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Intermission (Ascension Arc)

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The Manetherendrelle- or the River Arinelle, depending on the person asked- came into view, and Mehrin breathed a sigh of relief.  The past couple days of hard walking had been tense, leaving little time for conversation beyond warnings and directions.  The river, though, provided a respite.  If they had made it this far without being caught by the Children, then they were likely safe for the time being.  It would not be too difficult to flag down a ship heading either towards Whitebridge or Illian.  Either destination would put them out of reach of the Whitecloaks for some time, hopefully enough to lose himself- Ourselves, Mehrin corrected- to the Whitecloaks completely.


An unspoken signal between him and Eb brought the two to a halt.  Without hesitation, Mehrin dropped his coat and sword and dug into his bag, searching for a change of clothes.  He had just spent several days walking day and night, with only a couple hours of respite between stretches of walking, to get to this point.  Part of that time had been spent walking waist-deep in a creek to get to this point.  He needed a change of clothes, and modesty was beyond him.  As he pulled clothes out of the bag and began changing, he glanced at Eb.  *Thanks for pulling me out of the camp," Mehrin said, the first real sentence between the two since their escape.  Pulling his shirt over his head, Mehrin stretched, feeling the tension in the mass of scars all over his body.  He took a moment to splash cool water from the river on his body before pulling a new shirt over his torso and discarding his trousers.


"I know they're in here somewhere," he growled, digging through his bag.  He shoved aside a purse full of full Andoran crowns- one of many- and pulled out a balled pair of trousers with a cry of triumph.  Feeling human again, Mehrin looked at Eb, his face suddenly growing serious.  "Now, then," he grunted.  "What the hell are you doing here?"

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Eb watched in silence as Mehrin undressed, splashed in the river, pulled on a new shirt and changed his pants. She remained silent even though he had thanked her for pulling him out of the camp. Even though plenty of silence had been had between them in the past few grueling days. She wasn't one for conversation, and the time spent following her ex-Commander and principle weapons trainer across the world in secret had done little to teach her otherwise. The fact that he'd recently slung her across his lap like a sack of potatoes, atop a horse, hadn't helped things either.


"What am I doing here?" she scowled, torn between the two different truths of the answer.


The question hung in the air too long. She banished the image of his half-dressed form from her mind and finally looked up at Mehrin's serious face.


"Calder sent me," she spat.


Suddenly inexplicably furious, she resealed her waterskin, snatched her bag from the ground and, without so much as another glance at Mehrin, stalked upriver a ways to wash, hands clenched into white-knuckled fists. She didn't go far, and she made sure to stay well within sight. It had been frustration that had moved her, not modesty.


She reefed her mace from the hook at her side and slammed it into the side of a tree. It stuck fast with a satisfying crack. She released her grip on the hilt and left the weapon at shoulder height, parallel to the ground, sap leaking out from around the heavy spikes. Methodically she stuck a dagger between her teeth, removed her coat and the belt with her short-swords, her shirt and the small girdle with sheaths for the knives at the small of her back, her boots and the straps for daggers around each arm. She hung her coat and weapon belts over the handle of the mace, coat first, weapons second, daggers within easy reach. She stepped out of her breeches and stalked down to the river carrying both them and her shirt, even though she doubted either of the garments would have time to dry once they were washed. Her own scars, various trails of white and pink and purple peeking through her olive skin, provided enough memories and motivation for her to keep the dagger firmly between her teeth, even while she washed. The icy water was fresh and soothed her aching muscles, but it did nothing to cool her mood. After a brief repose, she ducked her head back under the water for a final time and surfaced scratching her wild, jet-black hair back into its usual mess. She scowled around her dagger at Mehrin's form, which appeared busy on the bank she'd left him on, and stalked back to the tree to change into fresh clothes and retrieve the rest of her weapons.


Almost calmly, she walked back to where Mehrin was just beginning to set up camp. She dumped her bag, her waterskin, her coat. She was about to dump her mace when the sight of it triggered training memories almost ancient to her now, followed by more memories from days even earlier than that, when Mehrin had first taught her to fight with a sword. Before he'd become a drunk. Before he'd got himself banished, before he'd left the Band, and before he'd decided to almost welcome every opportunity to get himself flaming killed. Tired as she was, and after the events of the last few days, it was enough to push her anger beyond her self control. She turned on him, her glare in full force, her mace outstretched in furious accusation.


"Calder sent me, Mehrin, but blood and bloody flaming ashes, I'm here because of you!" The mace shook visibly with the force of her frustration.


"And for luck of Light and Shadow, it's just as well I am - seeing as you never seem to stop trying to get yourself bloody killed!" She yelled the last two words for all she was worth, and threw the mace forcefully at his feet for good measure.


Heart pounding, she drew both of her short swords from her back and pointed them dangerously in his direction - the swords he had taught her to handle almost as well as her knives, all those years ago. She held them as steady as a stone.


"What is it Mehrin?" She snarled, her fury plain to see. "Do you really want to die?"

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  • 1 month later...

When he saw Eb making for the river, Mehrin turned away, though not until after a couple seconds had passed.  Admit it, a part of his mind whispered as it enjoyed the view, it's been a while, after all.  You're enjoying yourself.


Shut up.


You say that all the time.  Consider that I might be right every once in a while.  It won't kill you.


Shut up.


With a resolute nod of his head, Mehrin forced his attention away from the woman at the river and began the long process of rearming himself.  Two knives in the boots, one across the small of his back, and a small one down his back.  A few practiced moves proved that they were all sitting properly and would not hinder his motions.  Buckling his belt back around his waist, he checked the two knives sheathed there.  Again, a few movements showed no hindrance.


Mehrin was checking the knives in his greatcoat when Eb returned from the river, seeming to be nearly calm.


That lasted for a handful of seconds.


Eb's hands were shaking with rage as she pointed her mace at him and shouted, "Calder sent me, Mehrin, but blood and bloody flaming ashes, I'm here because of you!"


Mehrin opened his mouth to protest, but the woman's rage was beyond anything that mere words could soothe.  "And for luck of Light and Shadow, it's just as well I am - seeing as you never seem to stop trying to get yourself bloody killed!"  In a show of anger, Eb hurled her mace at Mehrin's feet, causing Mehrin's hand to twitch towards the handle of his whip, still on the ground.  No, dammit!  She's not a threat.


Yes, she is.  You taught her, remember?


Shut up.


In the intervening seconds, Eb had drawn her two short swords, their blades held rock-steady.  "What is it Mehrin?  Do you really want to die?" she growled at him.


Though he was far from angry at her, Mehrin felt the need to arm himself.  Reaching behind him, Mehrin lifted his flamberge free of his greatcoat and held the blade point-first towards Eb's throat, the blade never wavering.  "I imagine that Calder- the bastard- did not send you here to lecture me on how I conduct my life.  He lost all rights to that the moment he told me to never come back.  You have the same right that he does.  What I do now is my own."  Mehrin could feel himself becoming angry, now, a cold rage that was settling into his stomach.  His voice dropped to a growl.  "Do I want to die?  Possibly.  I've killed enough people that I probably deserve it.  Is it any of your damn business?"  Mehrin's anger finally reached his face, his eyes going cold and hard.  "No."

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"You," Eb growled through gritted teeth, blades steady, eyes flashing, "Are an absolute stone-headed fool, Mehrin Mahrvon." 


And then she ducked furiously; down and away, around; swords swinging with her in a flawless arc towards the outstretched flamberge - and the dance was on. 


Mehrin dipped his sword out of the arc of her blades with apparent ease, although the readiness of his stance and the coldness in his eyes gave his mood away. She glared at him and feigned the next attack, giving him little chance but to retaliate in kind. For a moment, it was just like the old days, though they were both a good bit older and, Eb sensed, several years of frustration and regrets of various kinds seemed to hang heavier on both their minds.


They danced, blades whirling, muscles stretching, sweat beading on their skin. Light, it feels so good just to fight. It had been a very long while since she'd had her skills so tested, and since her training, Eb had never found an opponent who could truly stretch her limits the way that Mehrin always did. She ignored the excited pounding of her heart entirely, pouring volatile emotion into each and every move instead, despite the fact that she did not know exactly where this dance was going. She always acted rather than thought, but in that instant she could not have imagined a better way to release her emotions even if she had tried. Well, perhaps that wasn't entirely true... she probably could. However, such an alternative didn't even seem remotely viable at that point, and frankly, she still hadn't decided whether or not she actually wanted to kill the man, no matter how skilled a swordsman he always managed to be.


A grimace of determination replaced her glare and, senses tingling with the buzz of combat, she suddenly gave it everything she'd got. Even as tired as Mehrin must have been (as tired as they both were), it took considerable work just to match each move stroke for stroke. It was also all too soon before the tiniest of gaps appeared in each of their guards; hers seemingly just a split second before his. A split second was all it took; Eb realised her mistake but refused to let the chance pass. Her blades found their way through the gap and stopped a hair's breath away from her ex-Commander's skin even as the point of Mehrin's flamberge poised dangerously against her own. An impasse. 


She grinned for a moment despite herself, still undecided on her motives but not caring what happened now that the dance had abruptly ended. "Did you," she snapped, her eyes alight with the recent thrill of the fight, her voice still full of menace, "Ever stop to consider all of the people you haven't yet killed?" She glared at him intently.


"Like those you've protected, and, perhaps without even knowing it, those you taught how to live?" Her blades held steady. Her voice dropped, quieter; hesitant yet dangerously low.


"What about them, Mehrin?"  Her glare was intense. "Do you deserve to die for them, too?" Growling out the last of the words, she leaned in over her blades, ignoring his flamberge on her skin, and looked him directly in the eye, not caring what happened from here.


Her blades quivered, and she honestly didn't know whether to drop them, or to drive them home.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Mehrin was only slightly surprised by Eb's sudden assault.  She had always been a bit short-tempered.  Just a bit?  You are truly a master of the understatement.


Shut up.


Even with the distraction of his mind's constant bickering, Mehrin had little trouble matching Eb stroke-for-stroke.  An onlooker would have been amazed at the speed of the two's attacks and parries.  Instead of focusing on defeating her, Mehrin settled into a more defensive stance, attacking whenever Eb started to flag, keeping up the fight.  There seemed to be... something off about the fight, something strange.  It was as if she was-


A gap opened in Eb's defense, and instinct honed by years of combat forced Mehrin's hand.  His flamberge held at an angle, Mehrin rested the blade against Eb's torso, the point tickling her chin.  At the same time, he became aware of a cold point against his own throat.  Mehrin's eyes met Eb's, an intimate moment only found between two combatants, a moment where each could truly see the other.  In Eb's eyes, Mehrin found exhilaration, rage, and confusion.  He could only guess what she saw, though he felt cold anger conflicting with amusement.  He had missed training against Eb.


Before he could say anything, Eb spoke.  "Did you ever stop to consider all of the people you haven't yet killed?"  So that was what had triggered her assault.  Mehrin was slightly flustered.


"Like those you've protected, and, perhaps without even knowing it, those you taught how to live?  What about them, Mehrin?"  Eb's voice had dropped from a snarl to a quiet, almost hesitant timbre.


The question hung in the air between the two, each trying to decide what they were going to do.


Mehrin finally broke the tableau, slowly withdrawing his blade to avoid startling Eb, which would probably have led to something rather uncomfortable and, possibly, permanent.  He let the silence stand for a moment longer.  "I have thought about them, yes," he finally said, grounding the flamberge and leaning across the hilt.  "They're the only reason why I still live.  I hold no illusions about how many have survived due to my actions.  It's just that..."


Just that what?  Just that your life choices have led to nothing but pain?  That your choice to live by the sword has led to the deaths of those you cared about?  That you've lost lovers because of who you are?  That you lost your own daughter simply because she was yours?


"... It's just complicated.  I don't have a good answer for you."  With a heavy sigh, Mehrin hung his flamberge across the harness on his back.


OOC:  A couple more posts and we can move onto something that should be a bit more amusing.  (To be read: Oh, dose silly Darkfriends!)

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  • 2 months later...

Eb laughed briefly, a short burst of wry irreverence mixed with disbelief and fueled equally by frustration and the rush of a decent fight. She waited until Mehrin's flamberge was secure in its harness across his back before abruptly re-sheathing her own swords and shutting her chuckle off with a serious scowl.


She eyed her ex-commander sharply, looking up at him and wiping the slick of sweat off her brow with her sleeve. The man was defeated it seemed, to her, for all he could still win every fight. 


I wonder what it's like, living in a past you hate?


Eb could barely fathom the idea. Her past shaped her, haunted her, drove her; but it was always something separate to where she was in life. Something she was running from, always glad to leave behind the instant it was done. That's what life was. Survival. Moving on, one step ahead of everything terrible that was behind. Always. She shook her head, throwing off the thoughts.


Now is what matters. The affirmation was resolute. The alternatives were terrifying.


Her eyebrows knit together and her jaw twitched in irritation.


"Don't have to be. Complicated." 


With a glare she turned and stalked back towards her pack, mumbling, amongst curses, something that sounded like, "Just live!"


When she returned she held a corked bottle in one hand and a small linen package of edible goods in the other. She threw the food at Mehrin, none too gently, and took a long swig from the bottle. The goods were the best and the last of what she had smuggled out of the Whitecloak's camp, there were some decent surprises there; she meant for them to be enjoyed.


"Here." she said, shoving the bottle at Mehrin and taking a seat at his side. "Proof of our escape, and the fact you chose to live. Enjoy."


She sat for a moment, re-hashing the moves of their earlier affray, testing her muscles, noting where she went wrong. Focusing on the physical and ignoring everything else.


"One day I'll beat you, you know." She said, and slowly grinned.

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  • 6 months later...

Mehrin did not bother trying to overhear Eb's mutterings as she stormed back to where she had left her pack.  Knowing her, it consisted of several well-chosen words describing Mehrin's character, his intelligence, and the current anatomical location of his head.  Subtlety regarding her feelings towards anything she considered to be idiocy was practially non-existant.


Thinking in long words, are we?  You only do that when you want to distract yourself.


Mehrin shook his head, a futile attempt to silence his own subconscious.  She does have a point.  You're hanging on so tightly to the past that you're not thinking of the future.


A linen package flew into Mehrin's vision, and he barely managed to shift himself to avoid catching the package with his groin.  The smell coming from the package caused his mouth to water; it had been quite some time since he had eaten anything, and if his nose was to be believed, there were good things awaiting him in-


"Here," Eb's voice cut into his thoughts, and a bottle was shoved into his hands.  "Proof of our escape, and the fact you chose to live.  Enjoy."


Without thinking, Mehrin opened the bottle and lifted it towards his lips.  When the new smell hit his nose, though, he stopped himself.  It was brandy.  It was his brandy, distilled in the Two Rivers.  It must have come from the Whitecloak camp, it and the package that had first tempted his nose.  Mehrin forced the bottle away from his lips, cursing himself silently as he did so.  You stopped this for a reason.  You nearly ruined the Band with your drinking, and you almost lost Drea with your drinking.  Don't start that again.


Yes, said the dark voice in the back of Mehrin's mind, you did stop drinking for the sake of the Band and the sake of Drea.  Where has that gotten you, then?  You've been banished from the Band under threat of death, and Drea has abandoned you.  Why not-


"One day I'll beat you, you know," Eb said from next to him.


It was suddenly easier for Mehrin to recap the bottle and hand it back to her.  With a small grin, Mehrin replied, "Sure you will: when I can't lift my arms above my shoulders."  Digging into the package- definitely from the Whitecloak's commanding officer's tent- Mehrin ate sparingly, enjoying the flavors that would all-too-soon be gone.  "We should head towards Whitebridge," he said between bites.  "We can catch a boat heading there and increase our lead against the Whitecloaks.  From there, we can work out where we're going.  I don't know what set the Whitecloaks against me, but I'd rather avoid finding out from them."


As he thought, the food in the package, shared between the two, was gone all too soon, leaving the two sitting quiet on the side of the river.  Someday, I'm going to have a house in a place like this.  Nice and still, and no need for that damn sword.  Mehrin sighed.  Time to get going.  Patting Eb on the knee, Mehrin said, "Whatever happens now, it's nice to have somebody to talk to again.  Now, let's get out of here."


OOC: Mehrin's pretty much done for this particular thread.  I'll try to get the next one up and running either later this week or next week.

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