Completed A different kind of love

Shiress gives birth to her baby

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A city floating in the center of a lake, Ravok is a place of dark beauty, romance and culture. Behind it all though is the presence of Rhysol, God of Evil and Betrayal. The city is controlled by The Black Sun, a religious organization devoted to Rhysol. [Lore]

A different kind of love

Postby Shiress on May 31st, 2020, 11:35 pm

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Last edited by Shiress on November 19th, 2020, 12:13 am, edited 1 time in total.
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A different kind of love

Postby Ambrosia Alar on June 1st, 2020, 12:14 am

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A different kind of love

Postby Shiress on July 8th, 2020, 11:05 pm

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1st day
Summer 520


Syna's early morning rays slid across the dusty, wooden floor of the small cabin, nearly reaching Shiress's bare feet pressed against the cold surface. Infinitesimal slivers of dust swayed and danced within the confines of illumination, kicked up from the breeze slipping through a crack beneath the cabin door. Silence filled the small one room space, save for the soft, even breathing of Ambrosia and Caspian, still sleeping soundly, wrapped tightly in their cots.

Shiress sat upright on the side of her bed, long chestnut hair coiled and pulled loosely atop her head. Beneath the baggy sleep dress that she wore, a large bandage covered nearly half of her swollen belly. Nearly three days had passed since she had fled her home in the city proper. Nearly three days since someone had attempted to kill her unborn child. Nearly three days since she had felt the little life within her stir.

Shiress's hand slid across her belly, searching for a less sore spot to press, push, and prod against the still form growing inside her, attempting to coax movement, proof that her baby yet lived. But, as before, the baby remained still.

Shiress slapped a hand across her mouth, stifling the unbidden sob that threatened to release. She had tried to remain hopeful, tried to keep faith that the assassin's blade hadn't ended her baby's life before she had had a chance to live it. She? A smile endeavored to form on Shiress's lips at the thought of a baby girl, but just as quickly, it slid away. Day after day, the stillness in her womb stole away any inkling of hope, the slip of a wishful thought, even as it snubbed out any happiness she may have had left. She fought it, she truly did, but a mother's heart could only hold out so long.

The healer had been waiting for them upon arrival to the outpost, just as Kylar had promised, but, unbeknownst to her friends, Shiress had turned her away with the false assurance that the stab wound was more superficial as previously thought. Dropping her gaze to the coins spilled out across the bedding beside her, Shiress reassured herself that the purpose of her lie was a worthy one; she simply didn't have the coin to spare a healer. Not with traveling to an unknown future. She could care for herself, but, truth be told, if her baby did not live, why should she?

Closing her eyes forced the brimming tears to spill free and stream down her cheeks at the dreadful thought, but it remained there, in her mind, hovering like a dense rain cloud would lurk over Lake Ravok. Ravok. Shiress chuckled without amusement. A home, a haven. A beginning. Brought in as a slave to be freed, bonded, and fall in love, but for what? Only to end up leaving with nearly the same possessions she had crawled out from beneath the underbelly of Sunberth with so many moons before?

Shiress shoved the coins back within the confines of her purse, stood slowly and deliberately, supporting her heavy belly, and padded quietly across the floor to the lone window of her temporary shelter. Beyond the glass, Ravok's Southern Outpost seemed to still sleep, only a handful of guards could be seen perusing the banks of the dock in the early morning light.

Shiress was reminded of the only other time she had left the city, though not by conventional means, but through a portal of sorts. To a time long before her's. Given the experience of the Valterrian, encompassed by all the destruction and the pain and Rhysol. Rhysol. Rhysol.

The God himself, before her, speaking and seeing with his strange orbs.

Shiress shivered with the memory, but even before the memory passed, another slid in its place. Of herself, Stepping up to stand before the God of chaos, back straight, with the unerring confidence of asking Rhysol to protect her unborn child. Of Rhysol nodding and agreeing to do so. Agreeing! Shiress's baby had once been protected by Rhysol! Shiress's eyes widened against the painful hope swelling within her chest. Would he know her now? Would he remember? Or would his anger descend upon her even before the recollection? Would he hear her?

Pulling the hem of her sleep dress high above her knees, Shiress lowered herself gingerly to her knees before the sunlit window and bowed her head.

"Rhysol"

Shiress paused, at a loss of what to say or what to ask -beg- for. Was it too late to save her baby, even for a God? Renewed tears brimmed, broke free, and spilled down Shiress's face in small rivulets, a sudden sense of desperation swarming and consuming her.

"Rhysol, please, please" she begged, but for what, maybe the God would know.

Then, then her heart broke, shattered, separating into a million pieces, and each piece cried out to the only God that her minuscule faith had known. "Rhysol, you knew me once, knew my unborn child. You gave your protection, your promise then, can you bestow it now? Can you renew it now? Can you save my baby?"

Shiress's whispered pleas gave way to silent sobs, splintered here and there with hiccups of "please? Please? Please?" A mother begging for a life that she has not met, but yet loves more than her own.

A sudden, jarring pain froze all thought, then a gush of wetness spilled down between her knees. Shiress's mouth opened in a silent plea, but another stab of pain stole away any words. Sliding sideways to her rear, Shiress gazed down to the puddle on the floor.

The bloody puddle.

No

No, please, no

"Ambrosia, Caspian! Help me!"
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A different kind of love

Postby Caspian on July 16th, 2020, 12:23 am

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    With everything that had happened some 48 bells past, Caspian hasn’t been able to sleep right – and it’s not that he’s not sleeping, it’s just not quite what it used to be, what he remembers it to be, what he’s convinced it ought to have been. One’s supposed to feel better upon waking, but every time he startles up he’s overcome with a piercing sense of displacement, one unending, and if he holds too still for too long –

    The room shifts, bends, swallows him up in its wake.

    Is it possible, that whatever the strange assailant had forced him to imbibe still hasn’t left him? When was the last time a drug had clung this stubbornly to the machinations of his system? And since when had it ever bothered him, the state of being high?

    But it hadn’t been of his own choosing – and so it had settled in him, or so he fears, like a toxin turned to immovable, immutable murk, fixating to his joints, hovering behind his eyes.

    How do I sleep at night? Caspian feverishly asks Taalviel at some point – thinks he asks her, but it’s all a blur, with everything soft made stony, curvatures turned to thorns. Because that’s the infernal, eternal joke – how they manage when they continue to do what they do - and in this case the notion of doing had involved –

    Eyes wide open or shut, breathing or dreaming, he can still feel the blood-soaked cloth twisted in his grip, the body writhing beneath him.

    It gets a little easier by the second morning – helps, more than he can admit out loud, just seeing Rosie lying in the cot beside him. There’s consistency there, and mettle – and it feels like a promise, a golden tether, that no matter how wildly he loses and seeks himself in boundless cycle within his mind, she’s there once he rattles back to life. He knows what she did – what they did, and he isn’t angry. In a way it all feels like something that happened to a stranger, a lurid tale gargled to him offhand in a tavern just before last call. And even if the recollection were something to occur to him in immediacy, in the most personal of senses – and he can feel it getting there, burgeoning on the tip of his tongue, the I statements and declamations of acting and choosing

    That’s okay. It will all be okay, because Shiress is.

    And because, frankly, he’s done worse.

    Or not enough, Taalviel hisses – and he reaches for her, she who never flies too far – and instead there’s Rosie with her copper curls, a voice like crystals and coins, and sometimes things are too loud, everything rumbling and wrecking in his ears at the wrong frequencies, at frightening velocities, and it’s still in him, isn’t it? Whether it’s the drug, or the memory, or the knowing, and he –

    Sleep, Taalviel seems to say to him, but softer this time. And that’s how he knows she isn’t real.

    At one point he thinks he sleeps soundly – though the act of thinking itself disbars him, arguably, from the claim to begin with – but he immediately jerks awake when Shiress screams.

    “Shiress? Rosie – Rosie, gods, sorry, get up – “ He shakes the girl lying beside him, and bolts to Shiress’ side.
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    A different kind of love

    Postby Ambrosia Alar on July 25th, 2020, 1:51 pm

    Ambrosia lay awake, eyes closed. She had them closed, so that if the mood struck, she might fall asleep. That wouldn’t happen though. That much, she knew. Her mind was too busy replaying the promises she had made and the events that had led her to make them; her soul, regretting it. But they had been made.

    She had arrived at the cabin late the day following the attack. She had spent that time putting certain things into motion to assure Shiress would have safe passage out of Ravok. Her hope was that Caspian would join them, too, though she hadn’t been sure if she would be able to face him after the recent happenings.

    Since that day, Ambrosia had not slept well, not necessarily due to the shock, though that probably played some small part in the thing. Nights were when she thrived. Usually, she was up late with the drunks, enjoying good company and similar drinks, so now that she was separated from those things, old sleep patterns held true. While Caspian and Shiress slept, Ambrosia lay awake, her body not used to sleeping through the night. So she lied awake, playing her promise over and over again.

    That wasn’t the only thing that kept her up though. There was a subtle sensation itching in the palms of her hands, that of sturdy fabric that scratched at her skin. It seemed the mind had a way of focusing on the unimportant details and mundane objects to bring attention away from the parts of a story that really mattered. While she thought of the promise she’d made, she ground the fingers of one hand against the palm of the other, switching back and forth between them in an attempt to make the feeling go away. It would not, she knew, except that it had. Knowledge was power, but sometimes power destroyed people. What she knew was that the sensation had left because she had pressed the cloth into someone else’s hands. Into Caspian’s hands.

    It was her way, it seemed. It was her way to want everything she couldn’t have. Every man she had ever wanted in her life had seen her as nothing more than a child, at best a little sister to protect. Never was she the object of their affections, and ever since she had seen Cas, similar desires had arisen. Something about him said he’d never want her though. She couldn’t explain the reasoning, only that she was certain of it, but even if that hadn’t been the case before, Ambrosia knew it had to be now. He had killed someone, but that hadn’t been the most horrific part of it all.

    She had forced his hand.

    It was such a simple statement, but her life unraveled around it. There were few things Ambrosia wanted more than to be loved and cherished by those she held dearest, but what she had done was reprehensible. She didn’t expect his forgiveness, and she certainly wouldn’t ask for it, not after what she had done. As she thought about it more and more, eventually, the sensation left her hands, and she knew it all had been true.

    That she had been capable of that, without a doubt, was the most terrifying part of the night, though she knew it shouldn’t have been. By the Goddess, Shiress had been stabbed! But Ambrosia was too concerned about what changes her actions had made in Cas’ opinion of her.

    And, all at once, her thoughts were consumed by the first friend she had found in this exile. Ambrosia had never considered her friend dumb, but sending the healer away had been idiotic, at best. Shiress may have known what she was doing when it came to doctoring, but if something went sideways, Ambrosia did not. She didn’t think Cas did either. Anger boiled up inside of her, only to realize it had nowhere to go and die as quickly as it rose. Ambrosia couldn’t be angry at Shiress, not for long, but she could worry. They weren’t safe, and that wound could easily get worse. Anything could, Ambrosia thought. Get worse, that is.

    The woman in question sat up on the edge of her bed, and Ambrosia kept her breathing slow and steady and regular. It was a trick she and Tessa and Bethany had learned to cover up that they were awake and plotting to go exploring at night. If they breathed the way they saw each other breathe when they were asleep, their parents would assume they were still sleeping.

    Shiress was as quiet as she could be. Someone slumbering would not have been woken, but promises had kept Ambrosia awake, and so she was forced to wait quietly while she listened, uninvited, to Shiress’ prayer. And it was in that moment Ambrosia knew she didn’t belong.

    A small part of her, a selfish part and a part she hated, wished no god or goddess would answer. Foolishly, she thought she could be enough for Shiress. She wanted her friend to need her more than she needed any deity, but then, she thought about it and realized she was inconsequential, insignificant, and ineffectual. In every way possible, Ambrosia was out of her depth, and Shiress needed someone who could do something more for her.

    Ambrosia was so deep in her faked slumber that she froze when Shiress called for their help, but Caspian’s quick jostle jarred her into action. He was by Shiress’ side in an instant, ready to help his friend while Ambrosia just sat there on her bed, taking in the scene. There was blood, not as much as there had been those few days ago but still too much.

    “Shyke.” Grasping the sheet on her cot, she pulled it free with one swift jerk and scampered to Shiress’ side to join Caspian. There was no time to be angry, no time to say I told you so. One look at the puddle told her it hadn’t come from the wound. Shiress’ bandage and belly were clean. Ambrosia looked at the puddle, looked at the fear in Shiress’ eyes, and swore again. “Shyke.”

    Bundling the sheet in her hand and feeling it scratch at her palms, she sent a silent prayer to any God or Goddess or Anything listening and did the only thing she knew how to do. She smiled. It wasn’t a cheery smile. It was a soft smile, barely there but full of a calm and confidence she did not feel.

    The blood didn’t look right. It was more watered down than the stuff that had covered them all just a few days back.

    “Shiress? What’s happening? I ain’t a doctor, and you better not be about to make me one.”

    Why the ever-loving petch had she sent the healer away?

    On the surface, Ambrosia’s calm remained. “What’s happening? What do I need to do?”
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    A different kind of love

    Postby Shiress on September 2nd, 2020, 3:10 am

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    "It's okay."

    Shiress grabbed Caspian's hand and brought it to her mouth, pressing her lips gently to his knuckles before doing the same to Ambrosia's. The reassurance in her voice was strong and loyal. Shiress had been preparing for this moment, the inevitability of it, for several days.

    "I'm okay. The blood is normal. It's normal."

    Shiress attempted to keep the despair she felt out of her voice, but the slight sob cut short on a hiccup belied the attempt, though she hadn't lied. The blood was normal, so far as a stab wound was normal, but the crimson tinged fluid validated her fear. The blade had punctured her womb, and she would give birth to a dead baby. That truth should have shattered any walls of stoicism Shiress had left, but it hadn't. It had numbed her emotions, allowing a woeful resignation to set in—numb acceptance.

    Once the pain had ebbed, Shiress began situating herself for the long hall of childbirth. Labor, Shiress new, especially for a first-time mother, could take as long as 48 bells, or as few as half a bell. Either case, it was best to repair as quickly as possible. Lifting her eyes, she studied her companions in turn, finally focusing her eyes on Ambrosia.

    "Rosi, I'll need you to help me with the birth and with what comes after. I'll walk you through everything and tell you what to do, but for the time being, my body will be doing all the work. For now, I'll need you to count between pains to keep up with how far apart they are. The closer the pains, the closer the baby." Her green gaze shifted to Caspian, "Cassie, you'll take care of the baby. You'll need to find clean blankets, water, and a knife..."

    Shiress's words trailed off, her eyes filling with tears when she realized that she was about to give Caspian instructions to care for a baby born alive. A baby with no life wouldn't need clean blankets.

    Shiress closed her eyes, letting the unshed tears break free and trail down her reddened cheeks. With a breath, she amended her statement with a voice that wasn't quite as steady.

    "You'll just need a blanket." Clearing her throat, she managed a weak smile for her friends, holding out a hand to each to help her to her feet. "I need to move, so the pains don't stall, and you two need to eat and prepare for a long wait." Shiress smiled again, but her heart wasn't in it. Putting an arm around each of her companions, she drew them close. "I don't know what I would do without you two. I love you both so much."

    The next few bells were full of deep, panting breaths, grunts, and unladylike cursing. The distant voices of Caspian and Ambrosia were heard, but not quite registered. Shiress followed instructions from her friends without fuss, almost mechanically. Someone had bathed her, another had offered water, both had given hugs when she couldn't entirely fight down the despair, and when she had screamed for them to "leave me the petch alone!" they both had given her distance, but when she had cried out for them, they had engulfed her.

    It wasn't until well into the fourth bell that Shiress's body took a drastic turn closer to giving birth. She had taken to walking outside around the small cabin, after one of her nurses, Caspian, she thought, had calmly informed her, in his own words that pretty much equated to "you need to shut the petch up and deal!" when the pain didn't quite ebb as quickly as the others. It began as an ache deep between her hip bones that grew into a fierce burn across her stomach. By the time she had made it to the doorway of the cabin, Shiress had lost control of her breath and was panting.

    "I think its time."
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    A different kind of love

    Postby Caspian on September 3rd, 2020, 11:35 pm

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      “Sure, right. Right, sure – “ Caspian babbles. The instructions are sundry, which for some reason surprises him – and simultaneously they present themselves as insurmountably impenetrable, as if she’s just asked him to build her a basilica, and handed him the blueprints in a language he doesn’t understand. “Blankets – water – water, knife –“

      The next exclamation of pain sends him bolting away on stuttering legs. This is not his element; these are not his depths – he knew the midwife’s tent in Snowsong Hold and had heard the cries whistling along after him as he played in the icy dells. But in the small cabin there’s nowhere to turn, and the immediacy of the situation is one that fills him with both incredulity and horror.

      “ – water, blankets – blankets – knife?” he mutters as he dives through the cabin. In a cupboard he finds neatly folded linens, the quick success sending off a spark of hope that perhaps he isn’t entirely useless, that despite the terrors that had brought them to this point, they have nowhere to go but up and something, finally, will go right.

      Water is easy where they are – it’s just the hauling it from the nearest shoreline here that will take some doing. There are two buckets by the stove, another two by the shed outside, and it’s so frustrating that he can only take two at a time but the only way to go is onward. He’ll just have to go faster – he doesn’t know what the blood means and the shortening interval between Shiress’ screams isn’t something arithmetic can trace.

      He hauls the buckets down to the shoreline; to his terrible shock, the other two buckets lift with him.

      ”Taalviel?” he stutters at his sister, who flutters along beside him in dark robes, the two remaining buckets in her hands.

      “You keep doing that,” she replies crossly, fixing him with a look of consternation. “Forgetting that I’m here.”

      He stops. Stares. Already at the water’s edge, she sends him a glare back.

      “But – “ He jogs ahead to catch up, and they fill the buckets to the brim. “ – sure, I dreamed you – “

      “Or so you keep saying. And before you ask, no, you are not asleep; and yes, I am real. I think you took too many hallucinogens, and from the looks of things you’ve succumbed to shock.”

      “But how did you –?” They’re back at the cabin, and he gestures at – well, all of it, feverish Shiress and Rosie rushing about.

      Neither of the other two women so much as bat Taalviel an eye.

      Which means that she really must have been by his side the whole time. That, or –

      “I am not a figment of your imagination. And it wasn't finding so much as noticing - the place you hauled a bleeding woman and then strangled a stranger was basically next door to our apartment. Now please stop idling and give me fire.”

      The tobacco pipe, flint, and striker in his pockets are familiar weights when he reaches for them, anchoring him to the now.

      When he hands his sister the flint and striker, they don’t pass through.

      “See?” she says brusquely, kneeling by the fireplace. “Entirely corporeal.”

      “Let me do it,” he says when the first few sparks she sends onto the kindling falter and fade. This he can do, even under duress – all those years of smoking, hands cupped over delicate blunts and bowls in careful nurturing of a flame finally seeing themselves through.

      They heat the water as Shiress paces and frets.

      And then, in all senses of the word, things come to boil. Feeling restless and useless, he watches as Taalviel and Rosie, flanking Shiress on either side, lead her where she needs to lie.
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      Postby Ambrosia Alar on September 11th, 2020, 3:13 pm

      The physician inside Shiress was calm as she explained to the two what they would need to do, but Ambrosia could see that the mother in her was barely holding things together. Despair was a frightening place to be, a near complete loss of hope. Ambrosia had been there before, and if there was one thing she knew, no one should face that alone.

      So she counted, exactly as Shiress had asked her to. She counted and fretted over the fact that both Shiress and Caspian called her Rosie. She still wasn’t quite sure she liked it, but she didn’t have the heart to tell them. Rosie had only been used regularly by one person. Tessa. It wasn’t fair that Ambrosia was stuck here, halfway across the world helping someone else bring life into the world while Tessa waited dead and suffering in Alvadas. It was a difficult thing for Ambrosia to come to terms with, and though she did her best to be supportive of her friend, the once-barmaid turned temporary midwife found her patience growing short.

      Despite knowing nothing, despite this being her first foray into medicine, Ambrosia had done everything that was asked of her. Being Shiress’ closest female companion, it had fallen to Ambrosia to help her bathe, and she had done so without complaint, being particularly careful around the wound. Whoever had cleaned it and patched it had done well. There was no odor coming from the wound at all. When Shiress had snapped at her, Ambrosia had stepped away, shrinking into her insignificant self, hoping she could disappear from this all, but when Shiress cried, something in Ambrosia broke, and she consoled her friend with warm words, warm hugs, and warm smiles.

      But Ambrosia was already on edge, and Shiress snapped one too many times. Ambrosia snapped back. “I didn’t petch the man. I ain’t the one who did the deed, and I ain’t gonna put up with this from you much longer.”

      As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Ambrosia regretted them, but words had the nasty habit of being unable to be taken back once they were said. They were out there, but she couldn’t be sure how much the words really registered in Shiress’ mind. All she did know was that Shiress spent the rest of her time waiting by pacing outside.

      Giving her friend the space she needed, Ambrosia continued to watch unnoticed by Shiress from the vantage points of the windows or the open door. As each bell passed, Ambrosia continued to count diligently, and though the numbers began to all run together in her mind, she was certain of one thing. They were getting closer and closer together.

      As she watched though, something changed, and Ambrosia was already by Shiress’ side to guide her to the bed when Shiress was walking through the door and proclaiming, “I think it’s time.”

      Ambrosia was glad Taalviel was here too. She seemed to be a steadier, more confident soul than either herself or Caspian, maybe even both of them combined. That, and Ambrosia had never taken part in the birth of a child before. Hai, she’d never participated in the prerequisites either. This was all unfamiliar territory, and she felt absolutely useless over it all.

      Taalviel directed Shiress to lie down. Perhaps she had participated in the past. Perhaps Shiress had given them some direction that Ambrosia had just missed in her mild panic. None of it showed on the outside. Instead, she squeezed Shiress’ hand and beamed her warmest smile.

      “See? Everything’s going just like you said it would. Ain’t a single need to fret. You’ve got this.”

      Something inside Ambrosia said that Shiress didn’t believe that. Though there were no outside signs, she sensed something off about her friend. Maybe that was the pain talking. Maybe Shiress knew more than she was letting on. Maybe...

      Whatever it was Ambrosia knew there was nothing to do to make Shiress believe what she believed, and that thought alone crushed Ambrosia, made her feel even more useless than before. Kneeling next to the bed, she wrapped her other hand around hers and Shiress’ and caught the mother-to-be’s gaze.

      “Everything is gonna be fine. I’m here. Cas is here. Even Taalviel. This baby is gonna be just fine.”

      Bone ground against bone in her hand as Shiress’ squeezed against a sudden onslaught of pain. Ambrosia winced and gasped too but squeezed Shiress’ hand once again. She had to be a support though she had no clue how to do that.

      “You’re doing great.”

      Taalviel whispered in Ambrosia’s ear. “Keep it up. These are the things she needs to hear. Just guide her along.”

      Guide her along? How the petch was Ambrosia supposed to do that when she had no clue what she was doing to begin with? What the Hai was she supposed to say? ‘Have the baby’? That was ridiculous. Shiress was already doing that just fine on her own.

      Only one other thing came to mind, so Ambrosia said it. “Breathe.”
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      A different kind of love

      Postby Shiress on November 5th, 2020, 8:26 pm

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      Ambrosia said "Breathe"

      Shiress drew in a shaky breath, held it, then slowly released it. Corporeal pain blended with the pain in her heart, to the point that she found it hard to discern between the two. Still, the twin, reassuring company that she lay between enabled her to find a semblance of focus. As one hand tightened its vice-like grip around Ambrosia's hand, the other slid out and wrapped around Taalviel's.

      Shiress didn't know Caspian's sister well, but the quiet girl's presence was remarkable. The silent strength Taalviel exuded lured Shiress, and she reached for it, even as her eyes found and held Caspian's gaze. Her emerald eyes never strayed from his as she lifted first Ambrosia's hand then Taalviel's, pressing the back of each to her lips.

      Shiress's gaze, as well as the gesture, said, 'this is it, and thank you for being here.'

      After a tick, and as another pain ebbed, Shiress cleared her throat, speaking to her three companions.

      "Its time"

      Try as she may to steady her voice, the words still came out between panting breaths.

      "This isn't going to be pretty." Shiress attempted a smile, but it coalesced into a grimace, eyes flooding with tears. "I don't want to hold the baby" a deep breath "I can't," She blinked, tears spilling free, "too painful."

      Shiress squeezed Rosie's hand, turning her head to look at her friend.

      "Once the baby's head is out, place both your hands on either side of the baby's head, and when I push, you will pull gently until the shoulders are free. Once the shoulders are out, things will go quickly. The baby will slide out."

      Shiress paused, closing her eyes as pain overtook her. Once it passed, she licked her lips and continued.

      "You will need two pieces of string. Tie the cord in two places, maybe an inch apart. Use a knife and cut the cord, then give the baby to Taalviel. You'll stay until I deliver the afterbirth, maybe five ticks, that's all."

      "Then it's over."

      The last three words escaped on a sob, and it took Shiress a moment to focus her eyes on Caspian.

      "Will you wash the baby? You and Taalviel? I know this is..." words broke off as another sob tore free, but she continued, speaking through the torrent. "I know this is hard and awkward and a lot to ask, but I can't do--" another stifling whimper "I can't do it, and I wouldn't want anyone else, but you two." Emploring eyes traveled between Caspian and his sister "Please?"

      Just as Shiress would have gotten a reply, another, harder pain consumed Shiress, and her body's natural urge to push took over.

      Something must have passed between the three observers because each moved into place; Ambrosia settling between Shiress's knees, Taalviel moving to rest Shi's head in her lap, and Caspian moving closer, though it was obvious that nervous energy thrummed between all in the small wooden cabin.

      For the next bell, Shiress, drenched head to toe in sweat, labored. At times, she cried. At times, she begged, though for what she begged of her friends, she didn't know. At times, she cursed the name of every God or Goddess she had ever heard of, but through it all, and with every pain, she bore down and pushed.

      Inch by inch, a baby's pale head, thick with dark hair, emerged, and, as Syna's golden light gave way to hues of red and purple, Elias and Shiress's baby was born.

      Shiress fell back into Taalviel's lap, exhausted and limp, and though in her mind she knew not to expect it, her traitorous heart strained to hear that first gasp, that first oh so precious intake of air. The harbinger of life and voice and love announcing a baby's entrance into your world. A sound that every mother begs for, and one no mother ever forgets.

      Her baby's first wail of life, looking, seeking, calling out for warmth and comfort.

      It did not come.

      Shiress squeezed her eyes closed and turned away from the silence of her child and the somber faces of her friends.

      Grabbing hold of Taalviel tightly, Shiress began to grieve for what might have been.
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      Shiress
      Every path has a few puddles
       
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      A different kind of love

      Postby Caspian on November 7th, 2020, 2:32 am

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        Though he hadn’t come into this with any expectations, he didn’t think there would be so much screaming.

        On a battered stool in the corner, on the far side of the room, Caspian wrings the end of his sleeves and feels himself going gray. He’s pulled them well past his fingertips, twisting and worrying the ends, wanting nothing more than to envelope himself in layer upon layer until he’s so encased that he can neither see nor hear the many multitudes happening just feet away.

        It seems the right thing to do, keeping himself at a distance, and very much away from the direction Shiress’ legs are parted. Taalviel’s gotten herself swept up in all of it, the usual aloofness in her dark eyes overridden by resolution and intent. More than once he wonders how much she resents this. She’s not one for being touched, yet Shiress, essentially a perfect stranger, has her in full lock and stock. But every so often Taalviel will look up from Shiress and then at him, as if to reprimand him for trespasses he hasn’t even committed. At the heart of the message, though, is stay put and stay clear, which is utterly doable and entirely necessary because –

        Shiress lets out another heart-wrenching scream. Caspian hunches down and stares at the knots in the floorboards, at an ant wandering by in utter disinterest.

        More than anything – and he’ll sort it out later, the incongruity that is the suddenness of his sister among his friends – he feels an incredible relief that she’s here. She knows far better than he how to approach a situation with calm and control. Maybe it’s just a matter of acceptance. While he rails and frets against circumstances he’d prefer weren’t in motion, she’s always been more fluid, at least in the marshaling of her own thoughts, and if someone needs a hand to hold and it’s clearly for the good of all, then she’ll unflinchingly play the whipping post.

        In his static-striped haze, he had not expected Shiress to want him for anything. When she doles out her instructions to the lot of them, his head jerks up suddenly, as if he’s passing through a crowd and someone had unexpectedly called out. Across the room, he meets Taalviel’s eyes, which seem to pierce him to the spot.

        She holds him there until, suddenly, it’s as if there’s one last lunge – and with a rattling sigh, Shiress’ body goes slack.

        “Fill the bucket.”

        Caspian startles back, nearly falls off his stool. Taalviel’s standing before him, something swaddled and leaking in her arms. Beyond her, Shiress is still lying on the floor, Ambrosia curled around her, and suddenly the world is slotting back into place. Between the end of Shiress’ labor and Taalviel bearing the bleeding burden, time had skipped – time had shunted him out, given him the boot, saw how cripplingly useless he had become and shown him the door.

        And Taalviel had dragged him back.

        “Caspian,” Taalviel repeats, and he hurries to his feet, filling the bucket with the water they’d boiled, since gone tepid.

        He follows her to the sink. But she sees the way his limbs are shaking and –

        “This one’s lighter,” she says. Shortly, but not unkindly. Inert flesh doesn’t weigh so much as water. For all they know its bones are as hollow as a bird’s. She makes a motion, as if they might trade, and he reels back, shaking his head sharply. “Alright,” she says. “Gently, then –“ she instructs him as he tips the bucket into the sink, the water flowing just enough so that she can peel back the red-drenched swaddling and slowly rinse the tiny body in her arms.

        Caspian watches the water. Once – twice – he dares glance further, at the baby. Two eyes, two ears, a nose, a mouth – all the things he has, only in miniature. But the red – there seems to be so much of it, the smell sticking and seeping. The ends of his sleeves grow wet. This shirt – after all this he’ll have to burn it.

        Sensing the panic rising in his heart, Taalviel says, “Do you remember when Tilden bashed his head?”

        “The apothecary?” That had been in Sunberth, lifetimes away from here. “…I remember Taaldros bashing it for him.”

        “Right. And he split his skull and was lying on the floor and –“

        “Taaldros realized he didn’t know the difference, on sight, between shoe polish and Rutlye, so we had to pick Tilden up and hose him down until he came to, and –“

        It helps, talking, and even if that whole mess is one of those things he filed away the moment he fled to Ravok, the lines are parallel to the present. That day, for several long, horrific minutes, Caspian had also been afraid they were bathing a corpse.

        “Almost done,” Taalviel murmurs, and from the way she peers down it’s almost as if it’s to the body rather than him.

        Finally, the rivulets in the water run clear. Caspian hands her a clean blanket, still averting his gaze. Swiftly, she wraps her charge, and crosses the room back to Shiress and Rosie.

        At the sink, Caspian stares down at his hands, which haven’t stopped shaking. The man he’d strangled, Shiress inverted, the baby that lay in its own gruesome heap – all of it is under his skin, lodged beneath his nails, and no matter how hard he scrubs he just can’t seem to –

        A baby’s cry cuts through the room.

        Caspian whirls around. Taalviel had handed the bundle to Shiress and had drawn back at the sound.

        It takes several long moments for him to piece together exactly what he’s seeing – and even then, it’s nothing short of a miracle.

        Seeing Shiress with new life in her arms – life that in its creation, harboring, and burgeoning defied all possibility –

        Something slots into place, and he flees the room.

        Time skips again between his abandoning the cabin, and Taalviel seemingly appearing out of thin air at his side, yanking him back by the arm.

        “Caspian – “

        “Let go – “

        “Caspian, where the petch are you going?”

        Caspian wrenches himself free and keeps walking. The water laps at the lake, the sun shining in tessellating, frenetic refraction that blinds him at every turn. Heat and chill rise across his skin in simultaneous waves. It’s impossible for him to tell the time of day.

        “Cas – “

        He doesn’t mean to shove her. Well – to be honest, he rather does. Because without missing a beat, as expected, she ruthlessly shoves him back.

        Neither of them have eaten much since leaving the city proper but just like with all things, Caspian doesn’t handle this as well, and when she grapples with him again he crumples to the ground.

        She reaches for his knife. He reaches for hers. It’s not that either of them necessarily have plans to use them but they aren’t about to take the chance of leaving the other one armed. Their scuffle brings them to the very edge of the Lake and she’s got him pinned towards the tides, headfirst, and he recoils in horror as the water laps at his skull where it’s pressed against the pebbled shore.

        Either out of mercy, or the day taking its toll, she lets him up. Both of them have given up on the knives. He pivots and continues the way he’d originally been heading.

        Caspian – “

        Sharply, he wheels around. “What? What, Taalviel?”

        She gestures at the cabin.

        “They’re done, aren’t they?" he snaps. "It’s done. It was going to be done one way or another and now it is, and so am I. Aren’t you the one who taught me when to make an exit?”

        “But you can’t.”

        They’re a few yards apart, and she’s approaching him slowly, with an expression he can’t immediately decipher.

        It’s not one he’s seen on her very often – and that solves it.

        She’s looking at him with pity.

        “What do you mean, I can’t? Look, all this – “ He points at the cabin. “ – that’s theirs. Not mine. I did my part. And I was glad to, but – stars above, Taalviel, it’s over and I want to go home. I want to crawl in bed and stay there and just – I don’t know, see how many parts of this I can pretend never happened.”

        There it is again. That look.

        As if something’s her fault – as if she’s sorry.

        “There was murder, brother.” More than one, the first over the winter, though neither of them can speak this out loud. “And in the city of Ravok – we both know there’s no coming back from that.”

        The truth hits him like a blow to the heart. But stubbornly, he shakes his head, saying, “All my things – “

        “I brought them here while you were sleeping. Yes, even your violin.”

        “But – “ He looks out to the lake. It’s a gleaming medallion, the light so thick he might walk across. “Thance,” he says, “and Saticath.”

        “I left notes. They’ll understand.”

        And what they understand will be whatever fabrication Taalviel had chosen.

        Rage and sorrow bubble and burst inside him. The closest friends he’s ever made in his life, relationships that weren’t possible until he’d run from Sunberth, crash-landed here, and built himself into whoever he is now – the thought of walking away without having the chance to properly explain himself strikes him like a deathblow.

        “You can do whatever you want,” Taalviel says, taking him by surprise. “I can make things difficult for you, but I don’t think I could actually stop you. And I think you know that.”

        Somewhere across the water is the life he had painstakingly cobbled together from the ground up. Relatively speaking – it isn’t even that far. He could run. And as she admitted, in the end there’s not much she could do to keep him.

        And maybe that’s the cruelest part, the freedom she’s giving him. As if choosing is supposed to make this any easier.

        “I loved him,” he says, speaking of Thance, his throat painfully constricting. “You know? For a little while. And I think he still loves me. I treated him terribly and I don’t want to just – disappear, and have him think I never – “ He shakes his head. “And Saticath. I was skin and bones when she found me, and the way I talked - it was like I was still on the Slag Heap. And she picked me up and taught me how to tie a cravat – “ His hands are shaking again, and he lets out a broken huff of a laugh. “She’s like my sister. I can’t just – “

        “So am I.”

        A gale whips up from the Lake. He shudders against it. Slowly, Taalviel approaches him – but there’s no need. They both know the fight’s been ground out.

        “I can’t – “ He stutters. “I can’t go back in there.” He jerks his head at the cabin. “Not just yet. But where are we…?”

        It doesn’t matter. It just won’t be here.

        Silently, she presses a hand to his cheek, and returns to attend to Shiress however necessary in the cabin.

        Caspian sits upon the shore, burying his head in his hands.
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