From Whence We Came

Re: From Whence We Came

Postby Rance » Mon Jun 10, 2019 3:42 pm

"Does it accept me?" she repeats, and jerks her head to the side as if struck by some unseen palm. "Whether or not it accepts me is hardly my concern. What matters is that I accept it. What I talk for is my perception of it, and that alone. At the times it must, it hates me, and I can feel that burn acutely. And through it, I feel the pulse of the place.

"Its heartbeat hasn't changed, not since I left, and not since I returned. Always the same," Gloria said. "Always the same." The phrase fell from her lips like water, having neither body nor passion. She crossed her arms, almost as if suffering a sudden chill. She did not look at him. The missing eye, a void, was better left an imaginary fixture of that face she knew so well. "Valor sought, Elliot, or valor awarded? Whose life did you save?"

She milled about as if trying to find something, touching a knuckle to her lips. Staring at the ground. Half her attention for him. Half her attention buried into the world. ...most of my years of s— rang like a ball-bearing rattled in a bedside pitcher. He knew it. He knew it. Was it worth digging a thumb even deeper to peel it out, to pop out the rest of the world like the wet tongue of an oyster to be sucked out and swallowed? For what purpose. Satisfaction? Closure? Some sense of I told you?

No victories without blood. That's what Raf Ironback taught her. No easy victories.

Finally, she stopped. Her toe jabbed into the ground. "There."

A moment later, she'd squatted to dig the object out of the soil. The clumsy archaeology took no finesse. With its leather dry-rotted and its crossguard chewed nearly to crumbles by rust, the sword — a rusted practice blade, abandoned during the previous Guard's tenure in these fields — might as well have been a relic of a thousand years ago, let alone four or five. She peeled it out of the soil, lay it across her knee, and then looked up to the horizon of the town and the world beyond.

"There are little men and little women who — who thirst to know what valor is, and our little world needs good guides, good teachers, and good leaders. Time falls away. We used to be children. And now," she said, "we're not."

She dropped the moldering sword at his feet.

"What you never were, even then, was cruel. Or unkind. Or unfair. Whatever you do, I beg you not to bury those gifts in Snowstill."
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Re: From Whence We Came

Postby Glenn » Tue Jun 11, 2019 12:13 am

"That seems..." and he struggled for a word, as he so often did. Elliot Brown rarely had such lofty goals as multi-syllable discourse. He was able to speak quickly, words running over one another in a raucous tumble. Gahald reached for more and quite often found himself lacking. "Haughty?" He wasn't sure enough of the meaning to make it a statement instead of a question, no matter his initial intent. It was only when a hint of passion entered his tone and his facade cracked that his vocal pace quickened. "And didn't you just go on about how I had to be concerned whether it accepted me or not." She was the bumpiest of roads and to ride beside her was to lose wheel after wheel after wheel.

It was exhausting, and it colored his every response. "You said you would not ask the what, just the why? Or the how? You know what I mean. I told you it was valor that was what for and valor it was what for and I shall respect your won't-ing, that is your limits and boundaries, Miss Wynsee," for somewhere in there, he found some artificial poise once more, "even if you don't respect them."

All the while he watched her as she fumbled about. He was strong, stronger than Elliot Brown had ever been, and had grown larger than he ought to have, had outpaced Brown's body in ways that hardly seemed natural, wounded visage or no. Elliot Brown was never meant to have stature.

"I remember what I remember, Miss Wynsee," and he would not admit this forever, not before every statement as a disclaimer invalidating all he might say. Here though, about her, he simply couldn't be sure, "and some more sharply than others, but while I would not turn a silent ear to a woman who begged for my aid, as I remember it," the sentence was slow and labyrinthine but not said with spite, "you were neither kind nor fair."
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Re: From Whence We Came

Postby Rance » Tue Jun 11, 2019 12:56 am

"Kind, I was not, and never must be. The world demands a kind woman only for its satisfaction, and rarely for hers. But I venture to say your measurement of fairness is skewed. Your matriarch raped minds and murdered the essence of good souls, Elliot Gahald. Take care," Gloria said, "that you do not value fairness over survival. I survived. I survived. You remember what you remember, and I remember what I remember. And so does Myrken Wood."

She looped on herself; this, she might never admit, but knew too well. Offered reasons immediately damaged by contradictions. Her shoulders expanded and then deflated as, with a breath, she shook her head, and scraped her fingers through the grassy soil. "Valor is a fragile word to me, Elliot. As frail as my reasons for wanting to see you. I—" A handful of dirt. Squeezed. Like wet clay. "I wanted to see your face, if you care to know.

"I just — I just wanted to see your face."

Now, she sat in the grass, with one knee bent and her lone thumb picking at the edge of a patch on her skirt. She wiped a few streaks of rust off her fingertips. All this parrying, all this jabbing, it tired her, almost as much as it tired him. She looked up at him, her skin as dark as mud in the slanted morning Sun.

She patted the earth beside her. Invited him to sit. She unstrapped the burden of righteousness off her shoulders. Could he?

After a long bit of silence, where the sounds of the day seemed deafening:

"What you did for Cherny—" she whispered, looking at her knees. "Could you do that, too, for others?"
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Re: From Whence We Came

Postby Glenn » Tue Jun 11, 2019 1:11 am

Kind. Kind. Raped and murdered. Fariness. Survival. Survived. Remember. Remember. Remember and remember.

He stood and stared with the one eye he could still stare with and with a chain pointed just so, which he could always do. He stood and stared and listened. He heard her admittance. He heard her excuse. He heard her take offense. He heard her accusation. He heard her warning. Then he heard her tie it all together, a lumpy, misshapen parcel, one that would come apart and fall into the dust with the slightest movement. He said nothing.

She squeezed a handful of dirt, dust, perhaps the same dust that contained what she had just tried to offer and force upon him.

She wanted to see his face. That selfsame face softened with those words. He would drown the world in compassion, compassion he didn't understand, compassion he couldn't even understand. Never do anything if you don't know what you're doing and why you're doing it. That was the sort of advice his mother gave, always so concerned that her children might look like fools. Rhaena Olwak's advice was very different indeed. Follow your code. Follow her edicts.

He did not seat. He was wary of his own compassion that he no longer understood. "I could." He had not sought out Cherny. That was not compassion. He had not sought out anyone, not anyone his own family. Consistency eliminated the question of compassion. Was it cowardice instead then? Whatever valor was, cowardice was its opposite. Everyone knew that, even Gloria Wynsee. "Swords. Practice. Again and again. A code to live by. Practice. Again and again." The words, though hardly sentences, came slowly. "I could do it with my eyes closed."

His smile, now that it came, was a far more complete thing than it had been a few minutes before. Complete and so very sad. "I can't with my eyes open, though."
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Re: From Whence We Came

Postby Rance » Tue Jun 11, 2019 1:33 am

She could have basked in the Glass Sun all day. Here, even in the hottest day, she was always cold. Bitterly, violently cold, a chill so deep in her brown bones that only a mouthful of magma and whiskey could have rid her of it. Sometimes she caught hints of that Jernoan warmth. In the right angle. At the right moment. Up, she reached, with a mutilated hand, and rubbed at her cheek. As if to grind the gaze of the Sun right into her dark flesh.

What she expected was anger. Anger. Pure, hot, unrelenting. That he had damaged that body. That, underneath the guise of his valor, he'd — on some fool's errand — scarred it beyond repair when it was not his to sacrifice. But what should he do, then? Live within a bottle of glass, like some precious relic, meant never to blemish or fade? Her forearm and fist tightened with rage.

But not at him. For once, not at him.

She slipped her hand down against her side, ground her fist into the earth, and pressed, pressed, pressed until the tooth of a tiny stone chewed into that soft skin between her knuckles.

"A man has told me we ought to — to build. To reach outside of ourselves to find prosperity. Myrken Wood does not so much flounder as it stagnates. That is survival," she reasoned. "Good men, good girls, they want for a code like yours. Ariane lived by code, and even Agnieszka. Edmund did—" It hurts just to think of him "—and Lady Egris. The code is yours, Elliot. Not stitched into you by a maker's hands, or fabricated against your will.

"A code is made only more powerful by looking upon it and criticizing it with widened eyes. Who cares what valor you found," she asked, "if you saw a glimmer of you for the first time in forever?"

Up came the knee. So that her cheek could rest upon it.

"Do you want to build something good and fair?"
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Re: From Whence We Came

Postby Glenn » Mon Jun 17, 2019 12:34 am

Shame. It drove him as much as higher ideals. The whims of society mattered so very much. He could always feel Her eyes upon him, peeking out from behind the veil itself. It was a whisper he could never shut out, no matter how many truths he learned or how many contradictions he found. Here, he felt shame again, fully admitting the absurdity of its cause. Edmund. He had not known an Edmund. Did. Past tense. He knew his tenses. Past, present, future. Three was enough. Edmund was of the past. Had he died? Had he been driven away? "I'm sorry," and for what? He didn't even know. For not being there to save whoever this good man was, to help her keep him here? There was pain. He was supposed to look for pain. He was supposed to look for pain and turn it into beauty. There was no turning Gloria Wynsee into beauty and that made her into a sort of balm.

She was the absence of false ideals.

No code could handle her.

She was relief in punishment.

Here, she punished him again. "I disagree." It was easier to disagree with her as well, in the absence of aesthetics and traditional grace. That felt good as well, no matter how miserable the circumstances contrived to make him. "No," he corrected. "I do not yet know if I agree. A code could be my own. I do not know if it is this code." Then, disagreeing more, as if it was all he could do in the face of her. "I did not see a glimmer of myself, either. I merely saw that the myself I saw was a statue with cracks. If you chisel," said with uncertainty for that didn't feel quite like the right word, "at a statue, you do not get the person it was made in the image of," his words were slow, careful, everyone chosen with effort.

"You get a broken statue."
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Re: From Whence We Came

Postby Rance » Mon Jun 17, 2019 2:14 pm

His personal revelation hardly stirred her. Did he feel it, she wondered? In all his self-discovery, in all these tangled and clumsy metaphors which helped him grasp at threads of understanding, had any of it yielded the powerful sting, the caustic burn of pain and limitation and mortality? One knee to her chest, she sat in the grass in a sprawl of onion-colored skirts and contemplated statues. It was a little boy's metaphor; it was a good metaphor, because it had effect. He had never taken up that bastard blade, rusted and forgotten. It lay several meters away from her hand, basking brown in the daylight.

"Welcome," Gloria said, "to a land filled with broken statues, Gahald. And better, too, we be broken. My creators praised cruel gods and followed fractured religions. Chisel away—" Thump, thump, the beat of her lone hand against the cage of her chest, which might as well have been a wardrum, "—and forget I was ever made in anyone's image at all. The chips and dents and gashes and bruises in our marble, Elliot? Nameless, they're — they're astonishing. May the world give you as many as you want. A code in there will appear, out of the dust. And it won't be hers, and it won't be anyone else's.

"It will be yours. It will be true. True and broken," the Jerno said, "is always better than false and whole."

He burned. From several feet away, he burned a midday heat. An inner heat. Confusion-heat. The hot winds that battered the cheeks on edges of the world. If she did not stand now and hold him, at least counter-balance him, would he stumble forward and just fall into that great pit inside his head? The grass rustled as she unraveled from the ground, drew to her feet, and stood beside him, tall as a squat tree that cast its own long and gnarled shadow. Her sweat. a darkened oil, gleamed with obsidian's fury on her brow. The touch might have been unwelcome, but it was all the same: two fingertips dared his elbow, grazed the sleeve, and sought to remind him that theirs was no endless void. She would be an ugly star poked into that black canvas, if she must be. "I — I never hated you. If even the words came from me, they were frightened things. Gloria Wynsee is at first a balled fist, and everything else secondly."

But she will always be Gloria, she did not say.

"I see you," she said.

Her callused fingers did not fear a broken statue.

"I see you."
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Re: From Whence We Came

Postby Glenn » Thu Jun 20, 2019 11:49 pm

He had not taken up the bastard blade, just as he did not approach her. He did not recoil either, and if he did even a little, it was because of her words and not her state. He had been crafted into a creature not of kindness but instead of charity. He was slowly coming to see the difference within himself even if others might not, so used to so little of either.

Still, there was not enough charity in the world for him to do more than politely listen to her words. His metaphors were simple. Hers felt more complex and he struggled. It was visible in his face, a tightening of lips, a slight furrowing of brows, a strain on a face that had been reborn to be pleasant (even if the world had before and again other intentions for it).

There were things he did understand though, things he did appreciate. She said his name, not the adoptive surname, but his given one. Was it twice now? He'd let the first one pass without notice. The second was shelter in a storm.

Gloria Wynsee, then. Both the shelter and the storm.

His mind had wandered and there would be no catching up to her now. Had she noticed? Color entered his cheeks, and if she wanted to believe it was because of her sharp oratory, his silence would do nothing to dissaude her.

He was silent in deed as well as word, letting her approach. He did not retreat; he did not withdraw.

When the words came, they were as heartfelt and earnest as they were thoroughly wrong. "I forgive you, Miss Wynsee."

She saw him? Of course she saw him.

If Elliot Gahald had been crafted for one reason and one reason alone, it was to be seen.
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Re: From Whence We Came

Postby Rance » Sun Jun 23, 2019 12:13 am

"Do not. Please," she said, close to him, split by sunrays and breath. "Unless is it your choice to forgive and not just your presumption of what I need, or what would comfort me. Forgive me only if you choose to. I can stand a life basking in the shadows of — of my own stupidity, but not in the sunlight of charitable hospitality.

"Choose."

Something struck her. Not a fist, not a cool realization, not an epiphany. But rather a sensation, like the cold and rising waters of the first time she had ever set foot on an Amasynian beach, where the ships from the Red Caps dumped them into the waist-deep waters, and it almost dragged her back into that watery hell, and her dirty skirts bloomed up around her like a wrinkled brown flower, swollen and fat, and the whole world seemed tilted on an axis and she was unsure whether she drifted, back, back, into the sea (No, no!), or forward toward the brine-foam beaches...

Who was she then? Who was she now?

She stood in front of Elliot Gahald in the middle of that overgrown training field, still a foot apart from him, yet not so far away that she could not reach out to touch him again. Her lone hand raised, her trembling thumb found the starburst scar where an eye used to be, danced above it, but never grazed. "This is your body," she whispered, though whether or not she spoke to him or to herself, even she couldn't tell. "What things I said, I am unable to take back. I stood on an island and — and screamed, just hoping anyone would hear me. Conviction is just another word for loneliness.

"What made me so undesirable, so unwanted, that — that they refused to even try to turn me into something beautiful, too?"

Perhaps it was the Glass Sun. Perhaps it was him. Perhaps it was her.

She gripped his hand, not with brute force, but with the softness reserved for needlepoint and embroidery. Cradled his knuckles. Bent her elbow, drew his hand closer to her, so that his palm might find the waist-ridge where dull blouse became scarlet skirt.
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Re: From Whence We Came

Postby Glenn » Mon Jun 24, 2019 1:09 am

Whatever he may have expected, it was not this. He was one to take people at their word, to a fault, the sort of fault that might cost someone his own eye. Still, he had a history with Gloria Wynsee, a one-sided, confusing history and now, his brow furrowed once more. "Please stop." It was a request of sorts, but not said in a pleading way. If anything, there was uncomfortable exasperation reverberating between his eye and his tongue, an instinct of flight traversing nerves up and down and up again, yet never quite able to reach the brain of a man who was created to never fly, one that was thoroughly chained to a gilded ground. "I want to forgive you. I don't want to doubt it or question it. Forgiveness is a good thing. Who would say otherwise without darkness in their heart? Let me have that at least."

She spoke of conviction and loneliness and he stared. It was not the gaze of Elliot Brown, which was a darting, churning thing, one never satisfied, one quick to make a hundred false connections, all tangled up with one another until all that was left was a pulsing ball of twisted boy logic careening at you from top of a very high hill. This was a bit more like talking to a well-meaning cow, chewing and chewing and chewing as it stared. Conviction and loneliness. He chewed those things. Rhaena Olwak had taught him the serenity of confirming, of being part of the group, of inspiring the group to be its very best by outwardly expressing its ideals, her ideals. He had been lonely as well, though, at times. People had always been so strange to him, and no one worse than Gloria herself.

His hand had strength within it but for now, that strength was dormant. The hand was warm, but rather limp. "I don't think that's right," he finally said, his thoughts coming together even as she was running ahead of him to another place all together. When he looked at her, it was with lucidity. Whatever he was in this moment, be it not sharp or quick, it was real and present. "No. You can have the sort of conviction that brings you closer to others, like loving your father and mother or Lady, no matter what they do. That's the sort of conviction that brings you closer to others but farther from yourself, maybe? You just have the other kind. Is it better to feel like you're right and to be alone or to be not nearly so sure but to be with others?" Not unlike Elliot Brown, once he finally got started, there was very little stopping him.

Her question was valid, not that one, the one unspoken, or half spoken. Mostly spoken, really. "Don't you think, maybe, that in the end it wasn't about being beautiful or not? I mean, you said it yourself, Miss Wynsee." He was a statue, his hand where she placed it, unmoving, his eye upon her intent, building an edifice from her own words because he had so few of his own. "Your conviction. It was too much for them, for us I suppose, to turn."
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Re: From Whence We Came

Postby Rance » Mon Jul 01, 2019 1:54 am

She was close to him—

"I cannot dictate your forgiveness. But I want it to be yours. Not out of obligation, not out of honor, not out of expectation. I want it to be true. So should you."

—and that was that; her eyes punctuated that thought, that demand, by trailing off toward some feather of his hair slanted like a comma across his brow, found herself strangely tangled in it, knotted up (didn't you always hope he'd notice you?), though she already knew it was wrong, spoiled, queer (sometimes you thought of this body, but not this mind; sometimes you wanted to hit this boy, and sometimes you wanted to kiss this boy). But her hip became an instinctive beast: it slanted, ever-so-slightly, to more readily greet the touch, as if inviting him not to be afraid.

Then, trembling like a leaf, her lone hand lowered, touched his knuckles. Brushed his hand. As if soothing a wild animal. "Do not sequester yourself to — to lonesome horizons. It liberates only briefly before it poisons. Eventually even conviction fades away and all you want is for other eyes to fall upon you and remind you that you aren't some specter adrift on the wind.

"You belong here. Not out there. Once, we — we did not get along. But we are bound now, aren't we? It's a Myrken Wood bond: we've seen the world almost crumble, and we've picked ourselves up out of the rubble."

(You did not come here for this. You came here for business. You came here to parley.)

"You — you can kiss an ugly thing, if you'd like. To kill her code once and for all."
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Re: From Whence We Came

Postby Glenn » Wed Jul 03, 2019 1:07 am

What was she, really?

They were to beautify the ugly.

Was she ugly? By what standard?

The ugly, when they could not be beautified, still performed a service. Who better to attend to beauty? Who better to serve beauty? Most of all, who better to appreciate beauty? What was beauty without appreciation.

By what standard? Standards. Standards and codes. Her codes. His codes. His body went rigid, cold, distant. The color left his skin at her advance. The contradictions seized at his throat and the world began to spin. It was her. She could never leave it well alone, which would be fine. Fine and good. Fine. It would be fine, except for that she always took it too far. Hadn't she just argued a moment before that...

With a violent cough, the knot in his mind assaulted the frog in his throat and words rushed forth. "You told me that my code was fine. That it was good, that it wasn't hers or that it was mine." Confusion met exasperation and gave birth to a child named rasp. It permeated his voice. "That I could live by it, be kind by it, help others by it. I will not kiss you because you claim yourself ugly. I will not kiss you to kill something else. Whatever code I may live by, I will not give birth to it through," and there was frustration for there were words he simply did not know: rancor, malice, acrimony. There existed words to express his feelings, but he could not wield them as he was wielding this emotion through tone and flagellated gaze. "hateness."

He did not withdraw, but his body had sprung to alertness, as if he was a rabbit ready to bound away from a larger predator at any moment. "You say I get to choose who I am, what I to be, what code I might have. Can I not find some other, other," and there he failed once more, his eye shutting for a moment with a deep, deep wince before flashing open once more. "defining thing than beauty and ugliness? There has to be more, but I fear I cannot begin to see it." Then, as threatened, as promised, he did draw back, but only to lean his head down, to bow to her. A smile had stumbled onto his face, something warm. "You have shown me a kindness today, Gloria Wynsee. You would have sacrificed your own body to me to try to help me find a path forward and to make me feel my own person. You wished to know of valor? That is the bravest thing I have seen for a good while, especially given our previous encounters. You need not make such a sacrifice though. It lays upon a bed of falsehood. You are not ugly and even if you were, the road I must take will not begin with killing, not a person nor a code."
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Re: From Whence We Came

Postby Rance » Fri Jul 05, 2019 3:41 am

If he couldn't see it — beauty, ugliness, all the visual cruelties and kindnesses of the world — how could he know, how could he know she wasn't ugly? What use were his eyes, then, if he could both see and not see? I will not kiss you to kill something else. His whole being was a knot of tension and stiffness before, toward his bow and his compliments, he drew away. And so did the threads of his code seem to materialize as, in his fidgeting eyes and wounded face, she thought she witnessed a newness come over him. Perhaps it was the morning Sun. Perhaps it was the shadow. Perhaps it was her.

This is better. This is better...

Hadn't Genny called her handsome?

Elliot is not who you crave.

And what would the world say of her, of them, if it found out—

Write her. Before this spine of yours turns to dust.

"It's neither brave," she said, "nor a sacrifice. It's what we do. It's simply," she said, half-smiling, lost, skirt snapping, staring at the grass, "what we do."

Silence. A turn. Stained green by the weeds, her rough skirts whipped slaughter to the legions of tall stalks and onion-grass beneath her. She came to the rusted sword once again and lifted it up. In her lone hand, its weight was both cumbersome and unsure, but in the right light and at the right angle, the stocky girl could have been a warrior; she could have been something built for the battlefield. For bravery. For courage. For valor, at least of the sort written like fantasies and falsehoods in the fabric of Elliot Gahald's fledgling mind. She cut it through the air, a clumsy motion, before twisting it in her fist and holding it at a slant across her hip. "The militia wants for a Marshal. It requires direction and guidance, and — and organization. Since the Lady Egris and Ariane, the role has been vacant, and yearns desperately for someone who abhors hateness."

A sword bore edges. One, or two, or more. And yet it could block, it could deflect, it could parry...

Good swords defended. Fine swords protected. The best swords never needed to swing at all.

"Say yes," Gloria Wynsee said. "Only if — if you choose it."
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Re: From Whence We Came

Postby Glenn » Mon Jul 08, 2019 12:28 am

Gloria Wynsee was anvil and hammer both. She trapped a man with her presence and hammered him incessantly with her skull until something new was forged. There were a few who were too slippery, too ethereal, occasionally though rarely, too hard and steadfast, but those were a mere few. Most could not withstand pounding, her punishment, her relentlessness. Elliot Gahald, if he withstood at all, did so solely though thickheadedness, through ignorance, through confusion. The hammerhead struck true but it struck mud. The new shape refused to hold, instead oozing back towards the ground.

Whatever internal discoveries or decisions she made were wholly lost upon him. A moment ago, she demanded a kiss. Now she demanded something else. He had more than enough to deal with. Compassion was one thing. Empathy was another. Understanding was beyond him altogether. He pressed his left hand over his eyes, good and bad, wiping a whole swath of his face, back and forth and back again. It did little for the pain but at least it moved about the sweat that had begun to gather there. If nothing else, that would provide ample landing for new sweat to protrude.

"Miss Wynsee, I cannot yet walk and you would have me run. More, moreover, you would have me run at the head of the pack." The strain in his voice was obvious. "A pack with no reason to trust me, especially as I don't even trust myself. I understand duty, good lady, I better than most," or at least, he believed he understood a thing he believed was duty, right up until the point he could stop long enough to doubt all of it. Right now, though, she had him moving, hardly stopped at all, "but for now, I am fit only for simple tasks." She was dramatic in her movements and he was small, withdrawn. "Abhorring hatred is a simple task, but you mention direction and guidance and organization." And wasn't he good at repeating things he heard? Far better than coming up with ideas of his own.

"I am a hesitant heart and a lagging mind. A militia like that could do a very good job not hurting anyone while allowing every other threat to hurt them instead."
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Re: From Whence We Came

Postby Rance » Tue Jul 09, 2019 12:53 am

"Run," she said. "Run. To hell with walking, Gahald. Ease is a dangerous notion, and comfort even more heinous. I've no right serving as High Inquisitor in Genny's stead, but I will, and I shall, and not because it is what is expected of me. Rather, it is what I expect of myself. Simple tasks—" A phrase spoken not with wholly with disdain, but with a quiet surge of envy, all while her rusted sword-point fell to brush across the hem of her skirt. She started again. "Our brains are rebels against effort. A hesitant heart and — and a lagging mind, they beg to be our governors, and if we let them, we die as loyalists to—"

To Jernoah. To Rhaena.

Would the complexity of it be lost on him? Was it even complex at all? The corner of her mouth twitched, and the point of the rusted sword sunk down against the damp soil.

"We die," is all she said. "We die, perhaps now, perhaps several decades from now, complacent and unfulfilled."

Softness reinhabited her face. Some spark of her had begged to burn in recent months, a subtle capacity to press down impulse beneath her palm and silence its incessant nagging. She drew the hilt close to herself, enough to scrape across the belly of her dress, where underneath, a thorn chewed like a hot coal into her skin. She saw Elliot again with refreshed eyes, and demanded of herself that everything loosen and relax: her shoulders, her elbows, her whole stance. "You refuse to see yourself. What you could do, and what you could accomplish. Whether or not the pack trusts you, I trust you. Once, I trusted in your presence as a justifier for my antagonism. How could anybody like anyone so good," the dark-skinned woman wondered aloud. "But they did. Cherny did. And I do. Because for all we clashed and crashed together, you were always you, and in a confusing and poisonous world like this one, nothing speaks more truly.

"If it needs a High Inquisitor, then it needs a Marshal. To balance. To be fair," she said. "And I fear being left to — to learn how to defend and protect this place on my own."
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Rance
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