deeper than the knife goes in

POSTED: Mon Jul 31, 2017 5:28 pm

For several days Neith had had made a point to investigate, repeatedly, the flora along the Southern Shoreline, for reasons he had insisted to onlookers as educational in nature and medically investigatory. These were not necessarily lies (though Neith had collected all the samples and uprooted all the greenery necessary for his studies by his third trip through) but the bulk of Salsola did not need to know his true intentions. That is, to find out when the Arena was most commonly unoccupied, and to practice his swordplay when blissfully alone.

Neith knew his anxieties over his image to be both warranted and unwarranted, for Salsola was forged of formidable links in an unbreakable chain, and its culture yielded little to those who could not contribute their keep. But to learn swordplay was a skill of long and seasoned trials; few could fault him in his relative youth that he was not yet as practiced as his fellows, but Neith knew such excuses would not last long. For months in the spring he had slipped under the radar, excused from proper utility by the loss of his mother and birth of his nephew, and for months of the summer thereafter he had spent self-teaching anatomy and pressing leaves and picking herbs. He furthered his knowledge without a doubt, but it showed little among his kin.

He was born Salsolan. If only to himself, Neith had to be held to greater standards.

He researched the Arena was not yet occupied shortly past dawn, and relished that the summer heat would not set in full for a few more hours. Grasping opportunity, the Heiwa took to his independent practice on its grounds, twirling his sword and repeating his lunges, familiarizing himself with the weight of the blade and against the weight of his claws on the ground.

And he was rather impressed with his progress, though meager, at least until one twist too eager peeled the hilt loosely from his fingers and sent it clattering. Neith thought to laugh at himself, but swallowed it short. Even alone, his anxieties turned the gears.

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POSTED: Tue Aug 01, 2017 7:35 pm

It was a foreigner's sword, the one he was allowed to “play” with, one they had seized from the first war. According to history, Salsola had seen two wars – both against a common enemy – and O'Riley found this indicative of some truths. Either Salsola was too powerful to be properly attacked or their other enemies were cowards.

The wolfdog scoffed noisily, passing the blade from hand to hand as he walked. This was idle practice, for while he had risen early and been well prepared, his grandfather had tarried over the morning meal. Stannis was distracted by papers of some sort, a list he kept adjusting and making further notes on. O'Riley hadn't understood the crude shapes drawn at the bottom, but he was more focused on the promised lesson.

He quite liked fighting, and he and Grievous would practice at this regularly. They came home with cuts and bruises regularly, as evidenced by the scabs on his fingers. Nearly healed, these marks did not delay his movements. Mindless as the motion seemed, his hands worked the sword as if it were a ball being tossed back and forth. It wasn't properly weighted, and the handle was heavy. More proof of the inability of their enemies to secure proper devices for their holy war.

Yet O'Riley was not the first to arrive at the Arena, for there was a man practicing with a rapier. O'Riley came to a standstill, and let his borrowed sword rest, tip in the dirt. For a few moments the wolfdog observed, silent and dark like the trees, and made his approach only after a fault.

Are you waiting for someone? He asked, coming to the sandy ground.

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POSTED: Thu Aug 03, 2017 4:53 pm

An observer made himself known as Neith collected his sword, and there was a moment's pause when the Heiwa straightened with blade in hand that he looked long and hard at the young man who joined him. If he feared his folly had been seen (and perhaps a glance at his ineptitude exposed), the Confidant did not show it, for he stood with a noble and rigid poise. If he could rely on nothing else, it was his image. Neith was a handsome man, who wore his lineage proud and well. He did not boast the definition of Rafael, perhaps, but never had Neith wanted for brute strength and intimidation factor.

"No one," he replied. He recognized the young man as a face in passing, but allowed himself little time to think back to where he might have been seated at the recent Last Supper. Neith found it difficult to get a read of him. Erring as always on side of caution, Neith made for a slight bow at the waist out of respect, perfectly ambiguous to cover himself.

He rolled his shoulders as if he had practiced for more than the fifteen or so minutes he had, and sheathed his rapier to his hip. "I don't believe we've met. Neith Heiwa, a pleasure." He gestured to the Arena. "Actually, I was just finishing up. Please, don't let me get in your way."

Brooding and disappointed beneath the charade, he flicked back what had fallen stray from his dark hair and crossed to the Arena's edge with every obvious intention to leave. Fast.

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POSTED: Fri Aug 04, 2017 11:22 pm

O'Riley knew who he was. He had seen him, of course, but even before then there had been names brought up in his grandmother's house the day Stannis returned from his trip bloodied and in a fouler mood than the young man would come to see throughout the war's course. They had talked about things when they thought he was sleeping, but with an ear to the ground O'Riley could hear more than enough.

The Heiwa family was long-connected to matters of the Kingdom, and the Seer carried its name as well. Neith looked and talked like a man of proper breeding he was.

The young man stepped directly into the older wolf's path, blocking him bodily. He smiled, but it wasn't a friendly expression.

O'Riley, he announced. You should stick around, keep me company while I'm waiting on my Daideó – what kind of sword is that anyway? It's not shaped the same as this one, O'Riley said, and swung his nearer his face to examine it. He did this briefly, as if he wasn't really looking for anything, then dropped it in a casual manner to his side. It's smaller, is it light? It looks like it should be light, eh?

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POSTED: Sat Aug 12, 2017 5:20 pm

The young, dark-haired man crossed (purposefully, Neith suspected) into his path, pausing the older Heiwa where he stood. Faced with the smile that followed, a feeling of dread spread slow and blossoming within the Confidant's chest, as ink spreads in water. He recognized it at once as no different than when he looked into the red eyes of one Revlis, whose words and actions turned like opposite paths in a labyrinth built without an end.

O'Riley did not so much exchange in dialogue as he did direct it, and Neith thought better than to challenge him. Wary to expose himself as concerned, Neith squared his shoulders and tipped his chin while O'Riley navigated the Heiwa's intentions into meeting his own. Unskilled and faltering as he was, Neith could boast intelligence in observation; whether he had the capacity to act upon his observations, however, was negligible.

"Until your Daideó arrives, then," he said as if to cement it (whatever it meant), long after it was mentioned and moved past. With the arch of O'Riley's blade between them, his ears had turned back and forward again by then. Begrudgingly and with a tight-lipped smile, Neith drew his rapier and presented its hilt. "Here. Yes, it's light. In the right hands, however, I believe it could be every part the danger a heavier sword can be. You might watch Rafael and Lilia train sometime, if you've met them."

He stepped back, gesturing to the Arena. "I don't mind if you try it as long as you're careful. You'll find it won't swing quite like the one you have there, though."

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POSTED: Sun Aug 13, 2017 3:22 pm

Thistles and thorns had long grown thick and wild in the dark earth that Salsola claimed as its own, and in this way too had grown the children born within. The young people who now looked to the future were of this make, though touched and molded by the people and experiences in their lives. Some faults were long in the making – some things could not be scrubbed from bloodlines and rights of heritage.

Neith offered the rapier, and O'Riley took this with interest. With a blade in each hand he could feel the difference palpably. He took a few steps further into the ring, far enough away that the mock swings he made with these swords were done safely. The wolfdog made a few experimental thrusts with the smaller weapon, then slashed through the empty space before him with enough force to hear it cut the air. It was a decent thing, this small sword, but he wondered at its tolerance.

It is different, he agreed. Even now, with the blades resting low, he could feel the weight in his arms. O'Riley considered this as he moved closer to the center of the Arena.

Something else felt strange – the ground beneath his feet or the pressure in the air around him – and after a few more loose motions with the swords O'Riley turned back.

A thought came to him and lingered.

You lived in Portland for a while, didn't you? When I was little I stayed there.

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POSTED: Tue Aug 22, 2017 8:50 pm

Arms folded, the Confidant watched the young man thrash the poor rapier about like an uncultured brute, unaccustomed to the grace and dignity required to properly handle so thin and light a blade. Regardless, the Heiwa recognized a visible difference in handling that hinted at greater skill. As such he commented nothing on the display; he provided neither advice nor criticism, and protected himself in doing so.

"Did you?" Neith searched his mind for a child of such hues, but found nothing. An introvert at heart, as a child he had taken well to the stocks and books and did not insert himself into the business of his elder Salsolans at work. "I was born here, but my family brought me to Portland by my first or second month. I've lived there longer than I've lived here, truthfully."

He glanced his shoulders, eager for the company O'Riley anticipated, but no one came. Neith eyed his rapier still in the young man's grip, but neither moved nor unfolded his arms. "You seem to know your way around the Arena. Have you a mentor?"

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POSTED: Thu Aug 31, 2017 8:42 pm

I wasn't there very long, O'Riley went on, but did not think to explain who he had stayed with or why he no longer remained. It's different, it seems like.

He imagined it like this, anyway. His parents had spoiled him and he was surrounded by family, and nothing ever seemed amiss. War had changed his perception of the world, even if it was something he had not experienced as a combatant. It was enough to witness, he felt. There would be other wars. Even that last one, against wolves who believed in one god and did not reason the foolishness of attacking two enemies at once, it had been a repetition of the conflict before. People got hurt and people got killed, and in the end Salsola won.

It wasn't as if the war consumed his thoughts entirely, in any case. Removed from it, O'Riley saw what happened to others and based his behavior upon these presumed consequences.

Things always came around. This was the way of the Law.

Oh sure I do, he answered, and turned the rapier around to offer its handle back to Neith. You ought to remember him – you were with that party that was ambushed, weren't you? I heard all about it – not that there would be much of a story for you to tell. The wolfdog showed his teeth in a mean, unfriendly smile. His feet moved apart, settling as they would as if he was preparing to fight. Now, as I see it, being able to defend our Family ought to be something done by those who are capable. Those who can't don't need to stand in the way. You understand that, don't you?

O'Riley rolled his wrist and the sword once, tightened his grip, and let the blade come to rest by his side.

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POSTED: Wed Sep 13, 2017 8:32 pm

Their dialogue turned cold, and fast.

The attack on the caravan had been horrible timing; his nightmares and headaches had left him sleepless for weeks on end, and it was only after a rather heated conversation with Isabella that Neith agreed to travel to Salsola proper to disconnect from the Outpost and reacquaint with his roots. The trip will do you good, she said, in the days before the war, the death of Lillith, the month of illness. One after another, after another. The attack on the caravan from the Outpost was the first disaster to trigger a sequence, but Neith thought it long since forgotten by those in attendance. His folly was never mentioned; training was neither requested nor forced upon him.

Neith met insult with a proud raise of the head and a flaring of nostrils, humiliation renewed but suppressed. He had traveled that day with several strong names, and it mattered not which called O'Riley apprentice. There had been conversation. His shortcomings with a sword—that is, his utter inability—were acknowledged by someone, somewhere, of import. Stiffly Neith took back his rapier and neither matched nor avoided that wicked smile.

"I understand that," said Neith, and paused to ensure O'Riley heard the click of his sword into its sheath. "And I agree with you. To fight unskilled begs for more trouble. One shouldn't dream to represent Salsola's strength until they have the training. They might seek different pursuits to lend aid to the warriors, say, learning herbs and proper mending. Pursuits I will gladly return to, should your Dai... Daideó arrive. Or perhaps sooner." If I am so fortunate.

He maintained his tone even, contained. He had to. Change the topic. "Your mentor is... Rafael, then? Stannis, maybe Scorpius? I can imagine you are a fine warrior, O'Riley. Have you learned more than just the sword?"

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