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    Svedka -- Year 212


    “He only knows home in his dreams and even those dreams do not mimic large, centuries-old redwoods. Lio doesn't remember the last time he laid his head down and truly felt comfortable.” --Elio, written by Phaetra

    [private]  in the hush of an endless fantasy, we are lost

    Dark fur ripples as the large feline reaches forward along the bark of a thick branch in a lazy stretch. A wide yawn reveals long white canines, quickly masked when the yawn retreats. As the panther awakens from slumber, the branch shivers beneath his shifting weight, leaves trembling at the ends of knotted twigs. Gathering himself in the lee where branch meets tree, the predator sighs, yellow gaze lifting to stare contemplatively at the canopy above him. Moments later, a small wren flutters from above, soft trill announcing its arrival.

    Any observer might find it exceedingly odd to see a songbird nestling comfortably into the thick fur of a panther’s back, but to the pair, it is a familiar morning ritual. A purr rumbles deep from the panther’s chest, demonstrating his content.

    For so long now, the wren has been his closest companion. His only companion, truth be told. He could have gone home. Returned to the dense, misty wood of his birth. But as grief had passed, so too had time. Time advancing, marching forward by the day even as he fails his final promise to his brother in each of them.

    Promise me you will stop hiding and try living, he had said.

    Tucked in the safety of this lee, with the dappled sunlight and Wren as his only companions, he had failed.

    It’s easier not to think about. Not to imagine what might happen if he returned home. It’s easier to exist only in the moment, to nap and hunt in the trees.

    It should be easier, at least. But the morning weighs heavy. Heavy enough to draw the dark feline from his perch. To send him leaping to the forest floor as Wren flutters nearby. For a moment, he simply breathes. Without conscious thought, he finds himself padding forward, drawn to the small pond nearby. He’d chosen this tree for it’s easy access to the water, but now, rather than drink, he simply stares at his reflection. The panther that stares back is familiar.

    The transition begins, and a moment later, the panther is replaced by a tall blue roan stallion, a dark patch on one hip fading into dappled black and roan along his barrel and shoulder. But the face that peers back is not his own.

    No, it is the face of the brother he had failed. The one he continues to fail. Though the grief and rage had softened over the years, he doubts the shame ever will.


    in the empty of the grave, only distant dreams remain



    Her own companion is far less charming than a wren. Alongside Violence strides a beast of bones, knitted together, piecemeal things gathered from a half-dozen different corpses. The thing changes, over time, as she finds new things and takes away others, always refining her creation.
    It’s a waste of her powers, some might say – why bother with bone-things when she could raise the dead, make them walk beside her, instead? But she finds the dead messy, dripping and distasteful, and much harder to reassemble besides.
    She does not move in silence; she is accompanied by the rattle of bones and her own thudding footsteps. She is not one for subtlety, Violence, and it is no different today, as she and her morbid bone-thing move in the forest.
    She pauses, though, when she sees the panther, and watches as it transforms into a stallion. She is always intrigued at such powers, how their bodies can shift so easily from predator to prey and back again.
    (She supposes possession is its own kind of shapeshifting, but it’s much harder, and the thing you change into often fights back, anyway.)
    A smile comes across her face, bright. Such a smile could perhaps be construed as friendly – and maybe it is, in her way – but there is something dangerous about it, too. Something hungry.

    “Hello,” she says, moving into his view, the bone-thing clunking along behind her, “what are you doing?”
    She stares at him, waits for her answer, as if it is a thing owed to her.

    these violent delights bring violent ends


    It is the clatter of bones he hears first, overlaying the rustling thump of steps over damp leaf-litter. As he shifts to peer at the approaching stranger, his features are a mask of languid curiosity. The whispers of anguish that have long filled his soul drift away, leaving behind an almost youthful lassitude. He had always found it easier to bury his problems in the face of strangers.

    They always asked too many questions. Questions he would greatly prefer not to answer.

    Wren clings closely, a faint trill of alarm fading quickly as he burrows into the tangled strands of Ion’s mane. The beast of bones rattling alongside the woman is unnerving in a way he cannot quite put a name to. He’s not certain he wishes to either.

    As his gaze shifts, he’s quick to note the master of those bones is no less unnerving.

    Her question stirs him, causing him to wonder just how much she had witnessed. He had not been schooling his features then as he is now. He never could when he found his reflection. So he waits for perhaps a beat too long before answering her question.

    “I am speaking to you,” he replies slowly, as though it should be obvious. He suspects she would not fall for such an obvious deflection, but he has little interest in telling her the truth. He considers turning the question back on her, but ultimately, he has no particular interest in going in such a trivial circle. “I’m Ion,” he continues after a moment by way of compromise. “Who are you?”


    in the empty of the grave, only distant dreams remain



    She likes to be strange, to draw their eyes. Violence envies the things more monstrous than she, she was raised amid aliens and magicians, feeling stupid and plain in her own dark body. Of course, she’d been the smartest of the brood – smarter than her parents, too, she thinks – and that was its own triumph. She may not look like much – a black mare who\s not particularly pretty, one of a thousand here in Beqanna.
    Except she is powerful in her own way. She can draw bones up from the earth, animate them, let them walk beside her. She can jump into others’ bodies and pilot them, even if her attempts are often brief, if she is not first invited in.
    This is how she makes herself a monster.

    She waits for his answer, which comes a beat late, and when it comes it is irrelevant. She nearly rolls her eyes, but instead keeps that stupid smile on her face, still watching him, weighing her options. He is powerful, and that intrigues her, and even if he lacks as a conversationalist, she thinks there is something she could salvage.
    “Ion,” she repeats, “I’m Violence.”
    Two strange names, meeting in the forest.
    “What brings you here?” she asks, “or did you come here to talk to me, too?”
    Her own attempt at glibness, slightly nonsensical, as Violence’s own sense of humor is a withered thing.

    these violent delights bring violent ends


    Though he does not look like a monster, he often feels like one. But not the kind of monster she lusts after. No, he is the lowest kind. One of his own making, one he can easily loathe (it’s so much easier to hate oneself than to confront the shortcomings that make it so).

    It is this loathing that hides the truth of his power, at least to himself. He had never bothered learning how to harness it, because what is the point? The panther is his escape, nothing more.

    Perhaps she would teach him, in whatever manner she was capable of. Or perhaps she would find his spirit too broken and realize the futility of her interest.

    Of course, none of this is apparent to him. He sees only the strange woman flanked by her equally strange creation and wonders what it is that had drawn her to him. Her words, as meaningless as his own had been, tell him little. Her face tells him even less, masked by the distortion in her understanding of reality.

    Her question baffles him, but he cannot seem to help the dry sarcasm slipping easily past his tongue. “My feet.”

    He wasn’t quite certain how she actually wished him to respond, and in his confusion, he grows defensive even as his humor becomes more biting. But then, her humor had been no more understandable than his own. “I suppose talking to you is merely a side effect.”

    Ion continues to chew on the words she had spoken, mind stuck on something. And then it clicks. Too, she had said. Why?

    “You… came here to talk to me?”


    in the empty of the grave, only distant dreams remain


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