Private Tales Misery Knows Thyself

Discussion in 'The Chronicles' started by Seska the Dragonslayer, Jun 27, 2019.

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  1. Seska the Dragonslayer

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    The sun was low to the horizon, and as it dipped lower and lower it cast the world in syrupy golden light, sharp shadows a strong contrast to the light slanting over distant mountains. Broadleaf trees stood among sparse firs at this altitude, far below the treeline and even further from the snow. Summer reigned in the valleys, the sweet scent of green growth,of life, filled the air.

    And why is it I can think of naught but death?

    The melancholy thought belonged to a tiny woman sitting next to a camp fire that crackled merrily, thin smoke wafting through the air, diffusing through the trees. This was trackless wilderness, at least to any but the elves that lived here. The camp was neat, but simple; a cleared space for the fire, ringed with rocks carried from a nearby stream, a cleared place devoid of stone or root, piled with limbs to serve as a mattress. Thankfully, the skies did not threaten rain and hadn't for days, else it would have been a damp one.

    All of her supplies had been lost. But tent and sleeping rolls were the least of the treasures this diminutive woman had left behind.

    The woman.

    She was clearly not an elf, though she had the long, pointed ears of one. Perhaps a bit shorter than the tree-dwelling folk, at that. She would barely stand waist height to an elf, though, and many human children would swiftly overtake her in height as well. To a very casual glance she looked a child of ten or so, though closer inspection would prove maturity rather quickly. She wore a modest dress a little worse for wear, pale blue with arcane glyphs embroidered at hem and neck.

    But her flesh also bore the mottled green and yellow of healing bruises, and her eyes bore the scars of loss: red rimmed, deep dark circles beneath. She seemed cheerless despite the warm air and the life of the forest around her, staring into the dancing flames despondently. A polished staff, four or so feet in length, lay on the ground beside her, its length covered with carved vines, roses and thorns so real that it defied the mind to think of them as decoration.

    There was something timeless about this woman.

    She sat in contemplation of recent events, almost oblivious to the world around her. Predators would not, as a general rule, bother her. As to more humanoid threats...

    ...well, she couldn't hardly make herself care, then. Just staring into the flames.

    And remembering.
     
  2. Mara Ithrennyn

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    The dappled shade of the forest as the sun set was something that Mara knew she would miss. The comfort of primordial trees hanging with moss, branches touching together like the fingertips of lovers, the shine of silver moonlight through the leaves, the ever-beautiful changing colors of autumn brought on the wind, the aroma of cedar needles mingled with rain... She tried to crush the thoughts, but they were enough to make teardrops well anew. She knew why she had to leave, but she hated it too. If she hadn’t been so stupid...well, she’d paid the price for it in her body, but that was not enough.

    Her sleeve stifled her tears and her pride straightened her spine. If she could endure the pain of the blaze, she could endure this.

    Mara flexed her fingers as she walked quietly along the trail left by deer. Tight bandages separating each finger before joining the wraps up to her elbows were a method of adding compression to the scars. Five agonizing surgeries had released the contractures that once pulled her fingers into knotted claws. They were mobile now, but they would never be beautiful again.

    She pulled up the dark green cloth that covered her from the bridge of her nose to past her chin, not that she was worried about being seen. There were few people here on the fringes of the forest, at least that she had heard of. At least, she assumed so until she saw the distinct light of a campfire through the trees.

    Fire was Mara’s one true love, or so her brother had teased her gently before the conflagration nearly ruined their quiet section of the woods. Even the thought of Nendir’s jokes eased some of the sting. His parting gift had been the cloth that now covered her face.

    I know you love green, and I thought...I don’t want you to have to listen to cruel people. It was his way of trying to protect her, even if she was the eldest. You should be allowed to tell them when you’re ready, not whenever they decide.

    Even after everything, the damage to her body and her unofficial exile, Mara found herself drawn towards the comfort of a fire. She stopped at the sight of a girl the fire’s side. She wasn’t close enough to clearly see the figure’s expression, but the reflection of flames in those eyes told a tale of woe the likes of which perhaps rivalled or surpassed Mara’s own.

    Mara let her brown hair fall into her face, half hiding her left eye where the edge of fabric sometimes dipped just enough to show the suggestion of fresh, red scar tissue. She padded forward more carefully, trying to ascertain more of this stranger. She worried at an earring as she did so, turning the delicate stone ring through her right earlobe. The weight of her pack was not enough to really impede her quiet walk, but she was still very much detectable.

    It would be rude to lurk for long. The girl seemed to be alone, which meant she was theoretically safer to talk to.

    She would have cleared her throat, but her mother had taught her to speak properly without such a nervous habit. She saw pointed ears on the girl and decided her native language would probably be best. “Greetings, traveler,” Mara said to break the silence. “My apologies for the intrusion.”
     
  3. Seska the Dragonslayer

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    The woman looked up from the fire, weary eyes regarding the stranger with indifference. Perhaps that was not the right word; her eyes seemed dull, vacant. The sorrow half recognized before was now on full display.

    She looked upon the elf before her, and sighed. Company she had not sought, for she wished to nurse the wounds of her heart a bit before dealing with people again. Short-lived, stupid people that had no understanding of the world and its bitter ttuths.

    "Greetings, stranger," she replied in a tired voice, words in a rather ancient and archaic dialect of elven. Her eyes could see the pain in the woman before her reflected in her eyes, but it was difficult to summon empathy while in the grip of her own pathos. "You are welcome at my fire," she lied, gesturing vaguely at a place beside it. Her voice was oddly high pitched, but somehow fitting for her size. She was only a little more than half as tall as this woman, after all.
     
  4. Mara Ithrennyn

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    Mara caught hints in the stranger’s posture that told a different story than her words. The idea of refusing the invitation, no matter how strained, was difficult. Her only solitudes had been when she practiced her magic. Otherwise, she was in tune with the flow of life through her village, if she could even claim kinship there any more. She missed the connection that had been replaced with uncertainty.

    Not that this stranger would be connection. She had her own troubles to worry of and Mara doubted she could help.

    She approached carefully to avoid being seen as hostile. Mara had always been graceful, every move made with easy precision, though some of that was gone now. She unslung her pack and set it beside the place indicated. Being close gave her a chance to study the stranger. For her size, she did not look to be a child, and her accent was archaic. Was she an elder of some kind? Certainly a puzzle.

    Mara was no healer, whether wounds physical or more than that. Still, this one was raw and obvious. She crushed down her own pain and sorrow. It doesn’t matter. What’s done is done, she told herself.

    She looked at the fire. The flames leaping and dancing, twirling on wood and fluttering beneath the smoke, were comforting even though her hands started to shake. Fear cannot last forever, her father had admonished her brother as Nendir struggled in his training be a proper warrior.

    After a long moment of centering herself by looking at the flames, she drew her gaze to the woman who had invited her to the fire. Manners were probably in order, but what came out instead of an introduction was, “I will move on if you wish it. I know that I know nothing, but I am sorry for your loss.” Mara wasn’t one to pity and this was no exception, aimed at empathy.
     
  5. Seska the Dragonslayer

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    To convey the sorrow felt for the loss of a friend, and not just a friend, but the only one to stand by her side for all those hundreds of years? There were no words to describe the loss. The link they had shared was severed, the jagged ends of sorcery that had made then nearly one creature now cut her heart, left her soul bleeding. It did not matter the species, either, though she knew many would find her grief silly.

    She 5hought to push this creature away, but something prevented it. Solitude was not her friend now, when the aching need for another could not be fulfilled. The wilds were here home away from home, after all.

    "No need," she said. The sweet flow of mana burgeoned within her, wild chaos thrashing against the chains of her living mind. The source pounded through her flesh, undeniable. And sweet beyond words to describe. It enhanced the pain in her body, though those injuries had mostly healed by now.

    Threads of power, chaos given form, formed a pattern, a woven chain. A log shifted, pulled along until it rested before the flames, a breath of wind washing over the shrouded elf, causing the fire to dance. The diminutive woman made a gesture towards the log. "Please, make yourself welcome," she said. The Sidhe released the source reluctantly; power bound up in her magical flesh drained away, returning to its torpid state and leaving the woman empty.

    She returned to staring into the flames, saying nothing.
     
  6. Mara Ithrennyn

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    Beneath the silk covering her face, Mara almost smiled wryly. Almost. She had hoped that if she met a stranger, they would at least be able to fill the air. Anything to distract her from the ache even for a moment. That was not to be, it seemed.

    She didn’t want to dwell. For the past seven days, she’d drowned in it. The only thing that saved her was her pride. I am better than this, it whispered. I’ll show them. She would have been lying if she said she wasn’t angry as well as hurt.

    The pull of magic in the air didn’t alarm her, but she watched it carefully just in case. When the other woman fell silent again, Mara didn’t know what to do.

    She did what she always did to sooth herself. Mara crooked a bandaged finger, beckoning to some of the flames. Threads of fire spun together and leaped to her hand, moving like a dancer. She guided it by weaving invisible arcane sigils in the air with her other hand. At the center of the chest she felt a tug, a touch of pain, but that was nothing as far as drain went.

    Despite the terrible burns fire had given her, she loved it still. It was the only thing she knew that understood her and reflected her nature. Perhaps her control over it stemmed from her love for the elemental energy. Concentrating on it like this placed her in a state of mind without pain, without doubt, without anger.

    It gave her courage enough to intrude again. She kept her eyes on the small, ever-changing flame she sculpted gracefully. “My name is Mara,” she said quietly, just loud enough to be heard. “What brings you this way, if I might ask?”
     
  7. Seska the Dragonslayer

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    The Sidhe ignored the simplistic use of magic, choosing to remain lost in her own thoughts. She knew it was rude to ignore company in this manner, but she was to wrought with sorrow to care. After all, she had not asked for company; it had been forced on her.

    You could have told her off, a voice in her head whispered to her, traitorously. She ignored it.

    The words shattered the silence, the contemplation of morose subjects, but that could not ruin the melancholy mood. The tiny woman stared into the flames.

    "Seska," she said, finally. "And I was here to find a friend. The land had changed so much since the last time I was here, though..." An understatement to say the least. The character of the land was different, the climate changed. Wetter, colder, and definitively greener.

    "I am lost," she said, and them repeated herself. "I am lost." Whether she meant that she had no idea where she was going, or some other more obscure thing was anyone's guess.
     
  8. Mara Ithrennyn

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    Mara brought the fire almost to her lips and blew, returning the dancer to its home. The muted roll of thunder in the distance meant a storm was probably on its way. That meant finding shelter more substantial or risking a soaking. The chill when that drenches was considerable. She could conjure enough fire to dry and warm herself, but she wasn’t beyond the bounds of Falwood yet and her kith and kin had already made it obvious how little they appreciated her carelessness.

    Not that she would ever make that mistake again.

    Mara looked towards the thunderous horizon, barely visible through breaks in the trees. The clouds were dark grey, the air beneath them wreathed in falling rain and mist. She pursed her lips and then sighed softly before looking back at Seska. “I am sorry that you have not found your friend or your way.” It would only be fair to warn the stranger on the off chance she hadn’t noticed or cared to notice. “That storm to the east looks serious. It would be wisest to seek cover. There’s a grotto not far from here that’s sheltered enough to wait out the storm. That is where I intend to go, but you are welcome to come if you wish it. You kindly shared your fire with me, even in mournful spirits.”

    Mara didn’t really have a direction at the moment, more reacting to what had happened than anything else, but she wanted to move forward. An opportunity or goal would appear in its own time. In the meantime, she could make the best of the situation. It was more pragmatism than optimism at this point, mostly because she didn’t trust the future to be kinder than the past. She would just be ready this time.

    Her scars were on more than her body.
     
  9. Seska the Dragonslayer

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    The sorceress looked to the horizon, the deepening gloom making the faint luminosity of her eyes easier to see. The storm called to her, as did many things of its nature. She could feel the flow of it, even from here. Something beyond her control, now. Or at least, beyond her control without a terrible price.

    "Wise. Yes," she said, and turned to get her things, clicking her teeth as though calling...

    A pained expression on her features, the wrenching of her heart as she realized what she was doing. It was something too ingrained in her to stop so suddenly. The sense of loss, the vast abyss within where once there had been companionship, understanding, and faithfulness, forced a hitch in her breath and a tear in her eye, one that was scrubbed away angrily.

    Taking a ragged breath, she forced the swirl of emotion down viciously. It took a great deal of effort to school her face to stillness, but no matter how she looked outwardly, her heart was in turmoil. "Let us go, then," she replied in a lifeless voice.
     
  10. Mara Ithrennyn

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    Mara nodded at Seska’s agreement. She brought a wrapped hand over the fire in one smooth gesture with a gentle, murmured, almost inaudible, “Sleep now.” The flames dimmed and died. Extinguishing a fire still made her hands shake slightly, but they were getting better. It was one thing she’d now devoted much of her practice to. It was both easier and harder than conjuring a flame. Fire was an eager, energetic element, at least in Mara’s experience. It wanted to thrive, even when that translated into ravenous hunger consuming everything around it. Her grasp of magic was far from mastery and she knew it, but she learned quickly and she’d studied fire and its moods almost every waking moment for the past ten years.

    That was why she found herself speaking to it sometimes in these quiet moments as if it was a small child more than some destroyer of worlds, though it was both and neither. It was silly, but it made her feel less alone.

    She made certain it was all extinguished and then smothered the ashes with earth. Rain was already falling as she finished, so she walked double-speed through the forest, flowing through the underbrush, though she was careful not to outpace her shorter companion. The grotto was only about ten minutes’ walk away. Glancing over her shoulder, she noted the size and density of the sheets of rain falling behind them. It was going to be cold and very wet soon.

    The grotto itself was almost more of a cave, a hollow into a great cleft of raw granite that opened to be about ten feet in irregular radius. Between that and the sheltering boughs of surrounding trees, the area was protected from wind and weather. It was a place her brother stopped occasionally on his patrol of the woods, a place he’d told her to stop at when she left.

    She understood why when she stepped in: someone had left supplies here. Nothing special, but a thick bedroll and blanket in case of cold as well as a package wrapped in paper treated with beeswax. She went over without really stopping to think, lifting the package away from the small dormouse worrying away at one corner with furious intensity. It smelled like bread, not quite fresh any longer, but still much better than the journey rations she’d acquired.

    Nendir.

    There was a split second when Mara thought she’d been rained on more than she’d noticed, but then she realized she tasted salt. She scrubbed the tears away with her sleeve. If this was his way of saying he wasn’t angry, that he didn’t hate her, she would forever be grateful for it. It was a balm for her mood, at least until she remembered that she would probably never see him again. She steeled herself against the creep of the grief that there could always be the chance. Even if she never went home again, maybe he would find her someday.

    Someone had also left a small supply of wood beside a blackened area. The channels in the rock cut by the dripping water were enough to let in light during the day and form a natural, if sideways, chimney. It wasn’t comfortable, exactly, but with a fire and some food, things would be better than they had been in a while.

    Mara knew her companion probably wouldn’t want to talk, as that much had been made plain already. She set about making camp, carefully constructing her fire using the dry wood so it would grow from a spark to warmth enough to warm food and the small space. She wasn’t certain where she wanted to spend the night, but this was looking like a good option depending on the rage of the storm. She replaced her scavenged bedroll with the warm one from her brother, a note falling from it when she unwrapped it. She slipped the folded sheet into her bag, not ready to read it.

    If she was going to burst into tears, she would have the good grace to do it away from Seska, who had far more weighty things on her mind than playing nursemaid to some crippled elf brat. If there was one thing Mara hated, it was pity.

    “I don’t know how long it will rain,” she said, the first thing she’d said since her farewell to the flames at Seska’s camp. “Hopefully not forever, or we’ll be underwater.. I was going to make some food, if you’d like any.” Her lips twitched behind the silk wrap across her face into one of her almost-smiles. “I promise you I’ve yet to make anyone sick. Not much of a guarantee, I suppose, but I don’t put much faith in those these days.”
     
  11. Seska the Dragonslayer

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    The growl of thunder, flicker of lightning, was a familiar sight to her. She always loved these storms, as they seemed to mirror something of her nature. The ancient woman had been born with an affinity to wind and water, a thing that mirrored the tempest of a storm just fine. She could feel its ebb and flow, the updrafts guiding moisture to terrifying heights. The bits of ice that formed its core, the suspended droplets high overhead.

    Normally, it would be a comforting presence. Instead, as she trudged behind the shrouded woman, her elegant staff the only possession left to her in her hands while her thoughts dwelt on futility. Unsurprising, after all. It was not the first time she had lost something dear to her, be it the little mare that had shared the last several hundred years with her or more bipedal friends and acquaintances. The pattern was familiar to her, worn into the stone of her soul. Inescapable, even.

    When the ran came, she couldn't be bothered to call upon the source and weave it as a shield about her. Cold rain came down from high up, running down her back in chill rivulets, flowing between her breasts. The pale dress quickly grew dark, even as the air grew more chill. The grotto might have been a welcome thing, but she couldn't bring herself to care.

    The words of the woman jarred her from her own dark musings, and she looked up. She had taken a seat before the fire without even thinking of it, the stone about her damp from water slowly running off of her. She brushed silver hair from her face, and looked up at the woman with tired eyes. "I do not require food," she said, shaking her head lightly. "Not for days yet. Unless if would make you feel better?"

    She sighed heavily, and rubbed at her eyes. "The storm shall persist for a while," she said in a matter of fact tone, weary though it might be. "Maybe several hours. Long after nightfall, in any case."

    Seska looked at the woman for the first time. The scars, hidden, were livid reminders of some horror she had endured. It had to have been recent, but the pain of it must not have been that great. The woman seemed composed, for the most part.

    "The world is infinitely reliable," she said after a pause. The words were sad, the loss plain to read. "Only short-lived souls would ever claim it otherwise. Tragedy comes, and comes again. All things are cyclical in nature." A heavy sigh. "All things," she repeated.
     
  12. Mara Ithrennyn

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    Mara set to work with all the purpose she could muster. Her hands began to shake as she stacked flat stones around the fire that could support the small pot left here by the passing patrols. She’d probably take it with her, since it was a small one. The shakiness in her hands wasn’t really the proximity to the fire. That hardly ever troubled her. It was exertion. Her hands and arms were still very weak from the burns that had nearly killed her, much of their muscle thick with fragile scar tissue. She cursed under her breath when she scraped herself on one of the stones. A welling droplet of blood at her left ring-finger’s tip was more seen than felt, but it was a reminder that her burn scars were still very, very delicate. She dabbed away the blood quickly, making a mental note to check and bandage that when she was not under Seska’s gaze.

    Mara hated her scars and felt the shame of them wrapped around her like a burial shroud.

    Once the rocks were stacked, she caught some of the rain in the pot and then placed it over the fire. She was quiet as she worked. She’d found a few things as she moved through the woods past an old farmstead: a few potatoes, some leeks, wild garlic and onions. She already had some herbs to go with it, thyme and bay leaves, and a bar of salt the size of a brick. It would have been better with some kind of meat broth, but this would do.

    Cooking felt...normal. So much so that it was intensely jarring. It didn’t belong in this new life of pain. She told herself she was only doing it for the sake of Seska, who was still a dolorous picture of grief. Mara knew her own pain, no matter how agonizing and overwhelming to her, was probably laughable from the outside. After all, she should have known better.

    She would never make the mistake again, because there would be no opportunity to. The doors to her home had slammed shut to stop her approach both literally and figuratively. She could scream and weep and hammer her fists against those barriers until blood coursed down her arms, but it would change nothing.

    Not once in Mara’s childhood had she ever felt unwanted. Now here she was, barely an adult, already discarded like some piece of toxic trash.

    Seska’s comment about the cyclical nature of the world, the certainty of tragedy, it stung too. Mara waited until the soup was bubbling away too cheerfully for her current mood. It would be something to eat, maybe something that wouldn’t become ashes in her mouth.

    “If tragedy is unavoidable, it is not everything that is,” Mara said quietly, mustering up the hardest words she could say. “I would rather suffer the inevitable with the taste of honey on my lips than abandon every hope of sweetness because I fear a painful end. If I did not think so…”

    She knew what she would do without hope. She would bathe herself in flame until every part of her was consumed and never again think of or feel anything at all. The thought had already occurred several times, pride and anger the only thing keeping it at bay. Betrayal was a powerful force for survival and anger was a part of grief.

    Mara stirred the soup carefully, tasting it and then adding a dash of salt scraped off the block. “If you wish, you can taste it,” Mara said. “I wouldn’t mind the second opinion. I’m thinking it will be ready in half an hour or so.”

    Then she retreated towards the mouth of the grotto with the letter from the bedroll, just close enough for the light to reach her. The message was far shorter than she expected.


    Mara,

    You will need what I left. The world beyond Falwood can be cold and harsh. Be careful who you trust and keep your power hidden when you can. It might give you an advantage you will someday need. You are not a warrior and so I recommend avoiding fights. Travel as far as you can, as Falwood will not understand or tolerate your destructive magic.

    That is my advice for the woman who was once my twin sister.

    Nendir.



    Mara’s already damaged heart shattered in her chest. She crumpled the paper in her fist and covered her mouth with her other hand. Hot tears scoured tracks down her face, soaking into the wrap around her face. She sank down to her knees and wrapped her arms around herself. She tried to rock quietly, but it gave her no comfort.

    The one person she thought might still care about her considered her kin no longer. She threw the paper out if the grotto, where it would drown the way she felt like she was.

    Her pride seemed to kick her in the back of her head. Really, you’re going to weep over this? Another feebleminded fool casting you away for fear of what you can do? You’re going to show weakness in front of a stranger? Pathetic! Get up!

    It was right, not that she imagined Seska was watching or caring. She picked herself up even though she felt as though she had cracked down the middle. She scrubbed away her tears in a struggling effort to hide how she felt. Then she stepped fully back in to the grotto, approaching her half-finished cooking and Seska.
     
  13. Seska the Dragonslayer

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    She watched as the worked about the camp, the heavy melancholy settled over her soul keeping her from rising to render aid. That, and the troubles she had already endured in recent weeks preventing her from doing too much that was strenuous. The injuries, many of them barely even visible at this point, were still painful.

    It took a supreme effort of will to push aside her own problems. Watching this other woman work, she could see that something haunted her, even if she was trying to put a brave face on it. She could relate to that in a deep way, after all. Especially right now. She had been wallowing in self pity for weeks now, and it was time to try and put an end to it, even if only briefly.

    The Sidhe got up on stiff limbs, and carefully made her way to the pot while the young woman retreated back the way they had come. The meal was fine, she was sure. It was just that everything tasted of ashes, everything was bland and joyless at the moment. She would not say as much to her host, though, for she did have tact and manners. Sometimes anyway.

    A glance, and she saw that Mara was down, back to her. The grief was something that was easy to see, especially for her who had dealt with it at length now. She did nothing, said nothing, and pretended to have seen nothing as well. When Mara returned to her fire, the sorceress was already seated where she had been before.

    "Your soup is delightful," she said, not sure if she was lying or not. Not caring, either, beyond not bringing this woman any lower. "I cannot help but notice that you seem to be in pain. I can help you with it, help your injuries fade a little faster..." she offered, trying to put warmth in her voice but not entirely sure if she was succeeding in it.
     
  14. Mara Ithrennyn

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    Mara had hoped, stupidly, that her injuries would go unnoticed. Seska had seemed so absorbed by her own pain that it didn’t seem impossible to go without remark. Now, though Mara was forced to think of the scars wrapping down her arms, consuming her hands, spreading across her face. There were even some on her torso and legs, as she had faced the flames wholeheartedly. They were still angry and red, perhaps at their ugliest. It would take years for them to fade, even though she would probably not need another surgery to loosen her jaw or uncurl her hands from twisted claws. She had to stretch them many times every day to help, but that was a task she focused on as intensely as her practice in magic.

    She thought there might have been a hint of warmth in Seska’s offer, but perhaps it was all just disinterest and she was imagining warmth because she craved it from anywhere at this point. “I thank you for the consideration, but you are more in need of your healing than I am,” Mara said. She was not oblivious to Seska’s own condition, which looked distinctly unpleasant. “Mine are...there for a reason.” She hated them, but she knew she deserved them.

    She helped herself to the soup a bit early. It wasn’t what it could have been with better supplies, but it was still warm and filling, tasting better than her trail rations by great magnitude. She broke apart the bread left, ignoring how little she wanted it after the letter, and offered some to Seska. It was the closest she could really come to offering hospitality, given that she had no home.

    Mara made certain to eat as much as she could stand, knowing that there was no guarantee now where and when she would eat this well again. The road was said to be unpredictable at best and she had no expectation of kindness. Seska was the first soul she had encountered heading this way and seemed as aloof as could be due to her own pain. Mara wasn’t holding out much hope of better than this.

    “If you are heading into Falwood, there is a village about seven days from here. I am certain they can offer you a better welcome than mine,” she said finally. “I will be going the opposite way in the morning.” She wasn’t looking forward to being alone again. At least Seska was company, however melancholic. “If that is the way you are going and my company is not too objectionable, you are welcome to travel with me. They say safety is in numbers down the wild roads.”

    Mara was tempted to admit how little she knew of the world beyond her home, but she knew Seska could probably guess that if she hadn’t already. She might have worried more about venturing into the unknown, but fear wasn’t strong enough to overpower everything else.

    Now, more than anything else, she just wanted to sleep and forget for a little while, not that her dreams typically allowed that.
     
  15. Seska the Dragonslayer

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    The diminutive woman shook her head slowly. "I cannot affect healing upon myself, only offer it to others. The Goddess must have thought it a fine joke," she replied. "If you do not wish easing from your troubles, then I will not press."

    There was a lot more behind that particular story. Seska had been alive for far longer than anyone she had met in her wandering, and this had the particular flavor of an old story, rolled around by time's wheel again and again.

    She accepted the bread, though in truth she did not require food in the same way the elf did. The mana that flowed through the world was what she lived off of, with food a distant afterthought. The woodlands were generally particularly rich in such magic, too, which was why she spent so much time in the woodlands across the world. But she did not need even that rich supply, provided she did not get reckless with her use of the Art.

    "There is nothing for me in the Falwood," she said with a touch of bitterness. "I came here to find an old friend, and instead found..." She squeezed her eyes shut, and scrubbed at her face angrily. She was not as reluctant to show emotion before another, but then her pride was of a different nature. "It does not matter," she lied. "Safety in numbers is a fine old saying, but most steer clear of me," she added.

    She would not admit it aloud...but she, too, needed the company. Not for the safety it would bring, for the ancient Sidhe was most capable of protecting herself. No, she had spent so much time alone. Alone in her pain, but in truth just alone. Others could not relate to someone like her, especially once they discovered just how old she was. She became an other to them, something that could not be related to. As if being ancient beyond these mortals reckoning somehow made her immune to the same pain they felt, to the same hardship and sorrow.

    If only they could understand, stop and think: they dealt with it for but a short span. A few hundred years, maybe a thousand or so...

    ...but she had dealt with it for tens of thousands. It bred pathos of a like that they could simply not understand. It had ended her people's civilization, for once you achieved the height of greatness there was only one direction to go. Decline, the ultimate end of all things.

    Instead of saying all that, though, she simply agreed. "In the morrow, then," she said in a tired voice. But it was not to sleep that she would go. Ignoring the soup, she rose on unsteady legs, and went to the entrance of the grotto, to look out into the rains with forlorn eyes.
     
  16. Mara Ithrennyn

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    “I can understand that,” Mara said when Seska mentioned that others avoided her. “I...” I know what it is to be unwanted. She didn’t say it aloud. Instead, she continued, “I wouldn’t mind your company.” Seska’s quiet allowed her to think, though probably too much. It was easy for such invisible wounds to fester that way. She sorted through her bag, pulling out a small jar of green salve that reeked of strong herbs, and placed it on the rock bench to one side of the grotto, closer to Seska. “This might help with the bruises. It eases inflammation. If you want it, anyway.”

    It had helped her hands and face considerably, so she knew it worked. She didn’t have a lot of it, but she felt well enough now that she only needed it when the scars were damaged. It was her effort to be kind in a world that had not treated her with kindness.

    She returned to the bedroll, the smell of smoke and rain mingling into a strangely comfortable scent. It reminded her of practicing after a rainshower under her teacher’s watchful eye. She hadn’t benefited long from Garan’s teaching, but the fire he’d awoken would burn for the rest of her life.

    Mara was honestly exhausted when she laid down. Even a thick bedroll meant the hard rock beneath bit into her hip and shoulder, but it was better than nothing. Warmed by the fire and on a full stomach, she drifted inexorably towards the dreams that she hated. It was the one time she couldn’t put on a strong face, where her pride was no defense.


    —Smoke everywhere, wreathing her body as she screamed, body burned black and white as ravening flames coiled and lashed around her arms, the agony of burning licking up her face until everything started to feel cold. Hands pulled her back from the blaze, but it chased her, spatters of burning sap striking her already scorched chin. Someone was shouting her name, but she could barely hear it over the cacophony in her ears, the crackle and pop of fire devouring her as she tried to push it back. She was too weak, it had taken too much—

    —“My daughter would never have placed her people in such danger or worked such deception to conceal this dark magic. I do not know who you are.”—


    —Sobbing, tears of pain, the whimpering worthy of a child as they cut open her claw-like hands, cutting away the scar tissue that was pulling her fingers in unnatural directions. It needed to be done, but the anesthetic salve was not strong enough to overpower the screaming of the nerves she had left. The tears were liquid fire in the open wounds of the lesser burns on her cheeks, which only made them fall harder and faster. She was alone except for the healers, no one dear to her there to soothe the agony or promise her that everything would be okay.—

    —“She cannot stay. She is a danger to everyone here,” her father said, voice so stern that she felt an inch tall. Every gaze she sought out turned away. It wasn’t until she saw her mother avoid her eyes that she knew it was going to come to pass. No one was going to disagree.

    “Father, let the healers finish their work,” Nendir said, stepping forward. “She will not be using magic while her hands are a wreckage.”

    Her hopes rose desperately in that moment. She wanted someone to care, to understand. If she had to leave, all she wanted was someone who would care to miss her or think of her return. Nendir was her twin, they had always been as close as two halves of a maple seed. She looked over at her brother.

    His face was as soft as granite, almost a mirror image of their father’s. He looked her direction, but when their eyes met, he turned his face away—



    Mara had curled into a ball in her bedroll, forehead touching her knees. As every night, her dreams turned her into a small, weeping child. It was then, in her sleep and the early morning hours that she woke in, she felt as alone as some spirit on the surface of the moon.
     
  17. Seska the Dragonslayer

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    She looked at the jar of salve, and then picked it up, and moved away from the fire. Towards the entrance, where the soft sound if the rain and the occasional moan of the thunder served to create a soothing atmosphere. She stared into the night, aware of the terrors that walked the woods of an evening.

    After a time, she could hear the women's deep and even breathing. The young one was truly naive of the wider world; there were some who would have taken advantage of her. The world was a cruel place. Seska did not think she would gave trusted another, a stranger, to watch over her while she slept.

    Is that what I am doing, then? Possibly. It was not as if she could sleep, anyway.

    After a while, she began to undo the buttons down her back, and then slipped out of her dress, standing clad in a shift. This she slipped out of as well, ubtom she stood on the comd stone, barefoot and naked as the day she had been born.

    She looked very much a mature woman, despite being pint sized. But the pale flesh was mottled with yellow and green, remnants of bruises that spanned every square inch of her flesh. Ugly scars marred her shoulder blades, remnants of wings that had once been but were no more.

    Breath misting, she took up the salve, aware of how little there was. She did not know if she could bring herself to use it, but...well. it had been offered in good faith, and she did not wish to cause offense. The salve was cold enough to pebble her skin, but as she worked it into her flesh, the deep pain seemed to subside some.

    She eventually settled down, working it into joints, staring into the rain as the night wore on. Eventually, she climbed back into her clothes, and then remained awake, watching over the child within.
     
  18. Mara Ithrennyn

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    Mara woke when dawn was just a bare blush of light on the horizon, the false dawn before the sun’s true resurrection. Already, there were birds trilling in joy and relief after the long storm’s passage. She tended the fire half-asleep a few hours prior, adding some wood so that there were warm coals waiting in the morning and not just ashes. This was the first real fire she’d dared to have, made possible by the fact that the stone of the grotto could not be burned across the way a forest meadow could. In her experience, the only fire that could traverse distances so easily was the conjured variety or fires so large and extreme that they began creating their own wind and weather. It was a terrifying thought, but Mara knew it was possible to grow one. That apocalyptic vision was the reason she had been exiled.

    No one wanted Falwood to burn and Mara was perfectly gifted to bring such a horror to pass. She might have done so already had they not caught the fire in time.

    Her face was still wet when she woke, the taste of salt on her lips. Not her finest moment. Hopefully she hadn’t disturbed her fellow traveler...if Seska was even still around. It seemed more likely than not that the strange woman would go on her own way the moment she was given the opportunity, a thought that made Mara’s chest twinged. They’d barely spoken, but she’d appreciated just having another presence in her world. Flame was wonderful, beautiful, but it wasn’t a person no matter how intensely she held onto it. Fire would never understand her the way another person could.

    She looked into the coals and they seemed to glow brighter, as if trying to cheer her. She knew that wasn’t the case, of course. Fire did respond to her presence and even more to her emotions, but it had no mind or heart to concern itself with her.

    She did what she did every morning: bury her dreams deep in the back of her mind before setting about her day as if normal. She needed to unbandage her hands and wash them carefully before dressing them again. She’d become surprisingly skilled at bandaging one hand with the other, a dexterity doubly impressive given the fumbling condition of her hands. Her face and arms were more healed because they encountered far less wear, and could be hidden behind her silk mask and her long sleeves.

    Reluctantly, she sat up in her bedroll, exposing herself to the cool air of the morning. That in and of itself jarred her to full wakefulness. Mara combed her fingers through her hair as she looked around. She liked to think she had some sense for people. Seska hadn’t come across like someone willing to harm her even if no doubt able, nor did she seem a thief.

    All the same, Mara expected Seska to turn away, as everyone else had.
     
  19. Seska the Dragonslayer

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    Night had granted no respite, and another night with little to no sleep simply added itself to the already overwhelming burden on her shoulders. With the light of dawn came another new day, the dark circles under her eyes unable to deepen any further than they had from the day before.

    She watched in silence as the young woman went about her work within the camp, never asking for assistance or, as it might be, even giving the diminutive woman the opportunity to work on such mundane tasks. It was as well, anyway; she felt utterly exhausted, worn in a way that could not be described. Maybe Mara might be able to understand, she seemed to bear some wounding of the heart that went beyond that of the flesh. She could understand both.

    There was really nothing to say. She had reacquired the staff she carried with her over the night, and it lay across her lap, the realistic vines seeming to stretch towards the rising sun as the sorceress looked on with an unfathomable expression, watching the girl work on her injuries.

    She knew what those were the result of, and couldn't help but sigh inwardly. These children and their meddling with things that did not belong to them. It was an old argument she had with herself quite often, one that she had ceased voicing a long time ago. The Art belonged to her people...but her people had faded, passed into the blue beyond the horizon. It was a sorrowful thing to contemplate; the height of her society had been tens of thousands of years ago, and ever since then the Sidhe as a people had been in decline.

    Retreating. Fading, ever backwards, farther, into the distance until even their name wasn't recalled. There were probably onyl a handful of scholars in the world that could even say that they knew of them.

    Looking at those scars spoke eloquently of a lack of control. It was perhaps a blessing that these younger races had nowhere near the potency, else the young woman here might have just killed herself instead of scarring herself.

    "Do you need a hand, Mara," she asked in a quiet voice. There was nothing she could do about the disfiguring scars, but there were things she could do to ease her suffering, at least physically. She had offered once, and she would offer again. "Those look painful."
     
  20. Mara Ithrennyn

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    Mara flinched at Seska’s offer. She’d been careful to sit with her back to the diminutive woman as she unwrapped the shrouding around her hands. The bandages were wound carefully, separating each finger. Burns could easily fuse such delicate body parts. She’d been fortunate and attended to by skilled healers even after the fire. Apparently the attempt at concealing her wounds hadn’t been successful. It was some small mercy the more severe ones to her face and neck were still hidden.

    She was doubly thankful that the burn of shame on the parts of her cheeks that were not scarred was also hidden behind her mask. It made her want to disappear into the earth or at least become invisible. Unfortunately, that was not a talent she possessed.

    “They’re nothing,” she said, voice roughened by pain that was not physical. She could only barely feel the tears and blisters that formed on her scarred hands so easily, just as she’d lost almost all of her sense of touch, of heat and cold. It was the less severe wounds up her arms that hurt, that burned even after days as they slowly mended. Scarred, but far less so. They had only blistered, not blackened in the fire. “But...thank you.”

    She started wrapping her hands again, more quickly, in the utterly vain hopes of concealing the full damage. It took her some time still, as she continued the practice of wrapping her fingers just in case. The bandages were thin enough that she could still move her fingers, though her hands were stiff and clumsy in the morning. They felt their best at midday, stretched and moving without the exertion that came later in the day.

    It was time to make conversation, anything to avoid comments about her hands. They were anything but beautiful and she knew there was cruelty waiting for her if people saw them, even the unintentional variety. The burns were so deep that she’d forever lost her fingernails, that her hands were almost claws, that she bore the scars of surgery over the scars of the fire. They were no longer black, but even some of the bone had been damaged. If her hands had been less delicate, perhaps they would have endured it better.

    “I’m surprised to see you,” Mara said quietly, turning once her hands were shrouded in gauze again. “I thought you would have left by now. I’m not much in the way of company.” She looked over properly, meeting Seska’s eyes even as the urge to just flee or disappear intensified. Again, it was her pride that stopped her. She was tired of just running after having been forced to do so once already. There had to be something better. “Did the salve help?”

    It looked like Seska’s bruising was at least partly better. For all her flaws, the mixer of that particular medicine was very much an expert herbalist. Mharen was one of the few people who at least seemed more sympathetic, though she hadn’t said a word of it. It was more of a look than anything else, and the fact that she’d given Mara something that could ease the process of healing. Granted, there wasn’t much of it.

    Even knowing that her supply was finite and small at that, Mara didn’t mind sharing it. Anything she could do to ease Seska’s pain was worth doing, even if it was a droplet of rain when an ocean was needed. At her core, Mara took no pleasure in seeing anything or anyone suffer, except maybe those who had cast her aside.

    No, even then, she felt a catch in her throat at the thought. They either hated her now or thought of her with that indifference she had seen on Nendir’s face, but she remembered them as the people that she loved. That was why it hurt more than anything. Now here she was, homesick and pained, latching onto any company she could find just to stop herself from drowning in loneliness...even company that seemed preoccupied and detached.

    There was a reason for Seska’s relative silence, Mara knew. It wasn’t her place to ask or perhaps even know it, but she could at least be present if Seska felt even remotely the same way. After all, she wasn’t about to spill everything about herself to a stranger either.

    She studied Seska properly, noting the dark circles under her eyes. “Are you well enough to travel?” she asked quietly. “We can remain here if you want to get some rest. I can’t imagine another patrol for at least a few days.”
     
  21. Seska the Dragonslayer

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    "Why would I leave," the woman replied, her voice utterly exhausted. She refrained from further comment about the injuries sustained; it did not matter that she covered them and hid them from sight, for the ancient sorceress could feel the echoes of the magical conflagration that had marked her so. Such potency in one so young, and without much training she guessed...

    She got to ger feet, moving stiffly after such a period of inactivity. She nodded as she walked, leaning on her staff heavily. "Yes, a little. Medicine can only help so much when the wounding is from excess," she said, stepping up to the fire and settling down with a soft groan.

    She had healed much already. She could remember little of the days following the red mists. She had spent a week bed ridden, freezing and melting by turns. She could not remember the last time she had been as ill as that,so much so that the man who had been with her at the time had thought she would die

    And that had been a couple weeks before. She could breath better now, and she could walk most of a day without flagging and failing. Had she her sweet little mare, it would not have been so rough.

    Unnoticed, a single tear welled up,and slid down her cheek.

    She took a ragged breath. "I have no choice," she said, noticing the wet trail on her cheek and scrubbing it away angrily. "This place is too close to..." She shook her head. "I am used to it. I have not had a home in a thousand years and more," she said. She politely refrained from any observations about her companion. Rudeness was unnecessary but - though she would not admit it - the company was more a soothing balm to her raw soul than she could ever admit.
     
  22. Mara Ithrennyn

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    Mara nodded. "If you need anything or if there's anything I can do, please tell me." She caught and noted the mention of a thousand years. She'd figured this woman to be an elder of some kind, but she had evidently been mistaken by magnitude. The idea of not having a home for more than a thousand years was heart-wrenching. Mara was not exactly likely to live that long and so the scale of loss was something she knew she didn't and likely couldn't understand.

    It only took her a few minutes more to collect her worldly possessions and carefully put them into her pack so it was as manageable as possible. She wasn't ready to voice her answer to the woman's comment of Why would I leave? After all, Mara's world was shaken enough that she didn't expect anyone to think well of her or wish her around.

    She poked her head out of the grotto to see blue skies with only a few wisps of white clouds. There were some freshly fallen branches from the storm and the world still smelled of rain mixing with the perfume of fallen cedar needles. It was a scent that had a special place in her heart despite her affinity for fire. "It looks like a calm day," Mara said. "At least the storm didn't catch us out in the open." She didn't dislike rain, but she wasn't keen on the idea of being drenched and pushed towards a cold or potentially dying of exposure.

    Mara had a feeling it would be her job to find some kind of silver lining despite her own melancholy. There were worse fates. "Shall we go?" After sleep as good as it came these days, she felt ready to keep moving. The hardest part would probably be keeping her native curiosity under wraps. It wasn't her place to interrogate her new traveling companion.
     
  23. Maranae

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    "It will not rain again for days," she said with a confidence that near certainty. That affinity for wind and water had its uses, especially when wandering. With a muffled groan, the Sidhe get to her feet, leaning heavily on her staff. "And we may as well." Even if I have no place to go just now.

    The summer sun shone down, brilliant morning light streaming from a clear blue sky. She stepped from the grotto, and closed her eyes. The warmth was welcome, soothing to her bones that still ached from the torture she had delivered to ut.

    "It is hard to believe a few weeks ago and a little way from here, everything is dead," she said. The horror of the creatures of Pandemonium would not leave her for a long while, but they also were only one among a long list of nightmares endured over long years. No nightmare compares to the death of an entire world, though. How black were her hands with the blood of innocents? Could their regard cross eons, fix her with eyeless accusatory stares? She had often had to answer yes to that.

    She could not remember the faces of her mother and father, but the Fall...she could still hear the screams. Next to that atrocity, the sorrow of her lost companion paled to nothing.

    She made her slow way behind Mara, limping along more gamely than the day before. Sleeplessness had a process, after all.
     
  24. Mara Ithrennyn

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    "Everything is dead?" Mara asked, somewhat startled, though she tried to recapture the words the moment they leaped off her lips. Perhaps that was at least part of why Seska seemed so downcast. Since she was unable to take back the less-than-cautious curiosity, she sighed and then admitted reluctantly, "Sorry, I've never left Falwood. I don't really know what's going on or where to go from here." The world beyond her home was huge and strange, she knew that much. It was more than a bit daunting, but she had less than no choice.

    Still would have been nice to have a destination besides Away. She knew she wanted to learn more of magic, to get a firmer grip on her pyromancy so she had more control, but where to do that was the real question. Raw talent and an elemental affinity were not going to be anywhere near enough.

    Asking Seska for advice someday might be wise, she reasoned, if her traveling companion would ever wish to dispense that wisdom. She was clearly magical in nature, if only judging by their first meeting and the staff she carried. Mara knew she in no way knew Seska enough to ask now. It felt like it would be an annoyance at best.

    Even as she spoke, Mara was stretching her hands. It almost looked like she was playing an invisible harp, curling her fingers as much as she could and then opening them as far as she was able, spreading them and then bringing them closer together at the same time. Anything to win back some of that mobility. She did slow her walk to keep pace with Seska, something she didn't at all mind. Slow and steady would probably be easier than the swift pace she'd used up to this point and now that they were on the verge, running didn't seem as necessary. Her feet were still aching from the fleeing she'd done days ago, probably from hitting the solid stones on that cliff top so hard.
     
  25. Seska the Dragonslayer

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    "Mists and demons, they with insatiable vengeance for what I know not," she said. She concentrated on keeping her footing; she was dreadfully tired and knew this would be a hard day. "They killed a village of humans, and the mists themselves killed the land." She made a disgusted face, remembering the slimy grass and leaves, as if the living things were rotting as they grew.

    The creatures in the mist had been corrupted wildlife and people, twisted by the thing controlling it all.

    She could remember Nightwind, her little mare, claimed by the mists, and the raw power she had used destroying her friend, as well as more of the demons.

    Seska shook her head, banishing the memories.

    "People will starve to death this year, there." It was a clinical observation, without compassion for those who would perish.

    She walked a ways in silence, lost to her own thoughts.

    "The world is a wide and wonderous place," she said suddenly, many minutes later. "I have been to all of it, though the passage of years means that everything is different every time I come back to a place. The Falwood was little more than a shadow of it's current glory when last I was here," she said. A pause, recollection brought to the fore. "Mia must have passed from the world since then,' she added, sadly.

    Retreating, withdrawing. Fading. The Sidhe would eventually be extinct, just another footnote in the margins of history.
     

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