"(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
like a house on fire we're up in flames; i'd burn here if that's what it takes
Cress has never been weak.
When her parents abandoned her and the earthquakes ravaging the Valley snapped her leg clean in two, she had been strong. When Carnage imprisoned her and tortured her to the brink of death over and over again, she had been strong. When she had been left back in the “real world” with a new ability and no idea how to control it, she had been scared, but she had been strong. When she brought her children by Flamevein into this world, only for him to disappear before Rhaenyra even took her first breath, she had been strong. When Ledger did the same with Dawn, she had been strong. When she tried to fight for the land she loved and was cast aside instead, she had been strong.
But oh, is she so tired of being strong. All of her life has been one constant fight, whether mentally or physically, and she feels her body growing heavy with age even though she is barely in her mid-teens. Her warrior’s frame has softened over the years and even though she has only birthed four children, the strains on her body are obvious. The strains on her mind are less obvious, but a practiced eye – or perhaps one just familiar with her – would be able to see the tension that rests there and the silent pain hidden in her dark eyes.
She’s so tired.
Her heart does not truly belong to Loess – it hasn’t truly belonged anywhere since the Valley – but it has come to be her home, much to her surprise. She can’t bring herself to go back to the Resort (and, she reminds herself, they never wanted you there in the first place), and though Tephra will always welcome her, she remains with Loess and Castile and her father. It is not much of a life, though, and when she leaves her youngest son with Oxytocin one morning, he sends her off with a smile and all of the ignorance in the world.
Her wings carry her all the way to the Beach before she realizes what she’s doing, and as she lands atop the cliffs before the sand she takes in a deep, unsteady breath. She is scared of what comes next, naturally, but as she takes a step towards the edge of the cliff, she knows that this is the only option. Ravine will be fine with the rest of their family, and Oxytocin had no idea this was her intention. Perhaps they will think she has just abandoned them and faded away into the shadows, as she’s longed to do so many times before.
Maybe they won’t realize that this is permanent.
Before she stops to reconsider, she steps forward until there is nothing but empty space underneath her feet.
She could throw her wings out at any time – catch an updraft and flee this place – but they are folded tightly against her sides as she falls, the cold wind ripping tears from her eyes. She is almost giddy with relief as she plummets towards the sands below, knowing that true freedom is only moments away, but at the same time a sob rips its way from her lungs as she mourns all that she has lost in such a short lifetime.
And then, suddenly... she feels nothing at all.
It takes her some time to come to in the Afterlife, and when she does, she feels the pull that several other dead do as well. Without a thought she follows the thread, and disappears even from Death.
She’d died a million deaths already, and this one wasn’t so spectacular as any of the others.
If only it weren’t so permanent this time.
She was a babysitter - a million times over, in a million lifetimes. Apparently the last time she had lost her ability to regenerate, or, more likely, it finally wasn’t needed to save him any more.
Every single life she’d led, she had gone in oblivious - she led her life, she babysat, taught, herded the younger fillies and colts together in their first year (all she remembers is being a horse, though in truth she wasn’t in most cases - but that is Beqanna’s magic, even in the Afterlife): she teach them about life, about herd and kingdom politics, and somehow every time there would be someone worth saving, someone who could teach her a thing or two, but ultimately when she did, she would not survive. But he would, and that was important somehow.
Once dead she would remember that it was a repetitive pattern, but it wouldn’t be long before she was needed elsewhere, and went into life, oblivious again.
Now that it was final, she felt a strange kind of emptiness. Last time had not been anything special. Did he not need her anymore? Had something gone wrong and could she not save him? Or had they maxed out, and this was the unspectacular end of the line?
It was crazy to think about, her mind going in circles, over-analyzing her last death. Her last save.
A herd, part of a kingdom that hardly ever bothered them, as was how they liked it. Ozzie never had foals herself, but she’d gathered her fair share of other mare’s children as she grew older, giving the mothers space mentally and physically as it would be safe to leave the young ones with her.
She wasn’t the only one who did that - she had no partner, didn’t want any, and those were the other gouvernesses that she knew were watching the young ones with her. They lived in the mountains, their herd near a cliff but always would the foals be watched when they played, never ever did any of them come near the edge until they could be told about the height and learned to understand the dangers. It was, after all, the place where the elders of the herd grazed, and so they formed a barrier against the deadly depths.
Then one day from below, a traveller came, a young stallion looking for his fortune, he’d said. His name was something ordinary, something she couldn’t quite remember even in death - or perhaps because of it, seeing that all his different names mashed together and she could not pick them apart. It did not matter - the fact was that he came from below, and he was Odd. Let’s call him Odd, she thinks now, going over the memory.
Unlike the other herd members, she took an instant liking to him. When she was off duty, she would take long walks with him and he’d tell her about life. Odd was different, more knowledgeable, and worth saving because somehow she knew his life meant more to the world than her own.
Then, as it always would, someone or something showed up that would likely kill him. In this case, a blizzard, controlled by a winter wizard. He’d been a small white stallion, a pony even, she thinks, but born with the powers of winter - and a bad temper.
He’d been looking to claim the herd as his own, came in with snow to tease the young ones with, came in with ice when the herd leaders confronted him.
Odd was the one who scared him the most. Ozzie saw this - the winter pony knew as she knew, that he was special, and had more power than he let on.
So one night, the winter wizard threatened them on their walk. Told Odd to leave; deemed Ozzie unworthy of his attention. The little stallion had a mean streak, and when the argument didn’t go his way, he called upon a large blizzard, which made the ground icy and thus slippery, and pushed Odd towards the cliff.
Naturally - she knew no better-, Ozzie saved him by putting herself in the way. Odd bumped into her and Ozzie was the one tumbling down.
Now that she was here, she could only hope that Odd had made it, and had been able to escape or even push the white winter wizard into the depths. Though somehow she knew the latter to be unlikely.
Death was cold, she started to notice - normally, she had not had the time to think about those things. But now… now she wondered why she was trapped, and thát she was trapped, and she wondered why she could not escape and why she wasn’t pulled back into her cycle of life and death once more.
He does not remember what it was like when the life was sucked out of him—when he was left with nothing but the tired ache in his bones and the vision beginning to blur and everything falling away from him. He does not remember when his heart finally gave out. When his body had finally had enough.
He does not remember.
All he knows is that he wakes up and he is somewhere that he does not recognize. He wakes up and it is unlike any other waking that he has done before. His entire body stiffens and he gasps for air that does not come, that does not fill his lungs. His mouth just opens wide and then clamps shut. It is somewhere dark and damp and his brow furrows with confusion because he is not sure how he ended up here.
This is not Sylva, he thinks, because it was the last place he remembered being. Sylva with its ghosts and his endless fury and pain. Sylva where the only friends he had was a mare who had destroyed whatever semblance of happiness he had without blinking and another mare who was desperate to end it all.
Home. Oddly enough.
Sighing without noise, Brigade rolls from his side to his knees and then heaves himself up.
His wings pull tight around him and he swings his antlered head to peer into the darkness as though he expects that something might be there waiting for him—except he is alone and there is no one. There is something like dread curling like smoke in his chest, but it is met with an equally powerful apathy because of course he was going to die. Of course he would not remember how. Of course. Of course.
For a moment, he is unsure of what to do but his body responds before his mind. It simply moves him forward, pressing him into the nearly tangible darkness that folds around his red body. The wine dark of him darkens even more as he continues forward and his eyes never do adjust to what surrounds him.
He just moves because it is the only thing that he can do.
He moves until there is a tiny pinprick of light in front of him. Until the tiny pinprick of light become a bluish glow surrounding things that he does not recognize. He moves at a slightly hurried pace, his dead heart clenching in memory in his chest. He moves until the tiny pinpricks become spectral creatures that are dancing in a way that is almost elegant. One, and then two, and then three of them become clear and he recognizes them as wolves—although they are not the wolves that he grew up with from his father.
And then the larger creature in the middle begins to come into focus.
Brigade pauses, watching as the animals leap around one another. Watching as this ghastly version of him pounds his legs and shakes his antlers and flares his bloodied wings. The blood that drips from this version of him is a glowing blue and it splatters as it hits the darkness before sinking into nothingness.
It is like a dance.
He swallows, unable to look away. Unable to break his concentration as he watches the pack of them close in on him, as he recognizes his own exhaustion in the way that his legs drag against the ground, leaving a trail of light in their wake. Watches as one of the wolf leaps up and finds his own throat and he blinks and suddenly he is that spectral creature and the wolf that is not a wolf is latched onto him.
He hits the ground with a thud and feels the teeth of them sink in.
He closes his eyes and when he opens them again, the wolves are gone.
But he feels the warmth of blood on his throat and he knows—he knows it is red.
when I was a man I thought it ended when I knew love's perfect ache but my peace has always depended on all the ashes in my wake
He had been acutely aware of the pain that came with his death - the way his own blood splattered against the walls of their forest cave and seeped into the wet stone - the way he gasped for air but could not fill his frayed lungs - the betrayal of his best and only friend. He remembers it all. He can never forget.
Balto had been his companion for 10 years in the darkness of the underground. They had been trapped together, unable to find escape until Beqanna yawned them out. All that time spent together had softened a spot in Faulkor’s black heart for the blue stallion. For a time, this friendship served him well. Balto had sacrificed his mind in order that Faulkor might live forever immortal. His blue friend had given him a means to stave off death longer than Faulkor ever deserved.
Still, though his friend had become quite deranged by the demons in his head, Faulkor had not expected the attack. Perhaps Balto hadn’t expected it either. Nevertheless, Faulkor died at the bloodied feet of his friend - his body broken by Balto’s sharp hooves and his eyes white with bewilderment.
He died king of nothing, just as he had lived. A vagabond. A wanderer of the forest and the underground.
- - - - -
Death has been like a dream to him - nebulous and obscure. He can feel a faint pull from the land of the living - a thread of magic that begs his soul to come back to his body, but he does not listen. He doesn’t listen because he is drunk on the way time means nothing here - intoxicated by his fever dreams that bring her back to him.
She has kept him here - the possibility that he might find her in this Elysium and kill her all over again holds him like a vice. He had not been able to find the white mare again in life - in fact he had done his best to forget her - but here she seems somewhere just out of reach. She is close, but he can’t quite close the distance.
He does not know how much time has passed since his death and now. He does not know how long he has dreamt of the white mare (drifting in and out of time and space) when some force pulls him from his delirious reverie - a thread of magic that suddenly feels more like a chain dragging him from one existence into another. He does not know where he is going, but it feels fast. Then suddenly, and rather unceremoniously, he is dropped.
The blue and red stallion had been on his way to ischia to meet a friend when a kelpie filly crossed his path. His death was quite embarrassing to him at least. He had almost made it to one of the islands on Ischia when Nilam had stopped him and they had a small conversation. The filly had become aggressive and he had turned into a chameleon which was not a very good idea at the time. Vox had been drowned and eaten by the kelpie female while in the form of a chameleon. He woke up in the afterlife back in his horse form. The male gasped as he tried to get air into his lungs and sighed softly. He didn't even get to say goodbye to his sister and that was one of his regrets. His voice had came out as a whisper when he had said "All I wanted to do was protect you and my home in Island Resort sweet sister." Everything began to go black again.
There comes a time in many people's lives when they begin to question the meaning of life. What does it mean? Where do we go when we die? One question that passes through her mind is, is it the same for everyone?
The afterlife, behind the veil. The misty, muted world that the ivory woman was now chained to, was incredibly lonesome. There were no others here. It looked like home, well to be more precise, it looked like the Chamber. It looked like Beqanna, but it was darker, desaturated, and filled with a constant, swirling mist. It felt like she was living in an unfinished and abstract painting of the world she once knew. She wanders the gnarled wood, searching. Calling out his name. Every bellow that came forth from her mouth was more desperate than the last, tears streaming from beautiful, yet pained, baby blues. She would never find him.
Whisteria had lived a simple and comfortable life on the warm sandy shores of Paradise Beach. A small, yet lovely little territory that was just south of the Gates. She was appointed lead mare of Fascade and Incubi's herd, she kept her herd mates entertained with activities and lovely conversation. Ceneri was one of her first best friend, a lovely grulla mustang who captured the heart of Incubi. Their children gave the overo mare a case of baby fever. Though she was not yet sure she wanted to carry child, so she made the trek to the adoption den. It was there she found the small colt, Clawfinger. It was the moment she laid her eyes on him, she knew. This was her son. It was love at first sight.
She raised him well, and the others in Paradise Beach loved him as well. After a year went by, now pregnant with her first biological child, she noticed a new mare wandering around the territory. Clawfinger was smitten with this snake, and Whisteria felt in her very gut, that this woman was not to be trusted. She kept slinking around, and soon enough our ivory mother had enough. She snapped, telling her to leave her child alone. But it only made the woman act further. A few days after giving birth to a colt named Whiskaway, Clawfinger went missing.
Whisteria knew that snake by the name of Nexa, had spirited her child away with her. Her anger boiled over, she had to get him back. There was so much more to that than she could ever have known, the dark plans that Nexa had for her son. So, our innocent mother took to the dark path leading to the Chamber. It was cold, no birds sang here, and a thick fog hovered over the forest floor. Every step of the way, she had no idea that what awaited her would not be what she had hoped.
She was meddling in something that she should have just left alone, but maternal instinct drove her into the heart of danger. Dark shadows darted around her, she calls out frantically. "Clawfinger!? Is that you? Sweetheart it's me, it's momma! I've come for you my little prince, I will bring you home to safety!", but the figure who steps out of the mist is not that of her son, it was the steely queen, Starlace. Bloody marks drape over her shoulders like a stole, her face had a look that almost said, you are not welcome here. Before she can ask for her son, she is jumped.
Shadowy figures coming at her from every direction, tearing at her skin. She is beaten, bitten, and thrown to the forest floor. The steel woman looms over her battered body, she could have sworn she could see a malicious grin spread upon her lips. The queen raises into the air, and with a swift strike, everything goes dark.
She feels light, her body looks marred, but she feels no pain. The ethereal glow that emits from her body sends a ping of sadness through her. She was not finished. What was to come of her sweet prince, what about her newborn son? She weeps silently, isolated in this new realm. The visions of her last moments plague her mind, and she feels the icy grasp of delirium take hold of what was left of her mind. She wandered for what seemed like centuries, calling out for Clawfinger. She never gave up.
She never knew what became of Nexa and her plotting with her son, and as the years in Beqanna passed, she never witnessed its destruction either. In a way, she was lucky. For she wouldn't have felt the pain of seeing her world and loved ones be torn apart in a catastrophic flash. But it is now, after all this time, she averred she could hear a voice. It is unclear, and fuzzy, like a distant radio station trying to come through the static. She grows confused, wondering if this is the final phase of losing herself completely. Never once in her years of searching this desolate plane, had her ears been graced by the voice of another. She begins to run toward it, crying desperately into the air, she must find it! Where was the source?! As if someone had snapped their fingers, her world goes dark once more.
A loud gasp escapes cold lips, she sputters, coughing black clots of old blood out of her throat. Her body aches, pains she had not felt in years. She tries to scream, but only a sharp scratchy sound emits from within her. Her vision clears, and she attempts to rise to her feet. It is hard, and she is weak. But, she realizes that this is not the world she has been in for the past couple of centuries, this was the mortal plane. She feels hope bubbling up in her chest, though it may have been another blood clot, and her determination sends adrenaline through her old body. She stands, her brow furrowed. She has no idea where she is, but she was given a second chance, she would get her revenge. She would finish what she started, even if it kills her once again.
She had expected to leave the world of the living in a blaze of light, to the sound of horns clashing and skulls breaking. But life rarely goes the way it should.
The plague had caught her before her third birthday, and she never had the chance to become the warrior she had sworn she would. Warlight had greeted womanhood fractured and wheezing, and each day of what should have been her prime was worse than the last.
She had thought death would come for her as she gave birth alone, mottled and malnourished, sprawled across the black sand of the silver shores. It was a cruel joke that she lived on for two more months, slowly degrading as the plague ate her alive with her son at her side.
In the end, it had taken a beast to finish her off. But she refused to make an easy meal; she had prayed to the dark god and sunk her antlers into his neck.
When death found her, slowly creeping and sweetly numbing, it felt a lot like sleep. But The Dreamweaver's daughter was too familiar with the world of dreams to doubt the reality of her situation. With her lips pressed tight in hard battle lines, she had stepped into Valhalla, and she had trained.
She had fought that battle every day.
She had ripped him open in one hundred different ways.
Only in her weakest moments would she find herself nestled together with her mate and son - when her consciousness slips into stillness and she inadvertently releases control. One year after her death, in this solitary world, she is weak. She lies with them, nestled in the mountain peaks of Hyaline, and the snow covers their resting forms. Somehow, they are cozy and warm despite the howling winter wind. Her heart glows with golden light, and starlight glimmers across their blanket of snow.
But it's isn't right.
Will begins to realize that she has slipped, these delicate moments that are not her's to take, and her awareness pulls itself from the scene. Even though she knows they are only the diluted memories of the ones she loved, she does not want to wake them. The illusion flickers as she tries to rise, but instead of gently separating herself from her phantom-family she is ripped away, dragged by an unseen force into the mountains like a drop of water in a journey that should have taken a thousand years.
In the darkness, she hears the mountains groaning. Her spirit-body complains as it pulled and dragged against her will, no matter how much she pulls back, and she braces for her next battle.
Truth be told, the little red mare had not expected there to be an afterlife.
She had not expected, when her eyes shut, that she would re-open them anywhere, and for a long time, she simply didn't. Well, perhaps it was a long time, it may have been no time at all, it doesn't seem to matter much, in Eternity. For an inestimable amount of time, the stocky chestnut was quiet and dim and her world was dark, but the dark was peaceful and she did not mind it. Her life had been one of travel, a nomad's life, never in any one place for very long, though perhaps in Beqanna for the longest. The Forsaken Valley, a silly place for someone like her.
What does she remember? Her connection to Life seems so tenuous now, but she does remember dying, in a wobbly, grey, sort of way. It had been nothing, in the end, for all the fear it had invoked in the years that preceded it. She had left Beqanna for a nomad's life, never quite adapting to the everyday magic and strangeness there, and for - what? Fifteen years, twenty, perhaps? A decade or two traveling the world beyond, until it became impossible to take another step.
But she had been old, then, if we are discussing wild horses and not magic ones, and that life had been abandoned for the adventure that lay abroad. There are always sacrifices. She had seen so many things, so many summers, so many sunsets, tens of foals rising to challenge for their own places in the world. Was it so wrong that one day, unable to keep her weight well and perhaps more than a little arthritic, she'd closed her eyes in the rare warm sun of a bright and wind-less winter's afternoon, and simply didn't re-open them again? Not until an odd pressure in her ears awakes her, pressing against the inside of a skull that should be beyond feeling.
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