Snippets: Moments in the life of an Orphan
The tall, dry grass rustled each time the gentle autumn breeze ran its fingers across its surface, the shifting blades brushing the gaunt, sun-kissed cheeks of the leather-clad child lying prone in the dirt. The scent of smoldering tinder drifted on the breeze, combatting the coppery taste of blood on her tongue.
The sky was dark above her, starless. She could smell the rain in the air – an unfamiliar scent after such a long time underground. She hadn’t liked the first time she’d been caught in it, the way it had been so cold it almost burned her bare arms. The only thing worse had been the way the sun had blinded her. Sometimes, she thought that she might rather climb back into the tunnels with the daedra and their incessant hunger than face another sunlit day.
Ana loved the sunlight. She loved the way it felt on her skin, warm and soft, like the fur of a kitten. Ana loved a lot of things Ada didn’t. She experienced a lot of things Ada didn’t. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, but it wasn’t the rain in the air or the pampass grass that filled her senses—it was jasmine and vanilla.
Small, manicured fingers smoothed wrinkled silk and tugged at troublesome lace, fidgeting.
“Are we there yet?”
“No, be patient.”
A candy wrapper crinkled, sweet, smooth caramel spread along her tongue and filled her mouth.
“Do you think they’ll like me?”
“It’s your job to make them like you.”
Soft velvet slipped beneath her fingertips, slippered feet kicked, heels bouncing off the underside of her seat.
“Yeah but, I mean… at first. Do you think they’ll like me at first?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
Moonlight filtered through curtains not quite closed against the cool night. Fabric moved against fabric. Silence settled. She listened to her heartbeat, waiting.
“I wonder where Ada is.”
“You’ll know soon enough.”
More silence, longer… lonely.
A mournful sigh.
“Are we there yet?”
Thunder rumbled. Her eyes opening as the first chill drop of rain collided with her cheek, a saltwater tear rolling to meet it, the sweetness of the caramel fading into nothing.
Posted Dec 16, 17
· Last edited Dec 16, 17
Aldimar Pentilius loomed over his daughter’s slight form as she jerked away from his grasp, his sharp features hawk-like in the shifting torchlight.
“No! I’m not going back! I’m not ever going back!” she screamed, trying to duck away against the cold stone wall.
Aldimar scowled, “You have no say in the matter.” He grabbed her arm again, nearly pulling her off her feet as he yanked. Her arm was so small… so fragile in his hand. He released her suddenly, and she clattered to the floor. A pang of guilt broke through the heavy fog of anger that constantly fueled the towering Imperial. “If you do not, your sister will.”
“No!” The child’s cry was sharp and desperate as, quicker than one might expect of such a young girl, she clambered to her feet. Her leather-clad chest rose and fell in quick, short bursts. Had her fear been any stronger, he might have been able to smell it on the air.
“Yes.” He countered. His eyes had moved down into the darkness of the tunnel behind them. Had he heard the shuffle of slippered feet? Was she coming?
His eyes darted back to his daughter, whose hands swiped over her cheeks and across her nose repeatedly, wiping away shameful tears. He felt the pang again, for an instant, and then it was gone. “And she won’t return.”
A wretched sob, wrenched free of the girl by anguish deeply rooted in every part of her being, precluded her quickly spoken submission, “Y-You can’t! I’ll do it!”
She stared up at him through teary eyes, her stormy grey gaze backed by steel. She’d given up on wiping her tears and snot away, and now they both ran freely. He sighed and crouch, his time-worn face, deeply wrinkled, softening.
“I know it’s not fair. I know it hurts, Vala, my precious Vala… but we must protect her. She’s not made for the world your mother has cast her… you… all of us into. You must be strong enough to do what I am too weak to do, myself.”
In the darkness, her father looked so old… so frail. He’d cupped her cheek in a palm, brushing away her tears with a slender thumb. His hands had long since lost the calluses of battle and now they felt like worn vellum – soft and fragile.
She reached a small hand out to touch his cheek in return, smoothing away, for just a moment, some of the sixty-plus years of concern and fear and anger.
“I must protect Raen” She whispered. He nodded, and like that, the spell was broken. He unfolded himself to stand at his full height, silk robes spilling around him, his decadence out of place at the acrid entrance to death and dark sorcery.
The child had calmed in the brief moment of intimacy and, with bow and quiver on her back, she set a hand atop the pommel of her short sword. Had she not been so small, she might have been an intimidating sight, but as she turned without a word her father’s fingers twitched. Had she been any other child, she’d have hardly begun regular lessons. She’d not yet be allowed to run free on her own in the garden, let alone amongst dangers that struck fear in the hearts of grown men. She’d still be soft and gentle and kind in satin and lace, instead of decked in armor, scars, and inhuman ink.
And then she was gone, lost in the darkness beyond the heavy oak door, enchanted with countless spells, runes carved deeply into its surface. As he stepped forward to push the door to the catacombs closed, he thought he saw a shift in the darkness and he silently prayed: Be safe, my Vala.
[OOC: Present day]
Deep breath. You can do this. You’ve done it before… and it hardly even mattered then.
She gripped the vine in her hands tightly, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. The dry desert air brushed over the minimal amount of her face that was not covered by mask or hood. She was wearing face paint for the first time. Warpaint.
Her heart raced.
She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been nervous going into a job. She couldn’t remember the last time it had meant so much.
The guards had been easy to slip by. If she hadn’t known ahead of time that they would be she’d have been concerned that it was too easy. Now, though, as she clung halfway up the side of the manor’s wall she wished they’d have presented some kind of a challenge. It might have distracted her from her unusual anxieties.
She wore her Varro leathers, but she’d used coal and face paint to cover all of the gold. She was a thing of darkness moving through the night, a shadow with no light to reveal its presence. The shoes she wore had no souls, only straps to hold them in place, allowing her complete silence as she moved over the ground and the ability to use her toes to grip as she climbed the wall.
She came to the lower edge of the balcony and slipped first one, then the other hand between rails, pulling herself up with only upper body strength. Like the dancers she sometimes saw in the traveling performer’s troupes, she twisted her body, legs pressed tightly together as she brought them to her right, wedging her toes behind a single rail to flip herself upside down – then lift her upper body until she could grip the top of the railing and flip herself over.
The exertion made her sweat and awakened every muscle in her body. She crouched low on the balcony as she gave herself a moment to take in her surroundings, and then she was creeping forward again. A careful hand reached out to test the latch and frowned to find it unlocked. Too simple. Instinct and experience screamed that she was walking into a trap, though she knew it wasn’t.
Forward she crept, down the dark hall, pressed close to the wall without quite touching it. She wondered just how many magical defenses protected the place, but didn’t try her luck too heavily. So often, she was ruled by a complete lack of concern for her own well-being – but just this once she was determined to leave all in one piece.
The library was comfortable and in any other situation she might have taken time to peer at the spines lining the shelves. She didn’t like people to know it, but she truly loved books. She truly loved exploring them. She ignored them, though, counting. “One… two…” she stopped, looking up at the third shelf as she crouched low to the floor, golemesque even in her diminutive stature.
Her lips moved, words escaping as hardly more than a breath, and she watched the illusion shimmer and dissipate. There it was, safely encased in glass and charms. The staff.
She’d asked around after she’d been told about it, done research, read books – sought any information she might in the wee hours of the night when few others stirred to or discover her. It made her uneasy, but she’d made a promise – an important promise – and she would keep it.
A quick, slender hand slipped into her belt to pull out a small hammer. It looked almost as delicate as she, but was just as deceiving. It was heavy in her hand and, as she pulled it back, she took a moment to appreciate the way it felt to have its comforting weight to anchor her in the moment.
And then the small head of the well-used tool met the glass protecting the staff and shards, both large and small, fell into the case and around her feet. She’d have to be careful now if she didn’t want to leave a trail of blood behind her, so she quickly wrapped her feet in strips of cloth she kept in her belt, before she moved forward.
Another soft spell left her lips, uttered hardly loud enough to be heard by even her own ears before she reached in and lucked the staff from its resting place. Another long strip of cloth came out, as dark as night, to wrap it from one end to the other before she secured it to her back.
No alarms. No rushing of booted feet or clanking of armor came down the stairs or through the corridors. No trap had been set for her, afterall.
She breathed a soft sigh of relief and turned to retrace her steps.
It was time to go home.
She didn't giggle in the darkness of the tunnels. Every shadow reached for her like a hand emerging from the past to draw her back into memory, into fear. Now and again, her heart raced. The tunnels terrified her, and yet they made her feel at home. They were familiar, even in their unfamiliarity.
They, of course, weren't the stone carved corridors of her childhood nightmares, but the narrow, carefully designed passages hidden within the Varro estate. They were new and exciting even as they stirred memories of tunnels well-known and dreadful.
In the past weeks, she'd explored many, and yet she suspected she'd only begun to draw out the depths of their secrets. She knew how to find her Lord Varro's rooms from the library, and still she checked upon he and his Lady in the darkest part of the night, when they slept soundly in the hours before her departures with Atilius. She knew how to find the kitchen from... just about anywhere she knew for certain there was an entry point. And, she knew how to escape beyond the wall that protected the manner, just in case there were ever a need. It was good to know these things. It was important. And it was a secret she guarded closely.
Finally, she found the door she sought, recognizing it even in the darkness. Most of the doors had been marked my symbols she could not read, but had memorized. She thought that, if she took the time to, she could puzzle out pattern in their creation, and perhaps she would one day. Perhaps they would come in handy. Or, perhaps not.
She found the catch high up on the door that served in place of a handle, slipping her fingers into the crevice and triggering the small locking mechanism before she pulled on the cool, smooth lever. It took some effort, the doors were heavy and stiff with age and disuse, and she was not of a height to have the leverage to properly open the door, but all she needed was to open it a crack. Still, she had to set down the bucket she'd been towing along and use both hands to get it open even that small, necessary amount.
And then she was in, perhaps, her favorite place to be in the whole of the manor. Lord Varro's desk sat stolidly in the center of the room, every letter and map just where he'd placed it, candles unlit and the room cloaked in darkness. She didn't need light, though, she knew it as well as she knew her own mind, and she slipped forward with easy confidence.
She snatched at the bucket and pulled it through, frowning when it caught, apparently bigger around than she was, and, once again, she was forced to set it down and push the door open further. It was easier from this side. A firm push from her shoulder was all it took.
She set the bucket on the desk, peeking down into its confines. She'd already poured all of the coins from their pouches so that they lined the bottom of the bucket thickly, the paper notes sitting atop so as not to be lost or damaged in the weight of gold and copper and tin. She'd kept the smaller pouches-one never knew when they might need a decent pouch... or a poor one. For instance, they made very good glitter bombs.
She grinned at the thought, but quickly remembered she was in the office to complete a task. She slipped a blank piece of paper from the desk and took up her Lord's quill, dipping it into his inkpot and quickly scrawling.
My Lord Varro,
There were many donations made tonight, but those of merit belong to:
Cassius and Rhilari - the terribly rude couple who I do not think liked your friends the Ellasius'
Calius Maxus - who came with Thomas Elessius, and who I will marry and make a lord someday. (He was very handsom, did you see?)
Danurieth - who also came with Thomas Elessius.
Lucius Portius - who was terribly grumpy but kind.
Factor Lotilus - who was so old I thought he might die right there!
& Thomas Elessius - who did not make a coin donation, but has promised 3 carts of rations to be delivered in one week's time.
I thanked them all for my Lord Varro and assured them that their coin would not be misplaced.
She folded the paper in three, quickly scrawled a terrible little drawing for Triton, and set it atop the contents of the bucket, which she then scooted under the desk so that he may find it the next time he sat at his desk, proud that she had remembered so many names.
And then, with one last content look around, she disappeared through the cracked door, which, once it was sealed once more, looked as though it were nothing more than part of the wall, disappearing into the night to undoubtedly find her way to somewhere she didn't belong.
She sank deeper into the tub, closing her eyes as the warmth of the water crept into her bones. Steam rose up around her, clouding the air in the small room. This was her favorite bath house in all of ones she'd ever visited. The coals beneath the tub would keep the water warm for hours and the attendants would see to it that she didn't disintegrate if she fell asleep. When she fell asleep.
This was the one place she could sleep and not dream. This was the one night a year she allowed herself that gift.
Tonight, it was her birthday.
Her arm draped over the edge of the porcelain tub languorously, her fingers dripping water and oil onto polished stone tiles. Orange peels and chamomile flowers drifted on the surface of the water. The scents, though familiar, didn't bring immediately to memory anyone or anything thing. This, she thought, could be hers, and hers alone.
Vanilla or honey would have brought thoughts of Ana, celebrating her birthday alone and so far away, heavy with child and aching for her husband. Though their bond was fading, the channels of magic that kept it open growing weary, she could still feel her sister's loneliness and it took great effort to push it away. She had her own loneliness to bear.
Roses would have brought Valeria to drifting thoughts. Valeria, who, it seemed, had found a new plaything to wile away her hours with. Who could blame her? She was an exceptionally eligible bachelorette, after all. Who wouldn't want her attention?
And lavender would have stirred thoughts of Adil. Sweet, caring, gruff Adil, who let her get only so close as to stir her desire to be closer. She desired to much to care for him and yet, he didn't need care.
And it was the scent of Varro that she now soaked from her body-dirt and horse and pelts of wolf and bear. Blood and violence and... and what? Family? Friendship? Fealty? She was uncertain, at times, what her place there would be when the dust settled and the would stood still. And perhaps, it was best that way, she thought. Perhaps it was better not to know.
No, this scent belonged to no one but her.
In the morning she would pull herself from the bath and wrap herself in a robe of gold and umber and she would begin a new year as a new person, cleansed of the year before. There would be difficult days ahead, cleansing her homelands of the darkness that dwelt within its depths and reclaiming her name, but it was a year long in coming, and it could not be postponed any longer.
Her bed had never felt so good. Not the one at the Varro estate, no, she'd made her way to the one she kept on the border of what would soon be her lands again. It meant she didn't get to bed until late... well, early really... but it was worth it. The bed was so much softer, the furs atop it heavy and musky. It wasn't that she didn't like the bed in her other home, it was only that this one was hers. Really hers.
She'd found, of late, that she didn't like sleeping in the barracks. And she didn't like sleeping with an ever-rotating ensemble of men. She didn't like sleeping alone, but sleeping alone in her own bed was, at least, preferable to sleeping in a stranger's bed. Or with a stranger in the bed of another woman.
She squirmed under her blankets, feeling them caress her naked flesh. Here, she thought, was the center of the world. Her world, anyway. There was only one place she was more content, and it was not on land. Rolling to her back, she stared up at the ceiling.
As tired as she was, it was impossible to sleep. Her mind raced. Her heart pounded. Just across the room sat her desk, and atop it lay everything she's been waiting for. It was astounding how much just a few papers could change everything. It was terrifying how much a name could mean.
"Vala." She whispered into the darkness. It felt strange on her tongue but familiar in her bones. It wasn't new to her, the name given to her at birth, but it was neglected and it didn't feel quite like it belonged. It would take some getting used to.
"Lady Vala Pentillius of Whitecrest Valley." She tried. It was on the letters and, now, all of the official documents. "Daughter of the late Lord and Lady Aldimar Pentillius."
She didn't think overmuch on how they had became that. Late
. It didn't matter. They were gone and, despite their best efforts, she was the benefactor of their legacy.
"I am Vala."