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Cigarettes and Fireflies - Printable Version

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Cigarettes and Fireflies - Roen - 09-13-2017 11:30 AM

Twenty-seven years ago…

The battle was over.

Dark red blood dripped from the end of his greatsword as the booming horn sounded in the distance.

Chagur Jhungid stared at the Xaela that lay writhing on the ground before him, his hand grasping the shoulder where his arm had been severed. Lifeblood spurted angrily from where it should have been, and Chagur knew the fighter was not long for this world.

He had decided at the last minute to relieve the Kharlu warrior of his sword rather than his head, but it had only really bought his opponent a few more breaths to gaze upon his killer, as death’s oblivion came for him. A pity that it had been only seconds later that the battle was declared won. Chagur did not yet know which side was victorious, only that the time for fighting was over. Had he faced this adversary in the middle of the field, perhaps then a healer could reach him in time to save his life. But they were partly separated by large boulders jutting upwards from the ground, where the warrior had retreated to seek higher advantage against Chagur. It would be to no avail.

Neither the Jhunghid nor the Kharlu believed as the Dotharl did, that they would return once more to this world in another body. The life lost on the battlefield would be their final end. It would be their ultimate sacrifice for the glory of their people.

It used to fuel his blood, the impending peril as he faced his enemies, year after year. But as Chagur looked around the battlefield, the bloodied bodies that were littering the landscape no longer represented a scene of a glorious courage. As the cries of feral brutality and agony still echoed through the air, he knew that it would soon be followed by sounds of wailing mothers and lovers, as they came to claim those they have lost.

The tip of the greatsword lowered to the ground, as the fallen Kharlu warrior drew his last breath, and his movements stopped. A large crimson pool surrounded his body, as it slowly seeped into the soil that would wear the stain for many suns.

“May the Mother guide you beyond this life,” Chagur prayed quietly.

It was then that a searing pain ripped through his gut, robbing him of his breath. Only upon seeing the speartip protruding out from his stomach, did he realize too late that he had lowered his guard. The battle had been declared over, although never before had he been foolish enough to assume that the rest abided by it as he did. Many eager young warriors often sought out one last strike against their embittered enemy.

Chagur spun around at the same time the spear withdrew, one hand reflexively going to the wound to slow the bleeding there. It was not a fatal wound yet, and he would only need to defend himself for a little longer, before his tribe’s healers would be able to spot him. All he needed was to strike down the spear wielder.

But when he looked upon his adversary, something made him pause. It was a vision, for surely it was not possible to see the face that flashed before him now, here, on the battlefield. In a blink of an eye the ghostly visage of a woman faded, leaving that of a fearsome male Xaela instead. Chagur's arm lost but a second with his hesitation, his greatsword falling short of a strike that would have cut across his enemy’s chest. The massive Kharlu warrior leaped back out of reach in that half-heartbeat of a moment, then lunged again with his weapon. And this time, the spear found its mark.

Chagur saw his own blood spray out of his mouth as he fell to his knees, then fell back, limbs heavy, onto the dirt. He felt his own lifeblood leave his body in great pulsing gouts, as his killer stepped forward to loom over him.

Once more the vision returned even as darkness fell. There were the golden eyes that were so familiar and comforting.

As his last breath left him, Chagur could imagine in the distance, her cries of sorrow. He prayed to the Mother to watch over her even as death’s oblivion took him.

Over twenty years ago…

“You dare walk out on me, Chanai?”

Temulun’s voice was booming, and it shook Chanai to the bone. She was convinced that his rage echoed well beyond his yurt, although none dared to enter the abode for the fear of his wrath.

Chanai forced her back to straighten as she turned toward him, her golden eyes rising to meet that of her brother’s. While their pale yet warmly-hued gaze made them easily recognizable as kin by blood, that is where their similarities ended. Chanai was a slight figure with black hair and slender horns slicked backwards, whereas Temulun was one of the tallest of the males, with thick onyx horns that jutted forward. His frame was that of a chiseled warrior, and he wore his battle garment with strength befitting his formidable size. Where she mended wounds and soothed pain, he excelled in the martial arts, relishing especially in killing and violence. He was a highly valued member of the Kharlu for his battle prowess, as anything that gave the tribe advantage over their nemesis, the Jhungid, was given much reverence.

None dared cross Temulun Kharlu, especially those of his blood. So when he came upon his sister’s carefully packed stash of supplies, containing cured meats, jars of preserved fruits and dried herbs, he had confirmation that his long held suspicion was true. That his sister had planned to leave the tribe that had been their home for all their lives. And Chanai could see that he could barely contain his anger, and not strike her where she stood. Even when she did not deny his accusation.

“I cannot abide by our ways any longer, brother,” she said quietly. She was surprised when she heard her own voice, calm and steady. She had to do this, for her child. “I cannot stay here.”

Temulun’s nostrils were flared and his lips downturned with loathing. The flickering flames within the tent threw fearsome shadows upon his visage; but his pale eyes remained lit within his dark silhouette and pierced her through like a spear. “You never had the heart for our way of life. You were born a whimpering whelp. If it was not for me, you would have been relegated to caring for the newest captives, as their wet nurse.” He spat on the ground. “Instead you are a respected curer amongst the tribe. And this is not good enough for you?”

Chanai clenched her fist at her side, her chin tilting upward. “You had nothing to do with the work I’ve done. You have never worked to preserve a life nor heal what was broken. All you aspire to do is soak the land in blood in the name of Kharlu.” And bask in the glory, she wanted to add. The tribe had their own ideals on why they continued to fight their nemesis, why the yearly war was necessary. But she knew better of her brother. It was a means to quench his thirst for what he enjoyed the most: seeing his enemies fall at his feet.

She would not have her child grow up under such influence; Nabi would not take part in the Kharlu’s warring way of life. Her daughter would not know the depths of the sorrow for a love lost.

A hiss of breath through his gritted teeth warned Chanai that her brother’s temper was nearly at its peak. She could feel her heart pounding against her chest, but she dared not move. She wanted to take flight, like a rabbit who had just caught a wolf’s scent upwind. But she knew if she were to flee now, her brother would draw his weapon and cut her down.

The silence that fell between them was nearly suffocating. He took a step toward her, standing three fulms above her head. His fingers opened and closed, hovering next to the short sword that hung by his belt.

“Go,” rose a rumble from Temulun’s chest. His fingers had stopped moving. “Leave my sight and never return.” Disgust ran thick in his voice. “I will no longer see you as my blood. You will be a traitor. A deserter.”

A stuttered breath left Chanai’s lips, and the woman had to hold herself from collapsing to the ground in relief. She took a slow step back, then another, from the menacing frame that was her brother. She had to be sure he would not change her mind and unsheath his blade when her back was turned. When he remained still as stone, she gave him a bow. “My thanks to you, brother. You will never see me again.” She turned, ready to flee the tent as fast as her feet would take her.

“On one condition.” Temulun’s voice cut through the heavy night air. “Leave the child.”

That froze Chanai in an instant. The hand that was reaching for the entrance dropped to her side, and the woman turned, new fire in her eyes. “Nabi is my daughter.”

“She belongs to the Kharlu. Even if she carries the tainted blood of her sire.” Temulun’s hand was now resting on the hilt of his sword, his expression twisting into one of triumph. Even in this, he would claim his spoils. Chanai was caught speechless at the revelation that his brother had known about Nabi’s father. It was a secret she had never dared to share with anyone.

“And you still let me live? All these years?” Chanai whispered hoarsely, seeing her brother in a new light. She had never suspected such familial loyalty.

Temulun sneered, his grin gleaming and frightening as it split a white fissure across his dark face. “Half of her carries their blood, and yet she is of Kharlu. She is mine. You tell me, who is the victor?”

Of course. Chanai quickly chided herself for suspecting any pity from her brother. It is not about loyalty. It is about power. It always has been.

She felt all of her muscles tense, and the Xaela stood there rigid as her thoughts whirled with turmoil and grim determination. She lowered her head, her hands clasping in front of her. “If I leave her, you would let me go? You will not hunt me down?”

Temulun nodded once but firmly. “I will grant you this one mercy. Dusk Mother would weep should I would raise blade against my own kin so easily. But your cowardice will not make two deserters of our blood. Carry your own sins with you into the wind. I will see that she bears none of your crime.” Some of his wrath had faded, his voice now only rumbled like distant thunder.

“And you swear, you will take good care of her?” Chanai felt herself tremble again, as did her voice.

“I swear by the Mother.”

Chanai clenched her fists so tightly by her side that she nearly drew blood. She bowed again, deeply from her waist. “Be the father to her that she never had, Temulun. Farewell.” She stifled a sob and spun around, running out of his yurt. Her brother did not stop her.

She sprinted to her tent, paying no heed to anyone else staring at her. Loud rebukes coming from her brother’s yurt were not unusual, as was the scene of his sister retreating from it in tears. Others would let her be, and would allow solitary meditation for at least the rest of the night.

The fabric to the tent’s entrance was thrown open as she rushed in. She immediately went to all of the little packets that she had been hiding away in different places within her yurt. He had found the largest collection but not all of them. Not the small mementos like a carefully woven bracelet of gold and silver threads, and not the spare clothes that only a child could wear.

Chanai had never explicitly lied to her brother before. She knew he believed her; that she would leave Nabi behind. But he knew nothing of true love. Else he would know that her life mattered not if she could not save that of her daughter.

Chanai would leave the Kharlu that night. With her young sleeping daughter in tow. Even if it meant a death sentence upon her head for the rest of her life.

RE: Cigarettes and Fireflies - Roen - 09-15-2017 03:40 PM

The dark lid of the ceramic pot was slightly lifted, golden eyes peering carefully at the contents within. A puff of steam greeted her nose first as the pressure trapped within was released, and Nabi could see the bed of green pollen seeds still bobbing up and down in the water. She set the lid back down over the pot, and bent to add a few more pieces of wood to the flame burning below it.

“Do any of your potions ever have an agreeable scent?”

Nabi turned from her small fire pit to the Hingan woman who had entered, a tray of teapot and cups in hand. The Xaela rose from her worktable and retrieved two silk cushions that were piled in the corner, setting them down on the bamboo floor next to the table set in the middle of the room. She lowered herself into a seat and patted the silk cushion next to her for Mimiyo. She gave the Hyur a bright smile in greeting, as the older woman sat and poured herself and the Xaela a steaming cup of tea.

“It is buckwheat tea,” the Hingan asserted, although she frowned as soon as she took a sniff of the aroma pervading the room. “Not that you can smell it over your concoction there.”

Nabi gave a small roll to her shoulders with a sheepish curl to her lips. “You’d think it odd, since the chaochu themselves have a flowery scent.” She paused before bringing the cup to her lips. “Did you know they can move very quietly?”

Mimiyo shook her head and tsked at her as she took a leisurely sip of her tea. “Why do you bother going with those people you hire? You can give them pictures of what you need, and then have them earn their coin by letting them do what they do.”

“You remember what the last Roegadyn warrior did? The mangled mess he brought back?” Nabi rolled her eyes to the ceiling with a dramatic sigh. “It was such a waste. Hardly anything was useable.”

The Hingan narrowed her eyes in disapproval as she took another sip of the tea. “At least the last two hirelings brought you back in one piece, but you looked like a pig who had rolled all day in the mud! Did they have you wrestle one yourself in the rain?”

Nabi paused before answering the question with her brightest and toothiest grin, then took another hurried sip of the buckwheat tea. To that, Mimiyo pursed her lips in scrutiny, and many lines appeared around her eyes and forehead. “And the foreigner that has visited the stall more than once…” the woman began with another cluck of her tongue. “Is he still working for you now or--”

“Oh!” Nabi exclaimed, setting her cup down hastily. Her eyes were affixed to the window and the grey skies that had descended with the arrival of twilight. “Can you watch the pot and make sure it does not overflow? I will not be long!”

Mimiyo did not bother to continue, for the young female quickly rose to her feet even before her plea was answered. She straightened her robe and hurried to her shoes, just giving the elder Hingan a quick bow as she headed on out. The Hyur rolled her eyes, but a hint of amusement lightened the woman’s aged visage. It was still the same, even in her twenties, the Xaela’s love of certain things had never diminished.

“When the darkness falls, do not be scared. Look for the fireflies, and you will not be alone.”

Nabi sat upon the bench, her eyes searching the dimming skies. She released a breath into the night air as, one by one, they appeared: tiny motes of light, blinking idly as they flitted about. She could imagine some of them spinning and dancing, swooping low toward their reflection on the koi pond as if to show off their skills.

Then one firefly descended just in front of her nose, hovering there as if to study lantern’s light that reflected off of her pale eyes. Nabi exhaled with a smile and lifted a single finger, upon which the tiny glowing critter landed, and stretched its wings. Its body still pulsed with a soothing green light, as if pleased by the attention of the Xaela woman.

A smile found its way to her lips as she brought her hand closer, slowly and carefully as to not scare the perched visitor. Her eyes narrowed as she continued to marvel at the shy yet radiant little thing. It always took her back to the first time she had laid her eyes on them. It was just after nightfall, when the tall blades of grass swayed and rippled like the sea across the plains of the Azim Steppe. She had been crying, afraid and alone, waiting for her mother to return. At first, when the lights appeared all around her, she thought that the moon itself had dusted the fields. But when she blinked her tears away, she saw the countless fireflies rising up from the waves of the meadows and quickly her sniffles gave way to a sigh of wonder.

It’s been twenty years since. But even now, in the tranquil embrace of the city like Kugane, watching fireflies emerge to begin their nightly dance always brought her a measure of peace and joy. And it was that feeling that she wanted to share when she had brought Tserende here just a few nights ago.

He had commented on the peaceful nature of it, but remained a restrained observer. She recalled him suggesting how she should try and enjoy it more, rather than taking in the beauty for himself.

Such a serious fellow, she reflected. Ever courteous but with a certain discerning way about him.

Still. There were cracks in that wall of indifference that surrounded him, and she had been fortunate enough to get a few peeks in. Nabi could not help but chuckle though, recalling those moments where certain looks would rise upon his face: when either he was giving her a skeptical eye or a wary glance, or that “wet cat” expression whenever the rain started to fall from the sky.

“Can you make certain that the skies are free of rainclouds the next time we meet?” Nabi whispered into her palm, upon which the firefly responded with a slightly brighter twinkle. She smiled wide and raised her hand, her winged friend taking flight toward the heavens with her wish. She watched it spin and twirl, before joining the rest of its kin and the glimmering landscape.

She spent another blissful bell of watching the skies slowly darken, countless stars also making their appearance to illuminate the night. Then something began to tug in the corner of her mind, as if she had forgotten something. Something important.

Nabi’s eyes slowly widened. The chaochu pollen distillation! She bolted to her feet in a panic. Oh, the scent of it would be thick in her clinic! Would Mimiyo still be there after all this time? A shameful wince twisted the Xaela’s face as she could already imagine the exasperation etched clear on the Hingan woman’s visage. Dusting off what grass lingered on her robe, she darted down the street, veering toward Kugane Dori.

Perhaps... the gift of a tempura platter would ease the woman’s ire upon her return.

RE: Cigarettes and Fireflies - Chrysanthemum - 09-21-2017 09:26 PM

2 years ago...

Bitter, unforgiving wind swept through the courtyard of the small estate grounds. It cut through even the heaviest of furs and jackets, sapping any semblance of warmth the bodies beneath the attire may have hoped to cherish. Winter was a harsh and perilous time of year, sparing no mercy to any foolhardy enough to travel through it. Harsh conditions tend to instill a harsher temperament in things, some people say. Tserende agreed with them, some of the dreams which plagued his sleep a stark reminder of that fact.

It didn't take long for him to recognize which dream his mind had conjured for him on this particular night. He could sense it, deep in the pit of his stomach, that familiar churning and sickening queasiness. For all the life of him, Tserende would give everything to wake up. He knew well by this point he was dreaming, told himself to wake up. Yet, here he was all the same, enraptured, ensnared, a captive audience to the scene he was all too familiar with. It was nothing if not memorable, even if it were for all the wrong reasons.

Tserende tried several times to rouse himself from his fitful slumber. With little success for his shoddy attempts, he resigned himself to the experience unfolding before him. He could hear shouting echoing from across the courtyard he found himself in. The noise carried easily across the stone ground, echoing off of the stone ground and ice slicked pillars.  The number of voices all talking over one another made it difficult to discern any purpose to the ruckus. After a moment of careful listening however, he was able to pick one familiar sound from the rest. Constantine's voice, calm and resolute, was a stark contrast to the others.

Tserende had known the older man, Constantine, ever since he was a young boy. He was, for all intents and purposes, Tserende's father even though they had no relation by blood. The man had taught him everything he knew after taking him in and providing him a place to call home. Things had become a bit precarious of late, and this was only one of the symptoms of such. The anxiety and uncertainty in the air had only become more obvious as Tserende rose to station alongside Constantine. A by-product of success.

The situation seemed to be rapidly approaching its boiling point, however, which was something that Tserende had not been expecting. Despite the many times Constantine had warned and cautioned him of this exact thing happening. The resigned tone of Constantine's voice cut like a razor's edge through the still, cold air.

"No. I will not."

The older man's voice was firm, resolute and deep. The sound of metal hissing the confines of leather was accompanied by the sound of someone sneering.

"You brought this on yourself, then. I tried to be civil and accommodating." A voice spoke in reply to Constantine. One of the guard's to the head of the estate, Tserende recognized. A sick, sinking feeling began to take root in the pit of his stomach. He ducked his head around the pillar briefly to catch a glimpse of the scene, and saw them all there. Constantine was surrounded by a semi-circle of four men, each with swords drawn and held at the ready, cornering the man in the courtyard. It was a grim, and hopeless sight.

As Tserende stared at the ordeal for a moment, he managed to catch Constantine's gaze. The man gave him a pointed, knowing look, before stepping forward into the four men in front of him with a heavy swipe of the blade he kept slung over shoulder. It was time to go. Tserende  let a last, lingering gaze pass over the scene before he turned to slink off, before any of them took notice of him. He wouldn't have much time to gather his belongings and slip from the grounds. The damp, wet sound of blood spattering across the cold ground follow him out as he departed.


2 weeks ago...

When Tserende woke with a start, he found himself coated in a light layer of sweat. A shiver passed through his body as he stirred, prompting him to raise a hand. Lifting to his neck, he found the locket kept around his neck, and curled his fingers around the dull metal. The ground was cold under foot as he swung himself from the bed to rise, though it was refreshing in an odd sense. The cool evening breeze that blew in from the open window in his room was a welcome touch, helping to ease him awake. He knew he wouldn't be seeing any more rest for the evening, despite the early hour. Fortunately, early rising was something Tserende had long since become accustomed to. The view of Kugane at this late, dark hour was a pleasant sight as well.

Producing a cigarette from his bedside stand, Tserende took a spot against the window. Observing the passage of people below helped his late night ruminations. It also helped to calm his mind after those sorts of dreams. Dreams which tended to leave his thoughts stirring like a hive of hornets.

At the very least, he had one thing to look forward to once the sun had finally risen over the horizon. He has promised to take Nabi out flying over the sea, to help her become more accustomed to that mode of transport. It only made sense, seeing as she was more often than not being ferried back and forth by him. Despite all the strangeness and discomfort he felt from being in a land so different from his home, her company brought him some amount of comfort. That comfort seemed to bring with it its own host of concerns, though. Such as the questions she had begun to ask.

She's starting to become curious. He thought to himself. She isn't going to like what she finds, when she starts digging.

The thought brought a frown to his face, lips twisting into a foul grimace. The thought of driving her away, intentionally or otherwise, was disheartening. His cigarette burned bright in the dark evening, a tiny spark of orange and red. He exhaled, sending a cloud of pale smoke from his window into the city below.

I don't want to lie to her.

Maybe I should, though.

RE: Cigarettes and Fireflies - Roen - 09-23-2017 10:23 AM

Nabi gently plucked one mushroom from the bubbling water, bringing it to her nose. She sniffed it twice before setting it down on onto a wire rack. They are ready. She grabbed a thick folded dishtowel nearby and lifted the pot, removing it from the firepit. She eyed the contents within, as the thin white mushrooms swirled and spun in the steaming water like koi at feeding time. She set the precious cargo down onto a placemat.

She rose from her worktable to go light the lanterns within the room, for the sun had set and nightfall had arrived. The door to the clinic opened, and Mimiyo poked her head in. She sniffed the air once.

“No brewing today?” The Hingan’s tone was one of surprise. It was true, there was rarely a sun that passed where Nabi wasn’t working on one concoction or another.

“I’ve been at it all sun, truth be told.” Nabi gestured to the pot that was set to cool. “But these mushrooms don’t have a scent.”

Mimiyo stepped in, her hands clasped behind her back as she approached the table to study the contents there. “It’s dusk and you are not even going outside. What are you working on?”

Nabi spun around after lighting the last lantern, with a grin that grew from ear to ear. “They are special mushrooms called shibiretake. One of the rarest, I’ve only read of it before. It is said that they are only grown by a few enclaves of monks in secret, in the peaks of mountains I will never see.”

The Hingan woman lifted her brows. “Oh? And how did you get such a scarce thing?”

There was a moment’s hesitation, as Nabi pressed her lips together---a look that did not go amiss by Mimiyo. She crossed her arms with a pointed and expectant look, already silently chastising her even before hearing the answer.

“I… might have gone to a... black market of sorts,” Nabi murmured. “Now before you start scolding me for it, I am fine! Obviously!” She spread her arms wide in display as if to reassure her. “I knew they had things I would never otherwise come across anywhere else. And I was right!”

Mimiyo tsked, clear disapproval on her face. “Those markets are no place for someone like you, Nabi. Criminals, thieves, and who knows what else run rampant in such places! Kami be thanked that you came out of it unscathed!”

“You can thank Tserende for it,” Nabi crossed her arms, defiant. “I was not foolish enough to go alone, after all.”

The Hingan looked even less pleased, her eyes narrowing into slits. “That’s the foreign mercenary that you hired. You entrusted your safety to him? Have you’ve been keeping his company often these suns?”

Nabi bit her lower lip as she gave the woman a small shrug. “And what if I have? He is a good man.”

Mimiyo clucked her tongue. “How much do you know about him? He’s a sellsword! And a foreigner. You shouldn’t trust that lot.”

“He is most considerate,” Nabi immediately objected, her tone sharper than usual. “If it weren’t for him, I would not even have these mushrooms. He insisted on keeping me company at the market because he knew, better than I, what to expect.” She frowned only momentarily, but her expression eased as she continued. “He is generous, and funny too. I think you would like him. But most of all… I trust him.”

The Hingan regarded her for a long moment, her arms still crossed. But soon the lines around the corners of her eyes softened. “Is he the reason you have been even more merrier than usual?”

“Have I?” The Xaela blinked, and her hand went to her cheek as she began to feel some warmth there. She did not bother to hide the smile that rose. “Perhaps.”

“Hm,” Mimiyo said, her eyes once more narrowing critically. “Well, you will have to tell me all about it then.” The woman spun back to the door. “When I return with tea.” She raised a finger to silence any protest that might arise as she left.

Nabi sank to a cushion on the ground, letting out a long exhale.

Did you tell her I am a decent man?” Tserende’s voice rose in her mind as she recalled that they had spoken about this very thing. That both Mimiyo and Yoshinari had been curious about the foreign Hyur who had been seen at the stall more than once. Nabi had made a joke to him in reply, but in truth, she wanted to say he was much more than just decent.

She suddenly felt nervous as she imagined what she would tell Mimiyo. She and Yoshinari were the closest thing to family she had.

"Do you have anyone you call kin?" she remembered asking Tserende.

"I do not, no. I lived on the grounds of my last employer, before I was inclined to leave. I had since I was very young." His answers were very matter-of-fact; there was no hint of self pity or bitterness for what seemed like a hard and lonely life. But that was always the way it seemed with him. He always had a objective and unflappable air about him, even when he spoke of hardships of his home. So when she found out from Kiyokage that Tserende was mentoring him in techniques that potentially drew upon dangerous parts of the mind, his perspective was pragmatic, but reserved.

Mundane martial prowess only takes one so far. I'm not an accomplished user of the other typical measures to enhance or further my capabilities. I'm not an accomplished healer. I had to find something to preserve myself with, and this is what I was left with. I make do with what I can. Besides, I haven't gotten myself skewered thus far. That counts for something, yes?"

Nabi suspected that Tserende downplayed the risk of it all, for her sake. It was more likely that Kiyokage was more accurate in hinting at how truly dangerous it could all be. And even he, for all his bluntness, had not told her everything.

This was definitely something that she was not ready to share with Mimiyo. Nabi was not even sure she fully understood it herself. She rose and returned to the cooling mushrooms, picking them up one by one, laying them with care on a wire rack.

"Would you like to know something in particular?" she recalled the last question he had asked her.

"What would you say... if I said I wanted to know everything?"

Nabi let out a long exhale. There were a thousand butterflies fluttering in her stomach when she had asked that question, and that same nervousness returned to her now.

What was she anxious about? She already knew that Mimiyo would have all sorts of questions. Only she didn’t have clear answers to them. What would she say when she asked about Tserende? Or how she felt about him?

A sudden opening of the door without warning made Nabi turn. It was Mimiyo at the entrance, and the woman wore a look of urgency and apprehension.

“There is a messenger here for you. It’s about that foreigner.”

RE: Cigarettes and Fireflies - Shael - 09-24-2017 11:30 AM

Why isn’t anything ever easy?

Shael slammed the small ceramic bottle of saki down on the table, the clatter undoubtedly drawing the attention of the patrons around her. She didn’t care. The edge of her vision was blurred and the room rocked slightly whenever she turned her head quickly, as if she was still on the seas. Let ‘em stare, she thought. I couldn’t give half a shite.

It had taken five bottles of saki to get her roaring drunk. A part of her wasn’t sure why she was even still hanging around the hostelry. After all, even if the the messenger wasn’t caught, as soon as the herbalist made her way back to port, she would surely report her to the Sekiseigumi.

What would be the charge? Kidnapping? She didn’t take anyone at gunpoint. Sure, she did lure the Xaela out with a little lie, but there was no threat of violence. What could Nabi really accuse her of anyway?

Well… there was that one thing. Shael did try and lift whatever was in Nabi’s bag at the Watcher’s Eye Black Market. But she gave that right back! (Even if doing so was under the coercion of the large sword wielding bodyguard that was with the Xaela, could they really call that thievery? Besides, who would even claim jurisdiction in such a place?)

Shael folded her arms on the table and laid her head upon it. As she slid lower against the table, her arm knocked down an empty saki bottle, sending it rolling against the other four stacked to the side; it clattered against two, finally stopping with a loud clink. She just wanted to sleep and forget. It had been nearly a sennight since she was able to sleep, since she ran out of those precious herbs.

Nothing else had worked. She tried to tell Nabi that. She had tried so many other drugs, which was one of the reasons she went to the black market. She wanted something, anything, that would bring her dreamless sleep. Alcohol had long lost its potency, no matter the type; it just dulled her senses, and she had to indulge in increasing doses to keep herself from jumping out of her skin every day. Her eyes burned, her nostrils felt bone dry, and her tongue felt like it was coated with sand. Her body felt heavy, like iron flowed in her veins rather than blood.

“You are pushing your body to the limit with all these drugs! You must stop!” The Xaela’s woman’s plea buzzed through her head like an annoying gnat.

As if Shael didn’t know. She had access to all the drugs because she had smuggled them before. She of all people knew their effects, especially the bad ones. That was why it was always her policy to never partake in what she peddled.

Or at least… that used to be her policy.

Shooey would have never approved. He would have never allowed it.

But Shooey was no longer here.

“Two more bottles!” Shael yelled toward the bar. “I said keep ‘em coming, didn’t I?!”

It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. So why not wallow in everything she could get her hands on until inevitability caught up to her?

“Make that three bottles!”

RE: Cigarettes and Fireflies - Roen - Yesterday 05:41 PM

Nabi wiggled her toes.

The sensation told her her foot was intact, at least. But when she tried flexing her tendons, her ankle immediately protested. Nabi winced as she brought her foot closer, her thumb running over the splint she had made for herself. She noticed that her fingernails were slightly pale from the cold, and she fought the shiver that ran through her body. The heavy rain that had soaked the Azim Steppe all day had weighed down her robe, had plastered her hair to her face. By the time she had found shelter in the caves along the river, she was soaked to the skin.

The sun had only peeked out from behind the clouds at sporadic intervals, the herd of rainclouds showing no sign of scattering as they drifted across the sky.

Staying within the caves was safe. The warriors on their Yol mounts often took to the skies, and she did not want to be spotted as a lone Xaela traveler wandering the plains. While not all Xaelas tribes were belligerent, there were enough prominent ones -- including her own -- that Nabi knew better than to risk encountering them.

Should I have just agreed to her demands?

Nabi hugged her knees to herself as she recalled how she had come to be stranded in the Steppe in the first place. The messenger had come to find her in Kugane with an urgent yet cryptic news: that Tserende had been shot and badly wounded, and could not be moved. That he had sent a messenger for her to come to him with aid.

Looking back on it now, Nabi knew there were questions that she had not bothered getting answers to, before she agreed to take the transport that was already arranged for her. Who arranged it? Tserende? And when she realized the destination, the plains of the Azim Steppe, she had more questions. Who would shoot him, out here? But by then, it was too late. She had already come too far, and she was not willing to risk not going to his side if he indeed was suffering from a dire wound.

But all the warnings in her head proved to be true. There was no incapacitated Tserende at the end of her trip, only the Highlander woman who tried to steal from her at the market a few suns ago. She could tell from her bloodshot eyes, the redness around her nostrils, and the slight twitching to her movements now and then, that things were not well for her. When Shael Stormchild came to her stall over a fortnight ago, she had told Nabi that she had been trying to find restful sleep. While the woman did not relay to her all of what had happened, it was clear to the Xaela that the Highlander was suffering. There was a desperate edge to her that she tried to conceal with bravado and nonchalance.

Nabi offered what she could, a special blend of herbs that she had concocted for sleep. But it too had possible addictive properties, especially if it was mixed with other drugs. Shael did not heed her warning.

The woman who greeted her on the top of the peaks of the Steppe wore a frenzied grin, and she tried to bargain her a safe trip back to Kugane for more of her medicines. But she did not threaten violence nor did she ever wield a weapon. And a part of Nabi did sympathize with the Highlander, but she could not in good conscience give her more things that would help destroy her body. Nabi tried to reason with her, to offer her help to ease her off of all the toxins floating in her system. Shael refused, became angry, and left her on the cliffeside to reconsider her decision.

What happened next was probably not the wisest choice that the Xaela could have made. She tried to climb down the mountain, but with muu shuwuus littering the mountainside, Nabi had to choose a less beaten path. She had never scaled a cliff before, but it seemed less perilous than taking her chances with creatures that would happily rend her to pieces.

All in all, a broken ankle and numerous scrapes and bruises later, she still lived. But as she sat in the cave to wait out the rain that poured endlessly, she wondered if Shael would return a bell later, as she said she would. Would she try and look for her?

Nabi did not want to face her again. The Xaela reached into her bag and retrieved a small vial of green potion and a wrapped linen package. She had left droplets of the potion along the river as she followed its course to the cave, in hopes that perhaps it would leave not so obvious a trail but a trail nonetheless. She had to leave some clues in case someone came looking for her.

Despite all the uncertainty that led her here, and the fact that he was a foreigner and a sellsword for hire… she still did not doubt that Tserende would come looking for her.

No more droplets fell as she tapped on the empty potion bottle over the edge of the creek. Setting it aside, she unwrapped the parcel -- something she had carried for over three suns now as a gift. A dozen small cigarettes that she had crafted with a mixture of tobacco and mint rolled in her palm. She dropped one into the river and watched the white bud float down the stream. Would he find them?

She had to believe that he would.

Another shiver ran down her back and shook her small frame. She curled her arms around her legs tight to try and preserve what heat she could. She could not risk a fire for attracting other Xaela warriors, and she dared not travel out in the open in case she ran into more beasts. She huddled by the river and tucked her head in her arms, hoping that the rain should give some reprieve and the sun would return to warm her even a little bit. She just needed to stay warm until she was found.