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Rising Star (9/16)

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  1. "If you're quite finished!" Michael was feeling a little rushed, today. Rushed mainly due to a feeling of impending doom that was settling about his shoulders for certain reasons not involving Tigara at all. That being said he was determined to finish off this last part of the lesson before something inexplicably terrible happened such as suddenly finding himself barred from the fortress. That would have been unpleasant and not so entertaining. "Now we move onto spirit. Spirit does not often affect the material world. It is used to combine and strengthen other elements into weaves, to shield and to cut flows. What I will show you, briefly, is how you may cut the weave of an enemy and render their attempted thread useless, although you'll probably be hiding behind a rock when actual combat takes place and not need this at all. Still, orders are orders." Michael quickly wove a basic weave of air and tied it off so that it lay shimmering in front of Tigara. He then sent a blade of spirit cutting through the strands in just the right way so as not to cock up royally like he expected Tigara to do. "Right. Your turn." Michael moved about ten paces away and watched. OOC: Sorry it's not so great but ah, I am working on a time limit. Post to this and you're done for the class. Woohooo.
  2. After returning from wherever it was that Michaels disappear to, Michael released his student for the night with the command that they meet again the next day. Michael saw no reason why the entire introduction to Tigara's new powers could not be completed over a span of three days. I will add the minor exception of force majeure moments. There isn't a whole lot anyone can do about those. Not even a dreadlord. The next day proved, again, that life was unfair and Michael was still stuck with a student. It could have been worse: Tigara could have been a complete idiot rather than only half and then the lessons would have been even more torturous. Ritual gripes aside it was time to go to work. Tigara had only two elements left and then he would be ready to increase his knowledge through time, practise and care. Unlike other careers, Michael found that the first few lessons in saidin were the hardest and that although later on Tigara would be asked to complete more difficult challenges, he would be more experienced and used to dealing with them. Today they would begin with the element of earth, and Michael told Tigara so in that way that circumvenes the need for double inverted commas because they're all the way on the right of my keyboard and I'm too lazy to venture all the way over there to get them. In order to satisfy Michael, or at least not be a total bore, Tigara only had to form a ball of solid soil. Michael grasped the source and wove a simple weave of earth, bits of stray dirt and mud drawing together from the courtyard into they had formed a roughly spherical shape. There was nothing difficult in it so much as new. Tigara needed to accustom himself. "Now," he said, with double inverted commas, "you try it." OOC: Sorry for the delay on that. I didn't see that you'd posted.
  3. If you were to compile a list of the top ten—in no particular order—things not to do, then interrupting a person who was doing a push-up would be somewhere around the middle, which says it all, really. The first thing you would notice about that person is how their brow furrows with concentration as they try to ignore you. If you are particularly persistent and this fails they will no doubt express their displeasure by glaring, yelling and generally having a whinge. Not that Braxton particularly felt like glaring, yelling, or generally having a whinge, a thing that used to have its own special slot in his busy schedule. He was too tired, now. Were he not so tired he’d definitely have given her what for . . . or at least thought about it. Right now he was unable to defend himself from any real menace. Unless it were made of bacon. If Braxton’s grandfather saw his physical condition right now he would make him work the threshing machine along with the horses. That’s just the kind of man he was. Braxton was getting strong though, he knew it. He could feel it. His arms were hardening just that wee bit that no one picked up on without using the tone of voice that states clearly they’re agreed with him only to get away, because they feared for whatever comestibles happened to be on their plate at the time, or simply to humour the jolly, fat lad who ought to go about wearing red and saying derogatory things about women. Everyone thought he was stupid, but he wasn’t, and he knew what their little ‘talk’ was going to be about. He’d heard rumours. If I may dispel a commonly held lie, talking behind your hand does not, in fact, mean that no one can hear you. Braxton had read about this in books. The hero, on the very brink of being tossed out of his heroic order would do something, well, heroic and earn himself . . . pretty ladies, mostly. The books didn’t really say what happened after. This foreknowledge may have been one of the major contributing reasons to his unwillingness to be agreeable, but it wasn’t as though he had a choice. He sighed and spent a moment pulling his impressive girth (or terrific, in the other sense) into an upright position. Sighed and followed along.
  4. Braxton was mad. Real mad. Really mad, actually because real mad sounds very hillbilly and though he may have been from the country, it was flat, even depressed and most certainly not a hill. Also, he had all his teeth. They were straight. We’re getting off the subject. Braxton was mad, and he was doing something about it. Pushups. More or less. He was trying to do them, and that is what counts. Trying, you know? Parents lie to their children with that rubbish all the time but we know better, don’t we: it doesn’t matter how much you try, you’re a loser until you’re a winner and at no time before or between can you clap yourself on the back and say, ‘good job.’ Braxton could not reach his back. And this was part of the problem. For Braxton was fat, you see, after a nasty little prank involving Aran, and a little thing called male pregnancy. It wasn’t Braxton’s fault he didn’t know anything about that sort of thing, his early life was sheltered and the only female he saw on a regular basis then had been his mother. No, he didn’t get curious. Not even once. For some reason, a principal failure on the switchboard of his cerebral cortex, I think, he again had trusted Aran. This coupled with the feminine like hormone set his ‘weight-issues’ had given him was enough to put anyone in a foul mood. Add on top that he was itchy in all sorts of places he couldn’t reach, and was unable to do more than five pushups without having to take a lunch-break and you have a cocktail guaranteed to bleach your teeth on its way down.
  5. It did count, as a matter of fact. Not that this is important in any way to this new post but I knew you were all curious and wondering and I just couldn’t leave the thought unanswered. So now that we have that out of the way I will cast a few more useless facts and we can move on. Less than ten percent of the recruits managed to pass on their first attempt, only sixty percent passed by the end of their fourth, there were six broken bones in all and a lot of bloody noses. Yes. I made that up. Sorry. Mr. Sweeper was happy with the way it turned out. He was surprised by the level of competency his snivelling-worm recruits displayed and told them so. Word for word . . . almost. There is, lamentably, a PG13 rating on this website and what he actually said would have minors’ mothers burning torches and lynching members quicker than you can say, “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” We did have to give them enough time to get on the phones, yes. No, no, I agree, they didn’t have to burn down your porch. This next lesson, by relation to the one before it, was short. Again it involved ‘live combat stimulation’ with those dastardly painful, wooden weapons. That way, no one got cut so much as bludgeoned. The probability of losing a limb was a million to one thereabouts (forgetting for a moment that one in a million probabilities turn up eight times out of ten) and the most you had to worry about was some precious part of your anatomy shattering like a yard glass. Mr. Sweeper didn’t care, and frankly, neither do I. There would be two opponents, average ability sailors, used to working in concert. No ‘cheap tricks’ would work against them. They were instructed, as before, to only take clean shots, if one could not be found they were ordered to parry, block and give the recruit experience trying to batter, or sneak, his or her way through defences. This sounds altogether easy, I know, and you’re waiting for the other foot. Here it is. Size nine and a half, by the way. The recruit would have four ropes attached to his or her body: one around each wrist and one around each ankle. These ropes would be held by four rather hefty sailors whose idea of a recreational pursuit was seeing who could turn the mast the quickest. Single-handedly. This involved grasping a very thick heavy rope and pulling on it until the courses swivelled around the mast. Normally this would take every available crew member. I think you know what their job is already, but I shall tell you. Their job was to yank certain vital limbs out of the way at opportune and rather vital moments. They were very good at it. OOC: You know the drill. Have fun.
  6. The targets were set nicely and Rory was ready to begin her 'practise session', consistenting, as a rule, of ways to blow things up. There were other ways of doing business, burning, slicing, imploding, and she used them all. One explosion may look the same as the next, but there were infinite variations between them. A little shift in the weave here, a slight touch there, and you had a completely refreshing and unique reaction, even if they did look the same to others. The first time Rory lined up a row of effigies they had been constructed, rudely, of wood. To her thinking the idea was a good one, but it turns out that wood splinters. Badly. And as fun as it was lying about for hours and having Saline pull small wooden barbs out of those sorts of places, it was somewhat of an embarrassment all the same. From that day onward, Rory constructed her own targets made from saidar. Now, rather than exploding, they whistled and dinged. In the beginning the lack of good, wholesome explosions made it kind of dull, but she soon realised that there were many different ways to strike her targets. She could make loud dings, quiet dings, hitting-a-pot-in-a-tin dings and hidden-under-six-feet-of-soil dings. Her undisputed favourite method was to see if she could strike with such precision that the target didn't get past 'duh.' She knew a few sisters like that. Rory was not strong when compared to her sisters, not even close. So she opted to hone those skills she already possessed. She may never be able to scare people with her abilities, but she'd give it a bloody good go. Rory was a Green Sister. She was a weapon, that's what she did. Politics, well she loathed politics so that was a bad example. We'll try again. Reading, was fun but it was hobby, whenever Rory wished to 'study' to further her personal calling, she went about blowing things up. She dared to believe she was getting rather good at it. Right now, as in this very second, Rory was giving merry hell to her constructed targets in the form of exploding balls of fire, crackling arcs of electricity and anything else that was guaranteed to make a lot of noise. The more noise, the more fun: standard child mentality. There was a little child in everyone, the difference was that in Rory that child was still getting out of bed in the morning and dressing for work with an absurd amount of enthusiasm. Rory was whooping with that enthusiasm when she realised she was no longer alone.
  7. Mr. Sweeper was awake before Captain Redpath. No. This was a lie. The only way anyone aboard The Merry Pauper could do that was to exploit a little trick called ‘not going to bed’. Mr. Sweeper had done so on this particular day, spending hours planning his next assignment for his students. He was very proud of this lesson and excited to see how it would turn out. There was going to be pain, sure, but if he could get a spot of blood then he would really feel as though he’d achieved something. When the sun rose above the horizon, and his charges (after taking their daily dip in the frozen ocean, which we cannot forget) filed onto the deck dripping water and shivering they were faced with one of his most inspired obstacle courses. The ship was incapable of moving this day, for most of its working parts were in use, or would be very shortly. Mr. Sweeper explained, unnecessarily, that what the recruits (no longer new) were seeing was an obstacle course, and yes, the man at each station equipped with a lathe was indeed going to oppose their passage and they would need to work their way past them. One of the ingenious innovations, however, was the numerous wooden training weapons placed throughout the obstacle course. They represented weapons from daggers and short swords, glaives, bill staffs, axes, maces, spears. There were not many common weapon types not in wooden form upon the deck this day. Mr. Sweeper further explained that his men were under orders only to make clean strikes; at no other time would they do more than block progress. If they, the students, were smart they could avoid taking any damage. Not that this was likely. Each of the trainees had five minutes to make it past one of the stations, and there were six of them. They would be given three attempts each. It was going to be a long, entertaining day. The first station was a long corridor created by wedging boxes along the bulwark. There were three men, one at the beginning, one in the centre and one at the end. The object was simply to get past them by any means thought of. Or they could cry like babies and run home behind their mother’s skirts. The second station was a circular corral created by wooden crates around foremast. In one of those crates lay an object, a stone that was bright red and impossible to miss that that needed to be found and removed from the enclosure. There was, naturally, a man there with a lathe to make life complicated. The third station was down the ladder and into the cargo hold, where the stone was to be placed in the well marked location. Honestly it was just a red-chalk circle around the top of a piece of drift-wood. The difficulty came in getting back up that ladder, as there may or may not have been more than one sailor lurking about down there. The fourth station was just before the shrouds. The shrouds would need to be approached from a specific angle, which, naturally enough was guarded like a fortress by three very large men with very large wooden hammers. Part maliciousness and part humour on Mr. Sweeper’s part, that was. In order to succeed they only needed passed. The fifth station, the hardest was on the shroud walk. Along the jackstays sat another sailor with a wooden long sword. His job was to knock anyone who came up back down the shrouds. A net had been placed conveniently for the purposes of this exercise. Five minutes would not be a lot of time for this station, so he would allow ten. Five minutes, six minutes, ten minutes, all of these was a lifetime in combat. The sixth station was the prow. And the trainee had to get there in any way possible, while the guards of the other five stations did their level best to make sure it did not happen. Now this was entertainment! OOC: whether you fail, succeed, get brutalised or don’t take a shot will be again, up to you. Now would be the time for your character to discover that dual wielding with a dagger and long sword is more profitable for him than the long sword alone. Have fun, and this one will easily be big. I’m thinking at least ten paragraphs. Fifteen for extra credit!
  8. Damion walked briskly through the antechamber. No one stopped him, nor questioned. Guards, few obvious and most hidden, moved to let him pass. He nodded to them each but did not slow. He had bad news to deliver and he was not the type of man to sit on such things for long periods of time. It had been too long already. Returning home was meant to be a happier occasion. Calpene Peninsula was nice as always, though. He found his master in his exercise chamber. He announced himself and bowed respectfully, as always, but not so much as to appear meek and subservient. Duram Laddel Cham, the Net Weaver, Be’lal; his Lord, was not one who demanded displays of servitude from his followers. But being polite was never a bad thing, especially to a man—if he could be called a man—that was one of the Chosen of The Great Lord. There was a chance that his bow was deeper and longer than necessary; this was easily blamed on his agitated state. “My Lord, I—” Damion stopped and followed the direction his master was pointing. He knew without turning around: the weapons rack, as usual. Damion shook his head, smiled and wandered over. He chose a training lathe that represented the basic form of a long sword. He preferred the stave, but Be’lal was quietly insistent about getting what he wanted and he always did—in the end. Damion stepped onto the mat, and continued with his original statement. “I have bad news, my Lord. It is as we . . . I feared. I checked into the matter personally. The money lender is dead. His wealth has been provided for and secured, and his assistants are heading towards the Mountains of Mist. It was an unnecessary loss.
  9. Teehee—pants! That’s right. You heard her. Rory Sedai, still not over the pants revival and why should she be? Sure, she looked swell in a dress, or so Saline kept telling her, but when you needed to deliver a swift foot-to-groin manoeuvre, dresses only got in the way. This wasn’t to say she expected to have to use one on Aran, but preparedness for any situation was the key to the lockbox of Green Sisterhood. And Rory was all green! Shawls were for nanas and Rory wasn’t old, not by standards in The White Tower. Saline had been horrified when she caught Rory trying to take to hers with a pair of scissors. After a brief physical struggle she relented and made her green sash out of some other material. Something bought, and certainly not raided from one of Saline’s drawers. Besides, and this was just Rory’s roguish side kicking in—still intact despite her White Tower education—Saline’s bedclothes did not suffer from several inches off the hem. She was waiting in the yards early as usual, being prompt had definite advantages, Darienna didn’t disapprove for one and there were times when Rory Sedai felt the familiar shadow fall across her and still spun about as though she were doing something she shouldn’t. She may know Darienna more now, perhaps not enough to call her friend, but that woman sure unnerved her! Of course, Rory had almost killed someone and you don’t tend to live those things down. Aran was late. Rory did not know what the time was but she knew he was late. She could feel it. It wasn’t just that she was getting inpatient, but it was that she knew he ought to be here by now and wasn’t. And it was on purpose. It was slightly vexing, yes, but in the end she knew if all went well she would live for about a hundred years more at least and Aran most definitely would not; she could wait him out if it came to that.
  10. Damion would have spent weeks with Arette Sedai, given the opportunity; neither time nor duty permitted it. The four hour schedule was optimistic in the extreme, but he was sure he would have gleaned something useful in that time. He was pleased that Rasputin was giving him access to the city for a longer period of time, and without penning down a specific timetable. The best part was that the open-ended stay had been Rasputin's idea, and Damion had not even attempted to influence the outcome. Not that he was stupid enough to try. The stipulations were fine by him. His intentions were very similar already. He would cause no trouble, he would certainly not harm anyone unless it was absolutely necessary and reporting on any other darkfriends operating in the area was hardly an unreasonable demand. The world of dreadlords and ladies was complicated and lethal. He survived his interactions with others mostly by not having them. Damion enjoyed safe environments and any room with an inspired dreadlord could hardly be considered thus. Sometimes reality was a chore. "These are fair expectations. If I see anything I feel is out of place, or anyone acting in suspicious ways I will inform you after I am done. If I believe it to be that important, I can delay my own operations for a time and report with more urgency. I also certaintly have no interest in cancelling random lives." Damion wrinkled his nose. "What the world must think of us . . . is there anything else we need discuss before I go?"
  11. Against all probability and likelihood he had forgotten the Brown Sister’s name. How embarrassing. Damion could remember why he was going to see her, could say with pin-point accuracy to the second how long he intended to stay (he was a very busy man), and he could even rate on a scale of one to ten how excited by the prospect of this visit he was. For the record, one was the lowest, ten was the highest and it rated a nice, round, eight. He grinned like he had just been caught by his mother stealing pie. “All right. You’ve got me there. I cannot for the life of me, hoping it won’t come to that, remember her name. If you will give me a moment I will reach down into my bag and grab my diary? I will, regrettably have to embrace saidin, or the next person in here is going to wonder why we were in such a hurry to leave that we tried to exit through the wall. It looks very sturdy.” Damion uttered an unintelligible word before reaching into his knapsack, withdrawing his diary and placing it gently upon Rasputin’s desk. It glowed. Small, thin traces of power glittered across its surface. Several complicated hand gestures, words, soft touches with the power and even physical pressure later and the wards were gone. His diary could not fall into the wrong hands. It contained nothing that would damage Be’lal or his work, but it may place innocent people in jeopardy and this he would not allow. He smiled apologetically, opened the lid and thumbed through the pages until at last he said, “Aha!” His eyes scanned the page momentarily before he closed the diary and slid it across the table to one side. “Her name is Arette Sedai, it turns out, and her speciality is . . . or was, the taint. A subject close to all our hearts, I think. To learn what I wish to know I will ask, of course, and hope she answers. My duration . . . I plan to stay exactly four hours, allowing an hour for tracking her down, another hour for niceties and two of actual conversation if I am lucky. If everything goes according to plan then that is how long I shall stay.”
  12. A blur as far as Drak was concerned but not a blur to the Captain, who wasn’t nervous and hallucinating. No, actually, he could see fine. And what he saw was a nervous Drak still not using the ability Bobby knew he had developed. Telling Drak this repeatedly would only cause rash action on his part, and Bobby didn’t want this enjoyable spar to end on a bad note. He would wait for Drak to relax on his own. Many who used foils, rapiers and sabres used the lunge as an offensive manoeuvre. That was fine. They found something that worked for them and he wasn’t going to argue. However, from personal experience he found the lunge, or thrust, to be very similar to Heron Wading in the Rushes, leaving the user open to painful counter-attack. The ‘thrusts’ that Bobby threw at Drak were the sword equivalent of a pugilist’s jab, to keep him off balance and from mounting an offensive. Foot-work was another essential key to any spar or real-simulation training battle. The confines on a ship were tight and often there was very little room to manoeuvre, which made crucial steps that much more important. One wrong move and you were trapped against a box or gunwale and there wasn’t a lot you could do then other than count the minutes. If you were smart you could influence where the opponent placed his feet as well, which he was also doing to Drak. He would keep the conflict under his authority until Drak figured out a way to get change the situation. The swords blazed in the sunlight, twanging with metallic chimes each time they connected. And they connected often. The katana was a well-made weapon. Versatile, strong and sharpened to a degree that Bobby could only call, “bloody stupid.” One of these times Drak was going to drop it and lose all of his fingers trying to pick it up. It was a blessing that the weapon had only one edge. On the other hand he had seen many people trained in the use of the weapon more familiar with a bamboo training lathe. It had some strange sounding name, which wasn’t actually why he was thinking about it. He was thinking about it because this training lathe weighed next to nothing and the blade itself was heavier. It sometimes led to the wielder believing his self faster than he was. Not Drak, though, Bobby made sure of that. Drak continued to step where Bobby suggested and refused to engage for any length of time, again a carefully employed striking pattern was to thank. If Drak was not yet aware of what he was doing he soon would be, and Bobby was prepared for the sudden break from formation that would result. Just for the fun of it, Captain Bobby Redpath gave Drak a solid blow to the shin with the flat of his blade and continued to wait.
  13. “Agent . . .? I consider myself more a happy employee.” Damion supposed he ought to be used to suspicion whenever he showed up among unfamiliar people. Paranoia was chic. The sad fact was that it was in no way limited to followers of The Great Lord, who by minority should be more trusting than others, but was virulent everywhere. There was not a city he could step into without it upsetting someone, and unlike his fellows, Damion was very seldom called upon to act in any way detrimental to the happiness of anyone. Just the way he liked it. “My name is Damion. M’aeshadar Damion if you feel it’s more appropriate to use the honourific; personally I do not. There are stronger, smarter and more cunning dreadlords out there and I really only got the job because everyone more suited died. Process of elimination is a wonderful thing. “I am here on the orders of The Netweaver, yes, but not to embody his will. I am planning to spend some time in Illian, there is a Brown Sister there who has spent much time researching topics I am very interested in and I thought I would visit. I mentioned this to my Lord, who suggested it would be politic of me to inform you. I wouldn’t want to arrive there only to be . . . intercepted.” Damion did not mention that he was aware Rasputin was involved with the city of Illian, he did not have to; that he was clearing his journey with him was enough to state it. Dreadlords were a personal bunch and did not like their plans messed with, foiled, or dragged out into the light for everyone to see. Damion liked being alive and he was determined to stay that way.
  14. When Damion stepped through his portal into the fortress interior, shadow’s peace settled around his shoulders like a mantle. No, not really, but it certainly made him feel better. Too often he was on his own: a lone m’aeshadar in a very hostile land. For a peace loving man he did not approve of conflict, least of which between his brother and sister channellers. Shadow’s peace made him feel safe. And safe was nice. The room he entered through was well lit and well guarded, but his passage was not impeded. His knapsack was over one shoulder, and thin stave was in the opposite hand. Having something on hand (no pun intended!) made it easier for him to defend himself without having to reveal . . . certain aspects of his person. Thumping someone with a stick was also less likely to kill them. Murder tainted the soul, and Damion found it very difficult to stomach. He was a dread lord; not an animal. As he walked through the courtyard he noticed a young boy drying his shirt with air weaves; very limited ones at that. Damion would have helped him, but it was a strange thing for an acolyte to be doing (as far as he knew) and spoke of a lesson in progress. Putting the shirt on a stick and waving it around in the air would have had better success, though. Then, so would removing the moisture. He was looking for Rasputin, overseer of the Fortress, or master if the term were preferred. Unlikely as it was, he would begin his search in the Library. It was very big. Very splendid. There were various works that existed in no other place that Damion knew of and it was always nice to riffle through them. Thom would be quick to mention any volume he believed might interest Damion, and in return Damion had brought a few things for his friend: several maps for his archives and a book on zoology, written by a sister of the Brown Ajah. Damion expected the later would delight him. . . . About four hours later, Damion managed to pull himself away. Thom had been very grateful and near bursting with excitement to share some of his new volumes with Damion, who had been more than pleased to allow his self to be tempted. By his counting it was time for dinner and there was a dining hall for that very purpose. It was the likeliest place to find his quarry. Damion had visited the fortress library numerous times but seldom went any further, as such his dealings with other m’aeshadar were infrequent and he had never met the overseer Rasputin but heard much of his exploits and skills over the years. The man might almost have been one of the chosen himself. Damion sat down at a table after spotting Rasputin in a raised dais at the end of the hall. The description he had been given was very precise. He ate a light meal, not allowing distractions to get in his way. This was his free time, more or less, but that did mean he was about to squander it on food and wine. He wished to make his way to Illian as soon as possible. There was much to be done, always much to be done and even his extended life was not long enough to fit all of his desires in. He was going to have to move a lot faster. When Rasputin left, Damion followed. There was nothing worse than stalking someone in his own home, especially when it was such a unique home, so Damion waited only until he could see no others before calling softly: “Excuse me, M’aeshadar Rasputin?” He fished a small obsidian rock from inside his knapsack and handed placed it in the other man’s hand.
  15. She sniffled, a very immature trait in a soon-to-be bride. Her nanny gave her a stern look in the mirror and Emelia’s face dissolved in misery. Her eyes squeezed shut to stop the tears that would spoil her make-up and her hands clutched one another in her lap. Nanny ran a gilded, ornate brush through Emelia’s long hair, clucking reproachfully at the curls. The band was practising downstairs. She heard laughter, loud voices, and fancied that the sound of toasting champagne glasses was there, too. The men would be in the parlour drinking champagne and smoking cigars. The women would be together giggling and whispering behind raised hands. She stared into the reflection of her bedchamber’s hearth, pleading with the Creator to save her. Emelia had hidden her courses for as long as she could, but Nanny had found out and then so had her parents. Now she would be married. They were getting a lot of money for her, she knew, money must have been very important. It wasn’t fair. Only weeks ago she had been playing with dolls and now . . . well, just look at her! Her soon-to-be husband was a horrible man. She hated him, loathed him! Every time he put her hands on her she squirmed inside. He was so big and she was just so little and she knew what wives were expected to do for their husbands. She squeezed her eyes tightly again and bit her lip. She wouldn’t cry. Nanny wouldn’t like it. Her hair was done, it looked pretty but her stomach hurt too badly to smile. Nanny led her down the stairs and she wanted to be sick. Daddy didn’t love her, if he did; he wouldn’t make her do this. Her mother didn’t care either. Emelia wanted them to hold her, to tell her they loved her, but they wouldn’t. Nanny walked her into the long hall where her family and fiancé waited. They looked at her with big smiles and joy, ignoring the childish depiction of heart-break on her face. Her belly was so tight now, and her chest, too. Something was stuck in her throat and it was hard to breath, but still Nanny led her forward; music began to play. It was so hot in the hall and she couldn’t breathe. Her steps faltered and she fell. She thought she heard Nanny lecture her but the sound was far away. She pulled at the collar of her dress, gasping for breath, only to realise the neckline dipped down upon her boyish figure. Her eyes didn’t work properly. The carpet was fuzzy and hard to see. She could feel it beneath her fingers and against her knees but the sensations were dull. The light of the hall’s hearth fire drew her eyes towards it. Her young eyes widened with shock as an indescribable jolt settled down on her. She felt . . . different. The hall’s fire climbed from its hearth prison. She believed she could see the shape of a man within. She tried to scream, to call out a warning, but her mouth would not work. The fire man wrapped arms around the shoulders of guests and they screamed for her. The others stared and the flames spread. She felt something inside her head fall away. They burned and she felt good, so alive and so . . . free. Was this what happiness was? She had never been so, so awake. The flames had saved her. For all her happiness, when alone with the ash and quiet, what was left of the child Emelia cried. Her eyes opened. She was bound and it scared her. She squeezed her eyes tightly and bit her lip to stop from crying. Her stomach hurt and her breathing was amplified by the confines of her prison. She was trapped as she had been in the beginning and as she had been many times since. She felt heavy weights binding her wrists together as she touched her fingers against the lid of . . . was she in a coffin, buried deep beneath the earth? Had she been mistaken for the dead? Emelia almost panicked. No, she could hear things. Dull, like the chiming of champagne classes beneath her feet but they were there. Stretching her toes she could sense the bottom of whatever it was she was in against the soles of her feet. It touched her shoulders as well, on both sides, and she could barely raise her head before the smooth skin of her forehead brushed against rough wood. The box was jolted and swayed. Was she on a ship? The thought of being surrounded by water terrified her more than any grave. She did panick . . . . . . and called the fire-man to save her. Her clothing rippled with heat and her body was filled with indescribability. Her skin became warm, became hot; became almost too uncomfortable to bear; the weights upon her seared into the flesh of her ankles and wrists. Emelia screamed, pain fueling her outrage. She imagined her wrists and ankles blackening but still the temperature became hotter until she thought she would lose consciousness. She felt the weights give, finally, and turned her attention to the pitiful wooden structure that dared bind her! With a surge of power the box exploded with the intensity of a geyser, taking the wagon along with it. She ran and ran, adrenaline keeping her upright, eventually collapsing behind a building. She could not bear to maintain her hold on the fire, the pain of her burnt skin was too great; she found it hard to breathe. Her steps faltered and she fell. She thought she heard Nanny lecture her but the sound was far away. She pulled at the collar of her leather vest, gasping for breath, only to realise that the neckline hung loose upon her boyish figure. Her eyes didn’t work properly. She blacked out.
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