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Tales By the Fireplace [chronicles of a baroness]

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Last Day Of the Second Seed, 2E 578
Roleplay/Story/Introing A Player’s Character

“These days always begin the same, don’t they? Dark, raining. It is almost as if dismal weather heralds even more dismal news.” - Vauletta Fausilli

She sat in a chair by a tall window in her room; a girl of pallid flesh adorned in soft freckles, a bright countenance, and with blue eyes delving into the pages of a book. From a tilted head spirals waves of golden threads, and they seem to go on endlessly. Simple attire hugs her equally plain features in thin rose-gold that fit her form loosely, for she is lithe and none of her dresses ever seem to fit her just right.

A schism of lightning forks through the sky; illuminating the darkness enough for the light to filter through the glass. It bewitches her gaze into turning to face the scene of a morning wanting to break in a new day, but not being able to. Outside the scene stirs quietly, and the courtyard is pelted with rain that sleets the snow and makes life more arduous in an already harsh place.

And just as she thought to peer away from the mundane happenings of a morning too lazy to wake, something begins to form out in the far distance. There are soldiers; many of them, illuminated in the bright hues of fuzzy torchlight. They are armoured with familiarity, and she recognizes them to be her brother’s unit coming back home.

Swiftly, she practically bounds out of her seat whilst simultaneously chucking her book onto her bed. On her way to the door, she slips one foot into a shoe and then hops on it to tug on the other. Fingers barely managed to grab her furred shawl as she slipped through and makes for the staircase. Vauletta nearly topples over, erred by overjoyous and careless steps. Eventually, she’s out the door of the estate and greeting a harsh burst of cold air and the assault of rain. It’s down the cobblestone, but more carefully as to not be tripped up by snow muddied by the overnight storm. The sentries had long since parted the gates, and she waits there.

These soldiers filter on through; their steps drag wearily, and she does not notice their sadness. How could she when she felt nothing more than happiness for her brother’s return? She’s young, naive, and perhaps that makes her selfish or simply not empathetic to the sorrow clearly written in shadow on the faces of those passing her by. She remains there, hopeful; eyes bright and carmine lips pulled into smile. She’s slowly becoming drenched in rain, and the once loosely fitting dress now clings wetly to her body. If she was shivering, she also does not notice.

Bouncing gently on her feet, rising to the tips of her toes, her eyes are drawn to the last silhouettes as they come closer. They are of two horses, one mounted and the other seized by reins to follow. It had no rider. That smile, it fades as the heart in her chest begins to flutter chaotically. She felt it in the pit of her stomach. The lone rider dismounts, then takes both horses by the reins and ventures closer to the awaiting girl.

It’s Heresius. He stops at a distance because the shattered hope of his friend’s sister is so palpable, that he knew if he came any closer, he’d have to say the words. If he said the words, then it would make everything a reality for a girl that lived with her head up in the clouds. His jaw pulses with the clenching of his teeth, and he’s contemplating what to say - how. He had rehearsed this so many times. He knew what to say.

She stares at him as he stares at her, and she’s frozen with disbelief. It felt like all of her dreams fell apart at the seams right here, and the fabric of it fell around her feet and it didn’t feel like cloth - more like glass. Everything tremors, her lips quiver, and she’s no longer certain if it is the dread or the cold that makes her shiver. She can’t feel her body or her breath. If she was even breathing, or is this was even real. These things are supposed to happen to other people.

Heresius notices that she isn’t staring at him. She’s not staring at anything. Vauletta looks like she might kill over from heartbreak. His fingers slip away from the reins, and he travels as quickly as the heavy armor he adorns allows him to, and catches her in his arms just a second before her knees give out on her. He pulls her into his chest, and it’s slick with rain and smells like the gore of war, but she doesn’t seem to care.

He doesn’t really know this girl as well as he did her brother, but he holds her while she sobs. It breaks his heart, yet he’s not one to paint the world into a perfect picture just so a fragile flower wouldn’t wilt away.

So, after a few moments he grasps the sides of her face and forces her to look up at him, “Stop crying, Vauletta. You know how your father feels about crying.” The words come harshly, and she blinks in disbelief.

“But my--”

“There are many brothers and sisters that are dead today. You are not special. Get your head out of the fucking books, Vauletta, and pick up a sword. They fill your head with garbage anyway.” He had long since released his grip of her, and his eyes don’t meet hers as he verbally dismantles all the walls she has tried to build around herself.

He walks away, and he left her standing there - broken by not only the news, but by the words he spoke.

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Posted Oct 8, 18 · OP · Last edited Oct 11, 18
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Middle of Midyear, 2E 578
RP/Story/Short Blurb/Belisarius and Valeria Varro (and NPC crew)

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A girl with a wild horse stands at the doors of the Varro Estate for the very first time. It's night, and the soldiers are coming back from war abroad. Some of them are mourning, some laugh, some talk - but they are mostly tired. This man comes up and embraces Valeria, Belisarius Varro - a Legionnaire home from battle. He hurries away, for the darkness is here in the stars, leaving Valeria and Vauletta to head inside. Later that night, as Valeria tried to convince Lucius to let her go out with her cousin, he came to her room - the man that crouched down and started her fireplace. She didn't know it then, but it would be the first of many days and nights that are spent in front of a fireplace, in this very same room - so many years later, this same place.

Just when she thought her summer would be mundane, a normal thing where she'd learn to ride horses, teach Valeria to write, learn archery and alchemy, begin a beautiful friendship, and do things that girls do at that age. Lucius shattered it all in one morning, and as his other sons drag Belisarius down to the dungeons, the doors open behind her. He smiled, he sighed - and it was a sigh that said, "This is the beginning of a new and beautiful day." Turning around to leave him, her eyes greet a scene of blood - Valeria and her cousin standing there in the middle of it all. Everyone that came with Belisarius was dead, and she trembled. These were things that men saw on the battlefield, not young girls in places where they are supposed to feel safe.

"I want to go home," she spins around, looking up at the daunting figure clad in black and gold before her. He smiles, bends down, and presses his cold lips against her forehead. He told her she was too young to understand what he had done. Even now, Vauletta swears that she can see those eyes, feel those lips on her skin, hear his pleasant sigh and smell the blood and gore behind her when she's in her weakest moments.

Weeks go by, and eventually she's able to see Belisarius again as she's tasked with bringing him a tray of food. He didn't know what happened to his men until she told him. He had been truly left in the dark. They shared only thirty minutes. So much came of thirty meager minutes.

She prayed for him. Nightly, then a few times a week, until the years apart cause him to slip from her mind. She'd hear of him only through rumor, and part of her was glad that he had his vengeance. Another part of her wondered if she'd ever see the man that came into her room and told her that his mother would have liked her, or if she'd stare into the eyes of Lucius reborn.

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2E 579 of the Hearthfire
Story
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There is no better time in a woman's life than that of the birth of her first child. It is pain; indescribable physical agony and fear, but it was also love unconditional. It's with love that she gives up the comfort, endures the pain that seemingly refuses to relent, and chances her life to have something to hold that would return that love unlike anyone else ever could. That is how Vauletta felt while going through pregnancy; carrying a man's child that she did not love, born of non-consensual moments, violence, and no love from the father. She was just a vessel to carry his seed, and that was something she had come to live with. While her belly grew bigger and the baby animated, she felt a love grow inside of her that she didn't think was possible.

The night came and the entire Fausilli estate stood outside of her chamber door. They listened to her cries of pain, the grunting, and eventually the cries of a babe finally greeting the world. When Vauletta finally tried to sit herself up, the midwife wiped the wailing thing of blood and other things, and looked over at Cailus, "It's... a girl, my Lord."

That voice was somber. It was barely a whisper. Wide-eyed, Vauletta stirred to try and rise from the bloodied sheets in protest, but her body is tired. A man attends to her heavy bleeding, and the last image was of Cailus seizing the baby and leaving. There was nothing that could be done about it, for weeks she'd be sick in her bed with fever. She thought the child was okay, but when she's finally granted reprieve from bed rest, there is no baby.

"Where is she?" She inquires, wandering into his study.

He glances up from his writing, "Gone."

"W-what do you mean by gone?"

"You needn't worry about it, my dear." He gestures with his hands for some sentries to take her, "The Lady Fausilli is still quite ill. See to it that she remains in her chambers for a while longer."

"I want to speak to my father!" She screamed at him, tears welling in once bright blue eyes.

"I'm afraid that he doesn't wish to see you right now. Don't worry, my love, you will give birth again. The next one will be a boy, and you will hold him to your heart's content." He smiles at her, as if that little reassurance should have tamed that wild look in her eyes.

The next one was not a boy. He was not pleased.

It came as no surprise when she did not see the next one. Vauletta hoped they were sent away, but she knew better; the truth was a cold stone that settled in her stomach. She couldn't sleep. Instead, she looked at her dead fireplace and decided that her room was getting cold. But she never could stoke her own flame.

She opens her door and pokes her head out so that a soft, sad voice could reach one of the guards, "Can you start my fireplace?"

"Of course, Lady Fausilli."

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2E 586 of the Rain's Hand
Story
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She had forgotten her shoes. Bare feet drown in deep snowy blanket, but it it doesn't bother her. One hand grasps the reins of her horse, pulling herself up to mount. The armor she wore was so abysmally minimal, she might as well as have donned none of it at all. It was the middle of the night, and the cacophony of familiar catastrophe met the silent air. The new moon upon them, the once dark place only lit by a trail of braziers, now has been set ablaze and glows dangerously against the black.

Thighs grip tightly her horse, and she guides it forward and into the fray. Salvarian's men, and other Houses, have rained upon them with the advantage of a sleeping and unsuspecting people caught in his conqueror's gaze. Yet, Bruma's people were always prepared for battle because it was just a fact of their lives. They live here because they love being at the foot of the Jerral Mountains, and they had a taste and knack for war. Nords, Colovians - they hold this place better than anyone. No matter how many times it falls, it rises from the ashes. That is just the Bruma way.

They were missing a strong leader; the Sentinel House had a terrible void in a great military mind since the death of its Baron. The people loved Vauletta for her kindness, but they did not find in her what they needed. They needed someone to see them through their many dark times; to be a vigil of hope and inspiration when they marched to the Hall of the Dead with the deceased in their arms.

She was always too scared to be that. She's always blaming herself for it. Dead spirits rest heavy on her shoulders day in and day out, and they linger in her mind at night. So, when she rode into the chaos of fire, blood, and death, she forced herself to summon courage. That's what she needed, and that's what her people teach her. It is better to die with honor than in cowering fear.

As she passed by a fire that ravaged a home, she dipped the tip of a notched arrow into its flame and then pulled the string of the bow. When there were no more arrows left, she grabbed her mother's blade. Even if, in the end, she was marched into the main hall of Castle Bruma in defeat.

In the still of the next night came Valeria. Bruma would rise again, and Vauletta will have learned a hard lesson. It was a lesson that someone tried to instill in her long ago, but she needed to experience the raw unfettered emotion of having the full weight of failure. It was a terrible weight.

Heavy is the crown.

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Funerals

Some Roleplay x Inner Monologue x Some Story
Thanks to Morn for the inspiration! ♥

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Tear drops fall upon the pillow she clutches in her hands. Vauletta had planned for this moment for months, years. Yet, she never thought much about the one that would follow it. What would happen when he was gone? But he is gone. Her father had long since stopped struggling, and the only thing she needed to do at this very second is remove the pillow from his face. She can't. The courage to do so doesn't find her, thus the same strong hands that gave it to her now take it from her, casts it to the floor, and then closes her father's eyes.

"You are lady of this House now, Vauletta Fausilli," he tells her. But she didn't know what that meant for her.

***

Many months later, she finds that she still doesn't know who to trust or how to lead. Now, as she glances through the window of her room to the town that lay just below them, she wonders if she ever will. She catches a glimpse of his reflection as he rests in bed through the glare of firelight flickering upon the glass, and feels deeply that Bruma has gotten a little better at funerals since she had taken the reins of the Sentinel House. She wonders if he had made a mistake in her. If everyone did.

Leaning forward, she folds her arms and presses them against the window sill, watching as the people are finally able to gather their dead. The town was alight with torches and bustling with hands laboring tirelessly. Lord Salvarian dumped the bodies of the townspeople and the soldiers in mass graves, and many needed to be retrieved and interred in the Hall of the Dead. Their pathway down the winter-laden streets slithers like a bioluminescent serpent as the march for the Hall commenced.

A Priest leads to see the bodies properly laid to rest, but the people know that there is more to come. There is always more to come. She could have sworn that, for a heartbeat's sliver of a second, that one of the townspeople looked up at her with a quiet knowing. Turning her face away from the outside, she told herself that this could not continue. House Fausilli had to be strong as it was in the beginning, but she had to figure out how. She couldn't live under his shadow forever. It was impossible.

After making sure the fireplace would go on strongly for the rest of the night, Vauletta crawled back into bed. It took a long time, even in familiar security, to let slumber take her in because she knows that there will be more funerals. They will be because of her. She is not yet the leader people needed. It wasn't until she could shut out this grim reality that she found herself finally sleeping once again.

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2E 586 of the Rain's Hand
Story
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The bare feet of a woman that hadn’t enough time to escape with shoes painfully crack the twigs, step on stone, and make way through the Great Forest. Cloaked heavily, obscured as nothing but a shaded contour moving through the moonlight, she grips something or someone close to her chest. Perhaps, to anyone’s surprise, a pack of large wolves - some with silver fur that glinted off the scant forest light, and others an ominous pitch, flanks her from all sides. Yet, they do not attack - they are attracted to something she carries with her. In this dark uncertain place, they guide her and watch like loyal canine sentries until they happen upon a small abandoned home. They are not far from where she started, and if she were to turn around, the smoke of her home could be seen wisping toward the star-speckled skies in the background.

A small pale hands slides from its dark sleeve, and she pushes the door open. It groans in its old age, and the wolves slip past her to venture inside. At first she is uncertain, but there was something about them that made her feel safe. She steps inside, and it’s warmer than it is out there. There’s a small bed by a window off in the corner, and she sets down what she carried with her: a baby, golden hair curling tightly, bundled up and sleeping. When the mother looks at that freckled face, and there is peace in the way she snoozes, there’s a guilty feeling that suddenly comes over her. No mother wanted this kind of life for their child, and this pair was no exception.

One of the wolves hop onto the bed, and it’s black body curls protectively around the slumbering babe. They are attracted to the baby. Vauletta should have known.


Since the pack sought to keep Lucia from harm, and there had been nothing stirring in this area, she turned for the door to make her exit. A silver wolf follows, and it is large in size; a certain alpha confidence radiating from him that ensured all knew he was the leader. She cast her bright blue gaze down at him and sighs, “We are still close to Anvil. I’m sure we will find someone shortly.” The way she says that has a foreboding tone to it, as if telling the creature at her side that nothing good would come of a passing merchant this night.

The pair walk on for quite some time, and eventually the hooves of a horse pitter-patter casually down one of the paths, and Vauletta moves behind a tree. Reaching behind her, she pulls the bow and arrow from the confined of her robes and quiver, and notches it. Closing her eyes, she reminds herself that she’s a deeply pious woman who must sometimes do godless things. Tilting her head and pulling back the string, she looses the arrow. The wolf seemingly flies through the air as well, keen on taking the horse down by the throat. And in seconds, both wolf and arrow meet their targets, almost at the same time.

Soon, the monstrously large beast and his Colovian charge drag the body to the nearest mudcrab pond. Vauletta is quiet for a time, seated with her back against the trunk of a wide tree and fingers running through silver fur, “This will be the last time.” A pair of bright eyes stare up at her. She's said that once before, a long time ago. She inwardly tells herself that one bad deed does not a monster make, or two...even three. She had murdered her father, her husband, and three bodies burned in a blaze that were neither her nor Lucia. Now the mudcrabs pick clean the bones of a mere traveler. Perhaps he had children, a wife. Maybe he was a bad man. But she killed him without a second thought, and his bones will become a call for help in the deepest shadows.

The pious fall hardest in these godless times.

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12th Day Of the Hearthfire, 2E. 583
Roleplay/Thoughts

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Accastina’s brother is a jerk. Vauletta remembered the day he called her ‘worthless’ many, many years ago. That’s why, when he insisted upon watching Lucia so that she could get some rest, she was surprised. Pleasantly so.

“Are you sure?” She tilts her head a bit, swiping a knuckle at her eyes as if she could rub away the weariness.

His expression is dry, flat - almost incredulous, really. “I mean, you can leave her with my sister, but I don’t think your daughter likes her much.” There it came, a rare deep laugh as his green gaze falls upon a mess of golden curls bundled and hugged by Vauletta. True, he has the daunting stature of a men that has known many, many long years of tireless war. If one passed him on the streets, they might do a double-take and then ensure he has enough - more than enough - room to slip by. His blade has lobbed off the heads of his enemies, and his mace wore blood permanently upon its vicious surface. He left little to the imagination of his experience and brute might.

Yet, he reaches for Lucia - who is crying relentlessly, and when Vauletta finally releases her, he smiles gently. His touch is tender, so much so that the young Baroness must have been staring at him as if looking upon a stranger. She also smiles, seemingly reluctant to leave until something, someone, gave her a sign that she could.

He noticed this, and both of his dark brows lift questioningly. “Did you need something else, my Lady?”

“I don’t think you need to call me that.”

“You’re right. I was just being pleasant,” his smile disappears, and then hers does as well. “Accastina will keep you here forever, but you can’t stay.”

“I wasn’t planning on it.”

“Good. You’re bad luck. Awful things happen when you’re around.”

She blinks at him, almost in shock. He noticed this, too.

“You should have given Lucia to the father.” As he speaks down to the woman, he hugs the babe close and she had long since stopped wailing. A series of ‘shushing’ slips in between his admonishing of the mother. “A proper Colovian woman takes care of her children.”

In the grand space of the manor’s living area, he walks to a crib basin and lays Lucia down. Then he makes for Vauletta, and she’s on the verge of tears - he can see this, even as a man seemingly cold on the outside without any room for warmth and kindness for the girl now dwarfed by him.

Both hands grasp tenderly onto small fingers, and he lifts them - wrists limp and Vauletta’s eyes cast to the ground in guilt and shame. “These words upset you,” he points out the obvious, but his tone drifts away from being harsh and into something gentler. “You shouldn’t let them be true, Vauletta. I know you have it - somewhere in there, you’re a fighter. I saw it back then, many years ago. You’ve let men rule over you in more ways than one. It’s time for you to stop. Let go of whatever it is that is keeping you from building a better future for your daughter. To make sure that you have a future, too. Let the dead go, the living - let them move on with their lives.”

He releases her fingers when his tirade of words ends and turns away from her to face the fireplace. Both of his hands fold at the small of his back, “We’ve all had to let people go - dead and living.”

“Of course,” she says simply, her lips drawn into a small weak smile. After making for the steps, she turns to him for a second, “Are you sure you will be okay with her?”

“Lucia is safe with me.” He watched her disappear up the steps, soon to be greeted by the silver Dire Wolf that accompanies the mother-daughter pair. He pats the argent mane and stares into the flames, “You’ve done well, old friend.”

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Part One
Roleplay/Story

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“Vauletta!” A man’s voice bursts through the door in tandem with a gust of cold wind; a woman in his arms, blood dripping on the floor.

“Heresius?” The young woman’s brows furrow, and she swiftly places Lucia next to Amarok, of whom is lying lazily by the hearth. The babe crawls toward the beast, finding safety in the fact that he curls around her and seems to know just how to coax her into an easy nap.

“It’s Accastina. She-” He pauses, his dark eyes pinning upon blue ones awaiting an explanation. One that he couldn’t give. He knows that she couldn’t see it in his face - the guilt that glints in frightened eyes, “-she was attacked by a werebeast.”

Vauletta learned how to woundmend from a very great woman, thus her hands and mind are able to work quickly as soon as the details are being given to her. She always kept everything nearby because, for one reason or another, Heresius is always a hot mess when he comes back. There’s always blood and gore, and no real good reason for it.

He lays his sister upon the table after Vauletta swept everything aside to make room. Fingers travel to the various clasps and buckles of her armor, undoing them and removing the pieces that keep her from tending to the wounds. “Werebeasts? From where?”

“There’s a pack here. Two of them, in fact,” he tells her, watching with his arms cross over his chest. From her peripherals, she could see how the toes of his boots tip-tap steadily on the wooden floors, but she chalks it up to nerves. This is Accastina, and she is the only thing that he has left. Everything would disappear if she does - their military contingent, allies. Heresius is not necessarily a beloved figure in the Varim estate.

A wince contorts her features, pulling away fabric from a deep gash bursting with blood, bone, and other visceral bits peeking through the wound at her collarbone and down to a breast, “It’s deep,” she tells him, and the man begins to pace. He's sweating, but it's not from the fireplace. He's sweating and shaking his head, covered in blood - not just the blood of his sister, but also his own.

"Vauletta, I-" He pauses again because this was a pious woman. She's always been that way. To say what he wished to say would make him a godless man, a beast, something she could never trust again.

"What, Heresius? What?!" She casts a glance over a shoulder, eyeing him expectantly. Shortly after that, she's opening up jars; applying salves and poultices after cleansing it with a wet cloth.

"I need you to take her to High Rock," he says finally, blurting it almost. "I think you should take Lucia, too."

As Vauletta begins to wrap the wound, adjusting the woman only as necessary, she feels confused. Normally he would offer to watch the baby, as Lucia is practically attached to him. "Why?

"There are witches there. You told me that you had concerns. They will help you with them, and I need you to help Accastina. If she became a beast, she couldn't live with herself. And with Lucia, well - you'll finally have your answer."

Two of the house guards come to scoop the woman from the tabletop, and they carry her upstairs to her quarters. "Take Amarok with you."

Vauletta wipes bloodied hands on her skirt, turning to face him. Her facial expression is nothing short of confused, "You're not coming? You want me to take Accastina and Lucia by myself? She's injured." That voice is pleading because she can't do these things. Not on her own. She did very few things on her own. There isn't a heroic bone in her body these days.

"I can't," is all he says. "If you want to take your House back, Vauletta, you have to start being brave. If you're going to lead men into battle, you have to be confident. I told you I'd help you, and this is me helping you."

She steps closer to him, head tilting up because he towers over her. When the woman is close enough, hands fall upon her slender shoulders and fingers press into soft skin. He stares down at her, "I'm not that man, Vauletta. I don't want to be that man because you are a woman that has no desire for marriage, and that means that you have to learn to be both the Lord and the Lady." He's scolding her, but it's so gentle she couldn't even be mad at it.

"I know," she smiles softly. "Why don't you let me fix and clean you up?"

His hands slide from her shoulders to her wrists, then eventually slip into her fingers to seize them and guide her to his chambers.

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Part Two
Story

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Vauletta grips her shoulder; blood pooling through the leather at the assault of the beast's spectral maw penetrating flesh and sinew down to the bone. The cavern, dimly lit by the ghostly form, slowly succumbs to abyssal darkness when the werebeast fades away in a vicious roar that echoes through the hollow deep. It had lost; the woman remains with a heaving chest, fingers grasping a heavy sword. The only blood that greets the damp floors is her own. It wasn't the first time she has killed a beast, and it wouldn't be the last. Yet, this is a first - to pull the spiritual form from the body of Accastina and slay it before the next night the moons are at their roundest.

Footfalls travel away from this too-dark nook, seeking to move through even murkier veins. The pain of her shoulder makes her want to cry. It'd make anyone want to cry - to give up and find a way out of this place. To leave this job unfinished. Accastina was saved, and she didn't need to find her way to Lucia. Except, she does need to. Something in the pit of her stomach presses her to move on, even as the warm red oozes between her fingers, dribbling onto the ground with a little dramatic splash into puddles of water that seems - a sound that reverberates through the corridors.

Blue eyes catch the pale silhouette of the witch darting down a corridor, red hair trailing and bringing alight torches to serve as the Baroness' guide. A whisper slithers through the cavernous deep, reaching Vauletta's ears and it is like being struck suddenly by a frigid wind. "She sleeps..." It brings her such trepidation that she stops, intent to turn around and leave all of her curiosity to fate. She's a pious woman. Certainly the gods have taken some mercy on her. Maybe they haven't because she asked for it. She knowingly conspired with him to bear a child, and this child came after the affliction took him. Perhaps they've all but abandoned her, just as she unwittingly did them.

But when she turns around to seek another path, there are none - behind her is a cold wall of stone where there had once been a trail from whence she had come after taking care of Accastina's beast. Turning once more to face the illuminated passage, she stares into it quietly - hesitantly. Then she walks, continuing only because there is no longer any other place to go. The only way out is to finish.

A few short, slow steps later there is a spacious room with flora sprawling across its floors and down its walls. It is bright and peaceful; a verdant place that glows with a tranquil light and a single tree in its center. Curled there at its large jutting roots is a wolf pup. She's small and dark, slumbering away. Unaware that an interloper nears with the thought of ripping her from her young host.

"Choices, choices, Vauletta. It is dormant inside of her. Sleeping."

Before the woman could respond to the haunting whispers, it answers as though knowing what inquiry bubbled at the tip of her tongue, "There is no way of knowing. It doesn't have to be a curse, dear. This child could live to be stronger - stronger than yourself. She could live to be like her father, your mother, your ancestor - the first woman of your lineage. You can spare her from a lifetime of weakness."

These words are soothing for any mother - to hear that their child could live well. They are meant to be so, for the witch's loyalties lie with the beasts. If she could persuade the mother to allow Lucia to remain as she is, then all would be well. Accastina hadn't turned yet, so to beguile Vauletta with sweet comforting lies would have been a waste.

This must be why Lucia cries so loudly for her father and is soothed by his presence. She could end that connection right here; sever the binds of affliction so that there would be no worry about the day that Lucia might leave her to find him.

"She won't. She'll always need her mother, and the pack she needs is much closer to home than you think. She's already being cared for by one."

Vauletta looks over her shoulder, lips parting. "Yes, she is safe with them. As are you. You needn't worry. Come Vauletta, she is sleeping. She will sleep for many, many years."

That figure appears again, phasing through a mossy back wall and carving a path for the mother to exit. It is illuminated by the pale fingers of moonlight stretching across a forest and spilling into the cave's entrance. The corporeal witch stands there waiting for her with both Lucia and Accastina asleep at their altars.

Her eyes linger on the pup, and luckily for the witch - Vauletta was easy to sway. As the woman walks down that new path, that which was behind her fades into the dark and there is no longer a way to turn. There is only this small cave, two guards who didn't seem to know what happened but one is already grabbing Accastina to make for the horses. Vauletta scoops up Lucia, holds her close, and follows her men.

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Posted Oct 11, 18 · OP
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Lucia and I have been staying with the Varims for a long time now. It’s become home in more ways that simply one. Today, we should have been, as we are at this same time every month, on ‘reprieve’ (as Heresius likes to call it) at a humble piece of estate that rests upon the glittering golden shores of a beach. ‘For House Varim business,’ Accastina says. At this very moment, Lucia and I would be up reading nighttime stories and singing soothing lullabies until it was I that was asleep, and she barely clinging onto wakefulness as we rocked to and fro near a fireplace.

However, I found myself turned around by a storm that my eyes caught aswirl in the distance. The bloated bleak clouds encumbered the once beautiful dusk of a day settling. I told myself, and Lucia, that we were closer to home than to the beaches, thus placing us at an unusually quiet Varim courtyard in a few hours time. I recall furrowing my brows at the silence, for it usually bustled with the busy bodies of laborers, soldiers, and the estate's many understudies and other hired help. It’s quiet, as though it was not just Lucia and I that are sent away, but everyone.

I welcome myself back home, greeted by naught but the cold draft of air that bursts through an opening door, and quickly make up the spiral staircase to settle a sleeping baby for the night. After I tucked her in, I felt something in the pit of my stomach - or perhaps it was a whisper in my ear (perchance both at once), and I was compelled to travel through the dim corridors, down the stairs, and walked still until my bright blue gaze was affixed to an even darker staircase. It descended into something swallowed utterly by shadow, and looked very much like something damned. I have never been allowed to venture into the Varim dungeons. I’m not even sure that they are in use. There is no torchlight - not even a flicker of flame to be found. But it tugs at me still - that feeling, the urge. I felt so helpless to its beguiling curiosity that the image of a pleading legionnaire being carried down into its depths all but slipped away to pave room for delving into the abyss unburdened by that long ago imagery.

I grabbed a torch, it was bundled in cloth and pitch soaked, and uttered the quiet words of my ancestry, ’Nahl Yol,’ and lit it with the flame that consumed one of my fingers. The torch then shed a soft glow that made the shadows shrink away, and I finally braved the deep unknown. I sunk farther and farther, and shortly an abrupt roaring scream - pained and so clearly Heresius' own, pierced the silence with no warning. Surely Accastina did not loathe her brother so much that she'd put him here. Surely he'd not be stringed with the same fate as another I had known - made to replay all the same scenes but with different characters. I dropped my torch, slipped through the wooden door, and I was able to witness other noises. Something in here, many things, snapped, cracked, and popped. People were screaming, yelling, grunting, until they became warped with bestial sounds - roaring, panting, snapping teeth, and the clinking and clanking of the chains that bound them.

When I came upon the first dungeon, I saw him - Heresius. He looked up at me, his eyes with that feral glow I can remember from Belisarius. I grabbed the bars of his cell, trembling fingers curling around the cold metal as I press my forehead up against my hands. I shook my head and closed my eyes because a flood of memories washed over me. I recall chaining him up once before, and he was urgent with fear - I stayed up all night praying - praying for the gods to come through and not make him the monster outside that he already thought he was inside. I waited for his screams, the turning. I saw blackened veins the morning that followed, and was thankful that he wasn't afflicted. We both were so glad for it that we seized the triumph of the man in carnal bliss. But that lasted month or so. I remember putting an arrow in the shoulder of a man that I loved after I had to watch him turn, just to keep him from killing people in my already broken town. I looked for him all night until I found him, bleeding and unable to move at all. I remember cleaning the wound that I made, his apologies, and I told him that it was okay. Then he slept the day away, and I wasn't sure what to do about it but be grateful that he was alive. Because my love for him had once been foolishly unconditional, beast or man.

Dare I do this again, I wonder? Since when had I become some thing to be placed in the path of monsters? Did I not have enough? I feel, at times - especially one as a new character emerges in a familiar story - I am just too stupid to notice that I was forsaken a long time ago.

I turned away from the rusted bars, fled up the dark steps, and left this beastly cacophony behind me. I made sure Lucia was still sleeping, then coaxed myself to slumber via staring wondrously at the ceiling. Sometime, just before dawn began to trickle light through gray clouds to herald a dismal and tempestuous morning, I turned to see that he was resting beside me. I pulled the covers over him and stared quietly for a little while, as though my eyes would pierce the veil of his dreams and rouse him from sleep so we could talk. They didn't, so I went back to sleep. There was nothing else to do.

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Posted Thu at 12:11 am · OP · Last edited Thu at 0:15
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