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  • Beqanna

    version 22: awakening

    COTY

    GHAUL -- Year 209

    QOTY

    "(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


    [private]  i feel a bad moon rising | neverwhere
    #1
    again you’re gone, off on a different path than mine
    i'm left behind wondering if i should follow

    There is no way to break the curse that afflicts her former husband.

    It’s what Wolfbane had always told her, but to have Leliana confirm that it is beyond the abilities even of her magic was nearly the final blow. A year has passed since she has looked into those familiar olive eyes, and it has been longer still since she recognized the man looking out of them. The curse had plenty of time to seep in, starting so slow that she never even noticed until it was far too late. There are times she berates herself for not seeing it. Those times have become far less frequent since her move to Loess several seasons past – even if she’d caught it early there would have still been nothing she could do.

    Lepis has put this visit off long enough, but it is her last resort.

    The dun mare knows that Heartfire is as likely to disintegrate her as to listen to what she has to say, but Lepis can no longer live with herself if she does not try. There is no getting her husband back, but that does not mean that the rest of Beqanna should remain exposed to him. The winged pinto only knows what she has been told, but the roan mare that she comes north to find will know more. If there is anyone with more firsthand experience with the curse than Heartfire, Lepis does not know who it would be.

    A bitter wind lifts her without much effort on her part, and soon the mare with the tricolor wings lands in Nerine. She’s somewhere south of the heart of the kingdom, on a patch of land blown bare by wind. It is mostly bald granite, but a few hardy mosses cling in the crevices, and a winter bare tree shakes wind-stunted branches a few dozen yards away. Someone will find her eventually, she knows. Pulling her wings more snugly around herself, the blue-haired mare hopes that it is quite soon.


    LEPIS
    i’m the one who sees you home--
    but now i’m lost in the woods

    and i don’t know what path you are on


    Neverwhere
    Reply
    #2
    Winter in Nerine can be unpleasant. The winds are always wild, but now they cut, as well, and the hairless skin of her face is red and chapped. In the worst of the season, cracks appear in the skin and sometimes she bleeds, adding pink to the white hair that remains on her chin and cheeks. Today is one of those days and she rubs her muzzle against her shoulder, leaving a small stain that darkens the silver-brown of her coat ever so slightly. It is as she does this that she catches sight of a familiar figure landing nearby. Lepis. There's really no mistaking Lepis, if you have ever had reason enough to pay attention to her, and certainly the new queen of Nerine has reason to be aware of the former Comtesse of Taiga.

    Now a resident of Loess, Neverwhere reminds herself, and wonders at her arrival here. Her ears flicker - forward, backward, forward again - brushing away the irritation that gathers like she might chase away flies. Perhaps blame for the trouble with Loess does not sit wholly at the softly golden mare's doorstep, but she is not innocent of it either, so what is it that she can be here today to speak on? What is to be said between them at all? Thoughts of Lepis mean thoughts of Wolfbane and Lilliana are not far away and that, too, is troubling. She had once used Lepis' name as a weapon against the two as she wedged herself between them, a physical barrier between her friend and the dangerous line she walked. Her loyalty to Lilli had driven her to - rather than stopping her from - hurting her friend that day, something that she later considered with anger and some small regret. They had not spoken on the subject since then, but their friendship survived, so it is without any residual guilt that she makes her brief ascent from her place among worn grey rocks at the mouths of the cliff-caves. Her steps are not hurried, but careful and measured, a holdover from blindness, and her knees lift slightly higher than necessary, stepping over rocks and roots that don't exist. Old habits are hard to break.

    "Lepis." One bristling word, spoken only as loudly as needed to be heard above the howling around them, spoken as Lepis pull her wings tight against the furious wind. Does she know that it is Neverwhere who rules here now? It is so unlikely that she will recognize the milk-eyed mare, unlikely that her attention was on anyone but Heartfire in previous visits, but she will perhaps have heard her name on the grapevine. A few have. Her head tilts slightly to one side, the irritated skin around her eyes wrinkling, suspicious, as she studies that other mare for a moment. She leaves space for the wind to speak before addressing her again.

    "I'm Neverwhere," her voice is husky with wind and cold and mistrust, "There is a windbreak this way. Come, and then you can tell me why it is you seem to think you're welcome here."

    Without waiting for acknowledgement, Neverwhere turns back the way she came, leaving no opportunity for Lepis to interject, to question her. If she does not wish to follow her back to the caves, she can stay there alone on the plain until the wind warps her into the same bent, withered, shape as the stunted trees.


    Neverwhere
    ...


    Lepis
    Reply
    #3
    again you’re gone, off on a different path than mine
    i'm left behind wondering if i should follow

    There’s no wait at all, and Lepis turns ready to defends herself to Heartfire (who else could have known she was here so quickly but smeone who sees from eyes not her own?). But it is not Heartfire, and she is struck dumb enough and long enough that Neverwhere has time to introduce herself and direct her to the windbreak. Lepis follows, without protest. She keeps the open air above her, even with an overhang to shelter beneath, a creature of the air preferring the safety of the open sky to a snug nest.

    The weak winter sunlight illuminates the cracked and bloody mouth of the half-eared mare, but Lepis has seen more blood and worse splits. She looks neither twice nor with interest, though she does briefly think of a plant that grows in the hills of Loess. It would do wonders for the other mare, Lepis thinks. Even if the taste is lacking, the oddly juicy plant with its weak spines that scrape along the tongue does wonders for cuts and scrapes. If they were in Loess, Lepis would offer it, but they are not. This is a cold and barren land that she is not welcome in. She does not have time for pleasantries or kindness. She cuts to the chase, just as Neverwhere has asked.

    “I came to see what Heartfire knows of the curse that afflicts my former husband. It’s familial, from what I understand, and she’s dealt with it before.” It is not often that the dun mare is straightforward, that she does not veil what she means behind what she says. “So far the destruction he’s wrought has been…limited.” Her voice catches on the word she uses for her heartbreak, but she does not pause. “But he’ll escalate eventually. The curse will make sure of it. He needs to be stopped, to be contained before someone ends up dead.”

    She had let her responsibility to her children, her king, and her territory distract her from her responsibilities to her husband. She’s heard no tales of broken bodies turning up unexpectedly, but she also doesn’t know how the creature inside Wolfbane acts in the later stages of madness. Is it a secretive killer like her father? Or one found of open carnage? These are the questions she means to ask Heartfire. And yet its not Heartfire she speaks to, but to a chapped and bleeding brown mare who’d spoken with such surety of being obeyed that Lepis recognizes someone worth hesitating around, someone that might be a threat.

    “I don’t plan on staying here, assuming you’ve not seen him in Nerine of late? I’d have rather not come at all, but some things are worth facing down the threats I received the last time I was here.” Her tone is brisk and her words truthful. Lepis doesn’t name the things that are worth it, but surely at the very least Neverwhere will understand that the dun mare is here to prevent violence. “Where is Heartfire?” She finally adds, certain that the explanation she has given to the dappled mare is enough to merit her directions to the queen. Unless…

    Lepis doesn’t know that Neverwhere is the new queen, but she does finally piece together the lack of retribution. Heartfire is gone. The puzzle is complete, especially when she adds it to the reason she came. “Has Wolfbane been here?” She asks, her voice suddenly sharp, her words as pointed as the pewter light in her eyes. “Do you know him? I’d describe him, but the bastard can take any shape he wants, and he's got a serious grudge against his grandmother. ”


    LEPIS
    i’m the one who sees you home--
    but now i’m lost in the woods

    and i don’t know what path you are on


    Neverwhere
    Reply
    #4
    She can hear the footsteps of Lepis behind her, grinding in the rocky, sandy, soil of Nerine, following to where the rock walls reach skyward, but careful not to stop beneath them, careful to leave the open air above her. A way out, just in case - a precaution that Neverwhere approves of, though it is unlikely to be necessary. The winged mare begins her story and the silver mare lets her eyelids drop. Does it look strange? Beqanna is so full of the unwary, she thinks to herself with amusement, savoring the irony of the thought against the backdrop of her actions. It is easier to listen sometimes without the distraction of her eyes. Her ears swivel and catch every word, every tone shift and the skipping of her voice, though she can only guess at the emotion that causes it. Wolfbane. Cursed? She wonders when that might have happened, before or after that day in Taiga. Before or after he had lured Lilliana in with a dreamer's sweet words? But it doesn't matter, not really, because the meaning is the same. The threat is the same. Beneath the inflammation of her skin the scar tissue grows pale and mottled, blanching briefly before flushing back to red. Anger mingles with worry, mingles with that flare of hatred she had thought had finally died away.

    Lilli...

    But someone else, too. Eyas, bold and bluffing in the Meadow, but running from something. From someone. She had said her father wouldn't dare challenge her, but was that true now? Had it even been true then? Eyas had needed Heartfire, too, had needed her over anyone else, even her mother. How long since Lepis last saw her daughter? Neverwhere's jaw clenches and she says nothing. Everyone he has a connection to is in danger - And everyone he hasn't, she supposes - if what Lepis says is true. If. But there is no evidence that she is lying, not a hint of it, and not much reason to lie, either, whatever else their relations might be. Neverwhere re-opens her eyes and they focus sharply on the other mare, a scowl twisting her lips until yellowed teeth bare and flash dully in the winter light. 

    "Oh, I have met Wolfbane before," Her voice drips with loathing and she takes a step forward, closer to the pegasus with eyes flashing behind the cataracts within them, "and he has not been here to my knowledge. Not, in any case, in his usual shape. You don't need Heartfire's vision to notice that."

    Heartfire. She pauses, nostrils pinched and narrow so that her breath hisses through them. Heartfire gone and the best hope at defeating the dark magic that has consumed the stallion. Heartfire's grandson. Lepis' husband. Eyas' father. Lilliana's would-be lover. How did she come to have so many connections to him? She does not encroach any further on Lepis' space, but her bear-cub ears flatten and disappear under the wind-knotted tangles of her mane. Her gaze, which had shifted inward and away, locks again on blue steel eyes.

    "Heartfire is gone. I don't know where, and I don't know if she will be back, but she has put me in charge - and it's a lovely mess she's left me, too." The wind moans in the cave at Neverwhere's back, putting emphasis on her words, "So nobody in Nerine will be disintegrating you today, but I do not know that I can help you with the problem of Wolfbane."

    Neverwhere
    ...


    Lepis well, I lied when I said I wasn't replying to you tonight, but technically I didn't because it's after midnight and now it's this morning.
    Reply
    #5
    again you’re gone, off on a different path than mine
    i'm left behind wondering if i should follow

    The dun mare’s stormy grey eyes remain open, flicking freely across the other’s face. Attuned even to subtle changes, the diplomat’s trained eye easily catches the shifting emotions on the other mare’s face. Neverwhere absolutely knows her former husband. She does not think well of him either. Lepis takes a long inhale, pauses for a moment, and hears the other out. Lepis holds her ground, even when the rheumy-eyed woman presses closer. The golden wings at her side stiffen but do not flare. Taking flight is an easy option, but it is windy up on the cliffs and Lepis not an infallible storm-flyer.

    The new queen of Nerine appears to make no secret of her feelings, and Lepis gives no indication she might suspect otherwise. Wolfbane has done something to deserve a rather visceral reaction from this mare, and Lepis cannot begin to imagine what it is. She’d rather not know, truth be told. Some things are better left unsaid, at least for now. Later, there will be a reckoning, but today her only goal is finding him. Or at least, it would be if Lepis had any idea where the yellow stallion might be. 

    Neverwhere has less than nothing to offer Lepis in her quest. She can’t even direct the little dun to the one someone who could. Wolfbane’s probably killed her, Lepis decides, or trapped her somewhere she can’t escape. There is no sympathy in Lepis’ hard eyes when she meets Neverwhere’s pale blue. The queen of the North is gone and Lepis offers neither condolences nor congratulations to her successor. Useless, she thinks, this trip has been useless. Lepis looks up at the gray sky. It is deceptively uniform in color, seemingly without clouds. In truth, the cloud cover is so thick and dark it makes the mid-afternoon look far more like dusk. Or maybe dawn?

    She draws in another breath, but just before she launches herself into the sky, suddenly pins Neverwhere with an unexpected firmness. Having recently been reminded that even her questions have a way of coming off as commands, the dun mare takes another moment, her hooves shuffling back to another position. “Please.” Lepis says, keeping back the emotions that color her own mind, no dangling tendrils in the air around her to catch another unawares. “Please, if you hear from him would you get word to me in Loess.” Something softens in her eyes (from grey diamond to dark iron), as though she might say something more, but it quickly fades. The wind roars around the windbreak that Neverwhere has found, and Lepis glances up worriedly at the blustery winter sky.



    LEPIS
    i’m the one who sees you home--
    but now i’m lost in the woods

    and i don’t know what path you are on


    Neverwhere
    Reply
    #6
    She has no expectations of Lepis, not sympathy or congratulations, not friendship, certainly - it is rare she reaches out for that - nor for any reckoning for Wolfbane's actions He has done nothing to her but he represents a threat to those few that she holds close. A threat that lurked unseen in plain view, and it is that which draws her ire out, then and now. More so, now, knowing that the threat grows, and who is there to stop it? There is also, somewhere deep in the anger, a coal that burns on Lepis' account, for the betrayal that Lilliana played her little part in. She says nothing, but reins in the fury that makes her eyes flash because it aims its barbs in the wrong direction. The dun is a victim - perhaps of the curse, perhaps simply of a disloyal husband, who's to say? But, she does not deserve what Neverwhere lays at her feet, not in this context.

    It has not occurred to Neverwhere that perhaps it is Wolfbane that has taken Heartfire. There is no reason to assume it was him, but no reason to assume it was not. If he can take any shape, if he is cursed what ability might be at his beck and call? She never truly knew what he was capable of doing, but Heartfire had not been deeply concerned by the visions she had plucked from those cloudy eyes.

    Did she know? Could she know?

    What do you do about a curse?

    A request for information is made and the dun is wise to attempt to make it such as commands have no affect on Neverwhere, except perhaps in the opposite direction, digging in her heels like an obstinate child.

    "And then what? Will you heal him? Kill him? Lock him away in Loess? Can you do any of those things? I would be happy to see an end to this before he has an opportunity to hurt my friends, but what little I know of Lepis mostly involves threats to the kingdom I have been charged with leading, so you'll forgive me if I lack faith in your good intentions where Nerine is involved."

    Lepis' skyward glances are not missed, and it is easy to guess that she is eager to go, to take to the sky before the wind grows too wild, before the storms hit. Though not a flier herself, the dappled mare has seen the birds struggle, has seen inexperienced gulls blown until they shatter against the cliffs. A lack of faith, but not of practicality.

    "That storm will hit soon, perhaps sooner than you think. The wind moves fast when there's nothing but the sea in its way." She pauses, meeting the iron gaze with a return of her usual coolness, though a scowl still pulls at her lips, "You should stay until it's done, I'm sure you'd find it inconvenient to break those pretty wings on the rocks."

    Her head tilts slightly to one side, it's almost impossible to imagine that the offer will be accepted. She thinks Lepis must fear entrapment almost as much as she wishes to find whatever is left of her ex-husband.

    "We will not try to hold you here, of course."

    Neverwhere
    ...


    Lepis
    Reply
    #7
    again you’re gone, off on a different path than mine
    i'm left behind wondering if i should follow

    “I’d intended to let him loose in Nerine,” Lepis answers without a pause, the lack of hesitation before replying at first sounding like a continued indicator of truthfulness. She’s willing to answer the questions asked of her, the quick response seems to say; sure that is not something someone with ill intentions would do? Yet as she continues. “I was hoping the curse would deal with my Heartfire problem, but it seems that’s already been taken care of.”

    If Neverwhere truly knows little of Lepis, the dun mare suspects that answer is quite in line with what is expected of her. So the mare gives Neverwhere that answer, her mouth still drawn in a thin line, her blue-grey eyes unamused, and waits for a reaction. Or so it seems she does, until the little dun rolls her eyes with a scoff and a shake of her head. Lepis knows that it shouldn’t have surprise her to hear the version of events that the roan mare had given her reluctant successor, a tale that involves threats to Nerine and Lepis as some sort of ne’erdowell. And yet some part of her had been startled, and the thoughtless sarcasm with which she’d responded was an indication of that, though the newest Nerenian queen can’t know Lepis well enough to guess that. There are few that can; with the curse there is one less.

    “You do realize that this is your responsibility, don’t you? Protecting your kingdom from a threat?” It would be easy to shift her disdain for one queen to the next. This one expects Lepis to answer questions after admitting her lack of faith, and doesn’t seem to have much interest in fulfilling the duties of a leader. That exact type of disinterest is why Lepis had set herself so firmly against Neverwhere’s predecessor. “If you expect others to do your work for you while you do nothing but hold the title of Queen, you’re no better for the North than Heartfire was.” The words might have been scathing in a different tone, might have been worthy of exactly the reputation that Lepis appears to have earned here in Nerine.

    But Lepis has learned better. Sometimes honesty is best served gently, even when it would be easier to rip off the band aid and get it over with. So she’d made an effort, spoken the way she might to her adult children or even to Castile, a reminder rather than reproach. (Lepis hates being spoken to in such a manner and cannot fathom why it might be less offensive, but that is because she is both egotistical and exceptionally vain). The tobiano mare is still thinking of honesty when Neverwhere warns her about the dangers of the storm, and so the response that she gives to the subsequent promise to not attempt to keep her elicits a smile and another truthful answer.

    “I would certainly hope not.” Lepis replies with the ghost of a smile. “Though I suppose if you wanted to revive Loess’ vendetta against Nerine, that might be an excellent first step.” Revive, she says, as though the thing has died with the disappearance of the former queen, as though Neverhere has the chance now to end it.

    She doesn’t, of course, because once Lepis has set her mind to something she does not turn away. A new queen of Nerine is an unexpected obstacle, both to her ambitions and to her search for her former husband, but the dun mare considers nothing insurmountable. Well, at least not anything that is not wing-breaking weather. One last glance at the ever darkening sky, and she says: “If you’ll direct me to a more suitable shelter, I’ll be out of your hair as soon as the storm passes. ”



    LEPIS
    i’m the one who sees you home--
    but now i’m lost in the woods

    and i don’t know what path you are on


    Neverwhere
    Reply
    #8
    Lepis barks an answer, dropping her diplomacy for sarcasm and Neverwhere has no reason to assume she is joking, yet, just as jarringly, she laughs in response, the sound ragged and unpracticed, but genuine. As Lepis continues, the silver mare chases the laughter away with a snort and a toss of her head, but the sly grin remains on gnarled lips. It is true that Neverwhere knows very little of the other mare, she does not know her past, cannot understand her motivations, but she is capable of delicate observation when there is a need and she finds herself liking the little dun in spite of herself, in spite of the venom they spit back and forth. While grey-blue eyes roll, she relaxes, the knotted cream strands of her tail flicking loosely so that they curl around her hocks.

    "I just bet you would, you crazy bitch," she chuckles, pausing not to consider the rashness of calling the ambassador a "bitch," but instead that Lepis had been less sure about Wolfbane being able to destroy Heartfire not so very long ago, "I do hope you aren't too disappointed that someone's jumped ahead and taken your chance for revenge. But who knows, maybe she'll return?"

    There is a reason that Neverwhere suspects Heartfire is not dead, one that she has not mentioned to anyone else, and it is the continued persistence of her perfect vision. Heartfire was no healer and the clouds remain, drifting across her eyes - something Neverwhere has seen reflected in still water - yet she sees as though they never existed at all. She is looking through the clouds. It is magic, and one she expects would not continue long past the former Queen's death. She drifts on this thought until Lepis scolds her - ears that had turned forward twist back again. She likes this coddling tone less well.

    "I prefer you when you are snarling," she blinks slowly, disdainfully, and her expression fades to boredom, "Wolfbane is a threat that I will do what I can against, but I don't know that you are much better equipped to deal with him than I am. Not if you would risk your life to ask Heartfire for help rather than seeking out Castile."

    She tilts her head to one side, "If he can be anybody, you'd need to be inside his head to know it's him. Perhaps I know someone that can help, but they may not be willing." As she speaks, she is already walking, leaving the cave system that protected them from the rising gale. There is a stand of wind driven trees ahead, misshapen and strange, but close enough that they block the worst of the wind and storm. They are no towering redwoods, mangled as they are, but perhaps more familiar than the damp, echoing caves.

    "Revive? Do dragons forget so easily, Lepis? Do you?" She shrugs, "How do you know he isn't already in Loess? Meet anyone new lately?"

    Neverwhere
    ...


    Lepis
    Reply
    #9
    again you’re gone, off on a different path than mine
    i'm left behind wondering if i should follow

    It’s not a synonym Lepis hasn’t heard before, and it’s not the first time someone has said it to her face. It is, however, the first time she’s laughed in response, and answered with something as venomless as: “I certainly hope not. I’d like to hold on to my skin till old age.”

    “Castile might be able to stop him,” Lepis admits, but it is clear from the dismissive way she shakes her head that this is a possibility that she has already considered and dismissed. Intense heat – like dragonfire and lava – Lepis knows to be fatal, even to those who otherwise seem immortal. She is not sure if killing without consuming the heart would be enough to end the Curse though, and there are few things Beqanna needs less than it does a Cursed and feral Dragon King. “But then we’d have a cursed Dragon instead.”

    Avoiding that possibility is a reasonable enough excuse to not enlist Castile.

    “At least I think we would. I was hoping Heartfire could tell me more about the Curse.” She’d hoped in vain, the small shake of her head says. Heartfire is gone, and Neverwhere no help at all. Lepis’ knowledge of the magic that afflicts her husband is limited to what he had told her and the scant bits of it she’s seen with her own eyes. As she follows along beside Neverwhere, moving toward the trees, thinking. Neverwhere mentions someone that might be able to help, and while Lepis does glance over, she does not inquire farther. Either the mare will elaborate or ask this stranger, or she will not.

    When Neverwhere repeats the word revive, it is Lepis’ turn to laugh. “There is no quarrel between our lands,” she says when the brief laughter ends, adding a shrug and a raised brow just before: “As long as you do not object to Loess’ acquisition of Taiga.”

    Perhaps that is what Heartfire had meant by threats, Lepis thinks. The dun mare hadn’t meant it that way; she was only continuing in her vein of truth (and thinks herself rather amusing as well). The amusement dies at the final question of the bald-faced mare, and Lepis’ smile turns quickly to a scowl.

    “I’ve seen him once already.” Her tone says quite clearly that she does not wish to repeat the experience, and yet she continues: “I had let myself forget how quick he was. It is not a mistake I will make again.” She is equipped to deal with him, her certainty says, she is not a creature to admit to mistakes when there is ever a chance she might repeat them. Coming here meant risking death, and yet Lepis feels certain the North will continue to place the victim. It’s been a functional tactic thus far, so she cannot blame them. But it has certainly put an obstacle in the path of the dun mare’s ambitions.

    The command her King had given her was designed to give Loess a leg up in the quarrel she has just downplayed the existence of, but what Lepis has now learned on her trip here cements the necessity of it for another reason entirely. If Heartfire is not here, it is time to try another route. Leliana had been unable to break a curse, but she is not the only magician in Beqanna. Perhaps she is not the most powerful either. Lepis has never bothered to consider the strength of one magician to another; perhaps now it is time to do so. She takes a long breath, backing herself into a more protected part of the copse of trees.

    “Thank you for the shelter.” She tells Neverwhere, and settles in to wait for the storm to pass.


    LEPIS
    i’m the one who sees you home--
    but now i’m lost in the woods

    and i don’t know what path you are on


    Neverwhere
    Reply




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