27 ~ Ghia

Jourd’Aradia, 23rd Novena

The next day, Ghia said her farewells to her friends in the Regiments as they left for leave vacation―the consensus, unspoken, was to leave before the Empress changed her mind.

Most of the goodbyes were formal, despite her closeness with some of the people. Suckers for protocol, the lot of them, she thought with a smile. Curiosity got the best of her and she’d asked each person where she would go. That Yarrow chose Harbourtown was no surprise, nor Caelum’s choice of Southland. Sentiment and family, respectively, called to them. Interestingly, they were going alone to each place, and apparently had no plans of rejoining. This was not surprising to the healer as, despite the block, she could still feel Yarrow’s anger and Caelum’s melancholy. She hoped a month apart would give them time to work out the quarrel and move towards reconciliation.

Anita and Leala were going to Two-Sides, which was expected as well, despite the small danger in store for bellica and majora of the Third Regiment. The east end of Two-Sides was technically part of Nucalif, though Anita had assured her they’d done no damage to the city on the East Campaign.

“What would be the point in destroying one half of a city? They got the message clear enough; we don’t expect any trouble,” she’d said with a smile. Leala had nodded, embraced Ghia quickly, and then the two of them took off, in high spirits.

She watched them go, waving, and then turned to Anala and Aro, who showed all evidence of leaving together. “Where are you two headed?” she asked as she drew near.

“Not sure,” replied Anala as Aro said “Aeril.”

Continue reading

26 ~ Anala

Not that the interesting activity in the hall had not gone unnoticed by Bellica Anala, or that she had no concern for Ghia’s wellbeing―she simply chose to pay first attention to her food. There was naught she could do at the moment. Besides, Jules was with Ghia. Her childhood had taught her the importance of enjoying her food quickly, and despite the years between her and the threat of her food being taken away, she still was the first finished with her meal at any gathering.

By the time the Healer Ghia had returned to the hall and sat down, pale and shaky, they were on the second-to-last course. It was time for announcements, if there were any. Anala hoped her Regiment would be granted leave. They were weary from the Campaign, and even if they’d never complain to her, she could see they needed rest―it had been several years since their last real vacation. The same went for her, yet she had fared better than Yarrow. The First Bellica hadn’t had a vacation since well before the Battle of Voco.

Continue reading

25 ~ Ghia

It began as a tickling at the back of her conscious; then spread as a numbing buzz over her whole head. She broke off mid-sentence, confused, and her eyes were drawn inexorably to focus on a spot just past Caelum’s point of entry to the hall. It struck her like the blunt end of a sword: familiarity, family, belonging. She wanted to shake her head, to dismiss her musings, but her eyes seemed rooted to the spot, paralysed. All the while she felt a singing in her blood, a quickening of her pulse, as if she had come across something so real she could barely stand the sensation of home.

“Ghia?” Jules’ voice, barely a whisper, cut through her thoughts.

All at once it broke; she was back to normal. Normalcy filled her with an incredible longing. For that brief, shining moment she had felt completed, as if she’d found a piece of herself she hadn’t known was missing until she stumbled upon it, only to drop it again and feel its loss all the more sharply.

Not immediately able to cover the despair that crossed her face, she gave Jules a wan smile and squeezed his hand reassuringly. “I’m fine,” she half whispered, half sent, as she’d been doing all evening. He didn’t look convinced but, when she didn’t say anything more, he shrugged and returned the hand squeeze.

Continue reading

24 ~ Magea Rosa

The layout of the castle hadn’t changed since the start of her sleep. Each hallway was as she remembered it. Some paintings and statues had moved, but she cared not for Terran vanity. Completely unnoticed, thanks to her skill of blending, she walked past small groups of servants, people whose fear of the Empreena was like the stench of bark-rot to Rosa’s sensitive psychic nose. To the uninitiated, blending might seem like invisibility, but the Magi knew that was impossible. It was simply the old trick of changing one’s appearance to match the surroundings. Camouflage was the closest Atheē word, if Rosa remembered correctly, though the Magi practice was slightly different from how the Terrans thought of it.

It was a day full of excitement, this Midwinter. Servants bustled to and fro, anxiety pervading their thoughts. She knew there would be a banquet that night, unless things had changed drastically, though she doubted it. Terrans were creatures of habit. Reading a few servants’ surface thoughts, she confirmed her opinion: the banquet was even being held in the same hall she’d frequented in her days at their Court. Perfect. This was her chance to gather information. Maybe I can discover what year it is, she thought as she began her walk down to the hall.

Continue reading

23 ~ Caelum

An hour and a half late for the banquet, Caelum was still drying his hair.

He’d spent the morning away from the castle, whether from cowardice or pain he didn’t know. He’d found a place to hide out and sleep―a brothel, where they’d never look for him. They who? he wondered. The spy had run off after Yarrow’s confession, but before his own. That put Yarrow in danger.

He stopped drying his hair, amazed at his own stupidity. His head had been so clouded with guilt he’d forgotten that only Yarrow knew about it. She’d never betray a comrade, no matter how much she hated him.

It was also crueler to let him live with his mistake.

Mistakes, he corrected. First the terrabane itself, then the hiding out when Yarrow needed him the most.

But she won’t even listen to me. How can I protect her if she won’t hear me?

Do you need her to listen before you use your sword, you big dolt? That was his conscience, providing the obvious answer.

Cursing himself, he finished getting ready and hurried out the door in the blink of an eye.

He left his sword behind.

22 ~ Zardria

Zardria was having trouble containing the surge of loathing that had flooded through her at the apparent sight of her deceased mother. As she took her seat she could feel her body tensing, preparing to spring. Bloodlust filled her mind and she could almost taste Yarrow’s throat between her teeth.

With great effort she suppressed her animal desires, letting her human side rule. Not tonight, she thought. Death is instant; torture can last a lifetime. Toy with her.

As the heir-apparent lazily let her eyes drink in all activity in the hall, she noticed an officer was missing from the table to which he was assigned. “Bellica Yarrow,” she said, her voice ringing out and causing a hush to fall on the hall. “Where is your major? The banquet has begun―he is late.”

Yarrow’s face flickered, but with what, Zardria didn’t catch.

“I know not, Your Highness.”

Continue reading

21 ~ Jules

As a consequence of visiting Sarai, Jules was late to the banquet. Yet, as usual, he was among the first there.

Usually his visits with his sister left him feeling light, as if his troubles had been lifted and he’d returned to a time before their mother’s death. This visit had left his thoughts and heart heavy.

It was the reading, centrally―not so much what his sister said as what she didn’t say. She’d gone into detail on the second and third cards. While Jules was happy to know his love life would improve (what other way could it go?), and unsurprised to hear the cards speak of his nightmares (soldier back from war: not exactly alchemy to figure that out), he could tell his sister was covering up something: the other five cards.

He knew a bit about Aradia’s Deck, the oracle employed by the priestess of the order. The deck had been around since the First Age, when Aradia of the Stars had bequeathed it to the people of Athering. The seven-card reading was known as the Mirrors reading, and showed what in the world at large would reflect directly on the querent.

What he didn’t know were the interpretations―what the cards meant. Such information belonged to the Mysteries of the Order. That’s what worried him.

Continue reading

20 ~ Zameera

Within her rooms she paced and fumed.

It had taken almost too much energy to get her message through to the priestess. Now she waited for what seemed like an eternity for contact to be made between the priestess and Muerta―and for the Queen to be called to talk through the goddess. It had happened, from time to time―the Mighty Dead were allowed to get messages back to the living. No one had ever told her how damned hard it would be.

She’d spent too many years in the Underworld without doing anything, feeling helpless to watch as her daughter ruined her country.

Continue reading

19 ~ Anala

Anala stepped out of her bathroom draped in nothing but a towel. Her dark hair clung wetly to her skull and shoulders, and she was late for the banquet. Not that it mattered. Hardly anyone would arrive on time, especially not nobles or courtiers. Ranking officers were usually the first ones there.

She sighed and rummaged through her closet. She hated court functions. She went only if required, usually dragged by Aro. But at least I ken the food will be good. Reaching into the back of her closet she found her one court peplos. Formal uniform was required at military banquets, but this banquet had a dual purpose – it was celebratory of Midwinter as well. As good an excuse as any ta wear this ancient rag, she thought as she tossed it on the bed. I’ll not ever have another like it, she mused, fingering the precious Nucalif embroidery. Hastily she dried herself and wrapped her hair in her towel. On cue with her nudity, there was a knock on the door.

“Who is it?” she called.

“It’s me,” Aro’s voice responded. “You decent?”

Continue reading

18 ~ Ghia

Since arriving at the hospitalis earlier that afternoon, she’d not had a moment’s rest, nor any break to investigate the situation with the spy. Miranda had not shown up in the hospitalis again. After talking with Helene, Ghia had determined that Miranda had, in fact, been spying on her and Jules at first. Otherwise why would she follow us to the Cauldron?

The thought was unnerving, but now she was more worried about the bellica and major of the First Regiment. Not that she thought they’d be so dumb as to openly discuss anything that could be construed as treason, but these days the difference between what one said and what was heard by those in charge was great. During dinner at the tavern she’d heard from some townsfolk who’d come in that there’d been another raid the night before, only two doors down. A small family that did charity to the poor of Atherton had simply disappeared. Ghia couldn’t imagine what they could have done―she’d known them most of her life, the sweetest people one could know. The wife had been a priestess and had settled down with his husband in order to bring the goodness of the Goddesses to the townspeople.

Continue reading