Within the swirling Mist (IC) > Biographies

Carinus Theirin - Shades of the Past

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Danuvis:

When I want most to be alone, Aleira's my company of choice. Aleira can be a wall; she can take whatever bitter, selfish, cruel bashing I send her way, with a stride. I can be desperate and pathetic to no end, and Aleira - I know - will take it all in as if she was the sea, touched yet unharmed, until I'm done; and then she'll hold me, and wrap me with unjudging love, and the wound would be cleansed and I'll be whole again.
 
How did you come to this cave now, Aleira? Did you know I was suffering again? Something bad happened; worse than fighting my guilt. Worse than seeing the world in greys alone, worse than embracing my malevolence, but I don't remember what it was. It doesn't matter, does it? You're holding me again, and it's fine, now. I see that little spark of hope in you and it keeps me warm, here. In this… cave? Where are we?

I rode out to find you after escaping that nightmarish creature, and... I can't... remember what happened. It truly doesn't matter, does it? You're here, I can smell the wilds’ scents wafting from you, mixing with the smell of ink, as it always does.

You're asleep with your head on my lap, somewhat like that night in the shelter, after all that we had endured in the Wood of Tusks. You said that the hounds of the past would eventually cease running at my heels, when I'd forgive myself and keep walking on as a better man. You believed even back then that I was a good man; and it kept the nightmares away then, when we barely knew each other, do you remember? That encouraging smile on your face - I looked at it half that night, then, not knowing. But I know now. I'm so glad to know you, Aleira, to know both of you. I'm so glad you're around. I feel gifted when you trust me, when you say we are in this together. When you smile at me sincerely, when you both fight to protect me; when, gods, you remain by my side even when the world exposes this sinister side of me; just to show me that no matter what, you care. You gave me hope; that night on the road, with blood and sweat and tears and our arms around each other; but something bad happened and I don't know what it was, and I'm holding unto you now, Aleira, because I need you to help me again. I don't know what to do.
 
You hardly ever move when you sleep, did you know? Except when you dream. Then I'd touch your forehead, replace the linen again to keep the fever at bay, and you'd open blurry eyes and speak, something incoherent, and fall asleep again. Did you know how many nights I came to watch you sleep? Partially to make sure you and Wynna slept, but mainly to simply know you were there. That there are people like you and her who somehow love me and believe that my weaknesses can make me strong. Who find their own strengths in my weaknesses, once in a while.
 
You'll wake up soon and talk to me - or sneer, or wave me off because of our argument, I don't care; we're together and everything's alright.
 
... Except it's not, and I can't remember why. Something's wrong. Did you follow me through the snow to this cave? No, you couldn't have; you were in Outentown and I wasn't. Why am I back here? I… don't understand. Why are you here, asleep as the storm wails outside?
 
Only there's no storm there. But something's wailing. Or someone? Yes, someone's been crying out there, for hours now. How could I miss that? How could you sleep through that? The mouth of the cave collapsed, falling rocks and melted snow and screaming. The cave's mouth is blocked, now, but I'm talking to myself in the darkness, with your head in my lap.
 
No, that's… wrong. Nothing's there. You... you're not here. And that wailing won't stop; can't someone shut this damned wretch up? Did you go out there to shut them up? To find another suffering person and comfort them? Gods, they're crying so hard I can't concentrate.

I… I sought you out, Aleira, I rode off to tell you something, I know I did, I /must/ have, but… everything went dark, distorted, then the voices came, the mist, and then the storm started - the wailing - and I came here to this cave, and you came here to find me, but you're somehow... not here, because the voices around me argue, they throw blame, and they weep, and I'm -
 
I'm -
 
... Oh.

Danuvis:
A harsh rain hammered down and snaked its way into the city's own veins. Little was left untouched - peddlers cleared their stalls of goods in a flurry, pampered debutantes scampered to find cover and children crashed through the rising tides of meagre puddles. The storm came swiftly as they so often did with the heralding of the spring season and the air was left thick and humid.
 
Large as he was, his footfalls caused every loose cobblestone to shudder in his wake and several threatened to upturn. The wide brim of the already weather-beaten hat were all that kept him remotely dry - he and the child held tightly in his arms, swathed in a heavy fur cloak. Each tread of leather-clad feet was firm and determined, the destination known. His path took him straight and true to a series of winding alleys, home to some of the city's more seedy and questionable characters. This was the underbelly, the threshold between the poor and then those even poorer. For him, this was home - more so than any of his family's estates and holdings ever were.
 
There were few breaks in between the rank and file of thin and starved houses that stood gnarled over the narrow streets. A time ago they may have been considered quaint but many had long since fallen into disrepair and others were a shell of what had once stood. Even if the sun had shone on this day it would not have dared touch this place.
 
Passing faces watched the man furtively, others with a malicious curiosity. He trudged through the downpour in a steeled silence and with his head straight. You made every effort to look strong in these parts. You did not make yourself out to be prey, though had they known who he was, whose son he was, they would've kept their distance all the same. Or perhaps the knowledge would've only spurred on violence and greed.
 
He stopped in front of one house, as unremarkable as the rest. The window was warm with the colour of a hearth burning inside. The steps groaned as he ascended, but they'd done that for as long as he could remember. It brought an odd smile to his lips and he rapped a firmly closed fist against the door. The bundle in his arms stirred.
 
“I've sodding well told you--“ the voice grew closer, edged with a certain agitation, “--you'll get the rent when I can bloody pay it.” The door flew open into the house and a woman stood, shoulders straight and arms outstretched across the frame. A sharp wind seized entry and kicked up locks of thick auburn hair as well as a dirty apron. The scowl that stretched across a face only just starting to show its age gave way to a wide and welcoming smile. “And who's this handsome young feller?”
 
“I know not, but he's getting very wet,” he said in Damaran and ducked his head through the frame. The woman ushered him in hurriedly and patted down the thick and damp leather with a scowl.
 
“The cheek of you, bringing in the muck. I just cleaned.” The snap of a gust slammed the door shut in its fury and the pair both jumped. The bundle of fur cried at the sound and the woman's brow furrowed. With a practised ease she drew the bolt across the door - a force of habit if nothing else - and turned to face her nephew, hands rested on her hips and head canted quizzically. “Got something you want to tell me about?” She gestured loosely at the child.
 
Taking every care to hold the child in one arm, he slipped the hat free with the other and dropped it atop an aging table older than even he was. The legs still stood at a slant where he and his half brother often crashed into them, much to their mother's chagrin. “He's not mine,” he muttered, unwrapping the cloak and revealing to her a boy barely one year old. Olive skin, a thin mop of dark hair and round features made it evident enough that he was no Nemesk. Freed from the cradling furs the child cooed and pushed a small hand into his mouth. His eyes were bright with some childish humour that was lost on him but it made the man smile all the same. “His name is Alodan, auntie.”
 
Myra strode closer, her gait as sure as his own and carefully pried the child out of his arms. She looked Alodan over as only a mother would and made soft noises at him. Alodan squealed with delight and tiny fingers brushed over her face. Her nose wrinkled as one tiny digit poked her eye. “He's big enough to be yours”, she remarked with a fond smile. He snorted a laugh.
 
“Is that right? And just who do you think the mother is?” The soldier strode farther into a house that was still home and collapsed heavily into an armchair that creaked beneath his weight. He scratched the ends of its arms as his uncle was wont to do.
 
“Well,” Myra started, making a pleasantly tuneful song out of her words that was met with Alodan's joy, “there was sweet and quiet Farah, and that lovely Anastasia girl. I don't know, do I? You've got a bit of Impilturian in you, his mother could be anybody.”
 
He buried his face in meaty and calloused hands with a grumble. “Auntie,” he warned, his voice pointed and muffled. “He's Durendal's son. He was married to dame Tarva, I've told you.” He sobered and pinched the bridge of his nose. The words did not find him easily, he had not lied to her before. “He needs a place to stay.” Myra’s adoring smile faltered, if only for one small moment. The smile was ever present though. He could scarcely remember a time where she hadn’t smiled. Only one memory stood out and he brushed a thumb affectionately over a fray in the chair’s fabric. His uncle had often picked at every loose thread despite the hounding of his wife to stop tearing the thing apart.
 
Myra looked over at her nephew and her eyes spoke of the same proudness they did every time she saw him. Alodan struggled in her eyes and she swiftly hushed him, tenderly stroking the boy’s hair back. She was utterly comfortable with him, a master of the art. “Will he bring trouble?” He shook his head. His voice was heavy in response.
 
“No. His father is dead and the dame cannot care for him. You don’t have to do this, I’ll understand. Things here are hard enough, and if you’re behind on this month’s rent then I can-“
 
“Oh, don’t you talk to me about money, boy. I get by fine.” Her words had a scolding edge to them but it didn’t show in her smile. Alodan had since settled in her arms, lips parted a touch and he snored peacefully through them.
 
“She’s given me money for him. For you. Whatever he needs, you won’t pay a copper for it.” He leant forward in the chair and propped his elbow on his knees, hands clasped together and his chin resting upon his knuckles. He rolled them idly through his youthful bristle. Myra’s breath caught in her throat. She spared a short nod.
 
“I can take him,” she said, quiet and yet affirmed. It was a tone that brooked no argument and he knew it. He sagged back with relief. Myra looked over at her nephew again and this time worry edged in on pride. “You look so tired, Calehan.” She drew a breath to steady herself, voice threatening to break. He was not the boy that had left for the military almost four years ago. “Are you keeping yourself well?” Calehan’s fingers curled into his palm and he patted his hand against the armchair. He looked up with a smile that was far from sure of itself.
 
“I haven't been doing a good job of it, no. But I'm going to start now.” His hand relaxed and he traced some shapeless form into the worn fabric. Myra bowed her head. She'd never once pressed him for details about the life that he lived now. It was never one that she wanted for him. With a deep breath she found another smile to wear.
 
There was a time when this house had been filled with noise. It was too small for them, of course, but what more could be achieved with the wages of a mason and seamstress? Her father had all but disowned her after the scandal with a Vaasan trailblazer and Igan was regularly denied work because his brother had gone with the Tightpurses. It had not been an easy life. Pavel got involved with the wrong sort, and Fran was still a sore point—found, though not as she may have hoped. Calehan had not told her much and Myra did not want to know.
 
She felt as though she was losing him too. Calehan, who had always been the sweetest, who so often took the fall for a half brother who showed him little love, and who never let any harm befall his little half sister. Calehan, 'her' gentle and naïve boy who was everything good that Igan had been. And yet she had let him go. It was not her place to make him stay, of course. He was to become a man. She did not know what kind of man he would become and each time he'd come home there was less and less of the boy that she'd known. But he was strong. He had always been strong and that was no different now. That much made her proud.
 
The house was quiet now and had been since her husband passed. Myra missed the noise sorely.
 
“Let's get this one to bed, hm? Be a good boy and get your brother's old cradle from the loft. Here's hoping it's big enough for this little bugger.” She threw her head towards the stairs and Calehan climbed up them as instructed. Her gaze lingered on the chair where he'd sat moments before and the sting and wet in her eyes came unwarranted. “Alodan,” Myra looked down at the slumbering boy held dearly in her arms, “you're going to be quite the adventure, aren't you?”

Danuvis:
Hopety hop, rider,
If he falls, he will scream,

Should he fall into a pond,
No one will find him soon.

The damp darkness was suffocating. The wooden boards huddled closer and closer by every breath he drew in, and there was no breathing out. The stench of wet soil and decay reached hairy tendrils down his nostrils and into the very pit of his stomach. The dread had become a living and breathing thing in this realm, a relentless presence that inched ever closer, carrying a visage of unspeakable malice. He tried to scream, even though he had long ago abandoned any hope for help, but he had completely lost his voice. He tried to cry, but one can only cry for so long and he had spent his precious tears for the time being.

Of all the demons assailing him in his anguish, the worst of all was the silence. It weighed upon him heavier than all the layers of earth above him, a crushing sheet of moist mold constricting him from all directions.

He clung tightly to his precious blade, fumbling in the darkness until he found its worn pommel. Gripping it as he always did, with surity and familiarity, the deafening singing that resonated through its steel drove away the silence and he was able to release the air in his lungs once again.

Hopety hop, rider,
If he falls, he will scream,

Should he fall into the ditch,
The ravens will eat him.

Gone. Carinus woke up from his hallucination with a jolt, scanning his surroundings. The sun was shining in the sanctuary of the Morninglord that he found himself in, the last rays of the dusk basking the bastion of light in the very essence it stood for. Yet, even though the environment was quite pleasant, Carinus could not banish the feelings of his vision; he knew he would not be able to, until he had been reunited with what was taken from him.

With leaden steps he left behind the domain of the faithful, somewhere he never quite belonged, stepping into streets anew.

He peered into the square, his eyes fixing on a pair of short figures surrounded by a dozen of aggravated citizens. Patiently biding his time, he knew he would have his turn eventually.

“Hey, ya!” screamed a high pitched voice, startling him. Suddenly he was surrounded by a ragged bunch of masked figures, pinning him against the wall.

“Ya trying to be smart, eh? Ya making fun of me? He is, isn't he?” a masked gnome spurted out, waving his hands in frantic patterns. Amidst the adrenaline kicking in, a moment of gratitude washed through Carinus for the mask catching all the saliva. The henchmen nodded and mumbled agreeably in a choir of twisted malice and expectation, the words of their leader barely registering anymore as each anticipated the thrill of a beating, or perhaps even more.

“Can't be having that, can we, oh no. Whaddya reckon we do with this dominus, amici?” the gnome cried out, stepping around in circles.

“Skin him alive,” blurted out an unshaven shade of a man, some drool dripping over his reeking beard.

“Oh no, we can't be doing that… what are we, criminals?!” the gnome shrieked, letting out a high-pitched guffaw at his own thoroughly-thought punchline. Some of the quicker bandits joined in on the laughter instantly, and the slower ones followed after a moment upon meeting the glare of their leader.

“We'll let you go this time, dominus, but you'll do something for us first…” the gnome grumbled, pacing around unnervingly. “You'll forget you were ever here, and we’ll help ourselves to your belongings,” he added, peering unconsciously at an unoccupied house at the edge of the quarter.

“And should I refuse?” Carinus responded in Darkonese, taking a long look at the masked men, assessing his situation.

The gnome halted his pacing and leant closer,

“Let's just say dead men don't refuse.”

Coarse bursts of guffaws in his ears and the reek of unwashed bodies in his nostrils, Carinus merely nodded, subdued; his hand absently groping his back, seeking to find Her comforting presence as his meagre wealth was taken, but to no avail.

The bandits receded into the building. Carinus crunched his eyelids shut and lifted his face skywards, a silent curse climbing up into the sunlit clouds.

Hopety hop, rider,
if he falls, he will scream,

If he falls into the hedges,
he will get frightened.

“Fall in line, prepare to storm in on three, shields at the ready!” the plated Witness was issuing orders in the local tongue with drilled ease, and the similarly armoured devouts under his command replied not with words but with disciplined formations and consistent maneuvers, assuming close-knit battle formations at the door of the thuggish hideout.

“One!”

Carinus braced himself at the back of the lines, feeling somewhat out of place trying to fit into the tight formations, but at the same time awash by feelings of belonging and purpose; his efforts had been heeded – his persistence had been rewarded – fate had intertwined the paths of himself and this troop of Witnesses at the eleventh hour. His gratitude and awe left him speechless, he could not find words to express them even in prayer to his Beloved, but in his heart he knew he needed not – She would know in the ensuing bloodshed. He would feel and hear the dulcet tones of Her ensorcelling singing at long last, guiding his hands true into the hearts of these wretches.

“Two!”

Carinus tensed, uttering the last prayers for himself and his wayward Beloved;

“Three!”

Hopety hop, rider,
If he falls, he will scream,

Should he fall into the swamp,
Then the rider goes... splash!

Danuvis:
~

“Out of the question, boy. It still runs in you. Your father... being who he is. Not yet.”

Slender shoulders squared and bird-like chest puffed out in mild indignation, a teenage boy no more than sixteen winters bit briefly on his lip, regarding an old soldier at the desk before him defiantly, though his gaze was tempered with respect.

“It's not as though I'm going to use it--”

“Hrm. Enough. You heard me. There are things unsaid, and best left unsaid. A weekend’s leave. Do not forget your devotions.”

“... as you say, sir.”

With a gesture to the door, not unkindly but certainly dismissive, the old knight returned to his tomes, wrinkles and scars running together in the glow of a single candle. The thin rake of a boy standing awkwardly before him, skinny chest stuck out slightly now merely in some attempt at standing to attention, turned around and made for the oaken door.

“Nemesk.”

He peered over a bony shoulder cautiously, pursing thin lips and squinting his eyes just slightly.

“... Sir?”

The gruff knight looked up from his tome for a moment, a small smile gracing his lips. He turned a page, his gaze returning ponderously to the ornate pages. “Give your uncle my regards.”

Nodding softly, tense shoulders slumped in relief. He smiled slightly in turn, twisting himself aside to tug the door open and call over his shoulder across the imposingly large study. “I will, sir. Good eve.”

~

Breezing easily in the door, he immediately flashed a broad smile at the sight of a plump woman, dithering about in an apron too small for her and a rosy blush to round cheeks. His smile broadened at the scent of freshly baked bread, immediately dropping his sack onto the floor and grasping his aunt in a hug. Her mouth dropped open in shock for a moment, immediately widening to an open-mouthed grin of delight, displaying somewhat crooked teeth. Her brown eyes watering, she pressed kisses to a stubbly cheek. “Ohhh, my dear soldier boy!”

He rolled his eyes over her shoulder, drawing away and dutifully kissing her flour-powdered cheek. “Afternoon, auntie…”

“You haven't been eating, Calehan! Do they not let you eat..? Sit down, sit down!”

Still smiling in delight, though caught between examining the skinny youngster and ushering him over to the table, she turned swiftly to the counter and deftly began to prepare a sandwich, cutting cold slices of pork with a slightly shaky hand. Setting himself easily down, Calehan watched her thoughtfully, propping his head up on his hand and leaning his elbow against the chair. “How are my delightful siblings, then?”

“I haven't seen hide nor hair of your brother, though the other two are coming on finely! Isadora took her first steps, oh-... a tenday ago, and Fran's chattering away like a mockingbird.”

He smiled at that, eyes flicking around at the general chaos left by children with access to a kitchen, despite Myra's best efforts.

"Uncle Igan? My father?"

Replying brusquely, the aging woman attempted to keep a handle on things.

“Oh, well... you know those two... your uncle would like to see you, I'm sure.”

Leaving the obvious left unsaid, he chewed briefly at the inside of his cheek, stuffing a hand into his pocket and taking a breath.

“Has Igan been to see my father yet, Myra..?”

Myra faltered slightly, her smile fading though she continued to absently cut meat from the bone and lay it down on a hunk of bread. She took a small breath and shook her head after a moment, grey-flecked auburn ringlets shifting lightly against her shoulders, her back still turned.

“Never mind about that-... tell me about your training.”

Forcing a thin smile, he accepted the plate from her and dug hungrily into the sandwich, speaking through mouthfuls. She listened keenly, and didn’t seem to mind.

~

Danuvis:
Houses had been put to the flame all across the city, dry thatch catching altogether too easily. Embers and cinders floated down through the sky as if the clouds themselves wept fire; Calehan stood aghast by the window, his top button still done up and his plumed shako sitting upon his head, chinstrap hanging loose, its peak casting a flickering shadow over an expression of sheer disbelief.

Thoughts ran wild through his head, talk of an army in the Pass, of stinking grain mostly overlooked by the city’s magistrate, though there had been unrest surrounding calls for him to come and elaborate on rumours of a column led by the knight-captain heading right to the city. A dozen arrests in the cathedral alone; he had not had time to follow up with his superiors, but had trusted inherently that it was being dealt with.

And now... this. A thought rose from some spiteful place; dealt with, after a fashion. He chased it away, a headache already pounding at his temples. Men garbed in the city’s colours and crest cut down man after woman, body after fleeing body and left them to bleed out on the cobbles, moving swiftly on to another target. Officers in their finery directed men to set building after building ablaze, making only perfunctory checks inside. Corpses were heaved off to carts, pyres constructed and the line moved on; from his desk on the top floor, Calehan could see across the glowing city. A sight that he was usually bored with, accustomed to, and a sight now that he hoped beyond hope would suddenly return, that he would awaken and ascend from the depths of what must surely be a hellish sleep.

Half the city was aglow, the other half doubtless soon to follow. Fiercely burning thatch throwing flickering flames against the gloomy sky, plumes of thick black smoke throwing down glowing flakes of thatch. Accompanying the sight, a cacophony of human tragedies, anguished cries and the clash of steel on steel, a babe wailing in confusion as she was pulled from her mother’s breast to be dashed against the hearth.

A thumping came at the stairs as he bit down a fresh wave of sorrow, the first movement he’d heard in the building in at least an hour. Scowling and panicked, distracted from his misery, he set a gauntletted hand on the pommel of his sword, though when hobnailed boots stopped at his door the fear in still-shining eyes broadened immeasurably.

A gruff old man pushed the door open and wanders inside, his expression blank and eerily lifeless, the stub of a cigar clenched between two gnarled fingers. He flicked ash onto the wooden floor with the practiced whip of a thumb, leering wolfishly about the cluttered room. Keen green eyes alight upon the desk as he chuckled emptily.

“Heh, heh.”

Calehan immediately tensed, squinting his eyes shut tight in that base animal instinct; I can’t see you, you can’t see me. The desk splintered after a couple of crashes of a steel toe-capped boot and he scrambled out from under the wreckage, pushing himself up against the cold hearth and gaping wide-eyed at the grim, bloodied visage of his knight-captain.

“S-... Sir! No! I’m with th-... Order!”

He struggled out a few strangled words, though the old captain seemed mostly uninterested after his display of idle violence, even disgusted at the young man’s grovelling. Spitting at the remains of the desk, he gave Calehan last sneer before wandering to the window and taking in the view.

“Aye. You’ll do.”

~

The ragged column, twenty ashen-faced footmen, filed listlessly out of the barn-like building, unwilling or unable to speak about their grim work. One of the column’s sergeants directed their torches, his face pitted and pallid, seeming sickly in the dawn’s light. Calehan trailed out with the rest of the dispirited soldiers, his hands dripping with blood; a sensation he tried to blank out. Shaking and pale, he patted and searched his pockets for a handkerchief, staining his blue breeches with dark streaks. He eventually managed to withdraw a fold of linen cloth and wipe some of the crimson from his hands though it clings, slimy and warm.

A fair-haired man with a neat goatee, at least in his forties, offered him a flask and a small, knowing smile, his whole front smeared dark red, streaks of it up and down the white of his surcoat. The sight of it turned his stomach again and he swiftly uncorked the bottle, emptying much of the wine over his hands in a desperate attempt at cleanliness though the rest was quickly swallowed.

He turned to find the knight-captain astride an uneasy destrier, the horse bucking slightly and shying away from the flames now beginning to engulf the long, low-roofed building the column had just departed. The old man gave him nothing but a blank, dull-eyed stare for a moment or two, turning to murmur to one of his men and press a grimy writ into a blood-smeared hand. Without a word more he turned and spurred the stallion off, iron shoes knocking sparks off of the cobbles.

Calehan twisted around again to watch the orphanage burn in the old captain’s wake, dazed and blank as rafters fell from the cheap building, collapsing in upon itself. The utter silence from within was assured as stone and wood alike began to crumble inward and the young officer crumbled along with it, mercifully leaving consciousness.

The column dispersed meekly into the night, unable to look one another in the eye, though one aged footman has the presence of mind to plunder Calehan’s coinpurse.

~

Calehan stalked hazily past building after burned-out building, surcoat stained dark and his face filthy from ash and dirt. The stink in the streets was not yet as bad as it was to be; the bodies strewn about had not seen a few hours of baking sun as yet, though acrid smoke from the smouldering structures filled the air, poorly masking a sour hint of plague.

Without aim or purpose he walked, keeping away from sources of light for fear of being seen by either friend or foe, though all was quiet and still. He kept his sword in his hand, cold steel no comfort in his current condition; filthy, penniless and lost. He no longer recognised the city he'd spent so many years in, each turn taken seeming to lead him further astray.

Keeping his eyes to his boots he passed carts stacked five-high with bodies, abandoned in the scramble to flee the city once the undead arrived. More yet lie in piles on the cobbles, waiting for pyres that were never constructed and consigned now to be raised as ghouls or to await a return to dust. Passing a particularly tall pile, something compelled the tormented officer to pause, to turn and to seek something among the grotesque, twisted monuments to the depths of human cruelty, though he knew not what for a few moments until his eyes caught a glimpse of something that his mind refused to believe.

A matronly woman lay atop the pile, greying ringlets spilling down around chunky shoulders and her floral blouse soaked with blood, grimy and gritty with dirt and flecks of gravel. Chestnut brown eyes gazed flatly, blankly into Calehan’s, sun-tanned skin now an unnatural milk-bottle white, her lips similarly drained of colour. The slightly bandy contortion of her legs suggested something more grotesque still than the ragged gash across her throat. The young soldier's mouth dropped open and his sword clattered down against the cobbles, shaking uncontrollably and suddenly consumed with misery. He fell to his knees in a murky puddle alongside her and began to cry, strangled sobs choked and stifled, still dreading something lurking on the gloom.

Burning tears trickled down in his face, washing away blood and grime in thin streaks. He threw himself down against her, uncaring that in this pile of people he was the only one who breathed, and pressed his head down against her chest in his desperation. Feeling a twitch, he jolted back in shock, his nose running and his eyes red-raw from tears, smoke and ash.

Myra smiled at him. He screamed.

~

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