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Crazy Foxie

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About Crazy Foxie

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    The square root of pi is 1.772453851
  • Birthday 01/10/1992

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    http://www.fanfiction.net/u/1518205

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  1. Sorry for the late update...again. I had a bit of a writer's block with this one, and it took me a while to work out what message I wanted to convey. I'm still very much keen to get this all down, even if I am destroying my favourite character time and time again. Chapter 26: The Repercussions of Standing Out "Are you sure you don't want anything for yourself?" I took the plate from Heather's clutches, ignoring the dull heat that dug into my palm. Just looking at the food was making me less hungry. Heather gave a fleeting look at the person next to me queued up for his dinner, but that was the most attention that he had received. "It's good of you to look after Sedgar, but you need something as well. Come on, a few vegetables?" She was trying to make up for her previous blunder to make herself feel better. I wasn't having any of it. I turned on my heel with Sedgar's dinner securely in both hands with the fork and knife stowed safely underneath. I kept my eyes firmly on the floor as I weaved through the masses of burly and smelly men already tucking into their greasy meat. The steam breathed from the meal, but it only made me feel worse, and I couldn't wait to be relieved of it. Sedgar was often prone to illnesses, but he had also recently become accident prone as well. Where Vyland was a blundering idiot by nature, Sedgar had become increasingly negligent in his training. Although, most infuriatingly, he was quick to pick up where he left off even after weeks of not training, he often pushed himself to the limits and further. I had watched his fall from start to end, but all things considered, Sedgar was lucky to get away with a bruised head, a broken wrist and fractured collarbone. In the first few hours of his recovery, he was delirious and talked excessively about bizarre things that weren't entirely out of his regime, but fortunately he hadn't suffered serious brain damage. The barracks didn't really have a hospital per se, and whilst there were doctors and physicians around the castle that tended to the soldiers, ultimate treatment came from each of the dormitories. Sedgar had been in my charge, much like Zed was in Fraser's. I knew nothing of first aid (and even Sedgar had agreed Vyland was not a safe option), so Sedgar was the one giving me pointers as I changed his dressings or set his pillow to be more comfortable. He had spent no more than a week taking it easy, but nothing could keep him down for much longer than that. Although he was far from full health again, he made every effort to mask his struggles. He caught my eye mid-conversation and offered his usual smile. "You're the best, Wolf," he said as I placed the cutlery and meal before him. He furrowed his eyebrows. "Where's yours?" A shrug was the only response I gave him. I rubbed my hand on my sleeve hesitantly now it was no longer burning from the warm porcelain. My eyes darted at the men who had especially made room for Sedgar as we had passed through and wanted to hear all about his accident from the top. I had no right to impose. "I'll..." "Hey, sit yourself down." Sedgar pointed his finger at the seat opposite him. "You know Gustav, he won't bite." My fingers curled as I tried to come up with something to excuse myself with. I had nothing against Gustav (in fact, his skill with a javelin was something I held respect for), but I didn't deserve to be there. "There's no merit in my partaking." Sedgar rolled his eyes as he picked up his fork with his only free hand. It was hard to tell how long it would take before his broken wrist could take any proper weight, and it was only then I realised the knife was probably unnecessary. "Wolf, I won't tell you again." He looked across at his peers on the table. "Help me out here, guys." With a few more vigorous nods and several lighthearted remarks along the lines of united invitation, I realised there was never a choice in the matter. As I perched at the end of the table, Gustav clapped a hand across my shoulder as if I had done an entire day's work. I kept my eyes firmly on the deep groves across the pine surface as I tried not to concentrate on his bad breath. I could very easily lose my temper here, I had had a few outbreaks when sparring the unprepared or preventing accidents of the incompetent, but I needed to maintain composure. Sedgar wanted me here for a reason, but I had yet to figure out why. He grinned opposite me as Gustav rubbed my shoulder with too much energy before he resumed the conversation right where he left off. "Anyway, long story short, wasn't the horse's problem but entirely my fault. It had been raining the night before, ergo the soft landing. By Naga though, I needed a really good bath afterwards!" The woman next to Sedgar, Ida, was the first to laugh at the incredibly bad joke. "I can imagine!" Sedgar shrugged. "Unfortunately my clothes weren't as lucky. No matter how much we scrubbed, there's always going to be remnants of mud." He caught my eye and in the briefest of moments he looked like he was about to ask me something, but he never followed through. "Save for that, you're all stuck with me." Ida swept her long locks to one side. "It's good to have you round again. How long do you think it'd take until you're fully recovered?" "Not long, I hope. The sooner I can get back on the horse, the better." Sedgar continued to poke at his casserole. Gustav laughed. "Poor horse. You'll get no sympathy from me. Only an idiot would have a novice fall like that." "Thanks for reminding me," he said airily. Sedgar wrinkled his nose and grimaced, as though the very sight of the watery soup was making him nauseated. In itself, the sloppy mixture looked like something he had brought up earlier in he week. His mouth twisted as he pulled bits of meat off in tiny strips. He looked up in disgust, and I knew what he was thinking. I gave him a pointed look. I had no intention of saying anything to the effect of forcing him to eat, but Sedgar knew exactly what was on my mind. I was not the best example, but he needed food to keep him going. His energy had depreciated considerably from the number of times he had popped his collarbone in an irrational attempt to get better quickly. He was never going to mention it to Ida, but it wasn't a matter of how long it took his body to recover, but that he needed to recover quickly. It was one of the few things I could comprehend about Sedgar. "Truth is, my time out has given me time to think," he continued placidly. "I've come to realise that we're all in the same boat. We all started our careers in the army much later than those in King Baelis' battalions, or any army in the continent for that matter, but we hold more experience or talent than any of them. Together, we have built a solid empire out of nothing." Gustav nodded slowly. "We are getting a little big to still be the underdogs." "Exactly. We're loyal to Coyote, but technically we still fall as part of King Baelis' army. Every mission we receive is in the interest of Aurelis. Some assignments are Coyote's initiatives, but I think it's high time he commands us as his own rather than running things through his brother." Sedgar managed a bit of carrot before continuing. "You don't think it's too bold?" I was almost tempted to reply. If Coyote was to be removed from the picture, we had no obligation to serve Aurelis. We served the country that had held us hostage because it was an extension of Coyote. "What about Nestor?" The rugged man beside Ida had finally spoke up, and he leaned forwards slightly as he addressed Sedgar. I couldn't recall his name; evidently he hadn't created much of an impression on me. "Would he allow it?" "He acts as an advisor for the family and addresses all matters of management, including the army factions. He'd allow it if Coyote puts up a strong enough case. As Gustav said, we've already become much bigger than we anticipated. Nestor may be relieved to have one less thing to worry about." The others nodded in agreement to Sedgar's words, and the man at the end seemed satisfied with the answer. "You're cutting the chain of command between Coyote and his brother, which puts Coyote into a stronger position of power. If you did that, he'd be more politically exposed. By saying Coyote deserves more, it could easily instil fear that he will usurp his brother rather than rule alongside him." Sedgar looked across at me slowly. He seemed a bit taken aback by my comments. "Do you think that Nestor would consider Coyote a threat?" I could see them all waiting for my reply. Gustav returned to his casserole, but his head was turned ever so slightly to show that he was listening. "I'm only saying that there's a risk and Nestor needs to account for those risks. Once you've tasted power, it's human nature to want more." I could see corruption long before it came. Master Pelham always had a knack of it too; maybe that was where my scepticism came from. I looked at each of the soldiers round the table in turn, from Sedgar's look of concern to Gustav's disinterested one. "At the rate we're going, do you think we could rival King Baelis' men? I do, without a doubt." "Listen to yourself," Sedgar interrupted. "We're not turning on one another." "I'm being realistic. It's a possibility worth considering." I got onto my feet. My input wasn't necessary; that wasn't what I was supposed to do. Sedgar had wanted me to agree. "Sorry Wolf, you're right. I wish I could be more like you." I narrowed my eyes. No one wanted to be like me; that's why Sedgar was trying so hard to make me like everyone else. I couldn't connect or associate with people the way he wanted me to. My mind raced in my brief moments of idleness. I recounted pointless phrases in the midst of training, only to recall in the late hours at night which textbook I had got that information from. I could spend hours nitpicking at what techniques were wrong simply because it bothered me to no end, and more often than not I grew frustrated trying to correct those who were adamant they were right. I needed control and systematic order, and just as I obtain it, everything crumbles before my eyes. It was a drastic mechanism I had come up with to fulfil my duty to serve Coyote, and I despised it. Even if I could, I'd never allow Sedgar to be like me. "I wish I could be objective and smart like you. Sometimes you're so brutally honest it hurts, but I don't mind. I don't mind because it's the way you are. You apply yourself in training and learning because it's the only way you can express yourself. Before I realised it, you had already surpassed me." He raised his injured arm slightly. "Do you know the real reason how I got this? Trying to keep up with you." "Don't use me as an excuse," I said tersely. I was nothing exceptional, no one worthy of being made an idol of. I merely existed to earn my survival. I dedicated every bead of sweat and blood to Coyote because he acquired me. Ida leaned to one side to catch my eye. She didn't seem to mind how her shoulder brushed Sedgar's. "It's a compliment to be an inspiration to others. It's a good thing. I want to shoot as well as you and Sedgar one day, even if it takes me years." I looked across at Gustav to shut him down as he too tried to intervene. I didn't want to be admired by them, or even acknowledged. I had no need of praise, not from them. All I needed was Coyote to know I was at his disposal and to meet his every requirement. I jolted as Gustav made to grab my shoulder and took a few steps away from the table before he could attempt again. Conversation died down instantly as the back of my foot noisily crashed against a table leg. Soldiers on the neighbouring tables looked up at the commotion. My fingers found their way round the wooden edge behind me as I looked for my escape route. They were all watching me with that pained look, the same stares I had been seeing for months on end. I had never been surrounded by so many judgmental eyes, so many unknown thoughts running through their minds. I never stood out, but I could say now, after finally experiencing it, that I hated that too.
  2. Yep, melodramatic equally works :) I'll get in touch with eggclipse to get the poll going, but please see below the stories for voting (or equally, scrolling up works!) Prompt was a dramatic fall-out between two best friends. A Midsummer's Daydream - eggclipse Just One Man - blah the Prussian Her Words - Jotari
  3. Chapter 25: Take Some Responsibility Even though I didn't accompany him every night, everyone knew where to find Zed if they needed him. If he wasn't on the prairie, he was in the corner of the stable, often with thick thread between his fingers as he fixed bridles or with horseshoes scattered around his feet. Sometimes Elle would be with him too, polishing her armour with her back against him. I occasionally sat with him to learn his ways, taking whatever equipment I was working on back to the dormitory so I could improve on it in the evening and sometimes well into the night whilst as I waited for Sedgar and Vyland to return from the tavern. Just like what eventually happened with everyone I had ever worked with, he suddenly vanished without a trace. I wasn't worried; it was just strange when things weren't as they should be. I didn't make myself obvious, but Elle was quick to notice my agitation and confirmed that Zed had had a seizure whilst riding, and was taking time out to fully recover. In Zed's absence, Roshea was often the one to take up the running of the stable. He told Coyote that he was happy not to return home to work over the weekends, and instead spent the entirety of his time grooming the horses and letting soldiers know which ones needed to be exercised. It was a lot for one boy to take on, but he managed splendidly and his innocent smile never seemed to waver. Vyland too noticed Roshea's dedication and he tried to help out where he could, but he tended to create more problems faster than he could solve them. The major concern after Zed fell ill though was Sienna. She had been partnered with Zed for so long she knew instantly something was wrong, and as a consequence she threw a tantrum whenever anyone got close to her. It was uncharacteristic of her, and took the other soldiers somewhat by surprise. That was precisely the problem with horses not used to other riders. She still needed regular exercise, and with Fraser busy nursing Zed and Roshea handling everything else, I took it upon myself to earn her trust. It was strangely calming as well for me, and it became easier to be even slightly content with myself. I stroked her nose, talked to her only as much as necessary, groomed her hair and cleaned her hooves, never fearing any form of retaliation. She could pick up on fear, and in time she knew I held none. It didn't take long for Roshea to realise what I was doing, and he thanked me continuously for my efforts. By the time I was in a position to ride her, Roshea was overjoyed. "You really can ride any horse you like," he said admirably as he straightened up. He hadn't finished grooming the stallion he was tending to, but he left the comb on the stable door and made to approach me. I shrugged. It wasn't all to do with compatibility like Roshea believed. Riding on multiple horses was common sense to me. There was no set way to ride all of them, so it was a matter of adjusting to each horse's preferences. Having such flexibility ensured I didn't fall into any bad habits whilst simultaneously improving my current skills. Roshea, more than anyone, should have known that. He made sure that Sienna could still see him before reaching out to pat her on the neck. I loosened the reins to let her know that she was in safe hands, and she only gave a grumpy snort in reply. "Do you think Zed will get better?" Roshea asked suddenly. I didn't know the specifics of Zed's seizure, but I visited him every night to tell him of the sunsets he missed. He didn't say much to me, but he mentioned once that no one understood the prairie like I did. That was reason enough for me to continue the visits and give Fraser some time to himself. Was Roshea starting to suffer from taking over Zed's duties? He didn't seem tired and his expression was serious, but perhaps he was struggling more than he was putting on. My reply was simple. "I don't know." Roshea's eyes didn't leave Sienna's as he brought his hand back again. "It doesn't feel right here. He's always been in that corner. He doesn't say anything, but you know he's there. I miss him." He managed a brave smile, and his eyes seemed unfocused. "When do you think he'll come back?" Roshea still refused to look at me, directing his questions to Sienna. I thought it incredibly rude, and I breathed deeply to try and control my frustration. It was a futile attempt, and my anger had to surface one way or another. "He won't, so get used to it." Sienna picked up on my change of mood instantly, and she trod the ground just as irritably. I gripped tighter on the reins to make sure she didn't stray too far. Roshea pulled a face as he bit down on his lip. His eyes continued to dart at anything but me. I had never been like this in the Pelham estate. I kept myself to myself; it was easier to maintain composure even in the harshest of circumstances that way. Heather had mentioned that I was hostile towards others, even though I didn't mean it. She didn't seem to understand that I mean every word I say. Perhaps it was constant exposure to Vyland that made me so short-tempered. I gave a resigned sigh. I preferred it when I was alone, but I had to make the effort to look after Roshea because Coyote needed him. "I'm going to the prairie and you're no use as an emotional wreck here, so get some fresh air. I'll wait." Roshea still looked like he was going to cry, but he gave a firm nod. He took an exceedingly long time to prepare, and I had to go out in the paddock to warm Sienna up to keep her focused. There were already a few people on the prairie by the time we got there, and a couple of them waved as we joined them. I ignored them and looked round for Vyland and Sedgar who had set off earlier than I had, but came to the conclusion that they were training elsewhere. It was closer to midday with the sun peeking out of ominous clouds nearly above us, but Sienna seemed content with the grass under her hooves despite it not being the usual sunset ride. She needed to race, and I was more than happy to run with her to her heart's content. Roshea stayed to one side, watching the world go by and occasionally trotted round in circles to keep his horse awake. There was so much room for him and he was wasting this opportunity. I kept my eyes firmly on the horizon as I rode around the prairie, and I soon found myself squinting to guide Sienna through the steady downpour. The leather reins was rigid in my frozen grip and I vaguely acknowledged the dampness of my skin. The thumping of hooves were muted in the deep mud, but I felt the strong kick of soil as Sienna pressed ahead. The distinct proximity of moment caught the corner of my eye. I instinctively looked across at Harlequin's sleek brown mane beside me, and before I knew it I was shoulder to shoulder to Elle. She gave a firm nod in greeting. "You did well to tame her," she shouted at me to be heard over the rain. I didn't reply; there was no merit in replying. "Just make sure you don't tire her out too much. You need to decide what her limits are." I already knew that, but I made no attempt to slow down. Instead I dug my heels deeper into Sienna to see if she would go any faster. Harlequin breathed heavily to try and keep up with us, and even through her damp fringe I could see Elle's look of disappointment. "What's Roshea doing here? Shouldn't he be clearing out the stables like he normally does?" Elle wasn't hard to figure out as she said exactly what was on her mind. Her remarks were often scathing and precisely why she held such a reputation. She absolutely abhorred being weighed down in any way, and having Roshea on the field was probably an insult to her. I shrugged. I didn't need to explain myself to her, but I couldn't leave the question unanswered. "He needed to get away." Elle threw her head back in laughter, and I wouldn't have been surprised if everyone else on the prairie heard. "You need to take some responsibility of the kid then rather than galavanting off. This is a field for soldiers, men fighting for their country, not stable boys who can't wield a sword." She waved a hand dismissively before she changed direction entirely. I didn't know how long we ran until I brought Sienna to a halt. I didn't know what had made me stop in my tracks, just that I needed to stop running. I turned my face to the great open sky of grey. The squelch of hooves and chinks of weapons couldn't break through the strong downpour. The rain found its way down my collar and in my ears, and in time there was so much water gathered on my face I couldn't feel the raindrops land. Its cold touch on my cheeks and ears kept my head raised to the heavens. I had never felt so empty of thoughts, embracing the sky's open banks and simply watching. I had never stopped, never taken the time to simply exist. It was only when Sienna gave a grumpy snort that I took that as a cue to double back for Roshea. He had barely moved from the spot, but his shoulders were shaking from the cold and the damp. His hair stuck to the sides of his face as he blinked the rain out of his eyes. "Had enough?" I asked as I brought Sienna round beside him. Roshea looked up slowly, and it took him a while to realise who I was. "Oh, um, I guess." He sniffed and brought his hands up to kiss some feeling back in them. He continued to look fairly gloomy and as we rode side by side, I knew that his mind was still heavy. I made no effort to say anything on the journey back, and it was only as I dismounted Sienna and started to take off her equipment that Roshea finally said something. "Thank you...for taking me with you."
  4. For this time's prompt, write something that involves a dramatic fall-out between two best friends. It can be over something serious and entirely valid. It can be something nonsensical, absurd and absolutely petty. Just make it absolutely gasp-worthy! Low jabs, cutting remarks, chair throwing and the like go. I'll set deadline for Monday 21 November 22:00 GMT, which I believe works out to 14:00 PST, but we'll see on uptake.
  5. I went ahead and touched up my entry so it actually flows a bit better, and brought it up to 1,000 words whilst I was there. Hopefully we'll be seeing what other people have in stock soon.
  6. Sorry, I hadn't realised that there was a minimum length! Happy to try and build up on it if it causes a problem, but won't be until Monday as I've got a bit to go through over the weekend.
  7. This is a prompt I can work with. I'm also trying out a new style, so this gave me a good opportunity :) Title: Losing my Marbles Word Count: 1,000 World: Final Fantasy 6.
  8. Yes I'm aware it's been nearly two months since the last update. I went on holiday for three weeks, got overworked trying to catch up and coping with shortage of staff at work and I've been bouncing off walls trying to shoot as often as possible (as I've started archery as a hobby and it's scarily addictive). It's taken me a while to get back to the swing of things, but I'm not sure if I would realistically be able to do weekly updates. I'll do my best, but I'm not dropping this any time soon :) Again, sorry for the delay and hope this latest update doesn't disappoint. Chapter 24: Gross Misinterpretations Ever since I learnt about Heather's betrayal, I became increasingly paranoid of my comrades. I continued to spar and instruct, the same as I always did, but I knew I wasn't nearly as protected as I was before. I failed to distinguish between those who were judging me, those who took pity on me and those who had no idea. They were constantly watching me, all waiting for me to slip up or snap. My background fast became common knowledge, and I heard the silent whispers of gossip in their hardened eyes as I sat in the dining hall or went to retrieve my arrows. I came to realise there was only a handful I could trust in the sea of predators, and that was Sedgar, Vyland and Coyote. I told Sedgar nearly as soon as I was finished with Heather, and he only apologised for not doing what she did first. It wasn't the response I needed; I needed him to be as frustrated as I was for insincere breach of confidence. I didn't know whether Sedgar had, like so many times, gone ahead and reported to Coyote. I received the invite to see him and that was all there was. Coyote's office was smaller than I had imagined, with an ornate desk taking up most of the room. A large opening in the wall allowed him a direct view of the courtyard should he wish to turn round, and the distant sound of swords clanging and inaudible clamour seemed to drift into the room. They were noises I was accustomed to, but it seemed strange to hear from above. "Take a seat." He gestured in front of him as he looked up all too briefly in acknowledgement, and I tentatively took the waiting seat there. There were drawings of multiple colours strewn across the table, but towards one side I recognised the distinct outline of Aurelis. Most were weighed down by splendid bronze figures of horses and the corners waved and crinkled in the subtle breeze. Coyote's fingers ran across contours and parchment, making hurried notes as he navigated the maps. It wasn't until he had reached the waterline that he set his pen down. "I wanted to give you something." He leaned to one side and there was the smooth sound of a drawer opening. He carefully took out a box and, despite his dedication to hastily write his notes down, he set the box on the table without even bothering to move the paperwork out the way. I looked between the object and him. "I don't understand." Coyote slid the box closer to me so that it almost touched my elbow. He ignored the small protests of parchment as they threatened to tear. "Regrettably I can't seem to recall the exact day you first came to us, but I'm almost positive it's been over a year now. I've already told Sedgar and Vyland, but today is also what we're going to call your birthday. You will recall the time we went to Princess Elice's birthday celebrations in Altea?" I nodded slowly. I couldn't remember much of the party itself save for the fact it was one of the most gruelling experiences I had been through in my time with Coyote. I had tried to return to the ballroom after Camus had taken me outside, but my tolerance lessened every time I did and I slinked back out to gather my dying wits. Coyote grew concerned about my comings and goings, and he came to check up on me in the courtyard. My body convulsed in relief at the sight of him, and I instantly regretted my lack of self-discipline. Coyote, despite me humiliating him, thought very little of it and merely asked the castle servants to clear up my mess. He said something about the flowers dying by the end of the week, but I felt too ashamed to fully engage with him. Despite my protests he bade goodnight to the Altean royal family and we were forced to leave earlier than most because of me. "It's quite customary for people to celebrate being alive," Coyote continued. "Every year lived is an accomplishment, something to be proud of. It acts as a milestone of how much you've grown, and you more than anyone deserve to be commemorated for your development. Open your present." I lowered my gaze at the wooden box. Coyote shouldn't be giving me anything; there was no logic to it. Whatever traditions they had was customary to them, not the likes of me. I tentatively fingered the fine edges of the box. The thin lid teased me as it tried to open as I did so. I looked up at Coyote one last time to confirm it was definitely what he wanted me to do. Although I had seen many weapons in the armoury, the one that Coyote was giving to me was much more than that. The dagger couldn't have been more than ten inches, but it boasted more splendour than anything I had seen. The Aurelian coat of arms was intricately embossed on the leather sheath, the very same that I had seen so many times over the doorway to the training rooms. The fierce scarlet underlay accentuated the splendid handle of dull ivory, and the complexity of its crossguard made it a single object of perfection. "It was given to me by my father. I want you to have it." I brought my hands together, more to resist stroking the emblem than anything. Someone like me shouldn't own such an item. I had worked with Coyote for so long I knew he didn't take pleasure in dangling temptations before me. Coyote meant every word, and it was moments like this I would have preferred if he didn't. "I'll keep it safe," I chose to reply. Why else would he entrust such a valuable object to me? If I considered his gift as an extension of safekeeping, that would fulfil my duty. It was technically in my possession, but it still belonged to him and he could claim it back whenever he wanted. Coyote gave a curt nod, and I was relieved that that was enough to satisfy him. "I'm also conscious that you've worked every day of your life, so Sedgar and Vyland are taking you out to surprise you. I want you to listen to everything they tell you and, most importantly, you're going to enjoy yourself. You hear me?" I imagined Coyote's idea of 'having fun' as a rehash of Princess Elice's birthday, and I knew it was going to be unbearable. I wasn't to argue though, and I lowered my head in affirmation before making my exit with the box under one arm. They were both waiting for me, and where I was eager to resume back to training, both Vyland and Sedgar insisted that I do no such thing. They argued I had what they called a 'day off' and the whole purpose of it was not to work. It was a term beyond sense and it frustrated me how they failed to understand that. I didn't see how partaking in recreational activities helped Coyote, much like how Vyland's visits to the tavern were anything but fruitful. The conversation flitted between the three of us with neither party backing down, all the while I pressed ahead to the stable so that we didn't disrupt Coyote. In the end, Sedgar conceded and let me ride for one hour only. I begrudgingly parted with the dagger Coyote had told me to look after, leaving it with Vyland to stow away in our dormitory and out of sight. The training was all but fleeting, and I instantly missed the weight of my sword and the satisfactory ache in my thighs as I dismounted. Akaneia was too far to ride to in a day, so they opted to take me to a quaint theatre at the edge of Aurelis. Vyland informed me what the play was about before we saw it, mentioning several times over that it was a very famous one that every Aurelian knew about. He reeled off names like he spoke to them every day, and just as he finished he got into a verbal fight with Sedgar about the significance of one particular character. Even with prior knowledge of the play, I spent the majority of the show feeling exceedingly agitated. It wasn't completely dark, so mercifully I could still see the outlines of Vyland and Sedgar on either side of me. I took note of their defined profiles as they watched the show, their eyes darting across the stage or the face relaxing entirely as they threw their heads back in unrestrained laughter. Sedgar occasionally caught my eye, and he'd smile at me or otherwise lean across to ask if I was okay. Their presence – a cough, the accidental brush of the arm – was enough to make me feel less vulnerable. I was confined to the seat and left in the dark, but I knew he wouldn't return for me; there was too much of an audience. He needed me to himself, and in a room of strangers he couldn't move freely. I knew all that (and I reminded myself constantly that Master Pelham was dead), but I still kept my wits about me and prepared for the worst. "So? What did you think?" Vyland asked once we were out and breathing the fresh air once more. I leaned out the way slightly to make way for Vyland's elbow as he stretched. I couldn’t really follow the story as it seemed everything that was said on the stage was followed by shrieks of humour on all sides. All the while I wanted to understand what was going on, my concentration always broke without fail. From what little of the performance I saw though, there was a lot of tripping over and exaggerated hand gestures. I didn't know what I was supposed to think. "Did something like that happen?" Vyland and Sedgar exchanged looks before the former gave a noisy snort. "It's the work of a writer," Sedgar explained. "Some writers do have personal experiences, but for the most part it’s come from their imagination rather than events. We can safely say that nothing like that happened whatsoever. No, what Vyland's trying to ask is did you enjoy it." I shrugged. For someone who had nulled his senses for years, what was I supposed to think about such a story, or lack thereof? Everything I thought of was based on solid facts rather than what Sedgar or Vyland would categorise as emotions. I didn't find amusement in the same things as they did, and this mission made me realise just how different I was to them. "I guess," I answered hesitantly. That was the answer it sounded like he wanted. Sedgar picked up on my half-hearted answer instantly. "Maybe if you go to a few more, you'll know for certain whether it's something you like or not. You wouldn’t think it, but Vyland's more knowledgeable of the Arts than I am. What would you recommend for next time?" he called over. Vyland rubbed the back of his neck idly. "Wings of Freedom is pretty good, far less comical than this one. It retells the story of King Iote and how he liberated the slaves in Medon several centuries ago. I've only seen it here, but I've heard they do it much better in Medon. They train dragons to perform and the theatre is open air." I frowned at the thought of travelling out of the familiar ambiance of Aurelis. I wasn't confident that I would enjoy it in Medon any better than I did in my own kingdom. What was the point going somewhere so far away for something so unproductive? In contrast, Sedgar was evidently enthralled by the idea. "Seriously? Actual dragons?" "Actual dragons," Vyland repeated with a little more emphasis. "It doesn't get any better than that. The tickets are really exclusive though, so they’re normally booked up for a year or so." "How much do they cost?" Vyland shrugged. "Enough to say I should start saving. It'll be worth it though, and I know that it'd blow all our minds." His eyes drifted up to the sky dreamily, and a content smile played on his lips. "I can already see it." Sedgar gave me a small nudge. "What do you say, something for next year?" How could the pair of them be so flippant? They were talking of future plans, ideology that had no basis. They were talking about going to Medon, days if not weeks away from serving Coyote. The maps had precarious mountains that cut Aurelis away from the southern isle, an obvious warning that restricted us to Aurelis and everything good to us. What he was suggesting was beyond disrespectful. It was an absolute disgrace they were even contemplating such plans and I would have no part in it. "Are you telling me to abandon Coyote for some fictional farce, is that it? I won't fall for such heinous temptations; If you had the slightest shred of decency and loyalty towards him, you wouldn't either," I retorted. Sedgar pulled a face of mild reproach and he shook his head several times. "I never said that!" Vyland broke into peels of laughter, much harder than he had within the closed theatre. People turned their heads at him, but he didn't care. Even when he started to wipe the corners of his eyes, he only raised his other hand to try and catch his breath, and once he sufficiently calmed down, he looked at me only to choke all over again. I didn't see what made my comments any more comical than the performance we had just seen. I had made a valid point, but the two of them didn't even attempt to address the serious issue. Sedgar shook his head in amusement at the sight of Vyland as he too tried and failed to contain himself. The longer they continued to laugh, the more I came to realise I wouldn't get an answer. I had felt something similar that time in Duke Reuven's estate. I had forgotten what passing remark Coyote had said about me, but the small, distinct feeling of being the outcast of an otherwise animated banter was one I couldn't. I couldn't care less about being the observer in an otherwise ridiculous display of over-the-top, fake pleasure. There was an invisible barrier that would always separate me from everyone else, separate me from Sedgar, Vyland and all their curious dealings, and I honestly didn't mind. As a matter of fact, I preferred to be this side of the barrier.
  9. Chapter 23: What's Done is Done In all the times that I had sparred with Kyle and Jason or saw them at dinner surrounded by equally broad-shouldered comrades, I never said more than I had to. In return they too didn't associate with me much, only accepting my often silent invitation to spar when it suited them. They were capable together and came as a pair. Kyle was arguably the burlier of the two, with sideburns that reached half way down his face and stringy hair (either from grease or sweat, I could never tell) hanging over his ears. Although there were wash facilities freely available, it seemed he frequented it as much as he did when he was a slave. He made no move to sit with me, despite there being a huge number available at this hour in the library. Instead he hovered slightly behind me as he tried to read the material I was trying to decipher. "Can I help?" I said calmly as I folded one corner and closed the book. The library too was free for anyone to use, but if I had insulted Kyle in some way, I didn't mind leaving and freeing the space for him. Vyland had gone to The Black Stallion to rekindle his desire for women and Sedgar had accompanied him as his sidekick, and I expected that they wouldn't be back for another few hours. Kyle's eyebrows furrowed as he struggled to find the words. I waited patiently for him to confirm I should go. "Can I see your brand?" he asked instead. I narrowed my eyes somewhat. Although there was no malice in what Kyle said, I didn't feel obliged to fulfil his request. I remember Coyote telling me that it was only human to keep a few things to myself. I was an accessory to Coyote and his brother, so everything I owned was theirs as well; I didn't owe the same duty to every other soldier I met. "Why?" He looked away slightly. "Well...It's a common misconception that the larger the brand is, the longer you've been a slave for. The blokes and I quite often have a bit of a banter about it, having contests about who has the biggest brand or who has the deepest scars. We've all been through some seriously bad times, but we can joke about it." He sighed. "Truth is, you're different. For you, it's not just about time; the brand proves that you were exceptionally young, much younger than anyone else in the army. So I wanted to see it for myself. Only if it's okay with you though," he added hastily. "I'm sorry if it's insensitive." I sighed. I still remembered how Sedgar had asked to see mine as well, and for some reason it seemed to be a topic of sensitivity and interest. "No, I'm sorry for asking." I loosened the ties of my shirt and tugged at the back of my collar for him to do the rest. It was too much effort for one look to bother taking off the backplate as well. Kyle was careful as he brought the clothing out as far as he could. There was a strange sound that came from his throat as he saw what Master Pelham had done to me. Once he had enough, he let go of my collar and almost fell into the waiting chair next to me. "I'm really sorry." I didn't say anything as I sorted out my shirt. I opened up the book again; if that was all Kyle came for, there was nothing more to be said. I could see him at the corner of my eye still staring blankly ahead as I continued where I had left off. "So it's true then? You were a slave since birth?" I made a small sound of confirmation, not even bothering to look up. I would have thought that much was clear from the brand, the very thing Kyle wanted to see for himself. He looked across at me and his mouth threatened to open again. "I also heard that...well, your main keeper was your dad." I tried to confirm that too, however my distant sound of reply barely left my throat. Kyle probably didn't hear. "That is messed up on so many levels. All that time you served...did you, you know, make the connection?" I had now read the same sentence for the fifth time without actually taking it in. Despite my growing intolerance, my expression remained as it was. "Does it matter?" I turned the page idly, only so that I had new material to look at. Kyle's eyes drifted to his knees. "No, I guess not." Every other question that Kyle wanted to ask had apparently dissipated, for we fell into a stony silence. Kyle's deep breathing otherwise broke what silence I was more accustomed to, yet my mind had been sufficiently distracted and wandered towards thoughts other than the text before me. "Did Sedgar tell you?" "No, Heather did." I finally looked up to Kyle a pointed look. "Who?" "Heather - she said that she worked with you at the house you served." We only called each other rats in that household. There was no way for me to know which one had now called herself Heather. "Do you know where I can find her?" The rats and I didn't get along, and I suspected that she was disclosing my past either for her own personal gain or to discredit me in some way. Although I had done my best to avoid everyone I had worked with at the Pelham Estate, it was something I couldn't put off any longer. Kyle informed me that she had been a skilled cook when she served, and as he described her physical features, I mentally tried to whittle down the rats by process of elimination. It proved to be difficult though as I couldn't remember every one of them in the first place, and it took me a while to realise that the one with the lazy eye had died already. When I did eventually meet Heather the next day, preparations for dinner were in full swing and the kitchen was bustling with thick smoke and intense heat. Although her skin was fairly dark despite the layer of grime being scrubbed off, it was a complexion that was probably as smooth as it looked. Her fingernails were no longer chewed to the edge, her arms no longer streaked with rose thorns or cuts or burns. Unlike me, she recognised me instantly. The ladle fell into the waiting stew with a clatter. Her hands met her mouth to hide the fact she was biting her lower lip, and her eyes began to water as she looked at me up and down. "By Naga, it's really you." Her torso lifted sharply before she stretched out her bat-winged arms. "Come here." And yet despite those words, she was the one who approached me, and brought her large arms around my back. My chin was forced to sit on top of her shoulder awkwardly. Her breasts pressed against my chest until it hurt. "I've wanted to do this for so long. Poor, beautiful soul." I didn't say anything. The aroma of stew was strangely alluring, and the tight embrace rooted me on the spot. My arms stayed at my side and my fingers curled in discomfort. For some reason my eyes tried to drift shut. "I would have given anything to hold you the way I can now. Even though you're right here, I still can't believe it. You've turned into a fine man, Wolf." She finally let go, dusting her front to rid herself of what horrible things had transferred from me. "We all knew about your lineage. The Master knew we did as well, so he made us hurt you, play the villains in his games, so that you would distance yourself from us and seek refuge with him. We kept it under wraps so that it wouldn't be any harder on you, playing along in the hopes that one day you'd connect with us of your own accord. We couldn't do a thing to spare you of the anguish, the pain, and--" "None of that matters now," I said dismissively. I had always considered the other rats to be fleeting. They all merged into one entity of tiredness and subservience, each coming as quick as they were dying. Heather shook her head. "Of course it matters. You have no concept of the things that people take for granted. You faced those challenges alone when you shouldn't have. We wanted to show you what a parent should have been to you, and be the family you needed as you grew up. It broke our hearts every single day seeing him manipulate you and make you do things against your will. Those who died held the same feelings, and they'd be so proud of you if they could see you now." She gave a light sigh. "Us rats know everything you've been through, but the crowd here is different. People perceive you as unsociable and rude. They know you don't mean it, and many accept that that's just the way you are. It started off with innocent remarks like saying you were strange, eccentric or there was something not right about you." I went past her and resumed to stir the simmering beverage that existed to be consumed. I was pulling her away from her work; she'd get in trouble because of me. "A few weeks ago, the rumours escalated. They were careful because they knew that Sedgar would be on their case in a heartbeat, and Coyote wouldn't be far behind. They started to get more obscene, the theories started to get more detailed and there were loud banters about who could come up with the most horrific stories. They mimicked you and thought it to be funny. They joked about practical pranks to pull, and the bolder ones went ahead with it to see if they could get a response. One time at dinner, it was just too much and I couldn't take it anymore. So I stood up and told everyone in the room exactly what you went through. I told them about Master Pelham being your father and what that does to a man." I gave her a blank look. "I don't exist to be liked; I exist to be everything Coyote needs me to be. What other people think or say hardly affects my service." I furrowed my eyebrows as the sweet steam of stew caressed my face. I never asked her to divulge my history, but she had taken liberties in affairs that didn't concern her. "It all happened to me, not you. How do you interpret 'exactly what I went through'?" She opened her mouth to protest, but she maintained composure. "It wasn’t easy talking about you, but what they needed was perspective. You were kept as a slave for more than double the amount of time most people have; they can't even begin to comprehend the full extent of your trauma." She lowered her head. "I'm sorry." I gave an irritated sigh before discarding the ladle to one side. It spun on the surface with a dull clatter and I watched the crockery draw an arc of creamy stew. In my momentary display of rage, I felt the tiniest sensation of satisfaction. "Don't be; what's done is done."
  10. It was initially a bit hard to follow, but certainly once I got the gist of Blazing Sword as a story (not to mention what Raven even looked like!), the support conversations and reading it through again, I got a better idea. With an ominous opening like that, it would only seem fair for Raven to want to seek revenge. Hopefully you'll explore it in later chapters, but is he meant to be close to his father/the House? As a prologue though, it would be interesting to see what else you plan to do with this. Edit: Forgot to mention thanks for the honourable mentions :) Just keep bashing out what's plaguing your mind and let the dramas snowball and spiral out of control!
  11. Ha, loving the idea of a visual novel! I'll make up my mind by the end of it, but we still have a few months yet :) Thanks, I've been meaning to do a bit of Vyland/Roshea for a while. I'll comment on A Murder of Ravens separately (I had to do a bit of reading up on Blazing Sword!)
  12. Okay, I'm going to use this point to update the maturity warnings somewhat since I started this. Initially I wasn't going to go into too much detail, but I'll reiterate that from this point on, there's going to be some serious implications of child molestation (we've already had some), rape, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, explicit themes and just about everything else under the sun. This is exactly what happens when a story wants to write itself. I'm going to stress this point in the first post as well because it really doesn't do justice to what I have lined up and I have no idea how much detail I'm going to go into just yet. Chapter 22: No Discipline I had barely opened the door to our dormitory before Vyland landed a powerful punch in greeting. My armour may as well have been made of parchment as it took me everything to make sure I kept my balance. It was a long time before my body remembered how to breathe, and it was any wonder that none of my ribs had broken. "Don't ever do that again!" Where Sedgar had set his personal feelings to one side to provoke me, Vyland made sure that their combined worry and anger reached me. His frustration was concentrated in that single blow, and I could fully appreciate I had done something wrong in running away. That was the closest resemblance of a punishment I had received, and after that all was apparently forgotten about. Whatever excuse Vyland had given Coyote for my disappearance and the subsequent absence of Sedgar seemed to work. The next time that Coyote saw us, he was visibly relieved before assigning us with patrol duties at the outskirts of Aurelis. He had only briefly touched on whether our extensive training was useful and Sedgar had provided a vague but otherwise sufficiently truthful response. Coyote hadn’t suspected a thing, and rather than considering it a blessing, I felt guilty for not telling him the full story. Sedgar was quick to notice my uneasiness and, once Coyote was out of earshot, reassured me that it was kinder to keep Coyote ignorant of the incident. The episode was all done and dusted; Coyote had no reason to consider matters that were otherwise resolved. Sedgar assured me that should the story come out, he would take full responsibility and I wouldn’t be undermined for keeping it from Coyote. Zed too was sworn into unanimous secrecy, but for a man who didn't take to lengthy and unnecessary conversation, it was a task that was a given for him. I learnt that it was precisely because of his nature Sedgar had asked him to retrieve me in the first place, and my undignified breakdown gradually found its way into the abyss of suppressed memories. Zed had also somehow managed to cover up Ornello, and although Roshea was initially dejected by the loss, that too was resolved with no sign of punishment. Everything that transpired in the northern borders died with Master Pelham. Within a few days, it was terrifying how easily things slipped back to how they once were. After months of avoiding and being avoided, I grew content being around Sedgar again. He no longer needed to evaluate me every second and I tolerated his presence. He would always be there whenever I needed him, and he never let me forget that fact. Sedgar's imitation of Master Pelham had triggered something. My armour protected my physical being, but my mind started to destroy itself from within. Master Pelham crawled into my idle thoughts at every chance he could, and when he did it was hard to dispel his touch and his moans of pleasure. No matter how much I reminded myself he was dead, reminded myself I was still fully clothed, I felt him on my skin, inside me, and his taste lingered as I wetted my dry lips. The nights grew longer as I battled him alone, fighting the paranoia to convince myself I wasn't going to wake up tied to the wall. I submersed myself in familiar, habitual training to keep Master Pelham away in my waking hours. I trained until I couldn't sweat anymore and my body grew weary, but I would carry on and ignore the pan. My mind had become a little more focused whilst I was on the northern borders and, once I had brought my strength up to sufficient levels again, my body remembered every technique to ride and shoot as if I hadn’t missed a day. The men I had trained had both improved significantly and developed strange habits I had an obligation to correct, Sedgar and Vyland included. The voluminous contents of strategy books and war tactics continued to test me with their difficult words and long-winded narrative, but I found myself doodling on spare parchment of scenarios to better understand the scriptures. Sometimes people would sit with me and ask me to explain my scrawls meant, and for the most part I complied, so that I could hear my train of thought and bring out the flaws I would have otherwise overlooked. In a bid to better myself, I asked Odessa if she would be willing to help me apply my growing skills on horseback. As being one of 'King Baelis' men', she had the distinct advantage of years of academic training and experience. She seemed delighted to tutor me, and we often rode out to the prairie to practice. I was not the only one who came to realise her tutoring would be useful, and before long the entourage became bigger as others invited themselves along for the training. "It's all about balance.” Odessa picked up the lance from the ground and held it up to me. "If you have a lance in one hand, you need to compensate on the other side to make sure the horse is balanced as well. If you consciously feel yourself being dragged down by the weight, make sure you straighten up otherwise there’s a real chance of falling off and hurting yourself." I nodded. I kept hold of the reigns firmly in my left hand as I leaned over to retrieve the lance from her. The wound on my leg had healed considerably since Zed treated it properly, but from time to time the sudden pain reminded me it was still there. Elle had mentioned in passing I had a natural talent in archery, and given time I could easily master how to shoot on horseback. I needed to be able to wield a cumbersome lance when I needed to, so that I was fully prepared to take both hands off the reigns. "The worst thing that can happen is to fall off the horse," Odessa continued as she made the rounds and issued the next lance to Fraser. "You could get your foot caught in the stirrups and break your ankle, or otherwise put yourself in a dangerous position. What should you do if the horse gets spooked?" I didn't hear who answered Odessa's plausible scenario. I caught Vyland's eye as he strolled into the stable. "You’re late." Vyland waved a hand dismissively in greeting as he went by. Odessa also gave him a fleeting glance as she continued to talk, but I was too distracted by Vyland to take in anything that she was saying. I missed the early days when it had just been me and Sedgar, but it was because of me that he stopped coming. When I started testing out the inventory for our training, I had the unrestrained urge to pick out the faults. It didn’t matter what reached my hands – javelins, steel swords, they were all substandard. Since then, Sedgar used the time I practiced on the field to delve into the armoury and tinker with weapons to make the adjustments I suggested and try to better the ones I hadn’t had the chance to criticise. I watched Vyland slink off to the back of the stables. Although Vyland had resumed Sedgar's place, he was much more relaxed than I could tolerate. He made a beeline towards a particular horse, and I noted Roshea's look of recognition as he held the reigns out. Considering how prepared the horse was, it seemed clear that Roshea had been waiting for some time. I rolled my eyes in disapproval. This wasn't the first time and it was fast getting out of hand. I broke the ranks of nicely lined up soldiers, taking care not to hit anything or anyone with the lance as I went by. "Thanks mate, you're a real lifesaver." Although Vyland had tried to whisper, he was incapable of talking quietly. "Don’t spoil him, Roshea – he needs to learn how to prep his own horse and take responsibility for his lack of timekeeping." Roshea jolted and looked between us. There was an apparent look of guilt in those large eyes of his. "I was just trying to help." I sighed. He didn't need to justify himself; I was no master to him, and neither was Vyland. "And if we suddenly get ambushed, are you going to be able to predict Vyland is going to need his horse then? He has a pair of hands; he's just being a lazy git." "Ouch Wolf, I'm right here," Vyland retorted as he prepared to mount. What was I doing? What duty did I owe either of them? I should have left Vyland to it, see the error of his ways by the master's hand. Everyone else had to learn the hard way; Coyote was our master, and yet why didn't he raise a hand to those who were negligent in their training? Why didn't he punish those who didn't pull their weight? Why did he feed the sloppy ones on equal terms with the hardworking ones? I lowered my gaze as I gripped the reigns tighter. This way of life would never make sense. "If there's an emergency, then yes I know the theory and I can do it myself," Vyland reassured me as he brought his huge frame onto the horse's back. "I just get a bit carried away talking to people en route, and Roshea always has my back." I blinked slowly. I certainly knew that Vyland had a tendency of getting sidetracked, but I had my doubts he could adeptly prepare his mount quickly in the state of an emergency. If he didn't do the routine the same as everyone else, he didn't have the valuable experience to be at the same speed as everyone else. And yet...why was I so worked up about it? Was any of this my problem? Roshea managed a strained nod as he picked up a heavy lance next and held it up for Vyland. "I help out because I don't want you to fall behind." He rocked on his feet slightly as he turned to look at me. "If you don't want me to though, I won't." He waited until he was relieved of the lance before he blurted out something he had been holding back for a while. "But, um, if it's not too much trouble, can I watch?" "No – you'll get in the way," I said before Vyland could manage a word edgeways. I raised my arm slightly to get a better grip on the lance. "I'll try not to be," he said rather dejectedly. He fingered his sleeve, fidgeting as he struggled to find the right words. "I'll stay to the sides and I won't distract you. You know I've worked with horses all my life, so I can help as an observer." Vyland quirked an eyebrow. "I actually agree with Wolf; you're only a kid. We can't keep an eye on you and train at the same time." Roshea pouted. "I'm eighteen. I know how to keep safe." "Well, you probably do," Vyland agreed sheepishly, "but that doesn't change the fact we'll need to make sure you're not doing anything stupid. Plus there's a lot of stupid and reckless riders to watch out for. Like me." The clinking of bridles and the dull sound of hooves on soil made me look up. I couldn't see Odessa anymore, but she was presumably taking the helm as the soldiers started to file out the stable. They all knew what the training had in store; I had been severely penalised due to Vyland's distracting entrance. It was at that point I realised I no longer cared. Every second I wasted here was expending energy better used for training. I didn’t have time for idle chatter or petty fights any longer, and I wasn't going to get dragged down by this. I dug my heels into the horse's side and encouraged it to follow the rest of its kind. I was barely out the stable before Vyland caught up with me with a big grin on his face. "That sneaky kid had already prepared his horse and everything. What are we going to do with him?"
  13. Wow, it means so much that you're all still reading...! Thank you :3 Sorry the other one took so long to update - the weekends got a bit manic and before I knew it it's nearly August! I do have a 3 week holiday at the end of August, so there definitely won't be any updates then. When all is said and done, I'll have a better idea what fate to give everyone :) The possibilities are endless, which is part of the problem...
  14. Chapter 21: Howl My resilience to survive was both a blessing and a curse. Every time I lulled myself to sleep to forget the pain in my right leg, it felt like no time had passed at all by the time I woke, with one side of my body buried in the snow and the other shivering from the merciless winds. The wound healed each time I took a break, but opened up all over again without fail the instant I applied weight on it. The mantle I had stolen was only a temporary source of warmth; my shoulders still remained high and close to my neck and my digits continued to become clawed and blue. Even in Ornello's absence, the wolves didn't come for me and not a further soul came to rob me of what little possessions I had. I could barely keep my eyes open as I ploughed on, forcing myself to the limits. I kept my mind focused on my master, determined to realise my selfish desire to be by his side. My stomach continuously complained as I kept starvation at bay and each footfall grew increasingly heavier. My teeth and tongue had a permanent aftertaste of dirty snow, the only source of water in an otherwise lonely world. My mind too grew weary from the desolate landscape and lack of energy, forming cruel illusions and leering shadows in the thickets. The wind seemed to talk to me, saying one word to warn me of my next obstacle. I pushed my back onto the nearest tree, so I could only be attacked frontally. One hand reached for my sword, but I wouldn't be able to defend myself even if I could see the wolves coming. I managed a few deep breaths before I felt its teeth on my shoulders. "Hey, pull yourself together." More teeth grabbed hold of my hand, keeping the sword firmly in its sheath. Strangely it didn't hurt, and once I made the connection my assaulter was actually human, I dared to take a look. Zed could have passed as a few decades older; snow was entwined within his black strands and over his tired eye. Only once he could feel my hand relax underneath his thick glove did he delve into his satchel and wordlessly pass a flask to me. I begrudgingly took the water from him. Whilst I had gotten by on snow, the first sip was a rush of pure and uncontaminated fluid, and once I started to drink it was a struggle to restrain myself. I had grown so used to the tangy aftertaste and salt I had forgotten what water was meant to be. My eyes accidentally met with his, and I found myself looking down guiltily at the nearly empty flask. His next words were not what I expected. "Come back with us." I didn't dare look up. It had been so long since I had left Aurelis it had been a memory I struggled to recall. I had left with no intention of returning, and Elle, being the last one to see me, would surely have known that too. I couldn't recall her precise warnings of death, but I left that stable regardless and of my own vindication. Even if Zed wanted me to return to Aurelis, I couldn't stop here. I didn't belong where he did, out on the prairie basking in the dying flames of sunset. There was nothing in Aurelis for me now; I was going back to where I ought to be. I had to press on and fulfil the only duty that gave meaning to my existence. "I can't." The words left me forcefully and I had forgotten the sound of my own voice in the long days of solitude. "I have to keep going." Zed didn't say anything, but he looked over his shoulder. I followed his gaze and noticed yet another familiar face on the snowy plains. Sedgar hovered awkwardly by the horses the pair had presumably rode in pursuit, eying me with mixed emotions I couldn't quite pinpoint. His usually composed self was rigid, his shoulders set back squarely as he willed himself not to approach me. His chin was raised slightly as he faced the gales head on. "Listen, those bandits were child's play. At this rate, it won't be long until the dragons find you," Zed continued carefully. I drew my leg back slightly as he evaluated my wound. I hadn't mentioned anything about my encounter - was that how they found me? "They have a keen sense of smell, particularly of blood. You're strong, but even you wouldn't be a match against them. You'll die within days." I kept my gaze on Sedgar, avoiding Zed's point entirely. "Why did you come?" Sedgar gave a cruel laugh, one that effortlessly cut through the frozen air. "To be honest, I'm starting to wonder as well. I genuinely thought I was going to find you dead in a ditch, or we'd have to make the horrible choice whether to abandon the search before we put ourselves in danger. Clearly I was worried about nothing, since you're doing a grand job being an ungrateful jerk." I got onto my feet, swatting away Zed's arm as he tried to force me down again. I wouldn't have been surprised if the wound opened up like it had so many times before from the sudden movement, but I didn't care. "I guess we're not good enough for you, are we? No one can love you as much as your precious master, right? That's why you're running back to him - it's the only thing you're good at." He folded his arms across his chest. "You're never going to find him, you know. You're wasting your time out here." "I'll find him," I said tersely. The mutual feeling of tension resurfaced between us, as if I had never left Aurelis at all. There was something about his mannerisms and very presence that added to my intolerance. "And what then?" Sedgar challenged. Sedgar shook his head and finally approached me. He didn't say anything until he was right up to me. I could see the snow that caught on his eyelashes, the redness of his cheeks that contrasted with his pale lips. He purposefully shoved me by the shoulder, forcing me to take a step back. "Coyote banished Master Pelham out here for a reason. No one's meant to survive out here! He was dead long before you went on your stupid suicide mission! When are you going to realise that, you stupid idiot?" I couldn't find anything to say back. At the back of my mind, I had briefly considered the fact that he was already gone. It was the logical thing to believe, but I had put faith above that. Knowing he was alive was ultimately what kept me going. If he had really died before I went to look for him, that made me liable for his death. I should have ran to his side earlier - perhaps he would still be alive now. If I had resisted Coyote more, could Master Pelham's fate have been averted? "Still, it's good riddance really," Sedgar said nonchalantly. "He was a terror to Aurelis, taking everything that took his fancy simply because he could. Scum like him deserve to die, and Coyote did us all a favour. I'm sure the dragons enjoyed the meal; all that meat with a side dish of ego." Sedgar turned on his heel. "He didn't do any good and no one would miss a man as vile as him." I don't know how Sedgar ended up on the ground or how I came crashing down on him not long after. Where his unprepared body had cushioned my fall, the snow had mercifully cushioned his. I grabbed Sedgar by the scruff of his high neck and pulled him towards me. His scar poked into view, but I kept my gaze locked with Sedgar's as I drew my arm back. He turned his cheek before impact, and I mildly hesitated. I tightened my grip on his collar as I looked down at myself. His limbs were splayed out so artistically, so flawlessly vulnerable. I held the power, my full body weight keeping my prey pinned to the ground. Where my eyes should have looked back up in blank submission, Sedgar's were alive with fire and defiance. "Go on then, what are you waiting for?" My first strike came down weakly and grazed his nose, and Sedgar sneered at my weak display of violence. "Is that all you've got?" Like the water that Zed had offered me, the subsequent blows came down more naturally and ferociously. I didn't want to see those eyes judging me, and I hammered down every time before he could reset his head to its original position. His face gradually became more battered and my fist screamed in agony, but he still continued to talk as he always did. "You're the bastard child of that deplorable man. He could have killed the pair of you, burying the humiliation and shame along with your mother's corpse, but no; that would have been far too easy. Instead he gave you both a fate worse than death: life." "Shut up!" Even with his bottom lip bleeding, Sedgar continued to laugh to disguise the pain. "You were punished simply for existing. You were despicable, lower than anything or everything else! You weren't even worth a name, just a filthy rat surviving on scraps in the basement. That sick man reminded you every second you were less than nothing, violating you a little more each day. And even when he was satisfied, he carried on to see whether you could take it. He made you spend every day repenting simply for being alive." "Lies!" My fingers were in danger of snapping in the cold, but my body continued to strike Sedgar rhythmically. "He looked after me when no one else did!" "Your fate was sealed! You were his possession from the very start, a sick play toy! Your own father branded you, all so that he could raise and nurture the perfect slave. I bet you thought that brand on your back was a gift, didn't you? You're already an accessory; why not have something to prove it?" "Shut up!" I brought both my hands to my head, trying to block out the words that Sedgar shouted at me. He couldn't possibly understand me, but his words bypassed reason. My heart pounded heavily in my throat, and every deliberate syllable Sedgar hurled at me amplified. It hurt so badly at the pit of my stomach, but logic wouldn't explain why it did. This was worse than anything I'd been through. Where I used to know how to think or what to do to ease the suffering, I had no idea how to channel this overbearing pain. What did I have to do to make it stop? Why did it hurt so much? "You know the best bit? He succeeded; you're precisely everything he wanted: helpless, dependable and goddamn weak!" "Don't...I..." My pleas were drowned by Sedgar's ever increasing insults. "You're pathetic! You were raised a slave and you didn't even realise! The whole of your 27 years have been spent doing that man's bidding, kissing his boots and ironing his tails; did you really think he kept you because he cared? You were a mistake, a good-for-nothing rat unworthy of basic human rights. He didn't love you; he loved the slave he had created. He could kick you round until you were unconscious, molest you until you wanted to die and you'd still stay by him! You enjoyed that sick lifestyle, didn't you? You miss waking up to the stench of your sweat and mess, don't you? Wouldn't it be great to feel his nails round your neck again, his tongue half way down your throat?" "Stop it!" I had given the perfect ammunition, and I realised my mistake too late. Master Pelham sneered as he raised one arm to grab the back of my head. I gave a cry as he forced my head down, half expecting him to then toss me to one side or for the ring to catch onto the strands of hair. "Did he used to hold you like this?" he continued to gloat as he pushed himself into a sitting position. His other hand played with the toggles of the mantle. "Did he undress you or did you do that yourself? Did he compliment your beautiful eyes, rounded backside, those glorious purple bruises he inflicted on you? What did he whisper in your ear - promises of taking care of you perhaps, or a wonderful future together for eternity?" My head fell into his chest as I screamed incomprehensible sounds that caught at my throat. The memories I had tried so hard to bury resurfaced, and my skin crawled as I felt his rough fingers over me. Words no longer formed, drowning out whatever else tried to break me from within. The warped cries reached my frostbitten ears, but it may as well have been someone else. The longer I howled, the more desperately I clung onto anything I could grip within reach. Hair, fabric, I couldn't feel the difference and tears blurred what vision I had. I couldn't breathe. I could exhale, but every breathe I drew in was a wave of absolutely nothing. Why was I hurting so badly? Sedgar brought both of his arms around my back, tilting my head into the curve of his strong chest. He kept a firm hold of me even though I only howled louder. He gently rocked my shaking body, enticing me to scream myself hoarse from the anguish. Every emotion I had buried to guarantee my survival, every thought I discarded to get through the day, everything I chose to suppress was suddenly out in the open. I had never been so humiliated, but my shoulders continued to shake uncontrollably. It was only as my choked inhales became less ragged that I could hear Sedgar's heartbeat below the mass of clothing, steady but fast. I tried to breathe in time to calm myself. "I'm sorry," Sedgar murmured at last, and he said it so softly I knew that he was back to his usual self. "It was the only way to get you to open up. You're such a proud fool you won't admit anything, not even to yourself." I bit my lower lip as I gripped onto his front tighter. We had been avoiding each other for so long I had forgotten his sincerity and voice of reason. I hadn't realised how much I missed him. My chest rose as the tears threatened to come down all over again. "I'm so sorry Wolf, for everything," he said again. His voice seemed strained, and his breathing became more heavy. "You, of all people, didn't deserve any of this. They're years of your life that can't be undone and years that will be with you forever. But I promised on the day we met that I'd never give up on you. I'll always be there to support you, no matter what. If it gets too much, let me share your burden. I'm not going anywhere." I closed my eyes out of exhaustion and made a small sound of acknowledgement. I didn't dare reply, for my throat was still sore and would distort anything I wanted to say. Sedgar brought me closer to his chest, yet I felt none of the discomfort or desensitisation I adopted when Master Pelham touched me. In fact, it was strangely comfortable being in his arms, sheltered from the frozen winds. "Master Pelham's death isn't your fault. That part of your life is finally over; there's no one left to serve. You need to look forwards and build your life on a clean slate. A life you deserve, full of friends who love you and happy memories worth keeping. So please...stop looking for him, Wolf."
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