[P] some people claim there's a woman to blame
do do do do do
#1
[html]

[000] • he just vibin'


Spirits were high that evening. They had good company to thank, of course, but the booze and the smokes hadn't hurt. Calrian was right in that nice zone between having a brilliant, inspiration-filled conversation that never seemed to make sense in the morning and passing out the sand. All in all, a good space.

While the others fell into their own conversations around the fire or paired off into the cold (perhaps to sober up), Calrian sat back and simply soaked up the camaraderie. For once, he was content not to talk or steer the conversation. Even Brokers needed breaks.

At least, until he noticed the mystic across the fire. For a moment he simply watched her, fixing his gaze on the way her face paint glimmered in the dancing light. Thoughts about laurels and houseflies and burdensome ivy came to mind, and he stood up.

He grabbed another cup on his way over, because there was no way he was going to wake up without a headache tomorrow, and then flopped unceremoniously down in the open space beside her. It was a free beach. If she wanted to leave, she could.

"How's it going? Are you bored?" He could never really tell. Sometimes she seemed to be engaged, and then if anyone noticed or she noticed, a wall came up. Or maybe it was just with him that these walls came up. Peering over, he realized that she had something in her hands that wasn't a cup or stick. He cracked a grin. "Did you have those on you this whole time?"

<style>
.txtBitter p.ooc { padding:20px 5px 5px 3px; opacity:.75; text-indent:0px; }
.txtBitter p.ooc:after { margin:0 auto; content:''; filter: alpha(opacity=60%); opacity: .30; display: block; border-bottom: 1px solid; padding-bottom: 10px; }
.txtBitter p.wc { padding:0px 5px 5px 3px; opacity:.75; text-indent:0px; text-align:right; }
.txtBitter p { margin:10px 20px 0; font-family:Bitter; line-height:23px; text-indent:25px; font-size:15px; }
.txtBitter b.npc { opacity:.75; }
.txtBitter b.lang:before { content:'< '; }
.txtBitter b.lang:after { content:' >'; } </style>[/html]
#2
[html]

Evening had fallen and the celebration had started to wind down. Salem found herself alone by the fire, warm and content.


She’d held her share of conversations and sipped her share of drink. She’d danced her share, laughed her share. She’d learned much and given little away, as her dramatic game of self-preservation insisted, and she found herself drained of social energy and content simply to sit by the fire and recharge. Her ears were pounding, and when had her neck become so sore? Salem touched at it gently when she noticed Calrian en route, and without missing a beat, plucked the cup from Calrian’s hand as he plopped himself down beside her.


"Ah, thank you for this," she said as she took it, and sipped long enough from it to make it obvious she would not be returning it. "Oh no, not at all. Just sitting back a moment. Do I look bored?"


When her deck was mentioned, she flipped her hand to reveal it in her grip, and looked just as surprised to see it as Calrian had been. Shuffling the deck when idle was something of a nervous habit, and she hated to think she had exposed herself as anxious among them while drinking.


Salem hummed. "I suppose I have. Best not to get them sandy." When she twisted to tuck the deck away into the pockets on her belt, a spot of her painted mask was exposed as smudged away at her cheeks. Not knowing this she continued, "You’ve had a good day, hmm? Always with a fresh drink in hand."

<style>.LinPost3 {margin:0px auto; max-width:90%; padding:10px;} .LinPost3 p {font-family: 'Lato', sans-serif; font-size:16px; text-align:justify; text-indent:40px; line-height:140%; opacity:0.9;} .LinPost3 p.ooc {font-family: 'Lato', sans-serif; font-size:16px; text-indent:0px; text-align:right; font-style:italic; opacity:0.6; border-bottom:1px dotted; padding-top:5px;} .LinPost3 b {font-weight:bold;} .LinPost3 b.npc {font-weight:bold; opacity:0.6;}</style>[/html]
#3
[html]

[000] • once, my old roommate took a pizza that had caught on fire out of the oven with his bare hands. this is an ode to him.


She moved faster than his drunken mind could process. While his hand opened and shut over the empty space where the drink had been, he could only shake his head to her question of boredness. After a moment, he reclined back onto his elbows and grinned at her, "No, but you didn't look thirsty either."

The attention to her cards scared them away. Walls, again. She tucked them out of sight, but as she turned back, not all looked the same. He stared at her, trying to discern what was different.

Sometimes it would seem like life was a party for Calrian. That perception was mostly correct, but where it did not apply was, ironically enough, party situations. For reasons related to his business sense or even some safeguard of self preservation, he was forced to hold back. Among friends, however, those safeguards had been demolished like one of Indis' sandcastles. Faster to the draw than reason or good sense, his devious side leaned closer and replied, "You know what would make it an excellent day?" and by the grace of instinct or Lady Luck's hand, he snapped his mouth shut before the rest came out. Even as the liquor loosened his lips, there were some lines he just shouldn't—couldn't—cross. He summoned his composure, sitting back and straight. "Sorry," he said with a sheepish grin, "Habit."

Suddenly he realized what was so different about her face. "Oh, your um," he squinted. The words weren't coming to mind. How was that possible? He always had words. He sat up quickly, and in a series of actions too fast to stop, he grabbed the end of a branch from the fire. The light cackled bits of burning hot white into the air as he drew it out. Still eluding explanation, he tapped off the blackened bits and gathered the pieces that fell into the cool sand. It was still warm, and though he yipped a bit as the parts stung him, by the end of it, he had some charcoal powder in his palm. "Here you go," he said at last, offering it to her.

<style>
.txtBitter p.ooc { padding:20px 5px 5px 3px; opacity:.75; text-indent:0px; }
.txtBitter p.ooc:after { margin:0 auto; content:''; filter: alpha(opacity=60%); opacity: .30; display: block; border-bottom: 1px solid; padding-bottom: 10px; }
.txtBitter p.wc { padding:0px 5px 5px 3px; opacity:.75; text-indent:0px; text-align:right; }
.txtBitter p { margin:10px 20px 0; font-family:Bitter; line-height:23px; text-indent:25px; font-size:15px; }
.txtBitter b.npc { opacity:.75; }
.txtBitter b.lang:before { content:'< '; }
.txtBitter b.lang:after { content:' >'; } </style>[/html]
#4
[html]

salem rn

He drew in, a spice on his tongue, then flicked back again with apologies and a sheepish recomposure. The Fortune Teller had frowned and tucked her chin in and away from him stiffly in that moment, and was left still frowning and with pursed lips. Silent and confused, she thinned her eyes and said nothing, at least until he put his hands in the fire.


"Cal. Calrian. Cal—" The urgency to stop him was there, but Salem did nothing to intervene. She thought briefly of Indis burning herself and worrying half the Troupe a few days before, and chose to ignore the intrusive and drunken question in her mind on whether she'd joined up with a group of idiots.


Clearly stinging from the burn, he offered her the consequential charcoal in his palm. Salem, devoid of any context whatsoever and utterly flabbergasted, culminated her surprise instead with a forceful seizure of his hand. She glanced it for damage and saw nothing she found worth calling Adina for.


Then, exasperated, Salem shoved his hand back at him. "This is it, then? This is what makes for an excellent day? Drinking yourself silly? Gods, between this and your philosophy to trust everyone..."


From the corners of her eyes, she between glanced their Guards, Jethro and Galilee, going about their own business among the winding-down festivities. Certain members of the Troupe seemed to have no survival instinct whatsoever. The poor Guards’ work was cut out for them.


Salem tipped back the rest of the drink she had taken from him, and spoke again only once the glass was empty. "Why did you do that?"

<style>.LinPost3 {margin:0px auto; max-width:90%; padding:10px;} .LinPost3 p {font-family: 'Lato', sans-serif; font-size:16px; text-align:justify; text-indent:40px; line-height:140%; opacity:0.9;} .LinPost3 p.ooc {font-family: 'Lato', sans-serif; font-size:16px; text-indent:0px; text-align:right; font-style:italic; opacity:0.6; border-bottom:1px dotted; padding-top:5px;} .LinPost3 b {font-weight:bold;} .LinPost3 b.npc {font-weight:bold; opacity:0.6;}</style>[/html]
#5
[html]

[000] • lmaoooo omg salem


He could not overlook Salem's reaction, and very swiftly, the Broker's hat he had hung up for the evening was slapped back onto his head. A night of no inhibitions had ended early. Back to work! As much work as he could, anyway, given the circumstances.

He could not hear her say his name over the sound of his intentions. When at last he was done, she scrutinized his palm and shoved it back at him. Calrian had to catch the falling powder with a comical juggle of his palms.

"This is it, then?—"

"No, see—"

"This is what makes for an excellent day? Drinking yourself silly? Gods, between this and your philosophy to trust everyone..."

He processed what she said slowly through the booze in his head, and then he laughed kindly. If that was what she thought of him, then that was what she thought of him. People saw his foolishness and either believed he was sometimes foolish or that he was only a fool. Those who thought the latter were rarely convinced otherwise, and he was not in the business of convincing them.

A day with friends, alive and well, well enough to make themselves sick, was an excellent day indeed. "Silly's fun. C'mon love, you might like it if you try it," He laughed.

Patiently, the Broker licked his finger and took a pinch of the powder. While she knocked back the rest of his drink, he patted some of the make-shift paint onto the lighter areas of his muzzle where the pigment would show.

Once finished, he looked at her. The faint imprint of a star all but twinkled on his snout, and he grinned. "You smudged yours," he said, "So I thought you might want to cover it up before cursing the whole Troupe." He reached for another piece of charred wood which had cooled off by now, and began to compress it in his palm. He offered it to her again. "Unless that's what you wanted." He winked.

<style>
.txtBitter p.ooc { padding:20px 5px 5px 3px; opacity:.75; text-indent:0px; }
.txtBitter p.ooc:after { margin:0 auto; content:''; filter: alpha(opacity=60%); opacity: .30; display: block; border-bottom: 1px solid; padding-bottom: 10px; }
.txtBitter p.wc { padding:0px 5px 5px 3px; opacity:.75; text-indent:0px; text-align:right; }
.txtBitter p { margin:10px 20px 0; font-family:Bitter; line-height:23px; text-indent:25px; font-size:15px; }
.txtBitter b.npc { opacity:.75; }
.txtBitter b.lang:before { content:'< '; }
.txtBitter b.lang:after { content:' >'; } </style>[/html]
#6
[html]

He inadvertently called her not-fun immediately after putting his hands into fire, because that was what fun was, and she wore contempt for the statement as clearly on her face as she did her mask. But Salem breathed the frustration away, knowing it was the drink in her system only loosening those feelings out of her. On a normal day, Salem arrogantly assured herself, she would not be so telling and free with her composure and feelings. She could keep her secrets just fine. It was the drink, that was all. It’d been a while since she’d had a good drink.


He drew a star on his snout and implied her mask to have lifted. At once, the Fortune Teller visibly tensed up and searched the sands around them, hiding her face as she did, and then began to scoop the charcoal from his palm and smudge it without rhyme or reason about her eyes. It’s just the drink, she reassured herself again and again. I only slipped because of the drink.


"Did I miss anything?" Salem asked. Shame was clear in her voice. "Just cover up the rest for me, will you?"


She hated to be touched, but the drink and panic both numbed away the disdain, and it wasn't worth running for the broken mirror at her tent and drawing attention in so doing. The Fortune Teller didn’t meet his eyes, instead glancing among the others hoping they hadn’t seen, and falling repeatedly back to her hands in her lap.


"I’m sorry for..." she started, then faded away. Grimacing, she tried again. "Thank you for telling me."

<style>.LinPost3 {margin:0px auto; max-width:90%; padding:10px;} .LinPost3 p {font-family: 'Lato', sans-serif; font-size:16px; text-align:justify; text-indent:40px; line-height:140%; opacity:0.9;} .LinPost3 p.ooc {font-family: 'Lato', sans-serif; font-size:16px; text-indent:0px; text-align:right; font-style:italic; opacity:0.6; border-bottom:1px dotted; padding-top:5px;} .LinPost3 b {font-weight:bold;} .LinPost3 b.npc {font-weight:bold; opacity:0.6;}</style>[/html]
#7
[html]

[000]this is salem's makeup now


A tongue loosened by alcohol hadn't helped his sentiments land with grace. Focused as he was on his task, he hadn't noticed her expression churn to displeasure either. Maybe he would have had a chance to rectify things had he seen her, but sometimes making waves was necessary for both boats and people to move forward.

It wasn't that she wasn't fun, per se, but he sensed that she was (and likely for good reason) still guarded around him. Wound up, like at any moment he was going to lunge at her and confirm that the inherent brutality of life was true and inescapable. At the core of it, it seemed to him their philosophies about trust were tugging at a rope. On his end, he tried to pull her to letting go of outcomes, and on her end, she drew him into a world of sense and consequence.

That, he was finding, was fun. A challenge.

She burst into motion at the news of her mask, and this startled Calrian as much as was possible through his drunken haze. He watched with interest as she scrambled to secure it again, and in doing so, smeared the rest of her intricate designs around. Boy, she was cute.

Calrian obliged her frantic demand, smiling with close-lipped amusement as he shifted to face her. He tapped at the powder in his hand and tried to set it with the paint that was there. She never once looked his way, but he had ample opportunity to study her face as he attempted, a little inelegantly, to retrace her old designs. Meticulous to an extent, Calrian was much more inclined to let the chips fall where they may.

He paused when she, quite shyly, thanked him. Her eyes were downcast, their subtle color striped by long, delicate lashes. For a moment, he felt what must have been the drink warm his cheeks. "Don't mention it," he said kindly, and left it at that.

"I think I might be an artist, actually," he said at last, sitting back proudly. "Maybe I'll paint faces. Do you think people would want to trade things for my paintings?" Then he stood up, wobbling, and offered her a hand once he was steady. In his mind, it seemed like a really good idea to go to the water. "Come on, let's go look at your face. I mean, you'll look at it, and then maybe you can tell me if I've got a future in this."

<style>
.txtBitter p.ooc { padding:20px 5px 5px 3px; opacity:.75; text-indent:0px; }
.txtBitter p.ooc:after { margin:0 auto; content:''; filter: alpha(opacity=60%); opacity: .30; display: block; border-bottom: 1px solid; padding-bottom: 10px; }
.txtBitter p.wc { padding:0px 5px 5px 3px; opacity:.75; text-indent:0px; text-align:right; }
.txtBitter p { margin:10px 20px 0; font-family:Bitter; line-height:23px; text-indent:25px; font-size:15px; }
.txtBitter b.npc { opacity:.75; }
.txtBitter b.lang:before { content:'< '; }
.txtBitter b.lang:after { content:' >'; } </style>[/html]
#8
[html]

For senseless reasons her eyes never met his while he worked. Humiliation and shame were prevalent, but so too was an irrational desire not to connect the reality of what lay beneath the mask with her eyes—the means to distinguish her, to know what she looked like, to know how to describe her to someone else. Calrian was not of the people she was hiding from, of this Salem was certain, but she need not take unnecessary risks even this far north and this long after she fled.


"Let me see your work before I answer that," Salem replied to his musings about paintings and trade. She took his hand. That last drank made itself known as they made their way to the shallows, her steps starting to stagger, her nerves loosening again as quick as they had tightened.


She held his hand the whole way without realizing, unconsciously releasing it only as she gathered up her skirts away from the water and peered into her rippling reflection. Between seafoam and fading light Salem could make out almost nothing of her own face. The mask would not have met her normal standards, but she would not wake up the next morning utterly devastated by its state.


"Ahhh, hmm—sorry, Calrian," she said, twirling. "You’re gonna need more practice before you start trading masterpieces. It’s good enough for now, but maybe I should give you some lessons. What d’you think?"


There was a drunken slur on her tongue, a smirk at her lips and a looseness in her ordinarily stiff limbs as she waved in place and weaved her fingertips through the water. "So sorry to hurt your feelings."

<style>.LinPost3 {margin:0px auto; max-width:90%; padding:10px;} .LinPost3 p {font-family: 'Lato', sans-serif; font-size:16px; text-align:justify; text-indent:40px; line-height:140%; opacity:0.9;} .LinPost3 p.ooc {font-family: 'Lato', sans-serif; font-size:16px; text-indent:0px; text-align:right; font-style:italic; opacity:0.6; border-bottom:1px dotted; padding-top:5px;} .LinPost3 b {font-weight:bold;} .LinPost3 b.npc {font-weight:bold; opacity:0.6;}</style>[/html]
#9
They ran down to the water hand in hand, as if the way was perilous and there would be no recourse if one strayed or toppled into the sand. He felt a youthful kind of joy at this. For a time that was always too short, they were free.

He held her hand until she parted, and then he greeted the water on his own. A waxing moon peered sleepily over the shimmering black, as if awoken by their commotion but contented by the noise. It would be some time before the sunrise, and Calrian wondered how many of them would pass out there or make it home—home, he realized.

Salem crouched over the lapping tide, he came beside her to see if he could divine her judgment by facial expression alone. What he saw instead was a memory of his mother, her long hair tumbling over her shoulders like a river of moonlight. Look, she beckoned him, an echo of a time long past, look at what I've found.

He stepped back. Too much to drink.

Salem became Salem again, and for a split second he was caught between a younger, more innocent version of himself and the reckless scoundrel he was now. "What?" He said, and then he laughed. "Oh, you wound me, Salem."

"So sorry to hurt your feelings."

"Ah! Right in the heart!" He mimicked being struck by an arrow, grasping his chest and collapsed back into the soft sand with a big laugh. A beat, and he flopped back up, with the tiny granules spilling off him in rivulets. "You'll help me improve, won't you? Promise you'll remember by the morning?"
#10
[html]

She liked him, she decided as he overdramatically mimicked an arrow to the heart and fell back. He was good. Harmless. She didn’t understand his decisions and didn’t dare delve any deeper into his empty head, but she liked him. She’d made a friend. Equal parts drunk and satisfied with herself by this fact, the Fortune Teller spun and twirled in place, lifting waves from the water with the drag of her fingers at the surface.


"I don’t promise to remember anything, I’ve never drank this much," she blurted with a messy shrug to match. She’d sworn earlier in the night that she’d never drank to an unconscious excess, and Salem intended to maintain her streak. She couldn’t afford to let her guard down, not completely. In her mind she cut herself off then and was content with the decision.


She crossed back to the sands, wringing out her skirts as she went before collapsing down beside him. "Why would you ever want to paint a mask like this? You won’t need it. I figured you’re not afraid of anything. Nothing to hide, all that. And I’m never wrong."

<style>.LinPost3 {margin:0px auto; max-width:90%; padding:10px;} .LinPost3 p {font-family: 'Lato', sans-serif; font-size:16px; text-align:justify; text-indent:40px; line-height:140%; opacity:0.9;} .LinPost3 p.ooc {font-family: 'Lato', sans-serif; font-size:16px; text-indent:0px; text-align:right; font-style:italic; opacity:0.6; border-bottom:1px dotted; padding-top:5px;} .LinPost3 b {font-weight:bold;} .LinPost3 b.npc {font-weight:bold; opacity:0.6;}</style>[/html]
#11
She was a true mystic, he decided, from her painted mask to the way she ran her hands over the water and sent it sparkling like so many stars across the sky.

She made no promises, and that was fair. Tomorrow never mattered as much as right now. “Guess you’re one of us, now,” he chuckled. Feeling the kick of too many drinks, Calrian laid back against the cool sand. When the world continued to spin, he reached out a hand for something to hold onto. Finding a shell or a piece of seaglass, he began to contemplate its shape between his fingers. Some people could make coins or buttons flicker between their knuckles. He’d always wanted to learn how to do something so cool.

By the time he rocked back up, Salem had finished her communion with the sea and came to sit beside him.

Her comment made him laugh again. It took a while, but he had finally come to understand her sense of humor.

“Oh, is that so?” Seeing that it was a shell he’d grabbed, he turned it around in his fingers and then stood up. He descended to the edge of the tide and angled his arm just right. With a practiced flick, he sent the shell spinning over the surface. One, two, three, four...he lost count of the skips as it was swallowed into the restless current.

“I guess there’s a first time for everything,” he grinned, turning back to face her. “I’m afraid of things, just like anyone else.” What he did with those fears, he supposed, was not typical. Most people saw the worst case scenario and acted accordingly to avoid it. It wasn’t that he ignored caution, per se, but he certainly couldn’t ignore the allure of the best case scenario. He began to search for another shell, which was hard to do without light. He had to feel each one. Once he found a good enough oblong, he returned to the waves.

“Like, my ma was a great swimmer, but she used to swim out way too far. She would go so far that I was afraid she’d never come back.”

As he sent the next one skipping—one, two, three—he realized that this fear more or less came true. She disappeared over that horizon one day, she and his father, and they never came back.

Calrian stood still, the wind whipping at his hair. He turned back to Salem. “Also, really big bugs. Like, HUGE ones.”

He padded back to where she sat and reclaimed his seat with a clumsy thud. His head was spinning too much to toss any more. “Maybe a mask would keep the bugs away. Who knows.” He looked at her, and then smiled. “Does it work for you?”
#12
[html]

Guess you’re one of us now.


She smiled. How stupid. The nerve, joking that membership was based upon one’s ability to let loose and drop their guard. The gall, thinking Salem would do such a thing. Salem! Salem, the cryptid behind the overdramatic mask! Salem, the nameless mystery who insisted to sleep separate from the rest!


But she was, though. She was one of them. Her smile crept wider still, wrinkling her nose. When had she grown so fond of them? Had she not drank, how much longer had that revelation been delayed—how much longer would she have insisted to herself she would have to maintain distance for her own safety? What would she have missed out on?


She identified her thoughts as mindless and wandering and refocused on him. The Fortune Teller hooked arms around her knees and watched the skipping shells and considered what he divulged of fear and family. She might have thought harder about it all, had she the clarity of mind.


"What, this? Keep the bugs away?" She gestured at the paint across her eyes and snorted. "You’re still here."


She expected a sarcastic response, and when whatever it was came and went, Salem turned starry eyes back to the sea. After a moment’s consideration, she tucked into the pockets of her belt in the sand beside her and flipped through her cards. "Do you know what the seashell means in my deck?"


Its emblem a simple clam shell, Salem presented the card to him upright. "Walls and defenses, sometimes physical, usually mental. When reversed," she flipped it upside-down, "it means vulnerability. Loss of those walls."


"So," said Salem, tucking the card away and smiling sweet, "you were saying about your mother?"

<style>.LinPost3 {margin:0px auto; max-width:90%; padding:10px;} .LinPost3 p {font-family: 'Lato', sans-serif; font-size:16px; text-align:justify; text-indent:40px; line-height:140%; opacity:0.9;} .LinPost3 p.ooc {font-family: 'Lato', sans-serif; font-size:16px; text-indent:0px; text-align:right; font-style:italic; opacity:0.6; border-bottom:1px dotted; padding-top:5px;} .LinPost3 b {font-weight:bold;} .LinPost3 b.npc {font-weight:bold; opacity:0.6;}</style>[/html]
#13
He laughed good-naturedly. A bug was tame compared to the things he’d been called in his life. “Like calls to like, I suppose,” he said, rolling onto his elbow and waggling his eyebrows at her as if his drunken banter was particularly clever. It wasn’t. They wouldn’t remember, hopefully.

A welcome quiet lapsed over them. From the corner of his eye, he saw her draw the cards out, but knowing now that this was a way for her to think, he let her fidgeting go unremarked. He was content to allow the dulcet music of the waves replace their conversation.

His ears turned at her invitation, and his eyes, a soft amber like firelight, cast their contented glow on Salem’s deck. He shook his head at her question.

Walls were not something he often considered in a concrete fashion, even as he was constantly looking for ways around them. Like the water, it was his nature to erode any barrier set before him. To what end was perhaps revealing of his own vulnerabilities—others were often faster to see what he was protecting.

“Huh? Oh...” Everyone had heard about their ma and pa. One couldn’t know the brothers without knowing the romance that had borne them, a love greater than...anything else. He rubbed at his neck. “Yeah...she left, when Mal and I were about a year old. She and my dad. They went across the ocean, to her home, and I think they thought we’d follow them.”

“It’s strange to think your worst fears could come true without you even noticing.” He sank back, tired suddenly. “And stranger that when it happens, it’s not even your worst fear anymore. Makes you think like, what’s even the use of that? Being afraid. If I’m going to run, at least let me run towards something, and not away from it.”
#14
[html]

Quiet, she listened to his explanation with arms wrapped about her knees and eyes on the sea. A mother and a father, beloved, gone together overseas. Calrian and Malik left behind. Her stories and theirs were brilliantly dissimilar; it was no wonder she and Calrian had clashed some in the very beginning. They were shaped from the clays of completely different shores.


And yet their stories unified again, at least in terms of their worst fears turned real. If I’m going to run, at least let me run towards something, and not away from it.


Salem burst out laughing, hiccupping twice by taint of drink between chortles. It was by the far the most graceless noise she had made in their presence yet.


"Sorry, you’re right, you’re right," she said once the chuckle-fit had passed, making a point to check her headscarf and ensure none of her curls have wormed their way out in all the jostling. "I just wish you knew how beautifully ironic it is for you to tell me that."


She realized, a moment too late, that she’d perhaps said too much. Foggy and perplexed, her walls almost visibly restructured themselves as she turned back to the sea. "What’s stopping you from going after them?"


<style>.LinPost3 {margin:0px auto; max-width:90%; padding:10px;} .LinPost3 p {font-family: 'Lato', sans-serif; font-size:16px; text-align:justify; text-indent:40px; line-height:140%; opacity:0.9;} .LinPost3 p.ooc {font-family: 'Lato', sans-serif; font-size:16px; text-indent:0px; text-align:right; font-style:italic; opacity:0.6; border-bottom:1px dotted; padding-top:5px;} .LinPost3 b {font-weight:bold;} .LinPost3 b.npc {font-weight:bold; opacity:0.6;}</style>[/html]
#15
He startled back up, his arms flailing as if he'd been rattled by an earthquake. "What? What?" he asked in alarm, his cheeks burning. Her giggling fit subsided eventually, and when it did, he found himself grinning eagerly, ready to parry whatever derision came next.

Except, what came next wasn't mockery like he'd come to expect (not from her necessarily, but in general). That was a shame. He was prepared to make his impression of the sound she just invented, and he was positive she'd get another hoot out of it.

His gaze roamed her face freely, and he thought of how different she looked underneath the half light of the moon. It was as though her mask was just another pattern in her fur, and if not for her adjustment to break the illusion, he could believe that the wrap she wore was simply her hair done up.

One day, he might want answers. For now, he was grateful for what little she exposed. It felt real to him in a way he rarely saw from others.

"I mean," he countered, settling back onto his elbows now that his embarrassment had come and gone. He knew she meant to move the spotlight away from herself, but Calrian wasn't about to let her off the hook. "There is one way I could appreciate the irony."

His brow quirked at the question she threw him, and like a dutiful dog, he went to fetch the stick with every intention of bringing it right back. "Onuba is my mother's home. Malik is mine."

It was a strange side of him—a deep green-eyed stirring, covetous and guarded. He had often wondered if it would have been better for Malik to go to Onuba, to a rich society where their bellies would never go empty and his brother would have his pick of fine things. But something in him had sensed that in the world across the sea, they would not be free.

He did not understand it yet, but he knew his brother, in particular, would not be free.

"What about you, Salem? Call it a hunch—" given all she'd said, he'd have to be an actual idiot not to think this, "—but I feel like you're running away from something."
#16
[html]

She’d never heard of Onuba, but the claim of Malik as his home? Heartwarming. Sickeningly so, really. She had no siblings. At this point, the woman who had been her mother no longer was. She was alone, she relied on herself, and she could only envy the brothers’ relationship from afar.


"Then don’t let him go," she said, sounding wise despite only a half-conscious grasp on her own babbling. "Whatever you do."


He nudged a story out of her but she pretended not to acknowledge it. Then he nudged it a second time, and Salem scoffed loudly and mockingly, "Me, running? Is that what you think of me, Calrian? A coward?"


But then she settled and sighed, sighed with all her chest and shoulders as if it was a weighted thing in need to be shaken off. "It is a story I much prefer not to tell. You can be rest assured I’m content with my decisions and leave it at that, hm?"


It didn’t occur to her how defensive she might have sounded, not when she’d started the deflection so sarcastically. The jackal-coy stood, staggered, and stretched. Bathed in light of moon and nearby flame, Salem now noticed some of their comrades absent from the fire, and glanced next at the moon’s position in the sky.


"Perhaps I should turn in before I make the mistake of another drink," she hummed. "I haven’t forgotten those cards, you know. You still owe me."


<style>.LinPost3 {margin:0px auto; max-width:90%; padding:10px;} .LinPost3 p {font-family: 'Lato', sans-serif; font-size:16px; text-align:justify; text-indent:40px; line-height:140%; opacity:0.9;} .LinPost3 p.ooc {font-family: 'Lato', sans-serif; font-size:16px; text-indent:0px; text-align:right; font-style:italic; opacity:0.6; border-bottom:1px dotted; padding-top:5px;} .LinPost3 b {font-weight:bold;} .LinPost3 b.npc {font-weight:bold; opacity:0.6;}</style>[/html]
#17
"Then don’t let him go, whatever you do."

Calrian looked at her.

Throughout their conversation, he had begun to feel like he was seeing the edges of her person, a crescent sliver against all the dark and mystery. All he wanted was to see more. Then just like that, it went away.

She said the word 'coward' and he groaned, flopping dramatically back into the sand. He knew she was teasing, and he hoped she knew that he was too. "Hey, you said it, not me," he said, and smiled up at her. Truthfully, he didn't know her tale or even her well enough to deem her actions cowardly or otherwise.

"Alright," he agreed, sitting up again. He tucked his cheek in his hand as he looked at her, appearing contrite in the way a dog looked contrite when he'd gotten into something he shouldn't have, but would do so again in a heartbeat. "I won't bug you about it anymore."

The wind picked up, and his ear twisted to catch the sound of a log snap in half. The air had the feeling of a sunset, with all that wistful inevitability of an ending. She rose and stretched, and he watched her with a comfortable freedom that had not been available to him at the start.

She never slept in the schoolhouse with them. It was a behavior he didn't fully grasp, having always been a person who needed to be near or touching someone else. He wondered at her reasons a little too long. At the mention of her cards, he snorted a sleepy laugh into his palm. That's right, he was their Broker, even now. "I know, I know. You'll get what you're owed, I promise. Just remind me tomorrow."

He stretched his arms over his knees, and it occurred to him that maybe he ought to invite her to stay. When he turned, however, she was already walking away.


Forum Jump: