[P] Embers burning bright
Optime | Fort Louisbourg | cNPC Ronin

Related to [NC] Spooktober 2021

Set a few days after the events of this thread. There isn't much in description on the building in progress, so I left it super vague xD
In the aftermath of things, there had been a lot to process. Thankfully, no one had been seriously injured in the fire, and the building that had burned had been unoccupied. Still, buildings didn’t spontaneously catch aflame, and, then there had been the timing of it all to consider too.

In the middle of the night, no one had noticed the fire growing until it had become large enough to nearly engulf the entire building. If someone had been plotting to murder a Caledonian, they certainly would have succeeded in doing so had the house been occupied. As well, the cover of darkness meant that the perpetrator would have been able to get away unnoticed. The pack being more concerned about putting the flames out would have only served to further aid any nefarious individual.

The Stryders had sniffed around once the flames had been put out, an effort spearheaded by Naomi’s mother, Teagan. Her mother's suspicion had only further cemented the idea in Naomi’s head that things were amiss with the sudden house fire. For all their preliminary investigation efforts though, they had turned up nothing of promising note. The heavy traffic that had moved in and out of the area, along with the great amount of disturbance as the pack had tried to put out the flames, meant that little had been found for who or what had started the fire.

Ronin had been the one to bring up the group of loners that had been conveniently absent on the night of the fire. It had certainly been a lead to look into, particularly considering their suspicious activity leading up to that night. Despite their efforts to locate the faceless Loners though, it had appeared as if they had disappeared without a trace.

And then to complicate matters further, the bloody eyes and tear marks had started to show up everywhere.

If it wasn't one thing, it was another. The entire notion had been enough to raise one's lip at. As a fighter, Naomi didn't like the feeling of being at a disadvantage, and the odds only felt like they were growing more and more out of their favor.

A few days had gone past, and, finally, without anything more pressing to chase after while time was of the essence, Naomi had allowed herself to reflect and consider things beyond finding the source of a mysterious, invisible threat. Her thoughts had, inevitably, gone back to the night of the fire though, and the terror she'd seen on more than one of her packmates' faces. One in particular had stood out though; Bellad's.

Rounding up Ronin, the pair had made their way to where the Circle of Athelas Guild usually met. As the Guildmaster, if the Songthorn was to be found anywhere, Naomi felt confident that he'd be where it'd be easiest to locate him in case of an injury. When they arrived at the building, Ronin lingered behind Naomi. Though he, too, was worried about the healer, he was obviously unsure about this idea of Naomi's to check up on the scarred male.

To Ronin, it felt like they were being nosy. To Naomi though, they were merely checking up on the health of an ally.

"Lord Bellad?" Naomi called out, announcing the yearlings' presence.

Naomi Stryder
— The Roquen —
pNPC: Ridgewell (leaving scene)[+402]
The building of the Circle hadn’t been adjacent to the one that burned in the Square, yet it could well have become part of collateral damage had the fire not been contained with earth and water. It was indeed a safe bet to seek Bellad inside, who had just dismissed Ridgewell after sharing supplies with the man. The medic may not have been a direct associate of the Circle, but the Songthorn knew him to be reliable. Manners in which either one conversed did not much detract from it. The old soldier walked past the siblings, nodding at them on the way, having been provided with an assortment of supplies bundled in cloth.

“Come in.” Bellad said simply, seated at a table that was covered in a seemingly chaotic spread of manuscripts – uneven strips of bark and rough-edged letters. The High Lord, most of the time, knew well how to not to be read too easily from the outside. And yet, fatigue wore down his features. He seemed focused enough, yet there was a sense of effort to his stare.

Outwardly, for him to continue to run the Circle, treat Caledonians and keep his vigil was noble and appropriate. But the cost, though he wasn’t yet splitting at the seam, would inevitably have to be paid. Yes, he should have rested. But with the burning house etching itself into his dreams, gaping doorway ablaze like a snarling maw that hungered for him, for all he held dear, - anything was better than to return to that monster.

“Naomi, Ronin.” He commented, having looked up from the letters. Did he only just identify his visitors after already telling them to come in? “You look well… But you come to the Circle. Does something trouble you?” The High Lord rose from his seat and walked over to a table that held cloth and a basin of water. It was hard to see the coal from writing implements on his already black limbs, but as he dipped his fingers in the water and wiped them with the cloth, he stained the fabric.

Only while washing his hands, convinced, likely wrongly, that he was not being looked at, he lifted a hand and squeezed at the corners of his eyes. Whether the pressure really would help him focus he wasn’t sure. But at least bringing cooling droplets of water to his face was very slightly refreshing.
cNPC Ronin

@___@ Sorry for the HUGE delay on this. I’m still struggling with muse on Naomi, it seems Dx
A nod from the departing Ridgewell was returned by both yearlings as they passed the spotted wolfdog and into the building upon being beckoned. Within, the large, dark and scarred figure of Bellad was easy enough to spot. With all of the various pieces of writing spread out across the table before him, one might have thought that they’d walked into a scholar’s guild instead of a healer’s one. Naomi blinked, and Ronin did too as he moved out from behind her. It was clear that the High Lord was in the middle of something given his tired expression and focused stare as he looked over the various items of script.

He managed to tear himself away from his concentration, and his orange eyes flicked to greet the pair of young adults. Bellad rose from his chair and proceeded to wash his hands in a nearby water basin. For a beat, neither Naomi or Ronin spoke, and they both shared a glance when they saw Bellad apply pressure to his eyes. The Peer nodded towards the guildmaster, and Naomi stepped forward. You, actually,” she replied carefully.

Naomi’s glacier eyes looked him up and down. “You were…different on the night of the fire,” she began, her voice even, though, with an undercurrent of concern. She watched the older male in a way that was wary, trying to discern if the pair had overstepped themselves with bringing up the horrific event. “Ronin and I were worried since we’d never seen you like that, so…we thought might check up on you.”

Her expression was stern like her mother’s, ready to bear any backlash they might receive for their prying. Ronin’s gaze was elsewhere, seemingly checking to ensure nobody else was around to overhear them. In reality though, he was merely stubbornly refusing to show that he felt the same way as Naomi did about the healer.

“You were screaming,” Ronin murmured loud enough for Bellad to hear. He wanted to clarify the reason for their concern. Had he pockets, Ronin might have shoved his hands firmly into them.

Naomi Stryder
— The Roquen —
ooc [+421]
Unnervingly, as ripples on the water in the basin settled, Bellad could see his own expression change when the young Stryder spoke. He was stuck between staring into his own suddenly pained expression and turning to share it with his visitors. He chose to weather the stare of the Songthorn in the water a little longer, before taking a breath that shook ever so slightly and scooping up more water, muddling the image.

Another cooling splash of liquid hit his face. It gave him a little time to brace himself and to listen to the rest of what Naomi was saying.

Different, she said. No. He was in fact exactly the same as before. That was the very problem that gnawed at him from where the fears and phobias hadn’t sunk their teeth in yet.

He buried his muzzle in a bit of cloth to wipe off the water. That was one last plausible barrier he would have before actually having to own up, to respond. Finally he turned in a way that suggested fully acknowledging the two young souls in his presence. No more pretense of being somehow preoccupied with grooming.

In some way it seemed he was measuring them and how blatantly they’d addressed him. He knew them. They fought for him. They guarded him. And now they saw him in a way he’d never want to be seen. With how infrequently he wore the garb of New Caledonians, his torso and with it the scars upon his shoulder and hip were oft exposed. This he could show. For a time he even pondered if it was to serve as his badge of shame. What ran deeper, the terror that had the power of recurrence - this he did not wish to display. He reminded himself, dutifully, that it was them and most likely the absolute majority of the pack who got to see it just a few days prior.

“It was a great peril.” He said dryly. Downplay. Divert. “Have you surveyed the site? Were there…” No. No questions about victims. He would know either way. However minor, he would have most likely had to treat the burns were there ones that warranted his attention. He would have known if there were deaths. He still swallowed the question before it could break free. “Was it… an accident?” He asked instead. Bellad only realized the implications of such a question and of the possible answers, after he heard his own voice. His expression of forced impassiveness hardened in response.
cNPC Ronin
Eventually, Bellad ceased fussing with cleaning himself up, and turned to give the yearlings his attention. The expression he wore was not one they were used to seeing on his dark face though. He looked…tired, and something more that Naomi could not quite place, something that she wanted to blame on the fire from the nights before. The Bellad that had fought alongside her and Ronin had remained calm and poised even in the midst of the ambush. The one on the night of the fire had been anything but.

Bellad acknowledged their concern, though, did so in a way that deflected it away from him and, instead, towards the tragedy itself. Naomi nodded, first in agreement to his statement, and again in response to his question. When his words trailed, she had a fairly good idea of what he had intended to ask before he changed the direction of his inquiries. There were only so many things that could be asked with such wording, after all.

Her expression turned solemn, and her lips pressed into a grim frown. When it became clear that Bellad had nothing more to ask, she glanced at Ronin. Feeling her gaze upon him again, he looked to her before glancing to the open door. Shifting his weight, the Peer moved and checked to ensure that there were no other Caledonians lingering about. When he returned from his quick sweep, he jerked his nose to Naomi, wordlessly telling her that there were no others to overhear them.

Turning her gaze back to Bellad, Naomi reported, “My family and a few others returned after first light to see if we could find anything. We didn’t find much, and, thankfully, it didn’t look like anyone had been inside either.”

They’d been lucky, her mother had said, particularly with the timing of the fire.

“But, even so…” Her lips formed a thin, grim line. “…it definitely didn’t look like a case of someone merely being negligent with a torch or candle. Okaasan thinks…” Naomi hesitated, unsure if she should say such things outside of her family and Ronin. It was speculation at best, and such rumors could only cause problems if they spread around the pack.

Naomi shook her head, making it clear that she would not continue with what she’d meant to say. “We’re not here about the fire, Lord Bellad,” she gently reminded the older man. “Are…you okay?”

Naomi Stryder
— The Roquen —
Sorry for the wait. I suggest we wrap this up here or with your next post. [+397]
Yes, good, a status report. He was an important man to the pack, he could use one and it was entirely fitting a path for the conversation to go. Granted, Naomi did not in fact have all that much to give him. Unconfirmed suspicions that could well make what little sleep he could get at this point a challenge. Still it was better than having to explain himself and for a few minutes of tense mockery of bliss he felt as though he’d successfully evaded the topic.

The Stryders, it seemed, were having none of it.

As he was reminded of the true purpose of their visit, one that he’s known from the first time they asked the question, he found himself giving the siblings a strange look. There was a kind of bitterness to it, as though he couldn’t believe they would so brazenly continue to press him on this matter. There was, also, a strange, begrudging respect to their commitment.

This unspoken exchange lasted for a bit. He’s had the time to evaluate. Finally he let loose a heavy sigh, and his palm landed heavily on his desk. He pressed into it as though to ground himself as he finally spoke in a tone that one could almost read as one of disgust: “No. No I am not.”

“The fire… cost dearly. Not this fire, but this one could have as well. Old home burned. Now this. Here…” He felt pathetic confessing this and grit his teeth. The story was spreading too far. The connection between him and the touch of flame beyond just the outward scarring was becoming too apparent. “I have no time to not be okay. I have duties. But I must know this was one thing and there will not be more.” It was an impossibly tall order. How could they possibly assure him of that? How could anyone, save for whoever allowed this to transpire?

As though realizing the absurdity of his own rambling the Songthorn brought is hand to his face again and pinched the corners of his eyes. “I... apologize for what you had to see. I will need to be okay, soon. And I will be. For the Circle. For the pack…” Bringing back to his muzzle some tattered semblance of calm, he continued. "If you like, partake of the Circle's hospitality. I can set the tea."
cNPC Ronin

Thank you for the thread<333
For a long beat, the dark Lord stared at them. His molten gaze was not unkind, but, there was a distinct sharpness to it. She’d crossed a line, continuing to badger him like she had, she realized. Naomi stood firm though. This had been the path she had chosen. If he grew tired of her questions, he would dismiss her, and she would respect his wishes. Until then though, she was determined to see things through. He helped everyone else, why could they try to help him back?

After a long, stern pause, Bellad let out a sigh and leaned his weight onto the desk before him. For a second, Naomi expected him to growl at her and Ronin, to snarl and tell them to get out. He had no reason to explain himself to them, after all. His business was not theirs to pry into, good intentioned or not.

He spoke honestly though, revealing part of himself that told much more than either Naomi or Ronin could have expected. He told of a fire of long past that neither yearling knew of. Instinctively, Naomi’s eyes flicked to Bellad’s shoulder where the dark fur was notably absent. His brother, Ierian, had similar scars, she suddenly recalled. Bellad spoke of a home, and the echo of his terrible screaming on that night played distantly in her ears.

Had…were the scars that the Songthorn brothers bore…related to fire? The old home…had it been theirs? Had he…had they…lost…their family? Friends? Lovers?

It explained quite a bit. The reaction he’d had. How he’d—she assumed—initially meant to ask if there’d be victims. Naomi felt a stone sink in her chest as she realized what Bellad had been politely trying to steer the conversation away from. She hadn’t known…

Her gaze fell, guilty and ashamed to have pressured him.

Bellad continued onward though, determined to not let them linger on the matter in which he’d revealed to the yearlings. He apologized, and she shook her head. “You have nothing to apologize for. If there’s anyone who needs to apologize, it’s me for not being more considerate of your feelings.” Her ears pulled back against her hair and her lips were pressed into a regretful frown. “I’m sorry, Lord Bellad.”

She was not so prideful to admit that she had been wrong. Not to Bellad, at least. She respected the Songthorn like she did her parents.

“The Wraiths…we’ll try to get to the bottom of this.”

She didn’t want to lose anyone from their pack, nor let him suffer any more tragedies tied to fire either.

At the mention of tea, Ronin spoke up, clearing his throat as if to reintroduce himself back into the conversation. “Tea would be nice in the meantime though, sir. We may not be Healers, but, our hands are just as good. Just tell us what to do.”

Naomi Stryder
— The Roquen —

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