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    version 22: awakening


    GHAUL -- Year 209


    "(souls are not meant to live more than once — death was not meant to be temporary, and she is so sure that every time her heart starts to beat again that irreversible damage is further inflicted)" -- Anonya, written by Colby

    red sun rises like an early warning; any

    She finds herself, as she often does, at the river.
    It’s a touchstone, the river, a place of joy and misery alike. The memories are crushing in and of themselves, but it is a weight she has become used to bearing. This does not mean it is pleasant, it does not mean she doesn’t ache constantly. She does.
    (Oh, she does.)
    She handles it, if you can call it that. She swallows the water that drowns her ‘til she’s sick, and she’ll keep doing so. Survival runs thick in her blood, always has, some bone-deep instinct that has kept her going, kept her persisting through it all.

    For it all, she stands strong, a vision in silver at the river’s edge. She is old, now, but it doesn’t show, the lightning smooths her skin, keeps her features young, a savage, feral beauty about her. The lightning does more than beautify, of course, it acts as a cage, crackling against her skin, keeping anyone at bay.
    (It’s been decades since Him, but she still allows so few to touch her.)
    She is strange, and perhaps terrible, this lightning-fed woman who looks at the river with a mix of reverence and woe. She is burdened, but she does her best not to look it, she stands straight, head high, because she has not lost, not yet.

    c o r d i s
    I’ll touch you all and make damn sure
    that no one touches me



    She doesn’t often come to the river. Mostly, it is too exposed, and often too crowded. She isn’t sure if it is the sound of rushing water, or the tranquility of watching rocks ripple beneath the current that attracts so many, but whatever it is, it discourages her from coming close. It didn’t keep her from slipping between the tightly packed trees that bordered the banks of it, though. She watches them, with shadowed but curious eyes that flickered with something like longing, but she kept her distance. The memories of her previous interactions were always lurking, ready to launch to the forefront of her mind should she even consider approaching.

    She remembered the bitter taste left in her mouth. She remembered how hollowed out and empty they made her feel. And she remembered, most of all, how it seemed to make her skin grow hotter, like some sick, insistent reminder that she needed to stay away.

    But the silver mare catches her eye. It’s just her color, at first. Unnaturally bright, almost like the surface of the water when the sun reflects off of it. It causes her to pause, to stare from her hideaway of shadow and brush and limbs, but with a clenched jaw she prepares to turn away. But it is the faint hum and snap of electricity that keeps her planted, unblinking as she tries to understand the sparks that lace across the silver of her skin like a barrier.

    It reminds her of her own blood that simmers, hot and relentless, an invisible weapon that she wished she didn’t have.

    When she steps from the treeline, there is a caution to her movements, a tension that lends a rigidity to her muscles. She is not scared of the girl that crackles with lightning; she is scared of herself and her inability to not lash out at anyone she speaks to. “Hi,” her voice is quiet, but not lilting like the soft girls she has seen; quiet like the forest at night, quiet like someone that has been alone most of their lives and feels like everything they say is too much, too loud. “Does it hurt you?” She gestures to the electricity that creates small arcs across her skin, and she finds herself wondering how others would look at her if she had a visible warning of what her own skin could do.

    — burn until our lives become the embers —

    it me again. I'd apologize for forcing you into two threads with me except I'm not sorry.

    I can remember a time when I was so afraid
    when even my shadow wouldn't follow me

    She remembers. It had happened overnight, the change in her. Or at the very least, it had happened when she had been sleeping. For the first time in so long, she had not plagued by the nightmares that so often haunted her. She had not even dreamed either, of her parents, of Aerwir. Instead, it had been empty, and her head had been filled with silence and blankness. And when she woke up, she felt different. Stronger. Determined. For the first time her head had been clear. She knew where she wanted, where she needed to go. It was then, as she prepared her goodbyes that she realized what had changed in her. She had finally grown up. It was like a seed that had finally sprouted – she was ready now. Gone was the fear, gone was the heartbroken child. The pain, and the fear had been locked away inside her heart. She would not be scared any more, she would not whimper when she thought no one was listening, or cry when she thought it was all too unbearable. No longer.

    For once, she does not seek the river to drown out her thoughts, instead she goes there because it was the place she found most familiar in this strange land. Her thoughts felt, oddly numbing at the moment. She had considered Kensa and Hyaline. It would be a good fit, if Elaina was going to stay. She had nearly given up hope of finding Lilli, the best she could do now was return to Windskeep and hope that Lilli went to back to Beyond and found her way to the ancient valley. But, seeing the crimson girl before her golden coat would start to litter with spares of grey hair seemed like a far fetched dream.

    She is not alone when she arrives. Amber eyes can see that the moment she gets close, the way that silver coat glints in the sun like a shiny new dime. Her eyes had naturally fallen to that mare at first, but a quick glance allows Elaina to realize that there was another. Perhaps they were friends, but the body language those amber eyes read tells her other wise, acquaintances at best. Steadily those footfalls bring the girl colored like spring sunflowers closer to the waters edge where the two now stand. “Sorry,” she says apologetically. “I didn't expect anyone else to be down by the river today,” she says almost sheepishly, keeping her distance but unable to resist her own curiosity. She was beginning to realize her utter plain exterior she had to offer in this strange land was considered odd. How interesting, when to be born ordinary is anything but. “I hope my intrusion isn't too disruptive,” she says, amber eyes flickering between each of them in turn. “This land is full of surprises I am finding.”

    benjamin and beylani's sunflower-girl


    Does it hurt you, the girl asks, who is plain and bay and Cordis knows nothing of what rage inside her. She could know, if she wanted, if she thought to use her magic in such a way, but it doesn’t even occur to her. Even if it did, she would not, because she knows too well the invasive thorn of magic in the mind, probing, no secret left uncovered.
    (Not that it had mattered, with Him – she had been a child, what secrets had she had? Her hatred of Him was certainly no secret, she wore that with every look and word, and she died for it, a hundred times over. But the feeling had been terrible nonetheless, violating.)
    Does it hurt you, the girl asks, and at first Cordis thinks it’s her mind that’s being read, that the persistent agony of Spyndle’s death is written upon her in blood or bile. That hurts – it screams and aches inside her, and, given the choice, she would take any kind of physical agony over this kind of grief, this heartbreak.
    Yes, she wants to say. It hurts every day.

    But that is not the question. The mare gestures to the lightning, which Cordis has all but forgotten about. It’s a second nature, now, and the snap and crackle of it is as unnoticed as the sound of birds chirping.
    Does it hurt you, the girl asks, to which Cordis replies, after a beat, “no, it protects me.”

    There’s no time for further response, as they are happened upon by another mare, this one a paler gold and for a moment tears fight in her eyes before she bests them, keeping her idle gaze.
    Spyndle had been gold, too.
    “Don’t worry,” she tells the newcomer, and though she knows she should force a smile, her face stays impassive. She’ll be thought rude, no doubt, and perhaps rightly so. She’s never been known for her sociability, yet she wants neither one to leave, because her thoughts are stones that weigh her, that might lead her into the river and drown her there.
    “My name is Cordis,” she offers to them both, as if her name could make up for her stilted words and impassive face.

    c o r d i s
    I’ll touch you all and make damn sure
    that no one touches me



    She cannot hear the torrent of thoughts in the other mare’s mind, but she can almost read them in the way the air grows quiet after her own voice has faded away. She can almost hear the way she is considering the question, but not even Brinly fully understands the gravity behind what she had asked. To anyone else, it could have seemed a simple question with a simple answer – yes, it hurts, or no, it doesn’t hurt. But she knows it’s not quite so black and white, even without knowing the emotional pain she accidentally stirred for the stranger.

    Or at least, for her it’s not so stark, but, again, no one has ever asked her. No one asked her if it hurt to burn anyone that might get close, no one asked her if it hurt to be isolated and alone. No one asked, because she made sure no one ever felt the heat of her skin. She made sure no one had a reason to care.

    But if they ever did, she would be able to tell them the internal heat is not what hurts.

    “Protects you,” she repeats what the silver mare says, the words quiet and thoughtful, and almost immediately her mind begins to churn. She had never thought of it in that sense. She had never flipped to a version in her mind to see the curse as a sort of strength – a way to keep others from hurting her, as if her sharp tongue and uncouth personality wasn’t already enough to drive most away. But for so long she had only worried about accidentally hurting others. Perhaps she has gone about this the wrong way.

    When another approaches, every muscle in her body goes rigid with tension.

    Her dark brown eyes flit to the golden mare, and instinctively she steps backwards – one, two, and then three steps. Whatever muted curiosity the lightning had generated is immediately washed away, leaving just an edged indifference in its wake. She can feel her adrenaline begin to surge, and she wills her heart to stop beating so rapidly in her chest. Conversations were hard for her. Her defensive mannerisms were rarely well-received, and she didn’t see this ending well – for her.

    The apology from the newcomer never registers in her mind, but she is dimly aware that she is speaking. Slowly, she rouses her attention from within herself and back to reality, just in time to hear the first mare say Cordis. She doesn’t repeat it back, but she nods, and after a beat of hesitation she says quietly, “Brinly.”

    And then, silence.
    She didn’t know how to carry a conversation without accidentally inciting anger in everyone involved.

    — burn until our lives become the embers —


    I can remember a time when I was so afraid
    when even my shadow wouldn't follow me

    She can remember that day, she had hated him, hated how much he knew. Hated the fact that Marcelo had said it to her, that Marcelo had brought it forward with such determination in his voice. She hated that he had been right. Pretending wouldn't make the pain go away, because although she fought hard to keep it from being written across her face, it was still there, making her heart bleed and her insides crawl. “What if-“ she had began, but she had gotten no further, the words had caught in her throat, and she had suddenly been thirsty.

    So thirsty.
    What if I feel this way forever?
    She had wanted to say.

    She hadn't been able to bare the thought of it, having that constant pain in her chest and never quite feeling whole again. Time, many people say, time heals all manner of wounds. But, you cant fix a broken mirror, you can only replace the glass.

    Maybe, there was a part of her that longed for the feel of her heart breaking, for the sting of betrayal, and for frightening feeling of being as terribly alone as she was here. It had taken time, at first, to come to terms with the fact that maybe she lost her chance at love, that she rejected the only chance she would have

    She has healed, as completely as she will ever heal, take her or leave her.

    Elaina smiles, her mother’s smile, it is etched warmly on her golden face. The stranger tells her not to worry and so she doesnt, but she cannot help but think there was something almost mythical about these two mares, and she thinks she may have stumbled upon some kind of secret. But, Elaina has always loved stories, from the tales her buckskin grandmother told her, and the stories her pale golden mother weaved.

    She knows the weight of thoughts, and how they may drag you down to bottom of a lake. You could let them go, drop those stones on the sandy, seaweed littered bottom, float back up to the bottom and take in the air you so desperately crave. But Elaina hangs onto the stones, greedily trying to fit them all within her arms, knowing all the while she is drowning.

    That golden head dips to each of them in turn. How would they each know what sort of hurt and secrets that they each harbor. Between the three of them they could fill an ocean’s worth. But even with all of it set out before them, laying bare and naked Elaina doubts the situation would be any different than it is now. All of them standing, complete strangers stringed together by silences and passing time and flowing rivers.

    “I’m Elaina,” she offers them, though she had nothing else to give to them aside from just simply that. Her presence would offer little comfort. Elaina hardly the time to try to comfort her strangers, she knew how to make Lilli smile, how to make Ori laugh, and she had learned how to make Alvaro look just a little less stoic than normal. But strangers, Elaina never seemed to overstep her boundaries.

    But something else happens, it slips from her lips like grains of sands through fingers, falling before she is even aware that she ought to catch it. “I don't think I want to be alone today.”

    benjamin and beylani's sunflower-girl

    She had not learned how to hurt until after Him, when she had escaped, when there had been the interloper, the dark man who’d violated her and burned alive for his transgression. That hurt had not been intentional, though, it had been a reaction, magic that had long been shackled by Him finally set loose. A reflex.
    She’d learned to hurt when she killed that prophetess, who told of ill fortunes and had blinded her in fury. She’d learned to hurt when she whispered that boy closer and burned him (but he had asked for her, wanted it – or so she thought, so she tells herself).
    (She’d hurt Spyndle, too, but that had not been purposeful, and besides, Spyndle had hurt her, too. As if that justified it. Eye for an eye, heartbreak for a heartbreak.)
    She tries not to think of it, the dark pleasure that can be found in burning.

    The first mare gives her name – Brinly – and then the second follows – Elaina. None of them are forthcoming with their hurt, all their own private Atlases’ bearing worlds on their shoulders. Cordis does not judge, but nor is she particularly sensitive to whatever wounds manifest on the others – her pain has made her all too selfish, all too focused on her own pain to remember that others bear it, too.
    It is Elaina who speaks again, a small slip of a confession. Cordis looks at her. For a moment she thinks about not responding, about letting silence smother whatever might come to pass between them, but her own loneliness threatens, a pallor.
    “I know the feeling,” she says, “this is my first time back in some time.”
    And what had she wanted, coming back? She doesn’t know. The sound of the river hurts her ears and her eyes dart between the two mares, trying, trying to forget.

    c o r d i s
    I’ll touch you all and make damn sure
    that no one touches me



    She shouldn’t be here. She can feel the familiar anxiety begin to build inside of her, tightening around her throat like a noose. Just enough to remind her of the panic that was about to come; just enough to remind her what it felt like to choke. The golden mare seemed nice – genuinely nice. She reminded her of summer and warmth, and even though she can’t even catch a glimpse of whatever hidden turmoil that might be there, she seems so...normal. She can approach two strangers – both so guarded in their own ways – with smiles and hope, whereas Brinly can hardly make it a minute without suffocating on her self-loathing.

    In her mind, she is stepping away. She is retreating back to the safety of the forest and the shelter of the mountains, far away from conversations she shouldn’t be trying to make, far away from the society she has no business being apart of. But her legs feel like lead, and so she just watches them, the sunshine and the lightning mare, willing to let the conversation drift on without her.

    I don’t want to be alone either, she thinks to herself, and she almost confesses it to them, a brief feeling of desire to be transparent suddenly washing over her. But she thinks better of it, and she keeps it inside, instead. No one really wanted to be alone, or at least she assumes, and it seemed superfluous to state it aloud. Her body language said otherwise, anyway, with the way she has shifted away from them, and how she spends most of her time looking past them and at the river.

    Her eyes find the silver mare, though, and she is surprised when she finds herself asking, “Back from where?”

    — burn until our lives become the embers —


    I can remember a time when I was so afraid
    when even my shadow wouldn't follow me

    She doesn't know the hurt that Cordis knows, she does not know that sort of violation, taking the very thing that is yours and in many ways, most sacred. He took her body, and Elaina does not know this sort of hurt. So many of the men in Elaina’s life have been courageous and kind, brave and loving.  But she knows the horrors of the world. Knows that she has her own type of hurt that burrows in her heart like a virus, content to live and spread. Sometimes, in the beginning mostly, it would spread to her legs so she felt like she couldn't move, paralyzed by grief. Or to her lungs, until she was left gasping for air, drowning on her own tears. To her brain, where even blinking hurt too much to do. Elaina has learned now to corner that pain, to leave it in her aching chest and look to the world with eyes free of tears, a smile on her face. She has learned to keep the hurt from showing, even if it was always there, breaking her apart. Some day she will be nothing but dust, gone with a single breeze.

    Cordis. Brinly. Elaina.

    Are they all just sitting here until they crumble to nothing? Are they all broken creatures rewatching their hearts in ways that they are not quite as they were before? Elaina has no advice to give in the face of grief. She has never been able to fight that dragon back its cave. It lingers nearby, smoke in its lungs, fire on its tongue.

    The sunflower girl takes their misery and covers her own until she breaks with heartache and shudders with anxiety because anyone’s misery is better than her own. Elaina feels the words on Brinly’s tongue, but she doesn't understand them. There is that lurch of conversation and golden amber eyes shift towards her own of brown. Brown eyes so soft, they remind her of Marcelo. How she had forced herself upon him, to take care of her when she was nothing but a crumpled piece of paper, her wrinkles so deep that couldn't be straightened back out.

    But there is nothing from her, only silence.
    A sound Elaina knows all too well.

    She has found Cordis’s own face, looking to the silver mare with a reflection of Brinly’s self loathing and Cordis’s selfishness. Elaina has always been too much of an empathetic being. Emotions slipping into her own too easily. She has flourished with Lilli’s smiles, but broken with Aerwir’s insecurities.

    Brinly speaks the question Elaina was wandering. Back from where? But she has another one. “Why did you leave the first time?” She asks. Because Elaina knows what it is like to go and return, she has done it, with two places. Arrived, left, arrived, left, arrived. A vicious pattern. Elaina thinks the end in Beqanna, in Hyaline, that it is in sight. She doesn't know if she can pull out that suitcase, put on her raincoat and step out into a rain soaked city that always feels a little stranger when she leaves than when she arrived.

    “Do you think we always return to where we started?” And she hasn't realized she has asked the question out loud. And now, she doesn't know what answer she would hope for. Yes and no each bear their own weight and Elaina can never tell which will be heavier until she loads herself with it and blazes the trail ahead of her.

    benjamin and beylani's sunflower-girl

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