumer would remain silently waiting, unable to summon so much as a shred of fear for the training that lay ahead, something that she'd only days ago looked forward to..
 
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Nathaira

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The walked in silence, as it had been after the beach. In truth, she could think of nothing more to say. She could not tell the girl she was sorry, it would undo the lesson. More importantly, it would break the lie Nathaira was telling herself, that she was not sorry, that her actions had been necessary.

The sounds of the training grounds did bring the hint of a smile to the corners of her lips. It was one of the more open areas they were allowed to frequent, and the crumbling stones and walkways made for an interesting and dynamic environment. She lead Rumer into the ruins and let her tongue waft through the air. Dust, steel, blood, sweat, it was like honey on her lips.

She glanced down at Rumer, her smile falling as she saw the broken child staring at the ground. Her lips tightened, but she turned her head back to Kasimir, and allowed herself a moment to inspect a few of the tattoos that were usually covered. Her tongue flicked through the air again unconsciously.

”Good morning,” she called over, walking closer. She saw the tired and bruised students. At least two of them showed obvious terror in their eyes as they saw her. At least her work was well known, she thought to herself. ”I have brought you a new sstudent for the day.“

As she drew closer, she glanced over the wounds that adorned Kasimir’s uncovered body. ”Is thiss really the besst they could do? Perhapss we should give them a proper demonstration.”
 
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Kasimir

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His eyes drifted quietly to Rumer and the small smile faltered a little. His gaze was sharp when he turned it back to Nathaira, questioning silently what was wrong with the girl. When he had last seen her she had seemed... more confident perhaps. Or at least a little more sure of her position in life. He had also heard great things about an attack on a group of orcs when they had been returning from training along the coast. So what had happened to turn that girl into... this shell?

"They are still learning," Kasimir twirled the remaining blade in his hand and then let it go. It seeped back into his skin in inky tendrils as if restitching itself back into his very flesh. If it was painful he didn't show it. Instead he grabbed a towel from the edge of the arena and hung it about his neck and shoulders. "But I believe a demonstration would be valuable," he nodded in agreement. It was good to sometimes simply watch two artists work.

But first...

Kasimir once again looked to Rumer before he knelt in front of her. His tail slithered round and gently hooked itself under her chin to turn her face towards his.

"Little mouse?"
his eyes went to the marks along her neck before shifting once more to Nat. "You bit her?" a thread of anger resonated in his tone. From a man who showed little emotion it was akin to a shout.
 
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Rumer

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Even the sound of Kasimir's voice couldn't serve as a comfort to her. She could barely remember how she'd felt when he'd held her safe in his shadow, it was like trying to remember a dream that slipped away when she tried to think about it. Her breaths huffed out a little faster as the tiefling knelt in front of her, and she visibly shook at the touch and she stared back at him with a glassy fear. How could they be her family when they could hurt her so badly she thought she might die? If Nathaira could do it, so could he..

She couldn't help the tears that filled her eyes as he spoke to her but she didn't let them fall, and she returned her gaze to the ground as soon as she could, flinching at the anger in his tone and remaining silent...
 
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Nathaira

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Nathaira‘s mouth twisted up a one corner and she bit her lip with a single fang in anticipation. She needed a proper fight more than she had realized, and she pushed her hair back and over her shoulders, rolling her shoulders to get ready.

Her face turned back to stone at Kasimir’s tone, and she looked at him hard for a few seconds of silence. Why did this upset him? She remembered the dark cloud that he and Rumer had emerged from in the woods, remembered the butterfly he had let flutter onto her. Perhaps she was not the only one who had grown too attached the the child.

”Yess,” she said simply. She could feel herself growing defensive. She had not wanted to hurt Rumer, but neither had she made the girl attack her masters. She did not like the way Kasimir was looking at her. She walked closer to the pair.

”She killed a handler, Kasimir. She... she crippled Norris.” She spoke these words as quietly as she could. It was not knowledge the masters would wish other Forsaken to know, and at the mention of the word “crippled” she felt a hot sting on the back of her neck. What had he expected her to do? She had been tortured for Rumer’s transgressions as well, told very clearly that this was her fault, and she knew it was true. Norris’ command had been absolute. “Toughen her up.”

She had not been hard enough on Rumer, and now she was branded. It was her fault.
 

Kasimir

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Kasimir's face returned to its impassive nature as he watched Nat as she spoke. His gaze never moved, but neither did his position nor the tail under the child's chin. Clearly he was thinking over things in his signature stoic fashion. Hurting handlers was... well Rumer was lucky she wasn't dead. Or Nat. He thought, too, of the Tiefling he had met - Blue - as he kept referring to her in his mind, and of her promise to try and have the rune removed. He thought, quite calmly to himself, how he was going to enjoy taking the skin off of the humans who had done this to them both when he was free.

"She is in no fit state to train," he announced and stood up. His voice once again taking on its usual edge of boredom. It was a dangerous comment too - if the handlers expected him to train her then he would be punished for not doing so. He almost welcomed it for they wouldn't be able to refute his logic. He felt it in the very fact his own rune didn't send a prickling heat down his spine. It would be a waste of his time to train a person who could barely hold her head up let alone a blade. "Neither are you," he added, quieter this time and softer to as he looked Nat over.

"Come," he picked his shirt off the side. "I have a better idea for training today," he set off towards the forests of the Undercity.
 
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Rumer

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Rumer could hear Nathaira's words. Of course she'd expected punishment for it, some punches to the face and a cigar burn wasn't going to cut it for what she'd done, but she'd thought the rune would do it. There was no worse punishment in her eyes.. other than perhaps, Nathaira hurting her again. Her emotions were weak, like faint whispers in her otherwise broken and absent mind, little wisps of fear and anger and terrible thoughts that seemed to prickle at the back of her neck.

She'd thought she could help them. She'd managed to take Silas down the way she had done to the orc in the woods, she'd almost had Norris and Genevieve too. How different would things have been if she'd only succeeded? Did they even know she'd tried to do it for them? Did they really hate her for hurting a man like Norris?..

The child looked up as Kasimir strode off and she glanced to Nathaira before dropping her gaze again, and she turned to follow in silence.
 

Nathaira

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Nathaira‘s face fell as Kasimir declared both her and Rumer unfit for training. She needed distraction, to feel adrenaline and steel against her skin. She didn’t want to think about last night any more and had already started walling it off brick by brick. It hadn’t been that bad, she told herself, it had been a lesson. The girl would learn from it. She would be fine. She had thought the training might bring Rumer back to reality as well.

You are not her mother, said a voice from within. She should not love you. She should fear you. Hate you. Nathaira did not like this voice and she did not wish to hear it now.

The silence was too much, and so she attempted to speak to the child. ”Asside from the... misstake... I am told you did very well at the cabin.” Her stomach was tight with unease. She hated thinking about that cabin. Her 16th birthday had been horrific.

”Where are you taking uss?” She then asked Kasimir.

Someone please say something.
 
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Kasimir

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The Undercity was pretty much a copy of what lay on the surface it was just... older. A lot older. It was full of ghosts and whispered histories the people of Vel Anir had not liked and as such they had built over the top of it and ignored the blood of the citizens they had made their lives on top of. One of those things was an ancient forest. It was a mystery how it still grew, if grew was the right way to describe what the forest did now. It was a twisted thing but there was a beauty to it, though even amongst the Forsaken not many dared to enter it. For Kasimir it was a haven.

”Where are you taking uss?”

"On holiday," he replied coldly. Despite his tone it was, in a way, the truth. Through the trees they went in a seemingly random direction before they got to a small stream.

"Fighting is not just about being able to swing a sword," Kasimir commented as he threw his shirt down beside a tree and then crouched down before it, rummaging in a small hole beneath it to tug out a trunk. It was a battered thing which he opened. Inside was a curious array of different nicknacks and things he had collected over the years. He took out a sketchbook and pencil. "Here," he passed them to Rumer. "Fighting is about seeing every little detail in the scene before you because even the slightest thing might change the way the fight will go. Sit by the river, sketch the scene in front of you," he passed a similar book and pencil to Nat and then took out his own. "We'll all compare and you'll be able to see the different things we've all picked up on - none will be quite the same."
 
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Rumer

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Rumer walked quietly, her gaze downcast, fingers fidgeting by her sides with nervous anticipation. The words weren't loud but she flinched as Nathaira spoke to her but didn't dare look up. How did she answer that? Her only mistake had been not killing Norris...Was that what she meant? She couldn't bring herself to speak. Genevieve had healed her enough but her throat was still raw and broken from screaming. And she was simply too terrified to say the wrong thing. She nodded lightly in response, hoping that would suffice.

The girl's brow furrowed as Kasimir announced they weren't going 'on holiday' and her stomach twisted as she thought of the elf in the sea. She hoped she wouldn't have to kill anyone on holiday. She stumbled in the roots now and then and fought quickly to regain composure, lifting her gaze to look over the creepy forest with a slight hint of curiosity.

She watched Kasimir as he produced a trunk and her head tilted as he rummaged inside it. A hesitant hand reached to take the parchment from him, and she looked at it with confusion for a moment. She didn't understand how sketching the forest would help her learn to fight, but she wouldn't voice it, she'd just be glad of the alternative and try to find peace in it. She'd never drawn anything before.

Rumer sat against the twisting root of a tree, and began to draw..
 

Nathaira

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Rumer's silence did not help Nathaira's anxiety, but she looked up at Kasimir's reply.

He was joking. Was he joking? She could never tell. Kasimir's voice was pleasing to the ear but impossible to decipher. Wherever they were going did not feel like a holiday as they wound deeper and deeper.

The trees that started to replace the stone were... bizarre. How did such things survive in so little light? Did they survive? If Nathaira were more poetic she may have likened them to the three unfortunate souls that walked beneath their branches: trapped in darkness through no fault of their own, but growing all the same. Fighting to survive.

The trunk piqued Nathaira's curiosity. Would this be a window into Kasimir's enigma? The sketchbook, and assigned task were disappointing. She looked at the items, bewildered. She was not a schoolchild, and she had never drawn anything in her life. Not since...

Faded memories with child's hands, crude drawings, scratchings on walls. The images were fragmented, forgotten. The pictures she saw were... disturbing.

Still, Kasimir was in charge for the day, so she took the items and sat down cross-legged on the riverbank. The scene was beautiful, she couldn't deny it. Whatever light filtered into the cavern danced off the cold water and threw its luminescence across the bark. The trees twisted in ways that their sun-fed cousins did not, and it almost looked... painful.

Nathaira tried. Gods, she tried, but her hands just could not put onto paper what she saw in her mind. In the end it was more a series of jagged lines and a couple of scribbles. If one squinted very hard, they might make out what she was trying to portray.

Her brow was creased in frustration, and she had started making almost inaudible hisses with each exhale.
 
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Kasimir

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Kasimir nodded to himself when Rumer accepted the parchment and went and settled down on the river side. His mind was still reeling a little from what Nat had told him she had tried to do and he was trying to figure out why on Arethil she would even try and attempt something like that. The girl was young and wilful had she thought she would have been able to escape? And then what? She knew about the Forsaken she would have been hunted. Hunted by Forsake like him. It worried him and even though he hated the Runes a part of him couldn't help but think she was a little safer now. The Rune wouldn't let her step out of line and get herself into more trouble.

He enjoyed drawing. He preferred charcoal to the pencils he has given the other two and was making quick work of a precise sketch of the landscape in front of them. After a good half an hour of silence as the mood between them all had begun to ease he stood up and inspected the students work. First he made his way over to Rumer, his eyes raking over the landscape she had captured. He crouched beside her.

"This is good Rumer, you have an eye for detail," he showed her his own sketch which was almost an inverse of hers, focusing on the shadows to pick out the details. "Keep going," he murmured in encouragement before producing a small red flower and setting it in her hair. "If you need to sleep, sleep," he fingers lingered on her cheek. "She didn't want to hurt you, Little Mouse. She is hurting as much as you. Today I will keep you both safe," he placed a kiss to her forehead before standing and moving on to his second student.

Kas' lips twitched slightly as he followed the sounds of Nat grumbling, sitting so that their knees lightly brushed against one another.

"You are focusing too much on getting things exact," he murmured, his hand coming over hers where she held the pencil. His thumb ran gently over the back of her hand to loosen the tension. "We all see things differently, draw it how you see things," he showed her the same sketch he had Rumer. "If I wanted exact I would get a professional here, I want to see what you see."
 
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Rumer

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Rumer had never done anything creative in her life other than scraping a drawing of a cat into the inside of her front door when she was four and she'd been slapped silly for it. She tried to draw what she saw. It wasn't very good, not in comparison to Kasimir's, but she did manage the slightest hint of a smile as she looked at his drawing, heard his praise and accepted the flower. She went rigid at the touch to her cheek however, her knuckles paling slightly as she gripped the pencil so hard it almost snapped.

His words caused her gaze to fall to her drawing and she swallowed a painful throb in her throat, her eyes welling with tears but she frowned and tried to hold them back. They were going to hurt her whether she cried or not, but it didn't help matters. Her eyes closed at the kiss to her forehead, and her tension eased a little as she appreciated the affection, but her lashes loosed a couple of tears and she kept her gaze down as he got up to leave her.

She considered Kasimir's words whilst his attention was on Nathaira and she stole a glance at the woman. She didn't seem like she was hurting at all. Rumer felt broken, mind, body and soul. Norris had given her the worst punishment he could think of already, her fingertip traced over the horrible thing on the back of her neck absentmindedly. She expected such punishments from Norris, and she thought back on his warning that if she stepped out of line again he'd force her to kill Nathaira...Despite what the woman had done to her, the thought still made her heart ache, and she wondered if Nathaira's heart hurt too.

Tears splashed onto the parchment, smudging her drawing..
 
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Nathaira

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Nathaira stole a glance backwards as Kasimir spoke to Rumer. She could not hear them, but she watched the two of them from beneath her tangle of hair. Kasimir was, as always, calm and serene. Rumer was... a wreck. She seemed to like Kasimir being nearby, as she always had, but she recoiled at his touch like a terrified animal, and Nathaira could smell the girl‘s tears on the air.

It had been a very difficult night for the child, she reasoned, and it had come right after a terrible few days in the woods. She had hurt the girl before, many times. She did not enjoy it, but it was necessary. Rumer needed to become desensitized to pain, to become obedient. She would never survive otherwise.

But she had never reacted like this before. Even in the days after their first meeting Rumer had at the very least spoken to her. Nathaira had felt the hatred from the girl when she forced her to kill the elf on the beach, but even that had dissolved by the time they returned. Maybe she just needed more time... or maybe she had broken something beyond repair.

She quickly turned back as Kasimir came over, trying to deny she had been watching. Of course he would know anyway, he always did. His closeness eased her mind and body, and her leg relaxed into his as they sat together. His hand was warm on hers, and she felt a sort of electricity run up her arm as he touched her. To be touched without violence was rare for them, and she clung to the feeling.

She was tempted to say something snarky, for she was frustrated at her inability to translate between her eyes and hands, but she decided against it. Kasimir’s drawing was beautiful, as dark and mysterious as the man himself. Of course he had exaggerated the shadows. She knew he had only charcoal to draw with, but she doubted he would have even used colors if he had been given the option.

”I will try again,” she said sighing, turning her paper over and setting the pencil back to it. She tried not to worry about making all the shapes right, and it was easier now. She was distracted by something more pleasant than the water or trees, and she shifted herself slowly so that, over time, she came to lean against Kasimir’s shoulder.

She didn’t really know what she was feeling. She was happy that Kasimir was here, but she was worried by Rumer’s attitude. She was not used to caring about people.

Her drawing was filled with angular lines. It was a stark and abstract background, but the trees and river were apparent. Within them she had marked the few animals that stood out, the areas of filtered light that retained the most heat and shone brightest to her.

She put in herself and Kasimir, little more than lines and circles blended together. To the side a smaller figure. This one held more detail, and she had clearly put much more effort into it. She was surrounded by flowers, but covered in dark shadows.

She showed the tiefling beside her. ”Do you think it wass too much?” She was not only asking about the drawing.
 
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Kasimir

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Kasimir said nothing as Nat crept closer and closer. She smelt of deserts storms and sunlight; a direct contrast to his world. After a moment or two he lightly leaned his head on top of hers and watched her work. He had never been a far of great artists with their fancy oils or watercolours - the things humans seemed to want to hang on their walls. They seemed so dull and lifeless. He preferred the abstract. When every line was a deliberate and bold stroke across the page that was meant to draw the eye. He saw a rougher version of that in Nat's drawing. His lips curved upwards when he took in the smaller figure and for a moment his eyes drifted to her subject where she was lent over her own parchment.

He didn't reply to her question straight away as he watched the girl. His tail flicked once and then curled around her to come and lay across her lap. Only then did he turn back to look down at her.

"It is easy to pin the bad things on a man like him," Kasimir didn't dare utter his name, who knew the depths of the Rune magic and if the handlers could hear things through them. "She needs to understand why you also must do the bad things now and then too," he produced a matching flower to the one he had given Rumer and lightly tucked it behind Nat's ear. "Go. Talk to her. Mend the bond."
 
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Nathaira

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Nathaira’s emotions were in turmoil with one another. A lifetime of physical and mental torture had left her detached from her feelings, and she chose to cling to any fleeting distraction from her miserable existence at any opportunity. As such, she was horribly equipped to deal with her conflicting thoughts.

On the one hand, Kasimir was agonizingly close. His warmth was overwhelming. His hand felt like fire on her skin, his head on hers set her heart pounding in her chest and she wished his tail would pull her into him so close that she could melt into his chest.

On the other hand, she felt sadness and regret about Rumer. She thought she had done the right thing. She had, hadn’t she? If she hurt the girl enough then she would never attack a handler again, and her life would be just a little bit safer. Then why did it feel so bad when the child looked at her with fear? Why did it matter so desperately that Rumer liked her?

You are weak. Spoke the voice in her head. Your weakness will kill her. Her lips tightened at these thoughts, but they were interrupted by Kasimir’s sweet and soothing voice.

“Uneasy” did not begin to describe how she felt. She was certain that her stomach had flipped completely upside down, and the deep color that had flushed her face with Kasimir’s embrace had gone pale. She wasn’t meant to feel. She was meant to hurt. To kill. To obey. How would she explain her thoughts to Rumer if she could not make sense of them herself?

She set down the paper and stood slowly, running a hand over Kasimir’s horn as she walked past him to the girl. She sat next to the child and looked her over, vertical pupils taking in the sight of her. She was pale, tense, and the welts on her neck had only just started to heal.

It took her a minute to figure out what to say. ”That iss a lovely drawing,” she started awkwardly. More silence, and then ”Do you… know why I hurt you, child?” she asked in a whisper.
 
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Rumer

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Rumer felt Nathaira approach and visibly tensed, her shoulders lifting subconsciously as though to protect her neck. She glanced to the side when she spoke, and at her question she frowned. She didn't know how to answer, the answer was both yes, and no, but she decided to go with what Norris would want to hear.

"Yes ma'am. I'm a degenerate knife ear.." she croaked out, her voice raw and sore. "And I need to learn my place, and be punished for what I did to the handlers.." she answered, and the lines of her drawing grew darker.

Her throat hurt and she fought back more tears. She was feeling incredibly sorry for herself, and she silently beat herself for forgetting that Nathaira was supposed to be teaching her. She was her mentor, not her mother, she should never have forgotten the first bite, and perhaps the new ones wouldn't have been so much of a shock to her.

"Is my punishment over yet?.." she asked and finally lifted her gaze to the woman, her eyes sunken and red from crying.. What a silly question, she thought. Despite everything, Rumer had still held on to hope, she believed Nathaira had begun to care for her, believed that Kasimir did. She saw the slightest hint of the affection she'd been starved of for her entire life and she clung to it. Her hope had since dwindled and her heart felt broken.. though she wasn't sure if a broken heart could feel so much pain.
 
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Nathaira

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Nathaira was taken aback by Rumer’s answer. She was speaking to her as if she were Norris. The realization was sickening, and although she had indeed used a firm hand in her lessons, she balked at any comparisons between herself and the monster that raised them.

Rumer had never been a good liar, though, not to her. If the girl spoke to her like Norris, then she was like him. She hated this more than she could say, and she felt the waves of panic start lapping at her toes.

She quieted this feeling, and forced herself to speak. ”You did need to be punished, but not for who you are. The masterss punish us plenty for that.” She chewed on her tongue, trying to find the right way to say this. ”Rumer, you attacked a handler. Forssaken are killed for much less. I… I do not wish to lose you.” She turned her amber eyes to Rumer’s emerald ones, and she tried very hard to convey the emotions that she so desperately suppressed at most times. ”If I did not punish you, they would ssay I did not care. They would not allow me to teach you any more. They would punish you themselvess. They would punish me even more.”

Rumer’s next question tore at her heart, and the serpentine woman did not know how to process the emotions. ”Yess… it iss done.” She answered in a strangled voice.

She didn’t know what she was doing. Why was she explaining herself? Why did it matter that the girl understood her intentions? All that mattered was that Rumer would not attack the masters again.

No. Nathaira admitted to herself. That is not all that matters. Here in the undercity, beneath the twisted dead trees, with Kasimir at her back and the gentle river beyond, she felt just a little bit safer. And although the rune in her neck tingled in anticipation of what she was about to say, all of a sudden she didn’t care so much about the consequences.

She heard Kasimir in her head. Mend the bond. Very slowly, she reached a hand forward and touched the girls’ cheek. It was warm. ”Rumer, I... care for you... very much. I do not enjoy harming you, but pain iss preferable to death.” She took the girl’s shoulders in gentle, long fingers. ”All I want is for you is to ssurvive and to become sstrong enough sso that no one will ever harm you again.”

The rune in her neck stung sharply, and she winced visibly, withdrawing her hands. That had been a step too far. Those in charge still very much wanted to be able to hurt them.
 
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Rumer

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Rumer had looked down as Nathaira reminded her of what she'd done, but her worry of losing her had caught the girl's attention and she lifted her gaze, searching her eyes for truth in her words. She meant it. Her reasons made sense, though she fought the urge to smile as her heart lifted a little, she was still too afraid the woman might lash out at her again.

Then a hand touched her cheek and she automatically flinched and she tensed to expect pain. It didn't come, just words, like tendrils that wormed their through her rigid barrier and buried deep into her mind. She eased and glanced down at the hands on her shoulders before her glassy eyes looked back at her.

"I wanted them to stop hurting all of us..." she told her quietly, and the back of her neck seemed to burn and she jolted from the shock of it. It frightened her, and Nathaira's hands recoiling from her shoulders made her reach for the woman with arms that sought to wrap around her and drink in every bit of comfort she possibly could.

"I'll be strong... I... I don't want to kill you."