At Long Last

Re: At Long Last

Postby Niabh » Fri Nov 15, 2019 6:27 am

A Queen did not retreat. Neither did she kick a raven in the chest, all those hollow bones collapsing. Glenn’s laughter got an ugly glare out of her, as if he were to be the recipient of the next kicking if he didn’t hush his rusting gob. Both of them were entirely too satisfied with themselves and if anything it was worse when they got together, the raven secure in having a witness and Glenn pleased with getting a peek at the occasional farce and indignity behind the glam. It was all well and good to think all this but then the raven tricked her with a good feint, herding her left instead of the right she’d intended, driving her back toward Glenn.

“You think this is goddamn funny?” she snapped at him as she scooted around, except now she was laughing, an involuntary, breathless chuckle.

Benedict backed her almost to the blackberry bush. She glammed herself and crossed straight through him, coming around from behind, but the raven dissolved and reformed in front of her again. The two of them swapped and shifted positions in a bewildering blur of black and red, both struggling for the high ground while the raven, out of his element, puffed and struggled and the lady grew more and more irritated with every sidestep. Fighting with a raven was the height of silliness; doing it before an audience was humiliating. Doing it before an audience consisting solely of Glenn was something she’d never live down until one of them died.

Face hot, cheeks stained dark, she abruptly slammed back to full solidity, towering over the raven. “Cuir ó uait!

The raven held back, swaying side to side like a dancing snake.

What, would a’ peck me to death to get thy way? I’ll take more pecking than is in thee, and if I be dead there’ll be none to cure thee at all, less’n that one yonder knows how.” The language might be beyond him but Glenn could hardly miss the contemptuous toss of the head, the way her hands propped on her hips, and the sidelong glance she shot him as she said that one.Have sense, my raven. Be civil.

She cocked her head toward Glenn, lips pursed, eyes half-lidded with consideration. “You be civil, too. An you had not noticed, you’re uninvited on my land and not in any position to give me orders. You want his voice back? Fine. We can barter for it. Your voice for his. Then you can listen to him all you like, and someone will finally be able to get a word edgewise to you.”
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Re: At Long Last

Postby Glenn » Sat Nov 16, 2019 2:11 am

The brain of Glenn Burnie churned. It was a river, raging. It raged when he slept. It raged when he dined. It raged when traveled. It ranged when he had sword in hand and practiced patterns upon his heels. It raged through the night and the day. Only did it ever stop when he put ink to paper. Only did it ever stop when words escaped his lips. Generally, usually, mercifully (for others at least), he could stop the tide, still his hand, shut his mouth. Now though? Now, after hours that were not hours but that were certainly hours of questing through glamourie, now with his affliction grasping him by the throat, there was no dam to block off the river. He ran a weary hand, his left, down that self same side of his face, all but pulling the mirth down, down to his collarbone.

When he looked back to her, the smile was gone but the sparkles in his eyes were dancing. "No." He took a step towards her, focused not upon mole or bird or any other friendly creature, not on hair or legs, distracting as they may be. He moved towards her slowly. He stared at her intently. And to the dismay of the entire province, he took a breath.

"And I shall tell you why. I was in a room, a box, in exile, in a land grander than this, but emptier all the same. I was there, locked up, atoning and imprisoned, kept safe from myself and with others kept safe from me." His voice was low and his steps small, shallow. If he meant to reach her, it would take some time. "I reached out so rarely, and when I did, one time when I did with some meaning, a response arrived from Myrken, from here, from home, from a stranger with a false face, to fill the hole through which my words escaped, to make more permanent the seal.

"Well then, it's one thing for me to do it to myself, but for someone else to impose, that is a challenge, and challenge give we fool mortals life, do they not? So I responded, and the letters continued and what began as a warning became a game and what became a game was planted anew as an exchange, as your people so enjoy, as you bandy about even now, and what grew from that seed was a confusing thing, a friendship, an accord, a relocation of sorts so that two, so very far away, could be neighbors." She could fade away, shift backwards or forward, be in front of you or behind. Burnie, on the other hand, seemed to drift upon his own words. He was walking a pathway that would not end until that final period.

The pace of his arrival was the pace of his story, the speed the volume, and it was only beginning to rise. "Not a tree, for a tree is one thing, no matter how far its roots may stretch. You could make someone a tree; this isn't that. A forest though? Like this one, but between two people, reflected through their people, traversing backwards and forwards in time, full of dark foreboding patches and beautiful, calm clearings." And here, in this moment, his foot scuffed just a little. The focus in his eyes faltered, just for the briefest second. Here, now, in the midst of this, after all that, before her, there was a real danger of losing one's self to metaphor.

With a firm step, however, the longest and most definitive of this little stroll between one point of view and another, his gaze sharpened once more. "Throughout all of this, due to our distance, you meet me halfway with letters. You are fluidity and grace. To pin yourself down through writing chafes; there is a danger to it, an alteration you cannot so easily return from, especially if you write truth. In return, I will meet you halfway as well, opening myself to emotions long tied down and controlled, would engage in a sort of merriment deep within your realm of being."

He was close now. That last step was a meaningful one. This close, he had to look up to her, but he was always willing to do that if the other person was worth the effort. "That is not the whole of me. That is not the whole of you. As much as I am that, I am also this," he pressed two fingers to his own lips, and then pressed them onto hers delicately. "As much as you are that, you are also this. Stories, arguments, building and tearing apart and building again, something fluid, something that can shift with the moment, that is never pinned down, but that is always growing and expanding. Long nights and harrowed mornings. Lilting rhymes and tricky bits of wordplay, not things thought out and rehearsed but instead a perfect, true moment."

Finally, then, he'd draw his hand back, would plant his feet, here, in this spot, right before her. The Wood seemed to resonate with him and he with it. This was his home, both the Myrken and the Wood, even if he had a different relationship with each. "You pulled me out of that box. I crawled the rest of the way here, one step after another, despite everything that drove me away in the first place. Do you think I'd take that journey, come all this way, and rob of us the the reason why? Yes, I've come for my people and for yours. Yes, I've come for those who care about me and whom I care about. Yes, I've come for another chance at a better future. But so much of that I could have done there, in different ways, with a different color. No, most of all, Finn, I think I've come to talk to you."

And somewhere in all of this, as he craned his neck slightly, as he kept that slight, meaningful distance between them, a smile had inched back upon his face, connecting the sparkles in his eyes with the wildness around them. "So you'll not take my voice, because you want all of this, all that's to come, as much as I do. You'll return Benedict's voice, because he was the bridge between us, and he should be both rewarded and punished for that." If it was laughter, it was brief and kind. "He should be part of our conversations to come. He deserves no less, don't you think?"
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Re: At Long Last

Postby Niabh » Sun Nov 17, 2019 2:00 pm

When he inhaled, so did she, letting it out in an exaggerated but tolerant sigh before shifting weight onto a heel and folding her arms to make herself comfortable for what promised to be a long, long bout of persuasion. She entertained it with no intention of being swayed, but only because it clearly amused him and because shutting him up was unthinkable other than by use of force, or by actually yanking his voice out from under him like a rug, which would be most unsporting.

And besides, she had missed hearing him talk. She wondered what Genny, cooped up in a carriage with him over the miles, would think of that opinion.

When Glenn finally crossed the slow, short distance between them, her head tipped in curiosity, uncertain what he planned to do until he did it. Heat radiate from her like a small sun. The fingertips brushed her lower lip like a stab of electricity. She sucked in a sharp breath and jerked her face to the side. “Don’t do that.”

A warning. She scrubbed the side of her forefinger against her mouth, but the vivid tingle under the skin would not be erased.

As Glenn meandered toward a conclusion, there came a soft thump and a rustling in the grass as the raven, reduced to pantomime to vent his irritation, flopped on his back, his curled toes twitching. Fionn blinked down at him in surprise, then chuckled and nudged him with a toe. He didn’t budge.

“Well, now you’ve gone and done it,” she remarked to Glenn. “You’ve talked Benedict to death. I hope you’re satisfied.”

She lowered herself back to her stump, knees spraddled and the heels of both hands propped on the stump’s rough edge, and looked up at him fondly. “The fact remains that you do not intrude upon a lady’s province and then behave as though you’re in a position to negotiate. This matter is between myself and Benedict and I would prefer we deal with it in private.”

At the mention of his name, the raven rolled back onto his feet, shaking himself free of grass. His wings pumped, carrying him off the ground in a sharp upward swoop to a nearby structure roughly as tall as Glenn and shaped like a narrow Myrken house, complete with a crooked false chimney and with a large hole where the door should have been. Perched on its roof, he let out a sharp, silent bark.

Her hand lifted toward the bird in demonstration, five fingers spread. “And I’m sure Benedict would rather the matter be settled in whatever way and he knows well enough that I will only settle it in mine own. I offered you the opportunity to make a noble sacrifice on his behalf. You rejected it. No more bargains. Now I decide.”

Her eyes glittered faintly. On the surface all was teasing; her decision had been made an hour after the raven had not returned, long before she knew Glenn was even within walking distance, and this feinting was all in play, acting the fickle queen for his benefit. Underneath, it was as deadly serious as any bargain ever was. If any bargain was ever spoken in jest then every bargain, from the First Days to the words just fallen from her lips, was worth nothing.

The uneven stump rocked gently side to side as she shifted her weight, contemplative. “There is no more halfway, mo sionnach. You’re here. Much as you hate admitting it, there are forces stronger than your stubbornness and this place is one of them.” She chuckled softly again. “You’re like one of His water-dragons, always returning to the same spot, only they are daft, simple creatures who know not why they must come back year after year. I wonder if you don’t know, either. Not really.

“But you are no swan. You are a man, and when instinct guides you, you can’t accept it. You rationalize. You come up with reasons. You would have found an excuse, sooner or later, or, if excuse did not make itself convenient, you would construct one. You’ve done it for far less. Any other man in the world I could flatter myself that he would travel a thousand miles all to hear me speak his name, but you? Never. It’s sterner stuff you are, and trickier.”

The tall woman unfolded herself from her makeshift stool, reaching up to push her hair over her shoulder. “When the sun touches the lake tomorrow, Benedict will speak again. At that same moment, the path will open to lead you back to the Dagger. You may stay until then or find your own way out. If you stay, you are my guest.”
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Re: At Long Last

Postby Glenn » Mon Nov 18, 2019 3:01 am

Save for her one, surprising outburst, she had listened to him. Therefore, this once, he listened to her as well. He listened to her chuckle, not once but twice. He listened to her be cross and serious. He met her gaze more than her mole and noted her unmistakably favorable undertone as well.

Then, as she finished, he chuckled as well, softly, barely. "Nothing would please me more than to declare to you, whether I had any actual intention of acting on it, that I could easily find my way back now, this instance. I am a mapmaker. I am a denizen of all of Myrken, town and Wood alike. I've survived the worst of this place and even more dangerous, the best of it. So on, so forth." He crossed his arms and rubbed, eye to cheek, his hand against the left side of his face, leaving his palm there at the end, poor support for a standing man. It meant he half talked into that hand as well, though his voice was clear and crisp, because of course it was. "I am not at all sure that I could, however.

"When Sarayan," of the ring and so much and so little more, "took Rhaena's hand and I was helpless to stop it, I spent a year training with Jirai, swallowing mutilation every day to become what was needed to prevent it from happening again. For the last few months, I have built myself up, to some positive effect, to lessen the time of my affliction, whether you like my methods or not. What I have not done, however," he stood steady though fingers brushed from one side of his face to the other, rubbing at his right eye as well, "was overcome the deficiencies shown to me at Golben. I was trapped there for Rhaena's entire reign, perceiving days instead of weeks, and only lived through it due to Catch's lucid intervention. Even so, I emerged a starved husk, perhaps broken in more ways than was first apparent. I've done nothing to master that experience and am in no rush to challenge it, or something similar again. You will have my company until the sun touches the lake."

There was something strangely liberating, invigorating even, about admitting an intellectual fault, or at least there was in this moment, with him in his state (and she in hers?). His hand dropped from his face and rose to his side now, with one finger pointed to the sky. "That said, I take umbrage with your offense. It's factually inaccurate. Consider first," which was the reason for the finger, "that I was guided here by a member of your household, one that through no fault of my own, could not communicate with me except for in the most basic terms. I was more than guided; I was summoned, and as such came freely with concern for both said member of your household and for its lady in my heart. Thus, I have not trespassed."

That was dangerous language, and as the situation was not at all dire, he ought not have led with it. Were he fully himself, he never would. Even now, he tempered it and brought his finger back down to leave a fist. "With that said, I would strike that actuality from the record so as not to put Benedict at further risk. It's not necessary."

He took a few steps then, finding himself on the other side of the stump and fully expecting her to be facing him accordingly. If not, he spoke to the back of her, which, as she had unfurled, might not have been the back of her head at all. "Your letters slowed as I grew closer. Perhaps you canvassed those around me instead of me, myself. There were matters of politics and matters of Him." And lo, his fingers would return, this time a bit closer to his face as if he needed to defend himself from something. Here was the first. "If I recall correctly, you wished me near enough to slap, not for the sake of the slapping but for the nearness." That was an optimistic second. "You wished to look me in the eye as we squabbled." His ring finger (barren of any magical rings) rose with that. "Talking about Him was to come first," and perhaps Catch would not appreciate being associated with one's pinky finger. "And archery and law, the two subjects at which you excel," and one did need a thumb for both, which he showed her now.

All that and a defiantly opened hand, one that still expected a slap, one that closed quite suddenly into an even more defiant fist, a fist that could match the intensity of his eyes, "and a true request, that I show you what I love about Myrken. Add these up, and again, I am no intruder, no trespasser. Instead, I am but fulfilling your request that upon my return to Myrken, I was to come before you for all of this and, of course, before I tried any fool experiments without you. How possibly could one who has heard and heeded and taken heart all of that be anything but sincerely invited?"
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Re: At Long Last

Postby Niabh » Wed Nov 20, 2019 9:57 am

“I know nothing would please you more. Nothing ever pleases you more than to take something that isn’t a challenge and make it one. You live for it.” She took a small step toward him, ears pricked forward and brow creased in concern, as he dragged his hand down both sides of his face, rubbing his eyes as if already weary. “Just how long have you been back? Did Benedict drag you out of bed?”

A stern, scolding glance toward Benedict, who remained hunched and moody on the moss-and-bark roof. Already he had made enough trouble that she was prepared to blame him for any further rudeness. The raven only glared back, bored and grumpy, before he twisted himself upside-down from his perch and slid through the dollhouse doorway neat as a weasel down a rabbit hole and sank down, his blackness merging with the darkness within until he was only a gleaming beak and two beady grey eyes peering out, a scowling chaperone.

Her gaze raised back to him as he continued. In spite of her sweet, tolerant, slightly patronizing smile as he explained himself (and Glenn explaining himself was a sound as comfortable and familiar as rain on a tent; one could almost tune out the individual words and merely nod in agreement with their cadence), eventually the smile grew tight, thin, uncomfortable.

“Glenn. If you truly do not wish to stay, I will take you out myself this moment. Short path, no glams. I had meant not to expose you to any glamourie at all until I saw how you were, but the raven rather wrecked that well-meaning. You see, mo sionnach, this place is not all Myrken. I’ve cobbled some of it together—bits and bobs, here and there, wherever a hole needs filling. I suppose you could map it once, but it would only swap ’round again in back of you.”

She flashed him the old, impish grin. “Here is my wicked secret: when I am home and settled, I don’t like company. So I set the path to make people want to turn back. The nearer they come, the harder the going and the longer it takes. And if they make it all the way here, then they must deal with me.”

Beneath the superficial buoyancy, unspoken but weighing down the words, was the simple truth that anyone who came seeking her out was not likely to be there to borrow a lump of sugar. Better to deter and deceive than to answer with an arrow. The admission brought with it a touch of vulnerability, a reluctant acceptance of the limbo in which she existed: safety, but at the expense of isolation. Unlike his own liberating admission, hers was reluctant, a crack in the glamourie.

She concluded with a nonchalant shrug. “So far, it’s never come to that. Only my gentleman’s managed it, and that only because I cleared him a path. And Catch, of course.”

Her expression relaxed, became faraway. Delicately she tucked away a curl, then let her fingertips linger in the ridge below her ear. Too warm. The pulse too quick. “But Catch is Catch. Time means little enough to him.”

It was fortunate for them both that he went on. He raised a finger and she responded by raising a cool eyebrow, mock-following his pointing up to the sky as though she expected the gods themselves to drop a rock on him to shut him up, then lowering it back to his face. “Mayhap you did not trespass, Glenn Burnie,” she said, playfully imperious, “but you were not invited. There is a keen difference. Had you intruded first thing this morning, you doubtless would have wondered if you’d just missed a massacre because the whole place was awash in blood and pig parts.”

The mention reminded her. She turned her back to him and strolled away. In a bare spot at the edge of the clearing, a hollow log stood on end, blue smoke squeezing through the cracks around its makeshift door. She peeked inside, waving a blue billow from her eyes. Nowhere near ready but it would be impossible to entertain a guest through this smoke, and she could always start it again once he was gone.

With a forked stick, she raked the red coals from the hollow underneath, all the while carrying on talking over her shoulder. “Had you come this afternoon, you would have caught me stark naked washing it all out of my clothes, thus doing such injury to your prudish sensibilities that you might never have recovered. Had you come this evening, there would have been no one here at all because I went a-gathering chestnuts.”

Strolling back to him through the clearing smoke, she swooped up the straps of her carrying-basket in passing and heaved it onto her shoulder. “But had you waited until properly invited, you would instead have found a gracious, happy hostess with a seat by the fire, a hot meal and a drink waiting, and we might have a pleasant, easy evening catching up on these matters that concern us. Now you have to bend your back.”

In the face of his defiance, his enumerated list, his carefully structured argument, she cheerfully upended the basket. A rattling cascade of green-brown chestnuts, mixed with papery leaves and flakes of dirt, tumbled onto his shoes and bounced away into the grass. “Husk all those, get about half of them out of the shell and score the rest.”

Both her hot hands cupped around the defiant fist, guiding it gently downward—quite the opposite of a slap. His skin felt cool and smooth as a river rock in contrast to her own, and her fingers—thoughtful, musing, gentle—skimmed back and forth over his knuckles. “Let’s not quibble on a word. The truth remains that you are here and I am glad to have you.”

Her hands betrayed her far more than the composed, carefully maintained amusement on her face; the face could lie where touch could not. Watching the hands rather than the mole or the gaze, he might note a new development: two whole hands, five fingers on each. If he did not slip away, they would stay loosely clasped around his own.

“There were letters that did not get written because I did not know how to write them. They’ve waited this long; they can wait a while longer.”
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Re: At Long Last

Postby Glenn » Thu Nov 21, 2019 2:50 pm

Fingers splayed momentarily as she once again chastised their mutual flying friend. One slightly bloodshot but obsessively focused eye peered out, blinking, from in between an emerging of two suddenly separated digits. "Benedict acts in good faith. In fact, I will go so far as to say that the very act of good faith, sometimes so hard to discern, so grey and murky, is entirely defined by Benedict's actions. (With the one, admitted exception of him snatching shiny things), note for the record that if he does it, it is good faith and if you ever need wonder if an act is in good faith or not, think but whether or not this noble r..." somewhere in there, perhaps before he even began, Benedict had retreated to his hidden alcove. "Well, regardless." Burnie sputtered off before they rolled into other matters entirely.

These would be, of course, her immediate offense at his ill-manners. "I don't want to leave you, though, do note that..." the words had outpaced his brain and he was only now back out before them, pulling hard on the reins. One too many such declarations could have a negative effect. Even in his current state, he understood that. Perhaps his restraint was returning, albeit on a slight delay. He recovered, as he always did, seamlessly enough, unless one knew where to look. "if you give me six months and some time in Golben, I might be able to devise a map for a moving landscape." Whatever he had been about to initially say was very likely not that, though it was defiant enough, wasn't it?

"To be fair," said after he listened and took in her impish grin. Between the two of them, she might have noted, he had decided to put his faith in the messenger and not the queen, not that it did any of the three of them any good, especially because he seemed to have forgotten why Benedict brought him here anyway (what did the bird expect, trudging him through so much glamourie right into her embrace? But then he was being fair, wasn't he?), "I had to deal with you even when I wasn't near you. So this isn't really all that different. Just the end of a walk instead of the end of a letter." That was, of course, his idea of fairness, which is why no one ever let him judge anything outside of lines on a map.

Then, she admitted quite a few things, and refused to admit quite a many more. With her voice at least. She made her demand, snatched up his hands, was glad for his presence, and he let her do it all and say it all, taking in the proximity, his features easy enough, kind enough, fond enough. More than fond enough. Their first visit was too soon. Their second was at the wrong time. Then it felt like an eternity before this, the third. How close they had grown in the meantime? He hadn't doted on anything in years, long before Rhaena's death, but the temptation was all too strong here. Thankfully, her fingers brought him back to reality. 
With a quick squeeze of said fingers he turned away, walking towards the chestnuts, crouching to gather them. "My first night in the Dagger," did she feel a shift in the air? "the Ashfiend came in. Teddi, the barmaid, no different from most other barmaids, had just been rescued, if I'm not mistaken from Snowstill and by good, old Seth. He had some to note his displeasure with pain. That's not flowery language, Finn. He did this thing in the air, a sigil, I suppose, and launched waves of pain, or a bolt of it. Maybe he got Treadwell that night and maybe it was another," and really, wasn't this the sort of thing one should say when trying to husk chestnuts for the first time? "Me? I ran up the stairs and jumped out a window. It seemed the thing to do. My leg was hurt for weeks. Same leg that was hurt under the ground when Sarayn wanted to bed me and I jumped from a much higher place. I suppose they're connected and you'd already heard the other story. You've seen my cane, too. It almost hurt you, and I regret that, though I'm not sorry for it," That was said with a bit of exasperation, as he seemed to have hit a wall in trying to figure out what was the best technique to manage this. 

It was not that he had never worked a farm near the harvest or prepared his own food. It was just that he tended to make the simplest decision possible. Rhaena was never one to cook. They had restaurants in town where they dined every day for lunch and then dinner. It was part of their routine. This was different. He knew what husking and scoring were in theory. He may have even read a book. Truly, any fool could do the scoring, if they just got past the husking. His own were nimble enough, a scribe's hands, even a swordsman's. "It was the sort of injury that doesn't heal. Ever. Yet, here I am. Healthy, hale, whole. Then there was Rhaena's hand, cut off, replaced by a metal thing, ornamental as much as anything else, until it was made to feel, touch, and move." What was not metal was his knife. It looked to be some sort of bone, though deadly sharp. He'd done the opposite of what Benedict had suggested in bringing a weapon, apparently.
"Then there was my soul." He held up an errant chestnut (unhusked, unscored). He squinted at it as if the secrets of the universe were trapped within if he could just get to them. The attempts seemed to be grounding him a little, or maybe all of that hard work over weeks upon weeks getting a high on the smell of her paper had paid off. "Do you want to hear about my soul, how I believe in souls, probably? No, fine. You're the host." He didn't look at her, staring on at the chestnut instead. "I'll give you a choice. Do we talk about Catch and just how much proximity it took to get those fingers restored or do we talk about what you did that was so bad that it led to you stealing Benedict's tongue?"
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Re: At Long Last

Postby Niabh » Mon Nov 25, 2019 4:12 pm

The subtle shift in the air, in his tone, caused her ear-tips to twist forward, deer-like, and her hands to hang in the air for a long moment after he let them go, as though they either did not notice they had been released or else they expected to be taken back. When he did not, they sank slowly, disappointed, to her sides.

Always it was odd to have him in the flesh. It took some time to shake him off the page and connect the man before her to the invisible hand that answered her letters. Doubly odd to have him here, where he looked no less out of place than would a reindeer that wandered into the Myrken meeting hall, stumbling over rugs and thrashing over seats, and just as likely to injure itself as anyone else. Odd to have anyone at all in her domain, where the grass bent under no footprint save for her own. He confused her, and with her, confusion tended to arrive attended by a vague, uncertain grumpiness; she felt she should know how to proceed and was annoyed when she did not.

She stood still and listened with the distinct impression that this rambling story was in fact leading to something pointed. Absently she rubbed her fingers, the spot where he squeezed them, all the while trying to guess what he might be getting at so that she could craft an unbreachable defense well in advance, until he crouched, and she suddenly realized what he was doing.

“Don’t!” The most passionate negative he had ever gotten from her and it was directed toward him picking up chestnuts with his bare hands. The raven popped his head out in alarm as she darted forward, crouching on the ground before Glenn to intervene. “Not with your hands, you’ll get prickled. Put it on the ground and roll your heel to and fro over it, crush it. Then you can pick the nuts out. And don’t use that.” The brittle-looking blade was dismissed as a tool, but noted with a gentle pang, half-sad, half-pleased. If he’d brought such a thing at all, he’d brought it for her sake. “I'll bring you something.”

Her expression was one of fascinated wonder. “You’ve really never done this.”

It was funny in its way. All these adventures he reeled off as though they were trifles—lost in a timeless labyrinth, hurling himself out windows to escape fates worse than death—but how could anyone reach the age he was and never gathered chestnuts? One had the impression that he simply woke up one morning as Glenn Burnie and had remained so ever since, in the same clothes he stood up in, never so much as trimming his hair or his nails to stay that way. Moreover, she imagined he would quite like that to be the case—to be exempt from all the inconsequential minutiae that got in the way of himself. It was…

And there the thought stuck. It was something. Something—and she hated even to consider the word, but there seemed no way around it—unnatural. Like a tree that grew with its roots in the air. Backwards.

Leaving him to start on his task (the first few handfuls of prickles should guide him on how not to proceed), she wandered to Tintreach’s earthen stable for the spade. The raven matched eyes with her as she passed under his hidey-hole, and that was going to be prickly enough to deal with later, but he knew what he’d done and he could sit and sulk in silence and think about it. Not that that ever worked to correct anyone—like as not he’d just be resentful—but it might put a damper on his trying it again in the future.

With the shovel she scraped up the still-smoldering coals from the smoke-tree and dumped them into the blackened ring of stones, then crouched beside it, holding back her hair as she bend forward to blow on them. The red glow flared, casting her face in a bright ring while throwing eldritch shadows like black wings behind her. She scattered a handful of leaves over the flames to quicken them.

And there, at last, he reached his point. She straightened, hands slapping softly and with resignation atop her thighs. “A choice. You’ll give me a choice. How generous.”

From the hard, conspicuous stare she fixed upon him and the way her mouth turned down, it seemed she was not going to reply at all, until she did. “Some men set foot on a lady’s land and bring her jewels or roses; Glenn Burnie brings me choices. There are two sorts of choices, mo sionnach: the sort that leads to consequences and the kind that brings reward. An it does neither, it is not a true choice; it is only a thing that you want me to do. That you have no power for consequence here is the sole reason I will not take offense. So you’d better start thinking up a reward.”

The boundaries of the Woods drew inward, a fist closing around them. Not tight enough to crush, but to contain; a child’s fingers caging a firefly. The shadows between the trees filled in a darker and impermeable black. Silence rose, punctuated by an owl's hollow hoot, the crunch of bare leaves, an unidentifiable hissing like a distance wave that built but never crashed. The campfire made a feeble shield to stave the encroaching darkness.

Then it was not. The Woods remained exactly as near as they were before and never any nearer; the little fire crackled gamely in its circle as its blaze strengthened, and she on the other side of it, the flames rendering her face both youthful and ageless. The raven poked his head out once more, stabbing his beak left, right, though less alarmed than he might have been; mostly it had been the threat of an owl.

“Mostly I am offended that you would make it a choice at all.” The mask fractured, just a little; her brows drew together, her lips pursed in a frown, and she shifted onto her hip with one hand propping her weight. “We are meant to be friends. Do you think something so terrible has happened that I would not tell you if you but asked?”
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Re: At Long Last

Postby Glenn » Tue Nov 26, 2019 3:26 pm

In general, it took quite a lot to force a pause in a Glenn Burnie story. He had no great power, no extraordinary physical prowess, save of course for his impressive lung capacity. While some had commented on it, generally indirectly, either after having to listen to him at length or trying to choke him to death, no one had ever asked about it; she certainly hadn't. It was impressive, perhaps obscene, but not unbelievable.

Still, she stopped him with her outburst. For one thing, it was new. So much was new between them. For people who had shared so much and dug so deep, there were so many firsts to experience and each one came as a surprise, because it was a milestone they should have, by all rights, met ages ago. He first took offense at her interruption, and then doubly so at the insinuation that he didn't know what he was doing, but that gave way to uncomfortable laughter.

He didn't learn as much as he did by always denying he knew how best to do something; in fact, when it came to so direct a task as this, something where philosophy barely had any room to enter, he was a quick student. It boded well for archery, though perhaps less so for law.

When he was suitably instructed, he continued on, both in task and in words. She was left to her thoughts and errands in listening.

What was the limit, the final age, that they may take a human child? Six, seven? Certainly before ten. Certainly. There was nothing natural about his upbringing. There was no gathering or shelling chestnuts. There was no playing with balls, no climbing of trees. There were books and lessons, and he only turned out as well as he did, as naturally as he did, because he snuck a different set of books than he was prescribed. Might he not have already been ruined by four, five, six at the latest?

Then, the years of his real, actual relationship with another living being? They was so very little natural in the love of Rhaena Olwak and Glenn Burnie, just the niggling mutual need to get in everyone's business. They lived within one another's mind, wholly obliterating the sort of mundanity that other humans had to deal with. Clipping nails? An entirely physical necessity that could be done without thought while his mind was engaged in other pursuits. The same was true for any type of waiting, for enduring the annoyances of life; people marveled at how he had the patience to endure hours with Aloisius Treadwell when it was politically useful: simplicity itself when your mind could be mostly elsewhere with she who you were fondest of. No wonder his time Underneath was such torture (not that anyone wondered in the first place). No wonder he suffered so after her demise. Whenever life was less than engaging, he was still entirely engaged. That is not to say he did not otherwise excel at making life engaging, but even for Burnie, it couldn't always be, and for those times and yes, for others as well, there was Rhaena.

Even now, he dallied with a fairy queen but through letters, where they both might be more and less than they would be otherwise, in a way that defied all of the old stories.

Where did his mind go in this moment, then?

In this task, it hardly mattered, for he was the one talking. When he finished, she faced him with such a pose and such a stare and she could hardly have flattered him more. The world itself donned a mask under her ministrations and then mask that was her world slipped just a bit.

In this, she, herself, the entirety of her was the mole that he chose to stare at. The raven poked his head out, but Burnie's eyes were for her and her alone. "What I think, Finn," said as he stopped doing anything useful and took an undaunted step towards her instead, "is that the letters became more dire towards the end. What I think is that the Fascination with Catch became more and more dangerous." With each of his thoughts, he would take another step, thought they were small and steady, as one might approach a deer without trying to scare it (as if such avoidance was even a possibility, bu then you had to try). "What I think is that you silenced your truest companion, and you would not do that unless there was good reason. What I think, as well, is that these two things are connected, but only indirectly so, for I know Catch in his many iterations, and while he might break Benedict without meaning to, he would never encourage his silence; he would be delighted by his voice."

He was still not particularly close despite all his thoughts. "It's a balance then. The two options were selected out of care and concern, a friend's concern for his friend, and the choice, dear friend," though not deer, and certainly not Fawn, for she was someone else entirely, "was born of respect for you. While there are certainly troubles to be faced, ones for which I have been summoned, through agreement on page, that we would deal with Catch first upon my return," one, "through the earnest request of your steward to come immediately now that I have returned," two, "through the weakened heart beating within my chest and frosty blood flowing within my veins that you have warmed and strengthened and that has brought me here before you.

"The reward, Finn, is that here and now, so far away from home, beset by powers beyond even your ancestry, in a world that poisons you every time you walk into a room, you need not face any of these troubles alone." If she did not retreat, he would be close now, close enough to hold out his hands to her once more. If she had not looked away, neither would have he. He meant every word and was not quite to the point where he could hold any of them back. "That I have given you a choice is not generosity but a regard for your feelings, your wise judgment on what you might have us face first."
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Re: At Long Last

Postby Niabh » Sun Dec 01, 2019 2:56 pm

Behind the fractured mask, two Truths lay bare. The first that she had laid a hand on this land and, in some unfathomable way, turned it into an extension of herself, its borders the ends of her fingers. In doing so, she had doubled its power, small but compact, layers of fabric folded onto itself. The second was that this claim, however far it extended, was only possible in treaty with the Woods themselves. They tolerated; they permitted. The alliance could dissolve at any moment. No Queen could but resent any authority greater than her own, and her displeasure was as palpable and as intangible as the smoke that still draped the air. The raven, all unknowing, had led Glenn into a bloodless battlefield.

Out of pure obstinance, and because she had very few other weapons against him just now (except for all of them: glamourie to pull the world out from under him like a slippery rug, leave him dazed on his back and trying to convince the treetops; quickness and cunning to step behind him just as she and the raven had danced their mock battle; any number of earnest lies to spring to her lips more readily than the truth), she cut her eyes away and focused on sprinkling tinder to the fire, little winks of light as the flames eagerly consumed the scraps until they were strong enough to remain alight on their own.

A brisk clap knocked the bark from her palms. “A fine one you are to talk of not facing things alone. I’ve worried about you.” With no excuses, she found herself in verbal retreat, and the best defense was to hurl a few accusations in return, petty and subjective though they might be. “It hardly helps knowing that whenever I do tell you anything, you rush out to do exactly what I would advise you against, whether you be capable of it or not, and then whose fault is it for telling you when she should have known better? Look at yourself, man.”

For another person this might have been a banal demand for self-reflection, but she followed it by sweeping a hand over the top of the flames, the white light clinging like wisps of lambswool to her fingers. She gathered them, carded them into a hasty whole, and in a swift upward was on her feet, flashing her palm into his face as a mirror: red threads in his shadowed eyes, sleepless circles beneath them, hollows in his cheeks, drawn and struggling. A mild exaggeration, or perhaps a momentary glimpse of her worst fears manifested into an image they both could see.

The illusion flared bright a moment only before fire overtook it, pattering to earth in a snow of black ash. Behind her extended palm, her face was both stubborn and triumphant, daring him to refute her concern.

“I wrote to Genny. Mostly to thank her for looking after you, and that only because I knew not what else to say. Oh—before you go, I have something for her. Benedict said something about how he knocked over some ink.”

The raven let out a mute correction, but she was too fixed upon Glenn to notice it. She ambled toward him, bridging the remaining distance. Instead of taking his outstretched hands, she cupped her own beneath one of his and lifted it a fraction higher, like an injured bird. A long forefinger traced the crease across his palm. A predatory tenderness. The end of the season left only the blood-deep wistfulness of missed opportunity, but the heaviness of it hung in her touch.

“Mostly I was glad to know there was someone else. Is someone else, I should say, unless you’ve gone and put her off as well. Not for your sake, but for mine own. So that if anything more should happen to you, something I could not resolve, there would be someone to whom I could go. Someone who knew. It has been a long time since I had that.”

Her black, blank gaze lifted as high as his face, and an odd recognition—as if she had just realized who he was—swept away the muddied, musing distraction. She let go his hand a bit too quickly, almost dropping it, and stepped back behind the fire again.

“Just before I left Razasan, I raked my back with a nail while sliding through a fence, of all things.” Sheepish, embarrassed to admit some adolescent folly. The smile with which she tried to mitigate the foolishness faltered before it fully bloomed. “It should not have been as bad as it was, but all my things were in the satchel that went missing, and I was quite caught out. I sent Benedict ahead to bring back medicine while I tried to press on to Myrken. I almost made it.”

Her head cast down, she stared into the flickering flames and dug the heel of her hand against the muscle strap between neck and shoulder, rubbing away the memory embedded like a thorn in the flesh.

“Benedict went to fetch help, but he brought back Catch instead.” She caught herself in quick surprise, with a half-laugh. “I say instead as if Catch were the opposite of helpful. In truth he likely was the only one who could have helped. The ends of my fingers had gone black. I suppose by then the only way he could heal it was to heal everything and I was in no condition to say him nay.”

The hand swapped from shoulder to the hollow of her throat. “I scarce remember any of it. I could not tell you what he did, only that I came to myself with his face over me. His…”

She closed her eyes, trying to picture it. A silvery gauze stole over the memory, obscuring all but His eyes, how intense they had been, the pupils like pools of warm oil. How warm his touch. The flame shivered through her skin, and the tip of her tongue crept out to touch her upper lip. Oddly sensual. Certainly private. The sort of thing a modest man would have turned his eyes from witnessing.

“He says he loves me,” she said, quiet. “What that means to him, I could not say. He has changed.”
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Re: At Long Last

Postby Glenn » Mon Dec 02, 2019 6:32 am

There was a point ten years prior (eleven? it must be eleven now), when Glenn Burnie entertained the idea that the Wood might actually be sentient. It wasn't a single thing that drove the notion but a series, things as small as Zilliah the fae having some sort of relationship with the tree he called home to the Baie's ability to come and go as it pleased. Ultimately, he had seen enough, even by then, to entertain any idea at all, but this one did not pass careful tests. There was a difference between something being full of life and something being alive, and he had decided that the Wood met the former classification. Now, if you were to ask him whether his fairy queen might pick a fight with every single living thing in this grove? Well, that was another story entirely.

She seemed more than happy to pick fights with him in the here and now. As it had always been, by being completely vulnerable to her, he was utterly defended from her. It was a tactic that had not worked against her bard, but that was far more the exception than the rule. Powerful beings did not want to feel like they were punching down and thus they'd squat to your level. Unfortunately, it only took him being wrong one time with that tactic to really suffer the consequences.

Here was one consequence. Every time she continued to utilize such glamourie around him, she extended this current instance of unrestraint just a bit more. With but a little work, she might have him speaking his mind untempered and unchecked forever and a day, though, of course, she'd be the one to suffer the most to hear it. "It's the showmanship," he sputtered, staring at the image she literally and unnaturally laid before him, "which I like, more than the actual magic. The stage magic. You didn't have to do the trick with the fire. You could have just showed me. You could have spat a hundred raindrops and showed me in their reflection. You could have brought forth lightning and I'd see it with each flash." That was the prelude, his imagination running wild and his tongue catching up as whatever she had attempted to show him backfired horribly, curiosity empowering him like little else. He just had to pull apart the clockwork to see what made it all tick. "You could have done nothing at all. How much of it is getting me to go along with it? How much of it is getting yourself to go along with it? Who's the real audience? Can you do anything so long as you can believe in the idea of it yourself." He looked past her, hardly ragged, hardly haggard, but instead so vibrant and alive. "You can't believe in the idea of absolutely anything though, not after what you've been through. I wonder, then, about your queens. Are you coddled? Are you isolated? Are you kept from the horrors and disappointments of the world so that your Belief can be channeled and..."

His voice faded. It was not a sudden thing, more like a river trickling over so many rocks that there was no further force behind it. It's remnant was a smile. "I'm sorry," the apology seemed earnest enough. "If I do not sleep well, blame your own kin for not treasuring my fragile sanity as much as you do. As for my friends, I hope you treat Genevieve better than Benedict. No one has looked after me as much as he has, just as no one has looked after you better. Moreover, he looks after us, which is more special than the either and the or. It never does him much good, but I always value him most when he tells me what I do not want to hear. I simply have more pleasant ways of refuting him than you do." The twinkle in his eye had somehow reached his voice. She'd done what she had done and he chose to lean into it both in word and in spirit, as if to punish her for her transgressions. Then, he added, in a fond tone that absolutely patronized someone who was not there. "She's as vulnerable as any of us, all the more so for only living half the story. She does not think herself the protagonist of this one, never that, but she still feels it in the moment. For someone with more power than self-regard, that's very dangerous."

That brought them, finally, to the first matter of real importance. She told a tale, finally, finally, and he listened, far more enraptured by mere words than he had been by her stagecraft and glamourie. He'd given her no resistance as she took and discarded his hands, but they hadn't started into any sort of dance either, not this time, not yet. When he had spoken, his body was mostly still, though his eyes took in everything they possibly could. Now that she spoke, his upper body swayed ever so slightly along to the tenor of the tale, but the rest of him stayed firmly planted.

The swaying did not intensify as her voice contorted with memory. He stayed steady, as if he'd changed partners, from her to the Wood itself. "He cannot stop. I'm not sure I can stop right now, so I sympathize. He went too far with Rhaena in an attempt to save me. Anything less wouldn't have saved me though." Was he allowed to be sad about that? Was he allowed to be sad every time it came up. Here, at the end of her story, he did feel sad, even though it must have been so aggravating to everyone who encountered him. He clenched his eyes shut but continued on. "I came out of Golben younger than I came in. You wouldn't know it due to the starvation and who's to say whether that was him or not. Those lost years weren't nearly as lost as they might have been."

Where had Rhaena gone? Not to Golben. That was Glenn. Gone to Golben to see the beginning of his story's end, yet he was still here and she was not. "Do you know that I chose Agnieszka over Myrken. She's blood and kin to me more than anyone else who lives. It's not mutual. She has so many brothers and sisters, but I only have her. You can say I married into it, but that would be a lie. That's how I knew the story was over. I knew what it would cost me and how little it would gain me and I still chose it. When Catch punched me that day, I had hoped that would the end of his misery, a triumphant moment. I goaded him so that he'd strike me, so that he'd released what was pent up, the years of dissatisfaction he felt towards me when I was empty, years of unrequited love. Now that I'm full due to he and you and whatever else, you make it seem like it's too late. You say he's changed, but is he still himself? That's the question. What do you do if you're a god that lives forever and cannot bear to part with anyone or anything, friend or foe? Why, you keep them inside of you forever. And sometimes, sometimes they get out."
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Re: At Long Last

Postby Niabh » Wed Dec 04, 2019 3:14 pm

She had no need to fight the rest of her tiny domain, considering she’d built it, half with glamourie and half with her own hands, all exactly as she would have it. The two halves entwined woof and warp with each other so that scarcely a seam showed, a miniature miracle of a perfect world. It could never be home but it was as much a refuge as she could craft.

Of the few things that remained uncooperative, one was Tintreach. Now that the gauze of smoke dissipated, the red mare trudged up the bank toward her stable, but cut a wide, unsociable berth around the two standing-creatures. Her breath chuffed at Glenn’s back in a dismissive snort, and she laid back her ears before she ambled between two trees, which parted for her head like a pair of draperies and fell closed behind her swishing rump.

Fionn shivered, her arms unwinding from herself as she roused from her reveries and gazed with bleak pity at Glenn, the other uncooperative article in her realm, a great brown blotch of Outside in all that was green and gold and depthless shadow, stubbornly talking with his eyes shut to hold sorrow at bay. Always fighting everything, refusing to look, to appreciate, but only caring about how it all worked.

A hard knot of disappointment welled in her throat: she wanted to show, she wanted to share. The one person she might have invited and of course it was the one person who shouldn’t be anywhere near it. She really did feel like slapping him, just a little.

I could make him look. I could make him stay.

Her shoulders sagged, and her chest deflated in a tiny, defeated sigh. Scolding she knew what to do with; sorrow outmatched her. Very like Catch, she knew only that she wanted to fix it, but unlike him, and probably for the best, she understood that some pain had to be felt. In silence, she slipped back toward him.

“Ah, mo sionnach.” Her hand started up, half-cupped, but halfway through the gesture transformed itself into a gentle jostle to his elbow to coax him into looking at her. “Hark you, this is why I didn’t bother you about it; you were only ever going to get it tangled up with other things, other times. It isn’t the same. Not at all. And at any rate it’s been over and done for better than a year now and none the worse for it.”

She tried to shrug the whole mad notion away, turn it into something cheerful. “So I gained a few fingers, lost a few scars, had to pierce my ears all over again—what of that? Only let me live, and I’ll sort out the rest of the problems when I get to them. Now come, you.” Her fingers tugged his coat cuff. “You’re here now, with me. No fair wandering off elsewhere.”

The fire was high enough that she could no longer reasonably distract herself with it. The next step would be to go below and fetch cooking things and the lantern, since he would be stumbling around in the dark otherwise, but she wasn’t particularly eager to show him where she lived, not the least reason being it would then immediately become rude not to invite him in, and all the warning in the world wouldn’t stop him from accepting.

Let him do it, then. Let him.

The raven watched them from his doorway. Watched her. His small sharp head followed her as she casually strolled back to the fireside and crouched, her face calm as if Glenn had made no more than an ordinary outburst.

“He does not quite trust himself with you. I told Him to spare you for my sake, because we were working on something, and He…He didn’t quite agree. He said he would try. But it will do you no good if He cannot try hard enough. He’ll be sorry if it happens, but sorry won’t help you. In the state you’re in now, I do not think you should seek Him out. Not straight away. Not until we straighten things out with you. But on the other hand, it’s the only way you’ll understand. He has changed, Glenn, but…I think it’s for the better. Mayhap not for the rest of us, but for Him.”

Her head turned back down, staring into the fire, and she sighed again. “He’ll find you if He wants you.”
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Re: At Long Last

Postby Glenn » Thu Dec 05, 2019 1:32 am

Glenn tolerated horses and horses tolerated Glenn. Both had come to the unfortunate understanding that there was no avoiding the other. He was able to treat them with a modicum of dignity and they were able to return the favor by being the many noble and ignoble beings in this world that deigned, reluctantly, not to murder him. For now, he barely gave Tintreach notice. He didn't need to ride anywhere. Finn wasn't about to ride away from him. He had no apples to bribe with, not nearly enough chestnuts husked to give any up, and certainly no rumcakes.

No, his voice was on the conveniently close fairy queen. Convenient for one of them at least. She jostled his elbow. She tugged at his cuff. She did not slap him. It was enough. He turned his head to look at her once more, to look up at her because for all she'd change for his sake or hers, she rarely gave up her higher ground. "Ariane could explain it better than I could." Certainly wist in his eyes but was that reverence in his voice mixed in with the fondness. "I heard it enough from her that I ought to be able to, but maybe I never entirely believed it. She could explain violation better than I could too. And footwork." His head shot down, riding her legs all the way down to her feet with the grace of a man falling out of a tree. "Can you even use a sword? Why I don't I know that?" His head whipped back up and there was a tiny, bewildered sparkle in his eyes, young and a bit scruffy even, a memory of someone he might have once been before the edges were smoothed out. "I should really know that."

One blink and it was gone. One blink and clarity and sharpness returned, even more so than before. "I'm only in this state when I'm with you, and we'll find a solution soon, won't we? I didn't stop stretching myself upon the rack only to give up and give in upon arrival," though there was something in his voice there, a tug, as if it hadn't quite caught up to the dangerous clarity in his eyes. Not for that sentence, at least, but perhaps for the next.

The voice mattered more than the eyes now anyway, for she had looked back to the fire. "Honestly, though? This might be the best state for me to see him in. He's seen the opposite. No restraint and no emotion. This is no restraint and all emotion. He resonates much more with that." It was so casual, all of this, an oasis of assurance in an awkward desert. "If he hadn't changed, it'd be dangerous. Then I'd overwhelm him and he'd be liable to explode. Now? Now I'd keep him on his toes," and wasn't that Glenn Burnie for you? Making every malady into an opportunity. Imagine what he could do with a good case of the flu?

Imagine, truly, what he did with this? He did.

It was his turn now to close the gap between them, to put a suddenly sure hand upon her shoulder and to bid her look back up. If she did, she'd see that mad brilliance in his eyes, grasping for things, for ideas and ideals and possibilities, that should have been well without his reach. "Finn, this isn't ideal, I know. There was a time, two times, where I lost my connection to Rhaena. We suffered, but not nearly as much as we might have, for by then, we knew each other so well, inside and out." Before there had been sorrow, but there wasn't here, for this was different. Before he wallowed in the past; in this, he used it to illuminate the present.

"I know my failings, Fionnuala. I spent years in a room pondering them. I came to Myrken broken and it broke me again and again and again more. It made me more interesting, maybe, possibly even more useful to you both as an ally as a friend, but it's left me poorly constructed," and beware the mapmaker that so confidently embarks upon an archiectual metaphor to describe himself or anyone else. "I'm a mansion, perhaps, but one with empty rooms and stairways that lead nowhere and with whole wings that just don't seem to fit. Things that should be easy are hard. I came here, to you, knowing that I will tell you the truth, so many truths, things that I would not tell anyone else," this included, this especially, and even in this state, the weight of it brought some hesitance to him, to his brow which tightened and to his hand which slackened upon her elbow.

Still, he did not let go and still he did not stop. "There is no bravery in that. None. And very little kindness. It is a cheat. I look forward to a day, soon, where we are past this, this mania of honesty and impulse, but while are neck deep in it, I give you all the things I currently could not without it. These things, once given being forever shared, I hope, will allow us to overcome my failings on that day, to vault us right past them into something new." The courage of a man well in his cups? Well, he was aware of that. "As I said, there is no kindness or openness, no trust in this, and only with great introspection have I come upon it, but there is trust in me coming here knowing that, no iron in hand and no plots in mind."

This was Glenn Burnie unleashed, unfettered, and unchained, not through letters where one could pause and think, but through a flood of words that just burst free from his pulsating, tortured mind, with she as his momentary muse, but truly his every memory driving him forward, for if he were to stop, he would collapse in upon himself. "It pushes the trust back further upon the road and puts an unasked for burden upon you, balancing the temptations of your own inclinations against a satiable curiosity of the present and an unsure promise for a future. I know," if she'd not pulled away, he'd tighten his grip once again, warmly and not cruelly, resolve poking its stubborn head back up within him, "it is a half bravery at best and I apologize to my hostess, neighbor, companion, and friend that for the fact that while I offer her a feast, it is but a meager one."
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Re: At Long Last

Postby Niabh » Mon Dec 09, 2019 4:43 pm

“One of these days you are going to have to explain who all these damn people are. You give me names, names, names, and just enough hints to make me curious about the rest of the story, then no more until the next time you slip and mention them.” By now he should really know better than to give her names at all, unless he was substituting, and in the state he was now, he hardly had the foresight for that.

“Why do I feel that when you ask me that, what you’re really asking is do we have swords?” She grinned. “Aye, I can use a sword. Not very well. Mostly just enough to disarm the other fellow and run away. When you’re a queen with no heir, they don’t like you getting in armsreach of anything. Unlike you.”

Now it was her turn to let her gaze drop pointedly to his feet, tipping her chin downward so that he would know where she was looking—one quick dart, then level again. “Whenever you’re caught unexpected, your heel goes back of its own accord, and your right elbow drops whether you’re armed or not, and you’ve a swordsman’s wrist. A swordsman’s stance, too. See? I do notice some things.”

What she did not notice was that the dry grass crunching underfoot had gradually come nearer. Her shoulder jerked when his hand fell on it, and she swiveled in place, her rising gaze piercing him. Angled away from the fire, the two small sparks of light that made her strange eyes bearable were snuffed, leaving two black sockets and a bottomless greed. The hollow of her throat dipped, as if she could swallow that creeping slip of wistfulness and the momentary hitch in his voice. Swallow it and keep it safe in her belly forever. Standing near to both, the unfurling heat of the fire was indistinguishable from the fever in her skin.

Her arm shot out, the heel of her hand planting a blunt push, almost a punch, high on his chest. “Don’t do that.” She spoke through her teeth, the warning blurred into a threat. A visible vein fluttered in the side of her temple; her bare shoulder was tacky with sweat.

Pointedly, she stepped out his reach, crossed her arms against her chest, and waited for him to reach a point where she could interject. By the time he reached it, she had shifted her weight five times between left foot and right, checked twice that the fire was still high, huffed three ladylike sighs that wafted to the ground like so many dropped hankies (along with one very unladylike, incredulous snort for the mansion metaphor), and delivered one panicked help-me look over Glenn’s head to a very disinclined raven. The raven ducked back down his hole and left her to her fate. She could not but think that leaving her to her fate was half the reason the raven brought Glenn here to begin with. Quite a lot of things seemed to revolve around who could speak and who could not these days.

Glenn seemed to reach a summation right around the time her belly grumbled audibly. By that time, fortunately, her alarm at being touched had been murdered by boredom, and she was calm enough to feel tolerant of him.

“Glenn. Do you take me for a natural fool?” She scowled. “I know all this. I could scarce but know it, seeing that you keep reminding me, and reminding, and reminding me. Think you I have not been anticipating your return? I intended to guard you from glam as best I could, so that you could keep your senses and your secrets both till we sort the thing out, but then you hie your fool arse right into the very hub of glamourie, where I cannot loosen all my hold and where I never intended you to come—in your mania or out of it. But what I think, given that you bring it up so often and so fervently—”

Her gaze rolled upward and his own voice came, deadpan, from her lips: “So many truths, so many, things you would reveal to no other under pain of death, araile araile, not even if they jammed hot splinters under your fingernails…what I think,” she continued, in her usual voice, “is that you go on mentioning it because you want me to take advantage. That way you’ve given up nothing and it’s all my fault because I am a wicked, greedy creature who cannot resist.” Simple, straightforward, almost childishly smug. “And because you’ve been without company a long time and want someone to share things with again.”

It would have been a kind sentiment were she not still put out over having her shoulder tapped, and—now—having her arm restrained. Her hand snapped up (having somehow freed her arm without making too much fuss about it, leaving his hand clutching nothing more substantial than thin air) and gave the tip of his nose a viciously playful tweak between finger and thumb. In the same quick movement, the hand went down and slipped back into his grasp. The two gestures overlapped; both holding her fast, and not, or else she had manifested a third arm and just as promptly deleted it.

“There’s no disgrace in wanting that,” she chided gently, “but you make things too complicated. Of all the rude, ill-considered truths you’ve spouted to me when you were not so compelled, whatever can concern you now? Do you fear there is something you can say that will make me think differently of you? That you will embarrass yourself, or embarrass me?” An irrepressible smile crossed her face at last at the likelihood of that ever happening. “Will you tell me where all the bodies lie, or do you, gods save us, harbor some hideous perversion that will turn me off my feed? That I will hold it to use against you?” Her arm slipped through his fingers like strands of smoke. “The fact is that you are True Tom, only he spoke truths he could not know and you can only speak them for yourself. You sought to avoid all old traps and ended up walking into the oldest one of all. You are never as original as you think, mo sionnach.

Such warmth in the name spoken in her own tongue, such tenderness in the muted fricative at the end, and perhaps too much gentle pressure upon the possessive. Still wary, still keeping her distance, she folded her arms over her chest.

“You did not bring iron here against me, though you knew not in what state you might find me. That is trust and bravery both. It has brought you thus far. It will have to bring you a little further. As for apology...I honestly have no idea what you're apologizing for. You rather left it back in the dust.”
Anything can be magic if you're gullible enough.
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Re: At Long Last

Postby Glenn » Tue Dec 10, 2019 5:56 am

Though it depends on the person, the truth rarely sets one free. Lies, of course, are a prison all their own, but obfuscation is the father of options. The corollary to that rule is that truth is the mother of possibilities. Nothing about this was about the possible, however. It was all about options, preventing the closing of doors instead of allowing the opening of them.

When did the hint of red enter his cheeks? Was it when she noted his swordsman's response, something hardly worth noting for how little he was actually caught unexpected (that was was a rare tell made it all the more identifiable)? Likely not that, then (though days later, he would wish to elaborate further on the unfairness of her observation). Was it when she pulled away from his grasp? No, though his recoil was not a swordsman's but instead someone used to being slapped (you went with the blow, let the hand move you; he could write a book for scoundrels, though he was not one). Was it her admitting she knew all of this already, which was a mean trick and a meaner truth, especially one so casually bandied about? That might have been it. Her using his voice? The tweak? No, both would drive the opposite, which in and of itself, might be why all of this was so hard to place. He wasn't the sort to be so moved by hand-holding, though he sought it when he did not seek much of anything else. Her last proclamation, then? That could be it as well, but did it create the effect or merely enhance what had already been on the wane?

Did it matter to her at all? Or did it just matter that, in this moment, Glenn Burnie was bashful or embarrassed or touched? Whatever it was, most that had known him would have been able to place it. It was something next to no one in Myrken had seen in more than a decade, no one but her. Not even Rhaena. If she could have chosen any victory, would it be this? What had it cost either of them? What cost was there still to pay? To his credit, he didn't look away. She held his hand until she did not until she did again and did not once more. She was close until she was far. She barraged him with little glamours, natural ones, but it was her words that stayed his tongue for a time.

It was her words and something else. There is no better remedy to a hangover than a good, hardy vomiting. He spewed truth whenever near her, but there was truth and there was Truth. This was the latter. There had been no deflection, no games, no stalling actions or meandering stories. She had opened the path for all of it and here, at the displaced heart of her power, at a moment of culmination of both years and scant, scant days, he spoke a Truth that he had not been able to admit to himself, that he never would have. Last time they encountered one another, he remembered truths not his own but legitimately bequeathed to him. This was something different, something inwards, something that burned too brightly at the heart of him, the sort of Truth that no man could touch, that humanity had evolved to avoid like the hottest, most damaging flame.

Here, at the other side of it, there was clarity and lucidity. She claimed to be a creature of change, of transfiguration and transmutation. Revelation was something else. "Where do we go from here?" There was a looseness to him now, a relaxation. He was at ease in all the ways one should not allow himself to be in a fairy's sanctuary an yet in none of the ways that one might be coaxed. "Banter, banter." Having refused to look away before, he was rewarded by a complete awareness now. His eyes took her in, head to toe, blackness of eyes to remnant of throbbed vein, to the conflicting aftermath of smiles glib and warm and reluctantly pleased. "Your implied, though not directly stated, equivalency, of all the world's secrets with the secrets within myself? Something about how it's cute when the raven does my voice but offputting when you do it? Or maybe how he does it better? Groan about the chestnuts? I think the moment's passed for that."

His own smile returned, but it was a quiet thing, pensive, hardly manic. It was too early to call him cured, too early by far, but he did seem better, much better, on the far side of this grand Truth, for good and ill and for friendship if not loyalty. His voice was soft and fond. "If Benedict promises not to speak of business for the rest of the night, would you give him back his voice? I would be more at ease as your guest without that hanging over everything. We could spend a nice evening talking of my travel and my companions and of your harvest and the harvest back home and whatever else. Then, in the morning, we'll discuss the cause behind its removal?"
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Re: At Long Last

Postby Niabh » Fri Dec 13, 2019 5:09 pm

When Glenn relaxed, when the tide of his words was stemmed, best be wary. It could be that he was only plotting the next angle of attack.

Something had shifted. A charge in the air. The sense of the eye of a storm passing over them, a momentary respite from chaos. If she spoke, if she but breathed to hard, the equilibrium might be unbalanced.

Yet she felt cautiously hopeful enough to risk drifting back into his orbit, well out of hand-holding or retaliatory nose-tweaking range. He had not answered a single question, nor had he refuted any charge. When he wouldn’t answer a question in the letters, she took it to mean she was right. He had never refuted that charge, either.

Did she want to be right this time? Well, aye, of course she wanted to be right, always. Did she want to deal with the consequences of being right this time? That was a dicier problem. The trouble with being right was that you were then obliged to do something about it.

She took another step nearer, drawn in on the hook of his gaze. The time for teasing seemed past. “Where do we go from here?” Her hands opened outward, black char in the creases of her palms, the gesture describing an expanding realm of possibilities. “Where would you wish us go? I have no expectations.”

Her voice spoke other than her words. Anxiousness, eagerness, a pinprick of brightness in the eyes that belied a desire to please, ears curving forward in anticipation. Poised before him, she seemed younger even than Glenn, a little silly and self-conscious, made still more so by his actual suggestions—how much had Glenn ever cared for common banter? Though he’d be pleased enough if she went on comparing his inner secrets to True Tom’s prophecy; like as not it matched his high opinion of himself.

To counter her own small bout of self-consciousness, she mustered a little of the old cheerful arrogance and tossed back her hair, looking him boldly in the face. “Well, I’m not much for banter, but I would like to go inside and fetch food. And put on a whole shirt.” Tugging the waistband of her wrap brought it not a fingerswidth nearer to covering her navel. “And you might want to do something about your blushing problem ere I return.”

The only apparent inside this green niche contained was the raven’s house, and he, clearly, was in no mood for company even if they would both fit. Out of the corner of her eye she spotted him perched on the point of his mossy roof, looming behind the two of them like a little black-robed judge. Though she could not be sure he saw her looking, he stretched his wide wings with an accusatory arch of the Niall colors that gave her an odd chill. As though she needed reminding. His black beak unhinged in a vast yawn, and his breast fluffed, his head settling between his shoulders until he looked more like a squat, crabby owl. Grey-speck eyes blinked at her before he pointed his face away in a huff. Without a doubt, he had been listening.

Eagerness ebbed. Before this rotten business with Gloria, she had been so looking forward see him again, and now the bitch had even put a stain on that. Gloria, still showing up where she wasn’t wanted, even when she wasn’t there.

She sucked on her bottom lip, bound yet pulled in two unbalanced directions. One path her guest, wanting to please him, too wooed by his honest smile and the fondness with which he spoke. They were friends, he and Benedict. The other, harder path, that she had set her judgement and it did her no favors to let Glenn believe he could cozen her out of it whenever he pleased just by putting on the right tone. Nor would it do to let Benedict believe he had a perpetual advocate. That was where the trouble had begun.

Her lips slipped between her teeth with a small plop. She frowned and shook her head stiffly. “He will have his voice again come morning, Glenn. Whatever you ask, I’ll answer it, and Benedict can vouch for my honesty afterwards if he pleases.” Her voice was velvet with regret, possibly one of her best glams. Her eyes were stone. Razor-sharp ribbons stretched between the words, bonds that could both bind tight and cut deep. Wherever Glenn was, it was no longer Myrken, or no longer solely Myrken. “An you want it sooner, you’ll barter for it, and I would not have my guest pay a forfeit. Please let it go.”

The please was real. She managed that much.
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