Find You

(WildStar fan fiction of my OC, Jenny.)

The rusty, antiquated shuttle was shaky in her hands. Or maybe it was merely Jenny’s hands that were shaky. The lush, verdant canopy of Wilderrun filled the cockpit with it’s soft, emerald glow, and Jenny checked her heading. Two miles out.

It has been a year since she had joined the Nebula. A year of blissful freedom and learning how to thrive. A year of searching for any of the Empress’ former crew that had survived Seth’s take-over. Jet had been the one to tip her off to the location of a former deckhand. Codes matching Cole’s has been used at the Exile outpost in the richly forested corner of Olyssia, and the rest had been word of mouth.

Steering the craft down, a small, unassuming cabin in a clearing came into view. As the landing gear found the soft earth she studied the seemingly abandoned building for a moment. It was quaint, cleanly painted with whitewash, and the grass around the building had been trimmed several days past. Could she have gone to the wrong place? No, this had to be it. While much of the near nature had been left untouched the house seemed to her as well-kept as most everything in her friend’s life.

Cole. He had joined the Empress in the hopes of being a weapons specialist. Would have made a damned fine one, too. Two of them had raced bikes together, on occasion been wing-men, and the last she’d seen him Benton was shoving the young man into a one-man escape pod when the mutiny on the Empress had taken a turn for the worst.

Something told her to leave the rented shuttle running. The hatch sliding open, Jenny didn’t bother with the ramp, and hopped the few feet to the ground as the ION engines idled. Habit saw her rest one hand on a pistol as she walked down the worn dirt path, and the distant sounds of insects and birds amidst the jungle canopy brought to mind some long forgotten memory of a peaceful afternoon on good, solid earth. She had to hand it to him. The man really knew a good place when he saw it.

“’ello?” she called, rapping a knock on the plain, windowless front door. There was no response. Frowning she knocked a second, then a third time. He could be sleeping, or gone… or hiding. If it was either of the last two….

Jenny tried the handle to find it unlocked. She swung the door open. No response. Stepping inside her brows rose as seeing the clean, modestly furnished living room. The faint hum coming from the holo-vision set up against the far wall told her it needed fixed, but she tucked the mental note away for later.

“‘ello? Cole?” she called again. The faint scuttle of tiny feet sounded from inside the wall to her right, making her jump a little. Of course the moron would have critter problems. “Oi! Cole, if yer ‘ere, I’ll kick yer ass if ya shoot me, and then get ya a house broke pumera.” She hesitated, a grin turning up her pink lips as she saw several cheap frames holding pictures of the old crew. She was for sure in the right place. “If I’m jus’ talkin’ t’ mahsel –”

A light shuffle sounded from the next sun-lit room, followed by the sound of a ragged voice. “H-Hello? If – if you’re there… augh, Kemos, please h-help.”

Jen’s smirk vanished. Quietly drawing one of her pistols her thumb flipped the safety off. The scuttling of feet sounded again, this time up in the ceiling above her head. “Who’s there? Cole?”

Another labored breath, and the faint clinking of shattered glass reached her ears as Jenny cautiously approached the doorway. “Wha – Jen? Jen is that you?” The voice sounded rough, dry, and though choked with emotion, there was no doubt that it belonged to Cole.

A wave of dread washed over her. Swallowing hard, she chanced to lean into the doorway and peek around the corner. Bile rose in her throat.

Guns lost in one corner, broken glass littered the white kitchen tile. In the middle of the room her friend lay in a pool of blood. A slowly waking, violet mass rippled and rolled along the devoured lower half of the man’s body. Several indigo and royal purple tendrils rose from the floor to creep over one of Cole’s outstretched arms, and a dozen yellow eyes flickered open to fix on the young mechanic.

Shit, Jenny what are you doing here?” Cole rasped, red-tinted tears welling in his eyes and streaming down pallid cheeks as splayed fingers gripped the floor in a fruitless attempt to drag himself towards her.

What sounded like a groan and the slapping of tentacles echoed from the room beyond the young man.

Jenny choked on a sob, pressing the back of her gloved hand to her mouth as she looked at the torn man and vivid beast that began to shift and coil further around him. “I came to find you – Fuck, Cole –”

His attention no longer on her, Cole’s head half turned to listen to the adjacent room behind him. The sounds of chirping from outside had suddenly stopped, and his eyes opened wide in realization. “No… no, NO, Jenny run!”

Even as the words erupted from his parched lips a shrill shriek tore through the house, followed by a snarling, screeching violet beast that exploded out of the far room. Knocking over a small table and several chairs, the monster’s claws dug into the ceramic floor as it dove for the young woman.

Jenny was already running. Bursting out of the front door she tore down the path towards her waiting aircraft so fast that her body lost feeling and the world lost color. The Strain-beast screamed, closing in from behind. White hot energy filled her hands, and poured into her sidearms. Making a desperate leap into her rented vessel Jenny turned at the last second and fired, the enraged monster’s grasping lunge at her hardly two feet away when the inferno slammed into the deformed face and hurled it back.

She landed hard on the metal grated floor, the wind knocked from her lungs. Forcing herself to move she rolled to the pilot’s seat. Her left arm snagged on something as her other reached out in desperation for the console. More screams rose from beyond the old rental. Pain shooting up her arm, she unhooked herself, slammed her palm the button to close the hatch and threw the engine into full throttle. With a concussive roar the grass and earth and Strain creature behind the ship were incinerated as the vessel took off, fleeing the infected house and the devoured man within.

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Practice

(Originally posted to my LOTRO blog at eruvieloflindon.wordpress.com)

“… an’ we took of like cats from a cage! Should ‘a seen us. Damned birds. Gonna be shyin’ from the critters fer weeks!”

Eruviel blinked out of her thoughts, lifting her head from where it rested on her knee to look to the young weapon smith. “Hmm? Oh — yes, yes that would be incredibly frightening. Crows are far smarter than some people care to admit.”

Risala lowered her weighted arms, frowning at the Elf. “You weren’ listening to a word I said, were ya?”

“You were running away from the gravedigger.”

“Yer so full of it,” Risala snorted, lifting the training sword to continue going through her paces. “What’re ya thinkin’ about?”

With a little smirk the Elf rose to her feet and walked along the stone fence to where their training gear sat. “Nothing that need concern you.”

Risala grinned mischievously and pointed her sword accusingly at Eruviel. “You were thinkin’ about him, weren’t ya?!”

“No, I was not,” Eruviel replied, taking up a short sword and the wooden shield from where it leaned against the barrier. “And even so it is hardly any of your business.”

“Bull,” Ris shot back with a snicker. “Can’t fool me, pointy-ears.”

One corner of Eruviel’s mouth slowly curved up. “How is your wounded tail bone feeling?”

“What? What has that gotta do with –” Risala cut off and shrugged, shoving a swath of bright red hair out of her eyes. “It’s fine. Why?”

“Your footwork has gotten sloppy.”

Risala scowled at the change of subject. “It ain’t got sloppy, you jus — Whaaaiiie!”

Quicker than she could respond, Eruvil had dashed in and swept the human’s legs out from under her. With a yelp and a flail of her arms Risala’s legs flew up and she crashed down to the ground.

“Ayyee! Damned bloody elf!” Ris wailed, rolling over and holding her bottom. “What’d ya do that for?!”

Eruviel dropped the shield beside the young woman, and set her hand on her hip. “As payback for last year when you knocked me on my ass.”

“Eh-heh, oh yeah,” Ris responded, grinning as she rose to her feet and took the shield up.

“And also, because the further you go along your road, the greater the chance of you crossing paths with far more dangerous things than an ‘gaunt lord’ and his enchanted flock of carrion.”

Risala sniffed and frowned down at her hammer and shield. “Yeah? Ya really b’lieve in all tha’?”

“I have seen all that, my dear friend.”

“Guess… learnin’ from a two thousand year ol –”

“Fifteen hundred year old –”

Risala smirked and rolled her eyes, though her limbs tingled with an eager anticipation.”Yeah, same thing. Company ain’t gonna be in Bree long. Ya really think you can learn me all that before I go?”

Eruvel’s green eyes narrowed as she grinned, and the Elf whispered under her breath to ignite the oil along the length of her blade. “Shield up. I can do better than that, Miss. Thorne. I can teach you.”

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Terra Creen: Excerpt II

Being careful to step over the soldiers sitting at the trampled entrance of the tent, Sky could see everyone hard at work tending patients within. Devin, Renam and Elithia made their way down the rows, healing then sending the soldiers back to their own lodging under the care of another with orders to rest; no exceptions. Only the worst were treated by the healers. Minor injuries were simply covered with a yellow-green poultice that smelled like cedar and other herbs that Sky had never heard of before, then wrapped by the physician and sent on their way to make room for the others.

Keeping out of the way of those coming and going, she watched, conflicted. Sky noted the calm that came over the wounded as Elithia treated them. Unlike Sky, the princess had long golden hair she kept braided as she worked – like a halo, it framed her delicate features and brilliant light blue eyes. The Creen smiled a little as the young woman’s work went faster than the other’s, though there was something to be said for natural talent.

Elithia saw her come in. Putting her hand on her current patients’ head, the man’s breathing slowed as he sunk into a deep sleep, and she beckoned to the Creen.

“You look terrible,” Sky said as she approached the princess, her own expression weary and numb. Killing, unfortunately, came easily, but Sky offered a silent prayer of thanks that she had not been born a Shoren as she looked at the mangled bodies and contorted faces of the men who had followed her to this end mere hours before.

“And you have been avoiding mirrors.” Giving the Creen a scrutinizing look, she then turned to lead the way past the cots and makeshift beds.

How are they?” asked Sky as she nodded her head in acknowledgment to one of the lords who sat by the bed of his armour bearer.

Elithia glanced back at her as she walked with Sky to the back of the immense tent. Most will live. You lost a lot of soldiers today,” she said quietly. “Half of the men who needed tending will be barely suitable for battle tomorrow.”

Sky winced before reluctantly asking, And the number dead?”

“Too many.”

How many,” she inquired, her voice firm and lacking it’s usual patient undertone.

Right now I would estimate about five hundred.”

Sky felt the sting of bile in the back of her throat.

“I don’t know numbers, and I’ve never seen….”

“It’s too many,” said Sky abruptly.

Elithia’s steps slowed as she frowned down at her blood-stained apron. “What about reinforcements?”

“You really don’t listen to any of the reports, do you?”

A strained look passed over the young woman’s face. “My business is in saving lives…” Her voice trailing off, she glanced over her shoulder at the Creen.

Sky caught the princess’ concerned look. “Don’t give me that,” she grumbled under her breath. “You do your work. Leave me to mine.”

Elithia sighed, shaking her head. Reaching a small curtained area, her companion pulled back the hung cloth to reveal a large basin with steaming water. A brush, washcloth, and clothes crowned two towels that sat folded on a stool. Following Sky inside Elithia carefully closed the curtain. “Turn around,” she ordered quietly. “You can’t get out of that armour on your own.”

Yes ma’am,” Sky replied, not protesting to the help. The buckles for her pauldrons were undone, followed by her segmented breastplate and the clasps to her leg guards. The fauld came off next, allowing her to untie the dark blue skirt that reached her knees in two separate flaps in front and behind. She undid the black leather bound to her forearms on her own. Shrugging off the leather vest and wool shirt she wore beneath, she let Elithia scowl at the scrapes and marks on the metal of her breastplate.

Free of the burden Sky stretched her arms up, suddenly aware of the stiffness that had settled into her muscles. Quick to shed the rest of her effects, she gladly stepped into the tub and sank down into the scalding hot water. Tendrils of steam curled up, caressing her face, and the herby, flowery scent of bath salts was a welcomed change after long weeks with rough, homemade soap. “You are the best, dear friend. I won’t take long.”

I’m glad you’re all right,” murmured Elithia, picking up the pieces of Sky’s armour. Her pale face turned up in a soft smile, and Sky could still see some remnants of childhoods freckles on her friend’s face. “I pulled extra clothes out of your tent for you; figured you’d forget.”

Sky shrunk down in the water, offering an embarrassed grin. Thank you!”

Elithia frowned, opening her mouth to speak, but stopped to instead purse her lips into a tight line. Brushing the back of her hand over her brow she tapped a finger to the surface of the water and walked away. “Scrub up, Estimel, you smell like the men!” 

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Terra Creen: Excerpt

The tumultuous mob swarmed through the streets. A flood of fury, and triumph, they poured out of the Grand Court to rush and down long cobbled streets towards the city square. The sound of shouts and chanting grew deafening as the square filled with hundreds, then thousands of people. They overflowed down the streets, filling windows and covering every flat and precariously angled rooftop. The walls surrounding the inner city might have bulged from the mass and been covered by their numbers, had they not already been lined with rows upon rows of soldiers clad in gleaming plate mail, and armed with spears.

If someone fell, those around them picked them up. Children were carried on shoulders, and in the chaos some semblance of order was somehow maintained. Not a single citizen remained in their homes, save for those that shared windows facing the center of town with neighbors. Suppers were abandoned, and chores were set aside. This night justice would be served.

As the shouts in the square faded, a new cry arose from those still at the court steps. The guilty had emerged. It was a beautiful, frighteningly infectious beast – the emotions that ran through the mob as eight men, framed by soldiers three deep with tall shields, were led towards the square. Hateful eyes gleamed in the evening light as the chant of, “To the death!” rippled out and grew louder. Men and women alike wept in relief at this turn after years of war, and in sorrow at the memory of all that had been lost.

“To the death!” had been the rallying cry the eight men would shout before battle. “To the death!” was the last thing families heard as their towns were set on fire and loved ones slaughtered, all in the name of some ambiguous higher cause. Now it was the cry bellowed with conviction by the men’s enemies as the gallows came into sight.

Eight nooses, checked and hung with unnerving care, were slowly filled with the necks of the men judged to be more wicked than the rest. The gallows, illuminated by golden evening sunlight that streamed past the palace roofs behind them, loomed up above the mob as the shadows grew.

A bell rang, then twice more.

“In sight of all these witnesses –“

The voice of the mob faded to an eerie silence as the High Commander began to speak from atop the platform.

“In sight of all these witnesses, let it be known that the appointed lords of the Grand Court have found these men guilty, and sentenced them to die.” The commander turned to look at the convicted. “Do you have any last words?”

The silence was more deafening than the shouts from before. The angry eyes of the crowd fixed upon the eight men, and the eight men stared back, offering no hint of remorse or care.

Turning once again to face the crowd, the High Commander drew a deep breath.”Then, let it be known that on this the fourth day of the fifth month, year twenty-two fifty-eight of the Third Age, that Ithune, son of Igar, the brothers Thorn, Koss, Arnost, and Ayren Greywing, and the brothers Maegris, Braeden, and Zaeros Torek are sentenced to death.”

A ripple of anticipation seeped through the crowd, and their murmurs began to build.

“For the crimes of, though not exclusive to, rape, murder, genocide, and the use of dark magics, the aforementioned will be hanged by the neck until dead.”

A cry of approval rose up from the thousands gathered, and was picked up by those waiting behind them. As the chant of, “To the death!” again caught hold, it suddenly grew more insistent; angrier than before. The eight waiting to die had all fixed their eyes on a single point in the crowd. Some looked around for whatever had drawn the attention of the accused, but to no avail. Black bags were slipped over their heads, and each man in turn offered the onlookers an unnerving smile.

The now unified chant turned into a furious uproar. How dare these men smile. The platform jolted as the crowd pressed against its base. The High Commander, sensing that there was little time before the bloodthirsty mob tore the convicted to shreds themselves, motioned to the hangmen. A shouted order was given. With a resounding thud, all eight levers were pulled, and the bell rang thrice again.

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The Demon Prince: The Measures We Take (part 1)

Cale motioned ‘left,’ and the two Creens leaned into the turn, not bothering to slow as they rounded a cart and ran down the next empty street. The cold found them again, and it wrapped around Cale’s arm like a small hand pulling him forward.

“We’re getting close,” muttered Sky as another, more frantic chill guided them down an alley and out into a wider street.

High above in a near tower, a crier called out the early hour. The sound of dozens of doors opening and closing drifted over the cobbled streets, and Cale reached out to Sky.

“Slow down. We don’t know what we are looking for, and we don’t want to attract attention.”

Sky frowned and slowed to a brisk walk that matched his. Hardly a minute had passed and the two of them were surrounded by workers who filed out of homes. As the crowd slowed them even more, the prickling chill grew more pleading. Cale could not decide if he felt relieved that no one else around them seemed to notice the flow of power that wove around the pedestrians, or not.

“It’s just around the corner,” muttered Sky, walking close to him. “We need to hurr –” Her words were cut short when a sudden wave  of cold, accompanied by jumbled emotions of panic, despair, and betrayal coiled around them. The two Creens moved into a jog as the force dragged them forward, nearly crushing them. As they dodged people in the street, the cold that gripped them turned bitter, fading in and out, growing weaker the closer Sky and Cale drew to the source.

Cale’s eyes narrowed with concern and frustration as he searched the street and walkways around them. Whatever it was could not be evil. The cold power felt too raw and helpless, reaching out to him and his companion with a sense of self-preservation. Stumbling over a gutter, the two suddenly slid to a halt. Stranded in the middle of the main road that wound through the city, the power vanished.

Taking Cale’s arm, Sky led them across the thoroughfare to the other side to stand on steps leading up to a small temple complex. “Cale, what was that . . . and where is it?” she whispered in a hoarse voice, a shadow fallen over her face as she searched the crowd around them.

Cale followed easily, his eyes narrowed. Moving up a few steps, he turned in a slow circle. “I don’t know . . . it’s gone . . . all of it . . .” Finally facing the temple, his voice trailed off.

“Cale?”

Without moving, the man motioned for her to join him, and when she did she stood a little closer to him. Ordinary people would not have noticed, nor would any passing Creens have paid much heed, but Cale reached out into Sky’s mind to show her what he saw. It was faint, like a distant layer of dust, but streaks of lingering power coated the lower level of the temple. It felt wrong . . . unnatural, and the closest comparison Cale could think of was a room splattered with color.

Sky tugged at his arm and nodded to the far columns of the building where a group of people emerged. “Look, there.”

Cale swallowed the sick feeling that knotted in his gut, and tore his eyes from the temple’s white walls. Out from the side of the temple a small group — most likely family — emerged. Dressed in rough, grey clothing, the few men among them put comforting arms around the women. “What? Those people?” Looking down at Sky, the simmering anger in her eyes made him take a step away. “What about them?”

“They have a baby.”

“What do you mean — Sky, come back!” he said, stepping after her as she strode away to follow after the small family.

Shrugging off his hand, she hurried down the temple steps and across the street, Cale hot on her heels. Don’t you see it? Sky kythed, her words and emotions heavy in his mind.

It’s a baby, Sky, he responded, his own words soft in attempt to calm her. Talk to me. Why are we following these people?

Keeping a reasonable distance behind the family, the two Creens crossed over one street, walked down a block, then turned down a narrower way. The child is dead.

Then we should let them be! We can’t shadow them if . . . Sky, what are you saying?

Silence from the young woman was his only answer.

You can’t mean that they

I think so.

Cale shot Sky a disapproving glance. That is a dangerous assumption to make.

Hence us following them.

Not wanting to argue, Cale turned his stern gaze forward. He didn’t want to think about the implications. The memory of the cold, and the fear that had come with it sent a shiver down his spine. But if it was what Sky had thought, should they not have gone to the temple to ask a priest? Shaking his head, he did not protest as Sky took his arm to guide him around a corner. Then again, Cale held little respect for the righteous men. They often knew too much, and too often kept back information that could save lives. Huffing out a frustrated breath, the Creen picked up the pace.

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SIFrp: In Might and Mirth Prevail

Ris could still feel panic edging in her gut. “Is there anything inside we need?”

“No — well, your bow is our room, my lady.”

“Is there any way out from our room?”

Danica frowned, and shook her head.

“Well, then they can have it. Sable will buy me a new one.”

Danica nodded curtly, a small smirk on her face. “Then by all means, let’s get out of here!”

Ris turned to walk . . . and her heart stopped. Hardly a second passed, but she saw him; the slumped shoulder, and then those keen, baleful eyes that stared back at her in shock.

Slapping Danica on the arm Ris did the only thing she could do. She ran. Faster than she had down the streets of Highgarden, and with near as much desperation as she had when she’d sprinted out of the prison yard, Marisily raced away from the back door of the Inn.

The captain shouted for his men to go after them. Ris could hear their heavy footfalls behind her and Danica who followed, hot on her heels.

Please . . . please! Not here, not now. Not with the army so close!

Peeling around the corner of the Inn, Ris did not slow as she looked about wildly for a horse, any horse that she and Danica could take. All were tied up in the stables . . . except for five. Five men had just dismounted their horses and were walking them to the stables as Ris flew out into the road.

_ _ _

“You think there is a room left in this heap?”

“I don’t care if we have to sleep on the floor,” Marrin grumbled as he patted the nose of his steed. “As long as I get a belly full of wa –“

“Please! Help us!”

Marrin looked up, along with his four companions a the sound of the desperate cry.  From around the far side of the Inn two women appeared, both in servant’s clothes and sprinting for their lives.

“What in the — Miss?”

The women did not slow as they neared him and his men. “Please! We need your horses! They are trying to kill us!”

Startled, Marrin dropped his hold on his horses reigns, and his hand went to his sword as four men appeared, chasing after the two.

“Stop those women!” One of the men bellowed. “Do not let them escape!”

Quickly moving to obey the orders, Marrin and his men turned back to the horses, now frustrated to see that the women had already lept into the saddles.

A second of frantic scrambling ensued. The woman who had cried for help took his horse, and pulled the animal out of his reach with surprising skill. He felt the reigns in his hands, and then they were gone as he and his companions watched the females spur their horses forward to disappear down the road towards the city.

_ _ _

Dust floated down around her as she lay on the dirt road. Had they survived so much to die so close to their goal? Hot liquid poured out of her body from where the bolt had struck her back, and the world faded for the last time as she listened to the cheers echoing out of the city gates . . .

“Ma’am –erm — my lady?”

Marisily snapped out of the vision as she looked back to see the four riders stop a short distance behind them. “Yes . . . . Take us into the city,” she said with surety. “The Lord Hand will vouch for me.”

The soldier, still seeming uncertain, followed her gaze and frowned. “Of course. I’ll take you to the Lord Thorne.” With a wave of his hand the mounted cohort surrounded Marisily and Danica, the leader riding between Ris and the men who watched from a distance.

_ _ _

Not having left her side, the young soldier led Ris and Danica up well tended steps and into the elaborate manor. “Your — the Lord Hand is this way, my lady,” he muttered, obviously nervous about bringing a woman in a peasant’s dress into the company of his lord.

Ris looked back to Danica, and the two women exchanged looks. “Why are we here at Berstagg’s home?”

“Former home. The Lord Hand has decreed that all the wealth of Tyrion Berstagg is forfeit in light of the executed lord’s treason, and will be used by The Hand for the good of The Reach.”

A small smile turned up Ris’s mouth as they made their way through the luxurious hall. They were led up a flight of stairs, and down another corridor. The low rumble of men’s voices echoed out from the hall around the bend, and stepping into the wide space, a silence fell over the room.

Her husband stood at a table covered with bags of coins and ledgers, facing away, and Martin with him. The soldier that had led her there stood awkwardly beside her, not sure of what to do. Servants looked to her, several of the city guard were present, giving her curious looks, and one by one each of Sable’s Ten turned to stare at her. She did not bother to read their expressions. All she saw was Sable.

Time slowed as she looked to his broad, armored back. Should she run to him? Should she embrace him? Three months felt like an eternity, yet she knew that in those three months the man she’d been wed to for ten years had not allowed himself to deal with her death. She had nothing, but she would have given everything to see his eyes smile, or feel his rough fingers brush against her cheek.

Aside from the turning of pages, the only sound in the room came from the soft padding of her slippered steps. Moving a few short paces forward, Marisily took hold of her stained, cotton skirts and dipped down into a low curtsy where she remained, eyes cast down.

“Forgive me, my Lord Hand,” she said softly, “but I am here to offer you my service.”

The turning of pages stopped. Ris remained bowed, and squeezed her eyes shut at she fought back hot tears.

“Martin,” finally sounded Sable’s rumbling voice, “go to your mother, son. She’s missed you.”

The bag in Martin’s hands fell to the floor as he stared at her. Agonizingly long seconds passed, and he didn’t move.

“Well go on, boy!”

Finally looking up, Ris could see Sable standing, his back still to her, a hand raised to cover his mouth. Martin stared at her, eyes wide and filled with disbelief, but he walked over to her and wrapped his arms around her.

“Hello, son,” she whispered, kissing the top of his head.

Suddenly the boy’s arms tightened around her like vices, and he buried his head against her chest as his ten year-old body shook with sobs. He clung to her so tightly it hurt, and Ris didn’t mind. Her baby boy was here. He was safe, and he was real. By the Seven, this is real.

“It’s all right, Martin,” she managed between her own quiet sobs, holding him back as tightly as she could manage. “My son . . . my brave boy. How I’ve missed you.”

Ignoring all the eyes that watched them, Ris was unsure of how much time had passed before two more arms encircled her and Martin. Sable stood close beside her, leaning his head down to press his bearded cheek against her soft, still somewhat sunken one. It was a stiff, wooden hug, but it was him. Unlike the hundreds of times she imagined it, thinking it would never be, he was here, warm and somehow larger than life.

His hand on the small of her back, Sable looked to the servants. “What room is that?”

“Th-that was the late lord’s bedchamber, Lor –“

Not waiting for the servant to finish, Sable guided Marisily towards the door. Martin, sniffing and wiping at his eyes began to follow, but Kegan gently took the boy by the shoulder and turned him back to stand with Sable’s Ten.

Opening the door for her, Ris looked back to give the ten men a tear-stained, heartfelt smile as Sable ordered in a rather mechanical voice, “Send word that there will be feasting tonight. My wife is returned.”

_ _ _

It was ironic that they were finally reunited, and found themselves sitting on Berstagg’s bed. Having settled down with Sable at the end of the soft mattress he held her as she cried, clinging to his chest. Her tears having abated, he still showed no signs of letting her go.

Ris could not help but smile at the unsure way his arms wrapped around her thin shoulders. She felt so small, and fragile, yet she wanted to joke that she had not yet broken. In truth, he could have merely held her hand and it would have been enough. Being held close was more than she could have ever hoped for.

Sniffing, she nestled closer to him, savoring the soft rise and fall of his chest, the feeling of his breath against the back of her neck, and the pounding of his heart through his armour.

Turning his head, Sable pulled back just enough to look down at her. As was his way, a small, humored smile shone through his tired, stress-lined eyes.

“So, do you like this house, or the one on the hill?”

_ _ _

Blood of kings, loud hammer-rings,
In might and mirth prevail.
So shadows flee, the more do we,
Trade blow for blow with Time.
Trade blow for blow with Time.

So as we fall, do roses sprout,
And bodies littered all about,
Behold, must enemies shaken cry,
A Thorne may never die.
A Thorne shall never die.

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SIFrp: Biding Time

For the briefest of moments she disappeared. Maybe it was fortune or chance or the Crone blessing her choice to depart the city when she did. Blending into the morning crowd that milled through the Slum Gate, Marisly passed out of Highgarden. Even Danica, her ever-faithful cohort, lost sight of her for several seconds, and when she found Ris again there was a look of both surprise and relief.

Keeping with the flow of traffic, the two women made their way down the Roseroad. Progress was slow, but Marisily did not complain. In truth, apart from when she and Danica had reunited, it was the first time in months she felt that she could draw a breath of relief.

~~~***~~~

Tavern1

“Two thousand gold dragons?!”

Danica sat down on the edge of the bed, nodding. “That’s what they are saying. And apparently you’re still there. They will be tearing Highgarden to pieces.”

“Seems we left just in time! The Lady must be desperate.” Marisily turned to observe her slightly warped image in the small mirror hanging on the wall of their private room. Pulling her dark locks to one side, she let out a heavy sigh and began to weave the now-dull strands together.

“What’s wrong?”

“I look like I’ve aged at least five years, and feel like I’ve aged ten,” Ris muttered. Her wounds had all but healed, but her body felt weak. For good reason, of course.

“You’re still beautiful, my l — erm — Rin.”

“I’m not what I was. I feel so useless.” A good bath, scrubbing, and oils would do wonders, but the weariness and dirt was possibly the best disguise she could have asked for. No one speaking about her knew why the Lady Marisily Thorne was wanted, but she and Berstagg and Sable were all that the guests of the inn were speaking of. “I need your help.”

Danica sat up. “Of course.”

“I need to get better. Actually better. I will not have Sable see me this weak when we next meet . . . whenever that is.” Giving her features one last look-over, she turned to face Danica. “Whenever we are free, you will be helping me in here to stretch and exercise. Remember, I am Muddrig ‘Rin’ Carpenter.”

Danica mouthed the name once more as if testing it, as a gleam of excitement sparked in her eyes. “Absolutely, but you are a lady. Forgive me, but do you know anything about chores?”

The past night’s attempt at putting sheets on the bed of their room at the perfectly discreet inn returned to Ris. “Well . . . I’m sure it wouldn’t be too difficult to learn. But for now I am the former lady’s maid/tutor of the young ladies of House Vyrwell.”

Her friend’s expression brightened even more.

Marisily smirked. “You are having far too much fun with this.”

Please, I’ve been a servant or worse my entire life! This is real freedom.” Danica then hesitated. “A troop of men came in earlier. They are headed to the city to join in the hunt for the missing Lady Thorne. Some sort of scandal with you and Berstagg is what the rumors are weaving. What if –“

“Then you ‘betray’ me,” Marisily said, interrupting, walking over to sit next to her so that she could speak even lower. “You pretend to have been the one to have caught me and who is bringing me in for the reward.”

Danica’s eyes lit up. “I love it! . . . I mean, I hope it doesn’t come to that, but it’s a good plan.”

Marisily laughed quietly. “Love it for the intrigue, or for the prospect of the gold?” she teased.

“I’ve just never played the part of the bounty hunter!”

“Well then, I will have to stay alert just in case you suddenly feel inspired to apprehend me.”

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