Pathways and Anchors

Re: Pathways and Anchors

Postby Rance » Thu Oct 15, 2015 2:49 pm

Gloria. Ye need 'o le' 'er goo. She dinnae beloong 'ere, she isna—

From behind the two approaching guards, with their glassy mail and their stubby weapons:

"Who are you to proclaim that my child — my daughter — isn't mine? Who are you," the Jerno asks. "Who are you?"

Ailova's motion to retrieve the throwing-knives doesn't detract from the sluggish approach of the black-bred Trae Kelsans. Whether or not the Crown had the same power in this Golden reality has never been clear; here, though the crests upon their tunics might bear the same visible authority, their presence is an abomination, their history and purpose twisted to match the truth of this dream. Neutral and boring, the stone-colored eyes in the shadows of the helmets never falter, never blink, even as the knife flashes through the air. The blade whips from the bandit's hand, crosses the meters that separate her from her opponent in scarcely a second.

The body stops its forward motion. Jerks. Flinches. The slim handle protrudes from above an angled collarbone. A blot of blood stains the tunic. The helmet rattles on the pivot of the head, and a choked, "Hrgh," bursts from the lips. A few coils of waxy, dark hair fall loose like vines from beneath the helm.

Though a sunken blade sticks out from a crease in the hauberk and mail, the hammer raises. Instinct tempered by training carries the motion through: the hammer hacks out at Ailova in a sloppy swing, aiming for the largest available target — head, chest, shoulder, whichever is nearest...

"You won't take her from me. You won't have her!" Gloria cries.

Meanwhile—

Korressa's altered weapon poses its peculiar challenge. The guard appointed to attack her hesitates, staggers in a counterfeit of very human disbelief when it witnesses the transformation that changes wood to sword. But neither splinter nor steel overrides the figure's urge to obey and protect. Four fingers — the ring-finger's but a tan stump — squeeze with new resolve around the handle of the gladius. The warrior drives forward, its hesitant gaze seeming to question the disadvantages at work: its blade is short and stout, while Korressa's is long, foreign, and otherworldly; if it can get in close enough, the length won't matter. The Northerner's weapon would prove unwieldy. Ineffective.

"I protect what's mine," continues Gloria. "No friend of mine would ever dispute that purpose. What are you two, then?"

The figure lunges forward. The gladius snaps out, slicing, swiping, stabbing through the air in a flurry of diligent but amateur blows meant to hack Korressa into as many pieces as necessary.

Lunge. Riposte. Recover. Lunge. Riposte. Recover.

Stiff. Unpracticed. Bold. Amateur...

A beginner's skillset tutored outside a stableyard.
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Re: Pathways and Anchors

Postby highawaywoman » Sat Oct 24, 2015 10:51 am

This was going about as well as a one-legged hoor dancing a jig in the square. While her daggers struck their mark, it seemed to do little to slow the hulking guard. His hammer rose clumsily as he swung at her with far less grace then should be expected of a soldier. They were facsimiles. Just like the Gloria who called them down upon them. Ailova neatly dodged the hammer, bending at that same time to grasp a large hunk of granite that'd been spit up from the earth when the ghastly guards had been called.

Quickly, she shouted to Koressa, who was dealing with her own troubles. "I do be hopin' ye 'ave soome notion o' 'ow we are 'o git free o' this mess!"

The hunk of rock was thrown at the hammer-wielding soldier's head, before going to her rapier. Gads. It was unlikely that she'd make a mark, but if she could dart in and out - without getting a hammer to the head? She might have a chance.

Not that it was pleasant to think about, but in the other dreams. The very dark ones. The ones in which she died. She'd awakened. If she simply succumbed to the will of this soldier's hammer, would she awake in the Northerner's room?

It was an idea that the brigand balked it. It was one thing to meet one's death through fighting or accident in those dreams. But to give up and allow herself to be killed? That was more horrific than facing any nightmare.
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Re: Pathways and Anchors

Postby Korressa » Sat Oct 24, 2015 12:59 pm

Korressa stumbles—but never falls over. Even startled by her own creation, the gleaming black glaive is put to use immediately against the charging guard.

The lanky foreigner is no novice to the weapon in her hands—the muscles hidden beneath her sleeves and loose trousers are well-prepared to use it. Like an extension of her left arm, guided with gentle persuasion from the right hand, it swirls, sweeps, and averts the short sword easily at each pass. If the soldier could get past the slender, crescent moon blade at the end of the pole, there'd be trouble indeed—but it would take half a dozen amateur fighters or more to manage that when the priestess is still fresh. Her feet do not move in the turf, and she does not give an inch of ground to her enemy, despite the persistent forward strokes. The length of the handle gives her already considerable height even more reach, so each sword stroke is met with a ringing rebuff.

But where Ailova seeks to maim and kill, Korressa is not so eager. The rules of these dreams are still difficult to grasp—what if these are other dreamers of Myrken, brought in against their will? What if they know these people?

So again and again, the blades meet instead of tearing flesh, and the priestess gauges her enemy with each and every failed assault. The signs are there to be read easily enough, if you have an eye for it—after a few swings, the wrist starts to bend back under the weight of the short sword's momentum, the shield sags sideways because of an over-eager swipe, and booted ankles cross in the process of rushing forward and falling back. Inexperience that sticks out with each sally of the sword. The soldier treats the priestess like a pell or training partner whose blade has been blunted, and that inspires a risky, and perhaps unconventional move.

The guard expects to advance on a static target, so the answer may be to become dynamic.

The priestess swipes the long-handled blade sideways, and shifts stances so that the blade reverses and points behind her right hip. Using the back end to repel the gladius, she pivots and swings her whole body around on the offensive. One, step, two, and the bladeless end of the polearm levers after her quickly twisting hips in a low arc. If she hits her mark—the ankles that cross and tangle—the guard will tumble under its force, with legs knocked together, weighed down by inertia to land backside-first in the dirt.

If she fails, well.

That leaves her shoulder open by quite a wide margin, and only a short gap to bridge.

And if she succeeds at toppling the earth-born assailant? Only then would she answer Ailova: "Take a horse. And run."
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Re: Pathways and Anchors

Postby Rance » Tue Oct 27, 2015 12:51 pm

(What if they know these people?

Thoughts, in this realm, stick to the walls like molasses, for a dream's very anatomy is one pieced together by the mind: this is not just Ailova Smith's dream, nor the Northerner's, nor Gloria Wynsee's; it is Myrken Wood's dream, a persistent tumor throbbing in the back of their sleeping brains that takes its own awesome shape and, with miraculous and immaculate power, functions as its own architect. Fears, here, are given flesh. Curiosities have heartbeats. Doubts? Wonders? Long dead friends, long forgotten enemies? They too live here. They need only be summoned.)

The lump of granite strikes against the helmet, cracks against thin and rusted steel hard enough to leave a fist-sized dent. The head snaps violently back. The helmet rolls right off the skull it protects. Black hair spills free, obscuring the face beneath. But the hair is not black, per se, nor is it exactly hair: each fiber-thin strand is a coagulated sliver of fluid, of black oil, that plays a fine masquerade at being hair. The hammer spills from clumsy fingers. Ailova's rapier sings in the night as it comes free.

The soldier finally looks up at her.

Dark and amorphous, the features have no distinct shape, no specific identity. From chin to forehead, cheek to cheek, the visage is little more than a yawning gap, a blurry hole torn open in reality where a face should be. An oily, disembodied tongue flaps in the tiny void, wanting for something more substantial to anchor it to reality: an esophagus, lips, teeth, anything. But should Ailova look deeper, let her gaze linger, a masquerade begins to form: the face of someone she left behind; the face of someone she failed, someone she couldn't save—

Meanwhile, the gladius-wielding soldier falls exactly as Korressa expects: their combat, back-and-forth, had come to no gain for either of them; while the soldier wasn't exceptionally skilled, it had known well the fundamentals of combat, had turned its wrist and the blade when it needed to, had brought the flat of the gladius to bear when a threatening swipe dared come too close. But the glass-armored being never considered its legs: the polearm batters below the knees, and the body falls, a tangle of limbs.

From the ground: "Please, please," it bargains, just as hook-like fingers peel the helmet away, and underneath is the same obscene, faceless void, both magnetic and a travesty, an absence that begs to be beheld: the face of someone sacrificed at the Northerner's whims, someone whose whole being and memory is a sour and burning source of regret; someone who gave their life or reputation for her—

The gladius snaps upward, hoping to take advantage of whatever hesitation Korressa's mind summons: a hack for her leg, for her thigh, anything.
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Re: Pathways and Anchors

Postby highawaywoman » Mon Nov 02, 2015 11:33 am

That hunk of stone did precisely what she'd wished it to do. It thudded with deadly precision to the soldier's head, knocking his helmet aside like a piece of cheap pottery. As her blade came free, the tendrils of midnight-hued hair fell into the vacant spot where a face should be. Wait. It wasn't hair. It was the oily smoke. The tendrils of black oil - the same she'd seen emit from Catch when she dared to take the ill-conceived midnight ride.

A long step was taken forward as she was prepared to thrust her thin blade under the man's chin, but seconds from her blow his features morphed into that of another's. One that had been long since dead.

Gareth.

Suddenly, memories overtook her sober sleeping mind. Memories of an engaging and boyish young man with an honest face and square jaw. The same man that she could not save from the gallows. The same man that she watched be strung up by his throat and then dropped while still alive - the better to remove his innards and toss them on the hot coals in front of the cheering spectators.

"NOO! Ye are dead. Ye ain't aloive. Nae ev'n 'ere."

Still it was his face that stared back at her. Her sword dropped from her hand. She'd caused his death once. When she'd been a hapless bandit in her first years of striking out on the road and he'd taken her under his wing - it was her mistakes that caused his death.

"I willnae kill ye again."

Koressa's words were never heard by Ailova. The urge to nab a horse and run fell on deaf ears. Running away never solved any of her problems and bad decisions. It only hurt those she cared about. Like Gloria. Like Gareth. It wasn't something she turn to now.
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Re: Pathways and Anchors

Postby Korressa » Tue Nov 03, 2015 4:43 pm

"Please, please!" she cried, with a bloodied nose, a blackened eye. Not for herself, never for herself, but for the three children cowering under the table behind her, for the bulge of unborn babe still before her. Her husband already lay dead across the threshold, caught unarmed while trying to bar the door and buy time for escape. "Not my children!"

Korressa jerks back from the fallen figure whose face morphs into the broken visage of her mother—long-murdered, long dead. The blade would not reach her as she retreats, not by any skill of defence, but purely out of revulsion as she reels away from the fallen figure.

I should not remember that, the priestess thinks. Before this dream, she hadn't remembered that. Her parents and her brother and sister, an unborn sibling yet to come, the memories had been vague, formed of shadows in blood and smoke. But now the image of her mother sliced open—the wound a smiling gash from which a broken foetus and innards alike had spilled—impresses itself over the wireframe of the begging, deceiving guard on the ground. She does not rush forward, and does not speak the words that Ailova cannot help but gush.

Ye are dead.

She is dead.

"Ailova!" The northerner stumbles back farther, putting the stump and a pointed blade between herself and the memory of her mother, only to find the blonde brigade dropping her blade in face of her own phantoms. Gareth's face doesn't stare up at the former bandit, however—not for Korressa. Eyes the colour of a clear winter sky, a face from which the priestess has inherited her own sharp cheekbones and chin appear where a black pit of murky oil had once swirled. The bandit stares down at Korressa's murdered father and babbles nonsense about not killing him again. The priestess chokes on a breath, draws air into her lungs though her throat burns with the effort of holding back a wail.

"Ailova!" she shouts this time, hoarse from effort and unaccustomed to raising her voice so loudly. Unshed tears lurk in that shout, trapped in the knot building in her chest despite herself. "They are as false as the bitch that made them! Do not believe your eyes! Ailova! Run!"
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Re: Pathways and Anchors

Postby Rance » Thu Nov 05, 2015 3:33 pm

Ailova's sword drops.

"Of course I'm alive," Gareth tells her, striding confidently forward, square-jawed and square-shouldered, hands outstretched as if to seek the bandit's embrace. "It's been too long. I thought you'd come back for me; I didn't realize it would take so long. What has it been? Years? Nine Hells, Ailova," the man breathes, stifling a laugh behind the back of his palm. "I know you're rather fond of suspense, but to leave a man hanging, it borders on cruelty—"

Seeking her out. Reaching out to hold her. To close his hands upon her shoulders, find her eyes with his—

An attempt to kiss her, with all the echoes of old, young love, as his muscular hands simultaneously sweep up with the desire to clasp around her throat.

Across the way, as Korressa struggles to free herself of the image of those ancient, half-remembered demons — the gladius swipes, swipes again, all desperate attempts to flay her flesh into ribbons — the ground that separates Northerner from bandit starts to stretch like a Sun-softened confection. The ground mutates, putting distance between the two women, threatening to tear but never ripping; the images of the world around them and of the Golden City glowing in the distance start falling away like sheets of glass, teetering backwards and splashing into the horizon, shattering into a million black shards of nothing, nothing, nothing—

(The integrity of the dream fades. This reality begins to crack away, sloughing off layer by layer until but its bones remain — no earth, no sky, no woods, but the people, the beings, they persist: Ailova still has her Gareth, his palms trying to crush, and Korressa her familial phantoms. But leagues, aeons, generations, lifetimes seem to separate the two, anymore. Seconds. Seconds left...)

And white-clad Gloria's voice is chariot of both bravado and regret, a final warning to friends tossed over the floes of darkness:

"We are safe here in our home upon the Lake. My child wants for nothing. She is happy and hale, almost a year old. And yet, you want to take her from me? You aim to kidnap her, tear her from my arms, deny her the love of a mother? What beasts are you, and what monsters? I admire you both — love you both — but should you come back to this place, seeking my little girl?

"I'll not relish it, nor will I be pleased to do it, but I will kill you."

Sure. Confident. Steely. Forlorn.

"Please don't force my hand."
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Re: Pathways and Anchors

Postby highawaywoman » Sun Nov 08, 2015 1:59 pm

Flashes of memories as brief and hot as a hoor's kiss flew through her mind. Gareth. Her first true love. The man who accepted her brusque nature, the breeches, the prowess on horseback, and her desire to rob and fight along his side. The same man who died a grisly death in front of jeering crowds. The last time they spoke was a vivid and tearing memory.

A cell in some bloated laird's dungeon. Dark and as grim as a hangman's smile.

"Please, 'ake this. Twill ease yer pain a' the end." A vial was pressed through the bars and into the young man's hand. Square jaw gritted and took a fierce look at the wisp of a mannishly dressed woman before him.

"Nae. Neverra willa I 'ake the cow'rds way oou' o' this, Ailoova."

"Ye foolish bast'rd. Do i' fer me. I dinnae care 'o see ye suff'r." Emotion swelled up into her youthful face. The mere idea of him suffering or being publicly humiliated was more painful than facing her own demise.

"Dinna fash yerself! And dinnae coome 'o this spectacle. Go! Roide far away froom 'ere. Away froom all this. Froom me."


The next day he'd been executed.

Despite that death, he was here now. All thoughts of Elias, Gloria, babies, and Koressa, fled her mind. All that she knew was that he was there. Was present.

"Ye tease, Gareth. 'ow are ye 'ere? Dinna ye beloon' in the world where we res' and wai' fer the unknoown?" A hand traced the side of his face, so handsome - so missed.

Capable hands went around her slender throat. The first gasp for air was a surprised one. The northern woman's cries were never heard. All Ailova heard was Gareth's voice and his loving teasing. Too late.

This was no lover's touch. This was a strangle hold. And the fighter deep within Ailova that sought life in all circumstances - struggled to life in this strange dream.

"NO."

The highwaywoman's own hands cupped her dead lover's, "I be sorra, bu' I cannae die fer ye. Nae 'ere. Ye cannae."

A bony knee came up to hit the man between the legs, but her other foot caught against a turned up stone. It tripped the bandit, sending her backward and against the ground. Wide-brimmed hat flew off as her golden head was flung against a rock.

And then. The dream Ailova was unconscious. However, the true sleeping Ailova? She awoke.
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Re: Pathways and Anchors

Postby Korressa » Thu Nov 12, 2015 10:43 pm

The dream, as it falls apart, shows just how much a lie it is. This is no white cocoon in which a voice whispers prophecy and consolation. This is not summer sky where a grey, feathered creature claims to have summoned her. This dream, into which she has willingly brought them, is even more a lie—and she decides that she must be the one to rend the veil before it brings them to true harm. The rules in this dream are not the same—perhaps death here is true.

So if they cannot wake, and Ailova will not flee, there is only one option left to them so far as Korressa is concerned.

Destroy it all.

Regret cannot save you or those who have died. Those who feel fear can still be wounded or killed as they cower. The tall woman in faded purple and black, the opposite of this white-clad, false Gloria, does not transform in the physical sense of the word. The moon in the shimmering, shattering not-sky—fake, or otherwise—is not full enough for the prediction She had murmured into a slumbering dragon's ear, but it is enough to replace regret and uncertainty with pious fury. It hangs as a talisman, just as solid as the pendant around her neck. Yet still she changes, and the knot in her chest hardens like a lump of steel around her heart.

Dreams are not the province of the defiled or false. Dreams do not belong to the things they house. Dreams belong only to Her, and any other who claims their power is an abomination.

Her voice raises in answer to the defiant, defiled symbol carrying Gloria's babe; a wordless noise, not a shout but a roar. She bears down on the guard—who wears her mother's face, but carries a replica of the sword which had been used to gut her—with sudden ruthlessness. Where before she had fought for standing room and refused to retreat, she now presses forward on attack instead. The polearm gives her an advantage in reach, her speed and experience give her motions fluid certainty, and her rage fuels each sweep and stab with greater strength.

Destroy it all.

But first, destroy these false symbols.

The moment the tip of her blade pierces armour rings of glass, the moment it slides into flesh with a slick, slimy twist, the dream unravels the rest of the way. In committing to destroy, does she actually do so? Or maybe someone in the waking world decided to pinch her, and that wakes her instead. The melting Golden City around the priestess sucks itself into darkness, instead of spewing out more guards, and in the waking world, Korressa's eyes open on her own room. She is surprised to not face the white Gloria-who-is-not-Gloria in the dim light of her candles.
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Re: Pathways and Anchors

Postby Rance » Sat Jan 02, 2016 4:56 am

(The sleeping world crumbles away like parchment-skin off the bones of an elder, or like the brittle petals of a flower disintegrated at the whim of a gentle gust. The dream doesn't fade with smoothness, but with immediacy: wakefulness is a hammer's blow, and the Northerner and the brigand are ejected from the Golden City, perhaps by the fading grip of the sleeping-draught, or because the dream hadn't enough integrity to sustain them any longer.)

The world came back to them without preamble. Gloria shouted, a repetitive and frantic recitation of their names -- "Ailova! Korressa!" -- as if summoning creatures from the depths of a pit with but a fleeting hope. When the veil of sleep drips away, the scene becomes clear before them: Gloria, earlier dislodged from the dream -- and how much earlier than her compatriots? Seconds? Minutes? -- squatted over Ailova, her hair a wild and disheveled tangle, her dress-front smeared across with rancid vomit (Get it out, get it out, she'd demanded of herself upon awakening, and a hesitant finger had helped her regurgitate the remnants of the draught). Her trembling hands cradled the brigand's head. Her palms were dark, wet.

And there was blood. Blood in the candlelight, dripping form a gash in the back of the brigand's skull.

And on Ailova Smith's neck, squeezing hands and digging fingers had left red, vicious bruises.

Korressa, whether by virtue of talent or luck, awakened unharmed, but perhaps bearing knowledge of the same ugly truth confirmed by the fresh blood pooled underneath the flickering candlelight: The slips of enchanted stump-bark that had ushered them, body and conscience, into the dreaming world did not perform their task without danger. For what happened in those dreams? Memory, action, pain, and damage--

If something could be brought into the dream, then what occurred within could surely be brought out.

"Your hat," Gloria dumbly muttered, her hands jittering, trembling. "Ailova, you lost your hat. And your sword.

"I don't see your sword."
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