in the glass labyrinth, I am the mouse

POSTED: Wed May 23, 2018 10:15 am

It had been a soggy morning when they met again beside the brook, where the grass had grown thick and blossoms opened since their last monthly reunion. Neith had been unceremoniously soaked by the morning drizzle in his efforts to keep dry his satchel by embracing it to his chest, while Briar had waited beneath a tree with enough sprouted leaves to escape the worst of the rain. She pointed out a shallow hollow in the walls of the mountain nearby, where the two huddled and spread out their things and got to work.

They built a fire, and she used its light to read and reread the same foreign symbols in his books over and over again in efforts to memorize them. The pages he brought had no more than a line or two each of legible text, and when she tired of that, she began to glance his weather-beaten journals where the only text was his poor sketches and handwriting in the margins. Observations about plants, locations. Conclusions about anatomy. A lot of guesses in the dark by a curious young man. Seated beside her, his shirt splayed by the fire to dry it, Neith wrote the alphabet one by one with charcoal into the pages and demonstrated each sound. She struggled, and he had a hard time rationalizing how it could be so difficult without saying so aloud.

Neith seemed out of sorts: cheerful, but less energetic than usual. What the reason was, he wouldn't say.

She helped him practice whittling at a series of bones he’d also brought along—unnecessary triplicates of those suspended in his study. They were quiet for a time, she trying to read, he trying to carve his next piece.

The end of the needle the Heiwa was attempting snapped off, leaving behind a sudden and hard edge. He sighed defeatedly; it had taken him hours to get that far. “Broke it,” he grumbled, and tossed both pieces into the fire. He flexed and rubbed at his sore fingers and hands—there was no use going back.

He looked at her with his first of many ratty journals open for her eyes. He frowned. Neith had never taught someone to read before; he wasn’t certain whether the direction he chose for her was most efficient to get started. “If trying to memorize the letters isn’t working, I can think of another way. Do you want to take a break?”

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POSTED: Wed May 23, 2018 9:23 pm

how pure, how sweet the love beneath it

It was a relief to see the Good Doctor - Neith, she had to keep reminding herself, though it grew easier to remember each time she self-corrected. The rain was miserable, and it had taken what felt like ages to shake and air the dank smell from her belongings, only to have a musty, mildewed stink settle into the fibers and leathers of her bag, rehashed with the wet. It was embarrassing to keep it inside the alcove which they had taken shelter in, and she kept it hovering near the entrance, as though that would mask the smell beneath rich petrichor of springtime greenery. At least the contents were dry, and safe.

They had settled in quick to work, both ready to get on with lessons; she was happy, but there was a quiet air of exasperation to her good humors. Perhaps, if the circumstances had been different, Neith's bared shoulders and lean chest could've been distracting, but Briarblack was utterly content to try - and fail, countlessly - at learning the written word in a half-focused daze that only made her struggle more. With wobbling lines, she tried to mirror and make sense of the poetic etchings of charcoal on the page and echo them in her own hand, held firmly - crudely - in her left hand, before it cramped and she gave up, ears lifting abruptly at the tiny crack of splintered bone, and wintery eyes watched as he cast it off into their fire.

"I find it easiest to work with rabbit ribs for needles - it's a lot less work?" she offered up, before licking over her lips, trying to summon the presence of mind to focus on the letters, which simply bled together into indistinct fog, and instead she watched as the silver-gilded man rubbed the ache in his fingers. His words gave her permission, and she set aside her scrawlings, keeping the order of papers in mind as she went to scoot over alongside Neith, and offered out hands, palms up in a wordless gesture.

"A break might be best," she muttered soft, before giving a tiny laugh. "Can't get anything to stick right now, regardless." The moment he had offered over his pale-fingered hands, she gripped at the soft meat of his palm, kneading it between her fingers and pulling the strain through his fingertips. There were callouses on his hands, focused and rough along the ridge of his palm nearest his fingers, doubtless from practice with his rapier, and the pad of her thumb ran along that skin gently, before she had the presence of mind to release his hands with a little huff of breath, holding onto her shin a moment for balance as she craned over to grab at the strap for her musty satchel, dragging it over and producing a small bottle.

"I try not to really, uh, over indulge much these days. But hey, you want a drink? Unless, you're too tired for it?" Briarblack jested, clicking her tongue.

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POSTED: Fri May 25, 2018 12:09 pm

"I thought rabbit would be too fragile," said Neith, moping at the flames worming around the two pieces of discarded bone. "Skin is thick. The last thing I'd want is for a needle to split halfway through someone's thigh."

He smirked at the thought, evidently imagining the situation, doubtless with an individual he did not like. Briar called for a break as well. "Don't be discouraged. Let me give it some thought and we'll try again. I know you will get it eventually."

He didn't understand what to adjust, however. He remembered learning to read, although somewhat vaguely; more than anything else, he remembered that it had not been difficult, once he had the hang of the letters and could wander Portland looking for any and every sign and bookshop to read. Not many in town could help him, but those that did seemed happy to. He had been a well-mannered child.

"Maybe you should hold onto those," he said, gesturing at a pair of his early journals containing mostly sketches. His handwriting and spelling were horrendous (not that Neith knew it), but it was something to start with. Perhaps she would pick up somrthing from his navigation or anatomical notes while she was at it.

Briar produced a bottle to his surprise. Neith was not indulgent, not when he spent most of his Salsolan waking hours reasonably paranoid, but this was not the Kingdom and she was not Salsola.He thought back to Salvador at the bar and how much fun he'd seemed to have, then contrasted this against the miserable and intoxicated Briar alone in the post-war winter. Neith shrugged.

"Tired? Hardly." Neith took the bottle from her, sipped, and grimaced. It was far more bitter than any drink he sipped at the Suppers and affairs, and so he gagged, "What in the world is this made from?"

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POSTED: Sat May 26, 2018 12:54 am

how pure, how sweet the love beneath it

"Mm, I'm not so sure, I would hate for them to get ruined," Briarblack answered idly, looking back over to stacked journals and their worn covers while Neith took a sip from the bottle. The soft wretch of hard-liquor going down made her turn back around with a look of surprise, ears perked up and eyes round, before he spoke again, and those lips cracked in a toothy grin as she bit back giggles that still tittered from the top of her throat. Fingers gripped the neck of the bottle and she went to take a sip for herself, the corners of her eyes pinching a little at the crisp burn the bottle gave.

"I think the gal that traded it to me said it was juniper berries from down south?"

Long legs kicked out a little and toes sprawled to stretch, warming up by the amber glow of firelight. The tension Briarblack so carried, squared in her shoulders, seemed to ease a little bit with the swell of alcoholic warmth in her chest. "If you're not tired, what's stolen that little bounce in your step, then?"

Post-question, she lifted the bottle to dark lips for another swip, a little deeper this time, before pushing the bottle gingerly back in the Good Doctor's direction.

"Or is it something personal?" The last jab was in good jest, blatant teasing, and Briar's head cocked back, long hair spilling along her shoulders as blue eyes combed, cheeky, over his features for reaction.

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POSTED: Fri Jun 01, 2018 8:55 am

“Well, just be careful,” he said, shrugging. “I still need my notes, so you don’t have to borrow them if you don’t want to. Perhaps some of the other pages or books, if you’d prefer it.”

He was not necessarily wounded about the matter, but Neith maintained a borderline arrogant level of pride regarding his notes and journals. The process had been nothing short of a creative time sink, involving several journeys to and from Salsola, hours upon hours studying and clacking jointless bones together wondering if they would fit, not to mention several workdays spent with both an unyielding hunger to study and a raging migraine. He liked Briarblack—he wanted to impress her—but Neith was not willing to lose his work and progress in the process.

Juniper berries were subjectively bitter but harmless, and he tried a second swig of the wine to find it was not as bad as the first. The aftertaste was nothing to be desired, but it went down easy. He grimaced, opening and shutting his mouth, letting the taste dissolve and air out.

“Strange,” he said. “Nothing like what they have at home. I’ve rarely indulged there. Perhaps I should. I'll see what I might be able to bring along for next time.”

Evidently she had seen past his thinly veiled attempt to act normal. It did not matter much to him, even prior to the effects of the drink manipulating his judgment. Who would she tell, Vicira? Inferni had enough of Salsola. They would do nothing with information except arm themselves for the next time the Kingdom came with swords and fire.

“There have been shifts in power and roles back home,” said Neith, unintentionally vague. “I don’t understand what’s happening. It feels like secrets are being kept from me, but I can’t fathom why she would.”

He tipped back the bottle once more, then handed it back. “I like it out here. Less spirits, less headaches. How curious.”

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POSTED: Sat Jun 02, 2018 11:11 am

how pure, how sweet the love beneath it

The Infernian leaned over to grab a journal and pondered over his words, perhaps unintentionally brusque - and rubbed the pads of her thumbs over the roughened cover, feeling the soft frays of material there; perhaps she could just keep them safer. Lock them up somewhere, keep them away from the prying eyes (and fingers) of her clanmates, who saw fit to use it as kindling than knowledge. There was a soft and almost absent 'yeah', before she set it back, and anchored the heels of her palms to reach over and grasp with non-dexterous toes until claws caught against the strap of her bag, not quite wanting to leave the comfort of her recline fully, in order to drag her satchel over. Hands delved into the pouch, and withdrew a handful of scrapped papers from before, some with long strips pulled off (to her chargrin), or sat upon. Fingers tried to smooth the crumpled wad out against her thigh, before offering them over. She wanted him to be proud of her scribblings, her progress, slim as it may be.

"Been trying writing with my left hand, before some folks decided to crash my den and make a mess of everything!"

Blue eyes studied his features with a bright curiosity as he bent his elbow again, surprisingly dainty, and wondered of the ways of civilization proper. There was a stifle of a grin, the twitching of her dark lips that threatened the curve of teasing teeth as he rolled the pine-y taste off his palette - next time he'd bring something; Briarblack would be lying if she tried to brush off the excitement.

Neith proceeded to spill about the nuances of politics and roles, power and lead, which all came down to a perplexed, if not a little bewitched, ears, Briar's head a subtle cant on her shoulders, eyes pinched at the corners as air sucked in, small and tight, as the cogs turned.

"The pale woman?" came a rise in her voice, unthinking - and the thought of the old Boss, of Salvia, ghosted the fingers of a shiver up her spine and trembled a little on the lilt of that voice. The bottle returned to her hand, and she scrunched her face, waving away the thought with a sway of her wrist. She took a swig, washed down the bitter and crisp drink down.

"Y'know? You don't have to answer that. Who cares -- this place is beholden to no rules, no laws, no leaders. So long as--" Briarblack's expression blanked as she caught on her tongue, before she thinned those lips and rubbed fingers against the slack of a warm cheek. "So long as you think you're safe, of course. So long as you're okay, why does it matter?"

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POSTED: Tue Jun 05, 2018 8:45 am

She touched gently at his book one moment, and reached her toes to drag over her bag at the next. To a man of culture, he could have been insulted or humored, and with some fortune for her Neith assumed the later. He smiled as he watched the stretch, imagining none from Salsola to do the same (save O’Riley, maybe, the mannerless knave). He flattened the wads of crumpled paper across his knee and squinted at its features, a series of shaking scribbles wandering somewhere in the threshhold of language and cryptic symbolism.

“You’re improving,” he said, nodding, but looked up too soon from the paper to absorb its etchings in full. “Pardon? Crash your den?”

In terms of Salsolans, she identified a pale woman. His brows pulled together, studying her face as if plastering other faces atop it, searching for the most likely identity. Violeta and Ondine stood out as the most likely, but neither would have made an appearance in the midst of warfare to be witnessed by Briarblack. Never did names like Salvia or Elphaba cross his mind as pale, for pale implied weakness, and to consider the label for either woman was just short of blasphemy.

She dismissed the query before he came to a conclusion. The doctor’s eyes became distant, far away into the grey mists of spring rain beyond their hollow. “Why does it matter,” he repeated in whisper, thinking aloud. “It matters because safety is—it is a scale. I am safer out here, but I am not safe.

For all he knew, they had realized his repeated absence and sent along scouts to investigate where he was going. By sway of alcohol, the paranoia did not resurface in full swell, and the young man leaned back and shrugged the subject away. “So, leaving that behind. Briarblack. Tell me more about you as a child. You know, where you were brought up, what your family was like? Bit of a strange inquiry, but bear with me.”

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POSTED: Mon Jun 11, 2018 1:00 am

how pure, how sweet the love beneath it

Pale didn't call into her recollection of weakness - pale was winter, was mist and cold and Death, and nothing held such terror as Death. Such sentiment echoed when he spoke of safety, and she could feel something bristle and brush along her spine as Neith so quickly grounded the two of them in reality - something she had been so sorely out of touch with. Briarblack had not considered the way of any danger she could've potentially been putting Neith in, potentially been putting herself in; Salsola was still out there. It was not actively hunting them, but the thorns did not make such idle threats.

Instead, the two of them washed it away with alcohol and watched the rain batter small, soft patterns into the earth outside of the little cove in which they had sought their refuge from weather and the outside world alike. Blue eyes glimpsed back at the silver man as he asked about what life was like before, round and perplexed.

"Where I'm from? Oh, it was a tribe, way far west from here, near a great big lake. It wasn't so... Stringent, like Inferni's views on outsiders." Wolves, she thought to correct, and idly palmed over her sternum, bare without the lock of gold there, before she simply smoothed claws over the dark patch of her chest. "I always meddled with my brother, tried to get into whatever it was he was doing. My mother was quiet, sweet; she taught me some of those finer skills with the arrows."

The outer corners of her eyes softened, and that gaze turned towards amber firelight, distant as she let loose a scoffing laugh. "I kind of miss it sometimes. But that's beside the point - what about you? Why do you ask?"

The Kingdom didn't seem the place to raise its children with delicate compassion, with proper family - its denizens were stern and secretive, unbending and serpentine. They posed threat to their own, something beyond Briarblack's scope of understanding, and attentions returned to the doctor at her side.

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POSTED: Tue Jun 12, 2018 10:36 am

A pack on a lake—no, a tribe, whatever the difference was. Was a clan closer to a tribe or a pack? He imagined children playing by the water, or a gentle mother teaching her child how to craft, and found it was not difficult at all to picture. Neith had observed all of these things in Salsola at one point or another. Soft-spoken, kind-hearted individuals like she had been birthed by the Thistle kingdom. Those soft-spoken individuals then attached themselves to others more hardened by the Kingdom, more representative of what Neith interpreted to be its culture.

This brought him pause, and he seemed to dwell on thoughts related for some time. The rain filled their silence and occupied his eyes. Who was in the wrong—Salsola, or Neith Heiwa?

“Ah,” he muttered as he realized his silence. Neith cleared his throat, then took a moment to open and close his hands and feel the tipsy numbness in doing so. Interesting. “But had you any rules at all? Things you had to do, even if you didn’t want to?”

He leaned back, taking into his idle hands a small length of twig which he then began to idly peel at and cast the bark into the fire. “Like false names, I suppose. Salsola has its code. They seem to think secrecy will keep our home safer, and it does, I suppose. But why then would we fight with allies and then burn down their home not months later? Who is safe enough for our exclusivity? And even then, what draws the line between servant and safe?”

“I’m rambling,” he concluded, a slur making itself evident. “I want to know if this is normal. Inferni has its own secrets, but it didn’t feel the same when I was there. Our captives would have never been shown the same kindness as yourself, Faith, even Vicira showed me.”

Neith looked at her, sincere. "I still cannot believe you did, after what I did to you."

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