[P] [M] Into the flood again
#1

WARNING: This thread contains material exceeding the general board rating of PG-13. It may contain very strong language, drug usage, graphic violence, or graphic sexual content. Reader discretion is advised.

Specifically, this thread is marked mature because of: descriptions of traumatic injury, gore, language.

Backdated to early August, following [M] this thread.


The journey home was nightmarish.

This was not the first time that Grievous had brought O'Riley back in such a state, but he had never seen such terrible injuries either. The armor, he had realized, had helped to save his cousin's life. Igor's insistence that they go looking for the Erilaz had been the other key factor – some supernatural force beyond intuition had surely alerted the foreigner to the danger out there in the wilderness. While he was not a holy man nor one who practiced and prayed, Grievous had never abandoned the core beliefs that had led his family for generations. Azalea's seizures had made him reconsider a great number of things, including the role of these unseen forces in the world.

Some god or devil watched out for O'Riley Eternity, and that was principle when it came to his survival. He had been unconscious when they found him, but alive.

In the time it took for them to carry him away from the battleground, he came to every so often – sometimes with tremendous fury, sometimes in a daze. Worst of all was when he screamed: shouting about the pain, how they were killing him, how he felt like he was dying. Moving him was dangerous, Grievous knew. Had the greater, unknown danger of the people who had done this to him not been present, the Equinest would never have agreed to such a thing.

When they could go no further, Grievous and Igor found a safe place to rest. The makeshift bandages Grievous had applied to O'Riley were soaked in blood. All their jostling had made the wounds worse, but that couldn't be helped.

Grievous gave Igor strict instructions, and then shifted down to his Secui form to make the long run back to Salsola.

It felt like hours had passed between then and now. He had gotten a horse and a cart, and against his better judgment forced Zaria to travel far faster than he would have asked in any other circumstance. She was sweating and breathing hard long before they reached the place where the wounded man and his cousin had been left. Fifteen miles did not seem like that far under most circumstances, but in the dark it had been a long, terrible road.

Together, the two men loaded their commander into the back of the wagon. O'Riley moaned and made wretched sounds. He was unable to fight them as he had before. Their combined weight made the return trip much slower, as did Igor's lack of skill when it came to driving – but these were necessary choices.

Grievous did what he could to treat the wounds. There were many, and they were severe. He wanted to get the armor off, but he made the decision to wait until they reached true safety.

In any other pack, an attack like this on a leader would have warranted an instant alert. A party would have been sent out immediately to track down the responsible group and capture them. Their more experienced healers would have been summoned at once. These were all correct decisions, but they were not the ones which Grievous made. He recognized that above all else, this was a situation which required nothing short of absolute secrecy and control, least it lead to a panic.

He was a high-ranking member of Salsola, and had lived among the thistles all his life. Despite the growth Idrieus, his wise and ever-skeptical wife, had gifted him, at his core he believed in the greater rule of Law that had always kept order. It was not his place to make a decision which might, in time, prove to be the wrong one.

So, ultimately, he did none of those things.

They came back to Salsola, did not provide any insight to the guards on duty, and made for O'Riley's home.

There, they again manhandled him – removed him from the cart and hauled him indoors, where no prying eyes save those of a curious (and soon horrified) lynx could see. A short, serious conversation occurred. The foreigner and the cat were given instructions not to allow anyone save himself inside, and Grievous told Igor to apply pressure to the worst of the wounds and not allow O'Riley to move if he woke again.

Grievous took a cloak from the house to hide the blood on his chest and made the brisk trek through the Ruins. He cut through the yards between the empty homes, choosing the most direct route. It was still late, or perhaps now very early, and darkness helped to hide his presence. Despite this, he was anxious about discovery. Adrenaline narrowed his thought process to only the task at hand, and hyper-focused his attention on each step.

Her door loomed ahead of him. The tower had belonged to her family since the very beginning, and the sight of it was familiar. Grievous lifted one of his hands (gods, there was still so much blood on it) and banged loudly on the old wood.

“Elphaba,” he called, using her name so she might understand this was not a visit made frivolously. “Elphaba, I must speak with you, now.”
masks beneath masks until suddenly
the bare bloodless skull
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#2

The Queen of Salsola was lost, deep in thought. Or was she dreaming?

When the night first unravelled, the fire in the hearth had been high and hot. Now it was the merest of embers, gracing the cold black shadows of the tower's interior with a faint pulsing glow. Fitful in her dozing, Elphaba's eyelids flickered, and sometimes opened entirely. She kept her face toward the nearest window, through which the faintest silvery light of the moon could be seen.

As she meditated the Boss' fingers twitched of their own accord. They drew strange sigils in the air.

There was an explosive sound that shattered the deceptive placidity of the night. It was rough knuckles on a wooden door; it was the familiar voice of a distant cousin, calling her name.

Elphaba roused with a start.

"What?" She asked the empty room, disoriented, her fingertips still tracing their final transient designs between motes of dust that danced, suspended in nothingness. The spell faded, uncast, impotent.

Grievous' voice came again. It was not from within a dream or a memory (or an incantation), but in the here and the now. Everything about this was jarring and wrong. What time was it? The stones underfoot had grown quite cold. Ruffled, Elphaba drew a simple woolen wrap around her shoulders and rose unsteadily. Her dishevelled hair crackled out around her in irritation.

She opened the door roughly, just as Grievous raised his hand to knock once more. The first thing she saw was his fingers. Under curtain of night they were stained black, which was entirely the wrong color. The hackles that ran from the base of the Boss' skull to down between her shoulderblades prickled with warning.

"What?!"

The Equinest towered over most, but Elphaba had been born larger-than-life. She showed him her teeth, but faltered at the expression the white giant wore. Only then did her nose tell her what her eyes had already confirmed - there was blood on his hands. In fact, there was flecks of blood speckling him quite liberally beneath the cloak he wore.

"Inside - now!" She hissed, pulling Grievous in by one hand and staring out at the night beyond him. It was blue and deep and perfectly still. There was no primal eyeshine in sight. Elphaba closed the door and returned to inspecting her cousin. It took only a sweeping glance to be sure that the blood was not his.

His explanation couldn't come quick enough - Grievous spoke more words in that minute than she had heard him say over weeks. But each word delivered a new kind of dread. At some point during the explanation her hands curled into wicked talons and her breathing grew shallow. She began to look at the white wolf in a new way, as though she might like very much to hurt him, or to hurt herself, or to hurt anything at all.

Instead she settled for the nearest item of value - a hand painted pot - which she grabbed abruptly and threw with great vigor against the far wall. It hit the stones and burst, leaving curved shards like large scales scattered across the floor.

That wasn't enough. Her throat seemed to be closing over. Elphaba reached for a wooden chair and hurled it over her head, splintering one of the legs. Next she dragged her claws down her fine oak table, leaving deep furrows gouged into the surface, and curles of shaved wood under her nails. Only after this did she feel like she could breathe again. She inhaled, deep and ragged. In, out. In, out.

The false calm came. She ran her shaking hands over her face, used her fingertips to push it carefully back into order, smoothing over the creases like a sculpter would wet clay. She almost looked controlled, then. Almost.

It was only her eyes that gave her away. The hysteria, the fury, the contemptuous fear.

Needing no guide, they left the tower in brittle silence. It was a path she had walked one hundred times or more, but by darkness the way felt slippery and treacherous. It reminded her of a different night, a different summons; but there was no smell of smoke in the air, only the wet rancid humidity of a rotting summer.

Igor and the lynx were waiting. Elphaba blew through them like a stormfront. The burly man saw the eery shine to her gaze and stepped aside at once. She could smell the stress on him, and her lips twitched involunarily. All of her bluster and momentum died at the doorstep, where that same nameless dread crept back up under her skin and wrapped its hands lovingly around her neck. With the last of her fire she slammed the door open.

A low wind made mayhem of her long dark hair. She took one step into the room and wavered in horror at the sight before her.

"No, no, this can't be."

There was a body, covered in blood (she was not afraid of gore - had seen and spilled the blood of many men, but this was different). His head was turned toward her, perhaps partially roused by the dramatics of her entrance. He reeked of his own mortality, but the worst of it... The worst of it was-

"Your - your face!"

The words were a wail of agony, the gutteral and panicked shriek of a frenzied animal. Elphaba dropped hard to her knees on the floor at her cousin's side. Her trembling outstretched hands reached for him, possessively, despairingly. The wool of her shawl greedily drank up crimson everywhere it touched.

A kind of madness came over the Boss of Salsola, then. She wept, but there were no tears, just a grotesque shuddering of her body that made it seem as though she were trying to wretch. The sounds that came from her were unnatural and piercing. Between tenderly stroking O'Riley's bloodied cheek, she pulled at her own hair, and rocked back and forth where she knelt.

"O'Riley?" She keened his name like a word of power, like an invocation. "O'Riley? O'Riley? Who did this to us?"

There was a smear of his blood across the pale porcelain of her cheek. When she spoke again, her mouth seemed too full of saliva, glistening and silver. She lisped as though her jaws had begun the shift, as though her teeth were too big to fit behind her lips.

"I'll find them," The hand that reached for him so delicately had claws like meat-hooks, made to rend and tear, made to pull flesh from bone. It barely trembled at all now. "I'll make them pay."

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#3
In the dark, he drifted.

There were moments he remembered with clarity. That first, terrible impact had nearly undone him. He didn't know why he wasn't dead – it felt like he should have been dead, for as much as he was hurting.

O'Riley was no stranger to pain, but the sensation from his chest was new and deep. Something had broken inside of him and it radiated pain like a red-hot coal. All of the other injuries seemed far away and distant compared to this ache, which had yet to subside. Each time he was moved, it came back with a vengeance.

Only bits and pieces of what had happened after the fight were clear to him. He knew the men who had come for him were his allies and kin. He knew they had hurt him when they carried him away from the battleground, but what had happened between then and his arrival home was mostly a blur. The pain was responsible for a lot of this, but so too was the blood loss.

He felt tired and weak. Maybe he was dying.

It was Elphaba's scream that roused him. So much of his life had been dedicated to her that even now, dazed as he was, those years of reinforcement forced him to open his eyes. He wanted to sit up, to show he wasn't as bad off as he felt, but when he tried to do so the sharp pain from his ribs made him cry out and fall back.

The Boss-Queen's hands were on his face. Another figure, tall and pale, lingered behind him. That was right – Grievous had been with him. One of O'Riley's eyes was terribly sore and the skin around it swollen. That bitch had gotten him good. If things hadn't turned out the way they had, he would have brought her corpse back and mounted her as an effigy for all their enemies to see.

“I think I killed her,” he managed to say. His voice was raw and thick – it was already rough from an older wound, but now the great pain radiating from within made him sound strange. He could taste that she-devil's blood in his mouth.

Ordinary morality is only for ordinary people.
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#4
When they had been younger, Grievous had seen Elphaba's rages – they had been smaller and more contained, but even then she had carried within her enough power to bully her larger cousins into submission. Beyond heritage and conspiracy, there existed within the woman an undeniable power. To their enemies, this would be explained off as witchcraft and the righteous order and Law which she upheld. To those close to her (though Grievous no longer knew where he stood with the Boss-Queen) there was no denying the raw force which drove their leader to such mighty heights.

Seeing her in something like hysterics was unthinkable. If Igor had not chosen to remain outside, Grievous would have demanded he leave. The Equinest knew better than anyone else that instances like this were not suitable for the common eye.

Weakness at the top could compromise them all. Their lack of Capo meant that a power vacuum could undo years of hard work – and worse, risk the future he saw so clearly awaiting his own children.

Proof of Elphaba's magic might have been seen in how she managed to wake O'Riley from his stupor. This was, Grievous noted, the most lucid thing he had said since they found him. He was less pleased to see the Erliaz trying to move, and stepped closer to prevent him from doing so again.

“You have been badly injured, O'Riley” Grievous said.

“I know that,” his cousin hissed. He tried to move his head but seemed to decide against it.

The gray wolf looked to Elphaba. “The Outsiders were gone when we found him. I believed it was best to get him home before we did anything else.”

“What do you mean they—,” O'Riley tried to raise his voice, but the effort caused him to let out a painful yelp.

Grievous scowled and made as if to restrain him, but was stopped by Elphaba.

masks beneath masks until suddenly
the bare bloodless skull
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#5

"DON'T. TOUCH. HIM."

Grievous' hand, which had reached for his cousin with concern and firm temperance, was met with a slash of the Boss' claws. Her pupils were too large for her irises, making them seem black in the eerie blue light of the room. For a moment she didn't look very much like Elphaba at all - with her hair so wild, and her gaze so terrible, she could have been the monster that her enemies had made of her.

She could have been her grandfather's legacy. Even if they dared not speak of it, everybody knew there was madness in the Revlis line.

A sound from O'Riley - a laboured breath, a wheeze of pain - pulled her back from this enticing precipice.

Her face rearranged itself back into something that better resembled a woman. It was a disconcerting thing to watch. She turned away from Grievous, and busied herself a moment by stroking the hair out of the bloodied ruin of her cousin's face.

"Nobody is to come here and see him like this. Nobody."

There was a sound of protest which she ignored.

"I will tend to him myself - send Igor to the Clinic now, and tell him to take anything that looks useful and bring it back here. Quickly. Tell him not to answer any questions if he is interrupted. If he opens his mouth," Her lips trembled as she smiled down at O'Riley, gently, gently, "I will rip out his fucking tongue, and make him watch as I feed it to the crows."

The Erilaz seemed lucid enough, for now. Only one of his eyes could open, and it was watching her. She could see her reflection in the glassy sheen.

"Don't move," she commanded him directly, "Rest. I will fix this. I will fix you."

There was the sound of Grievous' bulk shuffling, and then low voices outside of the room.

Elphaba leaned over the prone body of her cousin so she could get closer to his injuries. Her fingers began to pry experimentally at the edges of his armor, which in places had become crusted and stuck against the wounds. These she left where they were, and moved her focus upward. There was no bowl of clean water yet at hand; She began to lick areas of un-damaged fur clean of his own blood, and the blood of the stranger. Before long her lips and the pale hair around her mouth were red with it.

After a small moment of forcing this stillness upon O'Riley, she paused.

"Who is she?" The queen asked softly, her voice better holding the lie than her face, which had become very upsetting to look at.

"The woman you think you killed, and the Outsiders who came for her body? Don't lie to me now," Her exhale shook with wavering restraint, "If you lie to me, I don't know what I might do."

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#6
The pitch of her voice rose like a cantor. O'Riley had to close his eyes against the sound of it – there was a dull throb within his skull, persistent like the pain. Eventually, when he was drugged, this would pass. For now it remained and reassured him that he was alive.

He had seen death before, many times over. As a hunter, it was part of his duty to take lives from lesser beings so that they could be consumed. Every single Luperci who had ever lived was bound to this law. Without meat, without blood, they would perish. That was why losing it, and losing so much as O'Riley had, was dangerous. There were other threats that arose from conflict, especially between their own kind. Small, unseen forces that influenced their world were always present, held at bay only by equally powerful defenses within the body. Long-dead men of science could equate these into words, but primitive, simple animals (even if they thought of themselves as highly evolved) were left to fend with the mystical energies they did not comprehend.

Eventually, when the noise settled, the room emptied. It was, in some ways, the most dangerous time of all for O'Riley.

His cousin was capable of great and terrible things. He knew this better than anyone else. His entire life had circled around her, and like two great cosmic forces, they alone could destroy one another.

The soft, warm touch of her tongue soothed him. Elphaba's long hair spilled over his prone body. When he opened his eyes again, he was struck by the sight of how red her face was – how monstrous and terrible she looked.

He swallowed. His mouth felt very dry.

“The one who attacked us before,” he answered. “With the axe. I don't know her name. There was another woman who came after her, a coyote. I had her, I had her too, and then –,” the wolfdog growled, low and terrible. He grimaced and tried to touch his side, but his hands felt heavy and his arms weak. “They had a giant with them.”

In the dim light, his violet eyes caught the color of the light cast from the candles and lanterns. It was still too warm to have a fire indoors and his hearth remained barren and cold.

“Help me take my armor off. Please,” he said, wanting to be free of the weight of it.
Ordinary morality is only for ordinary people.
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#7

She kept her face close to his face, felt his irregular exhales blow against her cheek. There was nowhere for him to avoid her here, in his house, where it was just the two of them. No way to avoid her questions.

This was just as well, because of late Elphaba had begun to suspect more and more that her cousin was keeping secrets. This was not in and of itself a bad thing - he was the epitomy of a true Salsolan - only that he was keeping them from her, which of course was unforgiveable. When they were younger, around the time that Salvia had chosen them for her grand purpose, she had crawled in through one of his ears and made a permanent space for herself amongst his thoughts. Acting on instinct back then to secure her position as the holder of his loyalties and the wielder of ultimate authority had felt easy and natural. They adhered to Salsolan Law, but more primally to the law of beasts. Elphaba belonged to Salsola - O'Riley belonged to Elphaba. This had earned him an almost blind trust, an impunity to his actions in that she believed them always to be of mutual benefit.

He had promised to protect her, always.

But Little Underfoot was not so little anymore, nor so pliable, nor so entirely her own.

And if there was anything that her grandmother and that life had taught her, it was that grown men were fallible, weak to their own basest desires. How could he protect her, if he was dead?

"No," She refused, in a firm tone, "It must stay on until Igor comes back. Its holding your blood inside your body, and if I take it all off now without bandages to replace it, you will die."

But that was not true of all the pieces. Those not bonded to him by thick, congealed wounds she began to remove - an arm bracer, the leather guard of one thigh. As she worked she stopped often to groom him, or simply to watch him, her eyes sharp shards of red glass in the halflight.

"Why did you go alone? To confront the woman."

She knew the answer. It was the same reason she had killed Etoile alone. But she wanted to hear him say it.

"Is your pride worth more to me than your life? O'Riley," And here it was, the truth of it seeping through in the way her face changed again (she was a mirage, shifting from one expression to the next, oil on water) from grimness to anger to fear to hurt, "Why didn't you tell me?"

And what else haven't you told me?

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#8
She might have been lying to him, but O'Riley trusted Elphaba's insistent words. As a witch, healing went hand in hand with magic – an understanding of the world in both its base and supernatural sides was expected of those who practiced the Craft. As the descendant of a long line of witch-women, O'Riley had to accept what she said was truth.

Still, she granted him some relief. Pieces of the armor were removed, and her gentle tongue cleaned blood from his body. He could almost let himself go, to close his eyes and rest until they woke him and began the horrible process sure to come...

Her questions kept coming.

From the way she looked at him, he realized he had made a mistake. He wasn't inclined to admit it, of course. Any fault could undo him.
If he could not trust Elphaba, though, who was left?

“Because I found her,” he answered. “I killed her,” he repeated, as if speaking this aloud would ensure it became truth. “She was a mad dog, and needed to be put down.”

He felt very tired. The urge to sleep was becoming impossible to ignore, like a heavy weight upon his chest. Each time he took a breath he could feel the pain beneath his armor. It was sharp, pulsing, never-ending. If not for this, if not for the way Elphaba kept poking and prodding him, he might have been able to rest.

“I should have told you,” O'Riley added a moment later. His voice was low, his ears turned back, and he refused to meet her piercing gaze. These signs of submission were akin to an apology, though he spoke no such words aloud. It was not in his nature to do so.

When he did look back, a feverish gleam came to his eyes. “But I knew I could kill her.”
Ordinary morality is only for ordinary people.
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#9

She understood in a deep and elemental way that if he fell asleep now - so soon after losing so much blood - he might not ever wake, again.

This was sometimes how they killed their prey. A large beast could be felled by a single well-placed wound, if that cut opened up one of the inner leylines that held all its blood. Blood was intrinsically power; life force. A big thing could bleed, and bleed, and bleed for a long time. But soon enough it would lay down, and sleep.

Then the hunters would come.

She comforted herself with the thought that O'Riley was indeed very large. His body undoubtedly was a vessel for a lot of blood, and a lot of life. Like a mug with a crack in it, she need only patch the broken bits to keep as much magic as possible inside of him.

There were other things they could be afraid of, later, when the night was not so balanced on a razor-blade edge of possibility. Dark humors could creep in to the spaces that open flesh left, and set a rot in the body that only holy men and women had a possibility of removing.

Elphaba held to no singular god. Her faith was a deeply-rooted thing that belonged to the old places of the world. But she would sacrifice whatever she needed to, in order to keep her cousin's feet on this side of the veil. There was no price that could not be paid in fire or in blood.

Letting him go was unspeakable. It would be like losing a part of herself, a limb, an eye. She wasn't sure she would ever recover from that loss, and the thought of what she might become - what she might do - to evade it frightened her.

Dwelling on this too much threatened to return her to hysteria. She forced herself to listen to what he said.

"You knew?"

Hubris became them. They were at the top of the food chain, and both in their prime - rulers of ancestral land, wielders of the Law incarnate. They had never needed to reflect on their own mortality before, not like this. She had been lulled into a certainty of their invincibility. Confronting this was too difficult, too painful. It would dismantle everything they had built.

Instead she opened her mouth, and ate up what he told her, every last morsel. There was no going back. One had to have faith.

"Then she is dead, and it is done," The witch queen whispered zealously. She lifted one hand to stroke her cousin's face, tender now, forgiving. She would make a living martyr of him. "For who could survive you?"

She might have said something else then, something very important - it came to her tongue unbidden, words of great power - but there was a sound at the door. Igor had returned.

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