The Bite of Winter [CW]

Description: closed thread  cw: violence 

Offline Ophelia Shore

The Bite of Winter [CW]
« on: February 08, 2018, 09:22:35 AM »

She hadn't given up her house. Closed and locked its doors, but not retreated from its premises. They were out there, somewhere, lurking, waiting. Ophelia could feel it in her bones.

She'd thought, mistakenly, that the fear would leave with traitors. But it had lingered. Those left were growing restless. She'd found no one to fill the voids in her court. At some point the master of the guard had slipped away and not returned. The first to ignore the Yellow lock on the door and vanish.

Her garden was still dead. Ophelia blamed it on the bite of frost that swept down from the Askavi mountains. But her garden had died months ago, and there wasn't heart enough left in her body to stir it back to life. Too anxious. Locked inside her body and her house.

She still walked it sometimes, hoping. The high walls safe enough. The gate to the outside world heavy, thick cut wood, and barred with stronger locks than those on her front door.

Today was one of those days. Her dress long, sleeves longer still, draping over her hands to keep them warm. Cut tight at the bodice and arms, fur at the neck, to keep her own body heat in. Her boots crunched and her breath frosted the air, but she'd had to get outside. Away from the walls that wept her own worries back at her.

A mid morning stroll as she enjoyed taking.

A faint echo of her own footsteps. A mask slipping just at the last moment. Ophelia turned, catching a glimpse of a bright blue eye and summer straw hair.

"Sorry, lady," the voice rough in her ear. Hand catching her, stilling her startled turn. Another sliding a long, keen blade into her stomach. Pain like Ophelia had never imagined. It blossomed there like lust, driving a gasp from her lips. "You should have stayed inside." Her hands scrambled at the arm that drove the blade. Clutching as he pulled it out.

Not sure which was worse.

"Stayed quiet." Again. It was almost as if she were helping him now. Clinging desperately to him, body bowing over the knife. Again, this time hard enough to force the last of the air from her lungs. Ophelia's nails, freshly painted, tore at his sleeves. Broke, as he shook her loose, left her to bleed on the ground.

The garden waking around them. Stirred to life by her pooling blood.

Offline Darion Greenstone

Re: The Bite of Winter [CW]
« Reply #1 on: February 08, 2018, 09:57:25 AM »
Blood. Aeon’s temper rose to answer it, skin flush and burning with adrenaline, pulse drumming a hard rhythm through his body—hands shaking, head aching. Veins of ice bloomed under his feet, crackling over the dry grass.

He reached out his hand, nestling his fingers in the warmth of the other man’s straw-gold hair. Curled his fingertips like claws into the skin underneath. Flared his nostrils, the better to breathe in the stench of fear.

“You’ve made a terrible mistake,” whispered Aeon. “But no matter. I’m here, now, to correct it.”

Slowly, at first—a single drop of blood staining the ice red, blooming. Then another. Drops became a trickle, and the trickling became a flood, so fast and violent that it pooled and puddled and splashed up onto his trousers.

He pulled his hand away, and the body fell, useless, white-knuckled fingers still clutching the knife. Silence, then—only his breath, and the wind whispering through the skeleton garden.

No. He’d come for something… a reason….

The Queen.

“Lady….” He turned. The fear in the air, now, was his own. “No. Oh, no.”

Aeon knelt, soaking his knees with the Queen’s blood and soil. He searched for her eyes, seeking something, anything, Mother Night, please.

So cold. His hand eclipsed hers, and he lit a Warming Spell around them, if only to feel that he was doing something.

“You’re safe now. I’ve got you.”
He pressed the union of their hands gently into her stomach, just to slow the bleeding. “Trust in me, Lady. I will serve.”

Offline Ophelia Shore

Re: The Bite of Winter [CW]
« Reply #2 on: February 08, 2018, 10:58:01 AM »

Ophelia could feel the land breathing underneath her. The ground expanding and contracting. It reminded her of waves, though she had never seen the ocean. She had heard about it. Seen paintings of the white foamed crests. Felt something similar in the lakes of Rodgau.

It was very cold. The breathing ground. Except for where it was warm. Heat radiating from her stomach, around her hips and slowly spreading toward her breasts. Her body was coldest there though. The pain was gone. Frozen numb. Vanished. But the warmth made her sleepy. Lulled and rocked by the breathing ground.

Air metallic and cold. Bitter tang of temper. Ice fire. A flood. Shadows moving in the encroaching darkness. A new threat. More violence. This slinking shadow. Ophelia thought she knew him, as he wrapped fingers in hers and pressed them into her cold, cold stomach. The flesh there gaped, when she touched it, making her whimper.

She thought she knew the other too. But he was dead, and she was glad. A voice keeping her from sleep. Warming the cold parts of her body. Fingers twitching until the flesh closed instead of gaped. Pressure on wounds, she remembered someone telling her once. But she hadn’t been listening, not really.

A laugh that was mostly a sputtering of bloody froth.

”There is no healer here, Prince.” Ophelia managed to rasp through chattering teeth, lips pale and pinched. The healer had gone too. Lackey to the one who sought to unseat her. To see her dead and out of his way so he could steal what was hers. He would never have it now.

Not even over her dead body.

Offline Darion Greenstone

Re: The Bite of Winter [CW]
« Reply #3 on: February 08, 2018, 11:23:16 AM »
Everything was slow, dreamlike. Or nightmarish, perhaps—with every passing moment he willed the scene before him to not be real, to no avail.

Aeon leaned in, captive to her every word. The rich warmth of her skin had gone clammy-gray; there was not much time, now.

“Trust in me,” he repeated, softly. His grip tightened over her hand. How useless he was, sometimes; too broken to serve in court, a burden and a curiosity to those he sought to serve. But here, now, he could do things that others could not do.

Would it kill her? He did not know. But she would die here if he did not try, and he would not watch a Queen die. Not again. Never again.

The Ebon-gray sparked to life at his chest, though it was half-full now and straining. His shield embraced her, and he scooped her into his arms along with it, pulling her up to his chest and resting his lips at the crown of her head.

“Have courage,” he whispered, muffled into her hair. “Enough for both of us, for I will need it.”

The fabric of the Realm peeled away, revealing the Darkness beneath, that shared place that existed inside all of them and everywhere, always. Gathering the last of his strength, he pulled them through it, to the other side where there was warmth, and safety.

And Healers. They fell shivering on the floor of the Territory Court’s healing hall. Aeon’s face was still tucked into her hair, as though the proximity would keep her alive.

But had it?

He did not know, and then the world swirled and narrowed in his vision and he fell, the unanswered question dying on his lips.

Offline Willoughby Willowbank

Re: The Bite of Winter [CW]
« Reply #4 on: February 08, 2018, 01:13:52 PM »
Willoughby paused, his shoulders oddly tensing over the small stack of papers in his hands. Some sort of budget sheets he was meant to sort. Lord Redgrove did like a well organized paper trail! Something was happening though. The cup of pens on his desk rattled lightly. His ears felt full.

Caught by a draft the papers scattered when he dropped them. Body suddenly a hard line as he stood so quickly his chair clattered to the floor behind him. Face turned up and feet already moving. Hip and elbow bruising against the desk’s corner and the door frame as he squeezed through, trying not to topple his mentor over in the process. Nose to the air like a mad dog.

Blood. Queen’s blood.

Shoes skidding as he rounded into the infirmary, jacket shrugged down to elbows then vanished. Sleeves rolled up as his knees smashed to the floor. More blood than such a small woman should seemingly have pooling on the floor. His heart pounding as her life drained away. Someone held her still, the bleeding queen. With an uncharacteristic growl Willoughby moved her away from the stranger. His now until she was fixed. Gentle hands gripping under her arms. Pulling her into his lap as he knelt on the floor.

”She needs a transfusion.” Unnaturally cold to the touch. Skin too pale. ”18 gauge cannula!” He called to the floundering apprentices. Their bodies knocking together as all they tried to move in the same direction at once. Patients shuffling to the far wall, out of the way. Just watch the infirmary Sami said! Easy work, just minding apprentices! What in Hell had he gotten himself into?!

In a softer tone he whispered to the patient. ”Hold strong, lady. I’m working on it.” The Purple Dusk pooled at his hands. A painful jolt of pure Healing Craft stemming the flow of blood by cauterizing the major vessels. Someone started weaving, he sensed the regenerative web as it took shape behind him. Yes. Good. All his focus poured on the Yellow jeweled queen. Her blood cool against his skin, heartening his determination. ”Not today Mother Night. Not this one.” The faint whisper of her heartbeat all the encouragement he needed to keep trying. An idiot handed him half the supplies he needed. Just a handful of different sized catheters  and tubing. No time for correcting now, he jerked his head towards the tall figure sprawled along the floor. Something familiar about the fellow, something reassuring. ”Check him.”

The Rose enveloped the Queen. A shimmering spell to dull the pain of his working fingers. Joining healer to queen. She needed blood, any would do as long as the type was right. And Willoughby was everyone’s type. A universal donor. An assistant joined him on the floor. Nimble women’s fingers tearing away the torn bodice of her dress so he could see. ”Get a bag and hang it, there’s only so much I can share.” He told them, the shuffling apprentices, as they finally shook off the shock and became useful again.

”Can you hear me lady? You’re in Walcourt, at the territory seat. We’re going to patch your right up.” He promised, worried now that she would come around any second. Blinking hard his vision blurred then turned to diagnostic sight. Showing him the severed vessels and muscles needing repair. Fingers slipping into the soft gush of her open wound, spilling Craft that pulled the important pieces back together. ”Web.” He demanded. The color returning to her cheeks as the young apprentice switched the open tap of Willoughby blood for a bagged source. Leaving a pounding welt as she sealed his pinprick shut sloppily. ”Ouch.” He complained before shaking his numb hand. Glad to have his arm free again. The Purple Dusk waned as the web he requested was tucked across the queen’s torn muscle. Drawing it shut long enough for him to lift her into his arms and settle her on a waiting bed. ”Has someone gotten the smelling salts for that one yet?”

pain is real, but so is hope

Offline Darion Greenstone

Re: The Bite of Winter [CW]
« Reply #5 on: February 08, 2018, 01:44:14 PM »
It returned in a blur: sunlight, beds, the silver gleam of instruments. So many faces he did not recognize. He stirred, then sighed, pressing a blood-caked palm to his face to right his glasses.

At the center of the chaos was a dark-haired Healer Prince, whose Purple Dusk was fast draining. Aeon writhed his way upright—upright enough, anyway—and managed to grab just enough fabric from the other man’s trousers to pull.

“She’s alive?” he asked, searching the Healer’s eyes. There were tubes everywhere, and a bag full of blood. Aeon didn’t know anything about the Healer’s Craft, except that it took power, and presumably a lot of it.

“I’m fine. Take what you need.” He called in his Sapphire, the better to reach for it. The chain pooled on the bedsheets, tangled in his fingers. “Take all of it, if you have to. I told her I’d serve, and I meant it.”

Offline Willoughby Willowbank

Re: The Bite of Winter [CW]
« Reply #6 on: February 08, 2018, 02:37:50 PM »
Settling the queenling on the bed Willoughby took his time making sure she was stable. Pulse strengthening, color improving. His gaze flitted to the man on the floor. Turned a healers eyes down long enough to know there was nothing that needed fixing. ”Yes. Barely, but we will see her straightened out. Won’t we dear, lady?”

His emotions were tender at the sight of queen’s blood. Suspicion high. Fear throbbing through him because his own queen was not near enough for him to check on. It made his tolerance for anyone else quite slim. Pinpoint focus on the patient that took precedence.

The man, now that Willoughby took a minute to let his focus waver while the regenerative web worked, wore the Ebon-grey. It’s existence a whisper on his psyche. Drained, his healer’s senses told him. Just like the Purple Dusk on his hand. He should have said no, when offered the stranger’s birthright. But there was a queen on his table. ”You served well enough to get her here.” He acknowledged, plunging into the cool but foreign power source. Ebbing it out in the form of stringent pain relief for the lady. There was nothing else to do but wait for the web to work. Then he could close the outer skin properly.

”What’s her name?” He asked, reaching out to soothe the back of her hand.

pain is real, but so is hope

Offline Darion Greenstone

Re: The Bite of Winter [CW]
« Reply #7 on: February 08, 2018, 03:18:09 PM »
The other man’s hesitation to make use of his Jewel stirred anxiety in him, like sediment clouding crystal-clear waters. Was it too intimate a connection between strangers? Aeon didn’t consider anyone who lived under Irisviel’s roof to be a stranger, not really. And so it relieved him to feel the tugging outside his barriers; it meant that they were of one accord, brothers seeking a common goal.

He opened his mind, strangely content to feel his power flowing by, outside of his grasp. It meant that he was useful, and he longed so to be useful.

Only when the Healer asked the Queen’s name did the anxiety resurface, for Aeon looked longingly at her face and realized that he did not know.

“I can’t remember,” he said. Softly, like a child admitting a wrong. “I… saw her once, a while ago. She was afraid of something. I felt trouble, and knew it was her.”

Could he have done more, if he’d been quicker? It had all been so terribly sudden. Perhaps if he hadn’t stopped to kill the man. He didn’t regret it, but those precious few moments hadn’t been his alone to spend.

“I must stay with her.” Half plead, half demand. “I must be here when she wakes, so she knows I did not leave.”

Offline Irisviel Crag

Re: The Bite of Winter [CW]
« Reply #8 on: February 08, 2018, 04:04:08 PM »

"Her name is Ophelia Shore," came a steel clad voice from the door. Irisviel was still holding the pen she'd been using to set her signature to orders, ink dripping like blood down the stem of it. Somewhere between her office and the infirmary she'd managed to snap it in half, clutched between her fingers, thumb resting on the jagged edge.

The wash of raw power and stink of blood having drawn her down the stairs. She was not surprised to find Darion there. Forgot, for a moment, that Sami would not be. Jo's apprentice kneeling bedside in his wake. The other one, that had come with the strange boy, for Wren. She had been, for a moment, afraid to find them there. River and Wren.

But this queen did not live in Darkness. Iris knew her too, however. And for a moment she thought about calling them back. Of letting her die. But she'd not sacrifice another. No other queens would fall before whatever insanity had infected the territory. Rotten fruit poisoning the well. Spreading to the males that were supposed to serve them. Protect them.

She'd sent so many of her own away.

The doors drew closed behind her. The Grey sealing them in and everyone else out. Tooth exposed beneath the blackened nail, Iris let go the pen, which clattered onto the floor, forgotten. In she came, prowling the room. Beneath the tight leash she wrapped herself in, emotions roiled. So easy to step sideways into madness, or perhaps the other direction, onto the killing fields.

Neither would help the sickroom, or the healing. Outwardly she was the hollow mask.

"Darion?" Irisviel tilted her head, examined the Prince she'd not seen in some weeks. She'd sent him on a mission, clues buried and burned into his psyche so he could not forget. Oh, she knew he'd done as asked. Felt the deep swell of power, watched the blood flow in the Kingdom. Weeping from scarred trees. Was this more of the same? "What did you see?"

Why was this girl-queen forever bringing trouble onto her doorstep? Taller than Iris herself, she looked small upon the table. Empty and waxen. But she breathed.

"Cover her," Irisviel demanded of one of the apprentices. It seemed wrong to have her so exposed. Bared for healing, wounds gleaming ribbons of torn flesh and craft, but the rest of her need not be so.. naked. Vulnerable.

Offline Darion Greenstone

Re: The Bite of Winter [CW]
« Reply #9 on: February 10, 2018, 05:17:28 AM »
Aeon felt her before he saw her—Irisviel—but it was her voice that made his head turn. It could pull attention in any setting, that voice. Such was a good Queen’s power, when she saw fit to use it.

“Iris….” Bloody fingertips sank into the mattress as he tried to brace himself to stand, but the strength was not there. Spent elsewhere, and slow to return. His body was hollow with its absence, like a vein missing its blood.

Blood. Aeon clutched at the bedsheets again, held them until his knuckles were white with the force.

“He stabbed her,” said Aeon, speaking now only to Irisviel in a hushed, frantic tone. “He stabbed her, but I got there too late. I couldn’t leave her there.”

Iris would understand. More than anyone, she understood him—had seen beyond the barriers of his mind, and had not shied away. Apprentice Healers crowded the bed, then, to carry out her order. He sat on the outside, relegated to his lonely spot on the floor.

And then he remembered.

“I found….” The sentence trailed off into nothing as Aeon raised his hands, holding them out expectantly. A scrap of paper appeared, and he unfolded it with shaking hands, smoothing out the creases. “This. It was there, on the wall, when I went. I copied it after I was done so I wouldn’t forget.”

On the paper was a symbol, drawn carefully in ink. He’d never seen it before that night.

The night he’d landed in that clearing of trees, descending upon the secluded inn there and rending the life from every body inside.

Offline Willoughby Willowbank

Re: The Bite of Winter [CW]
« Reply #10 on: February 11, 2018, 12:48:54 AM »
The remorse in the other prince’s voice was enough to convince Willoughby. Filled with empathy and the keen eye of a healer he nodded. There was no chance to speak, though. His question answered by another.

By the queen.

Not his queen, of course. Nearly as good, though. Her entrance to the room relieving the strangling fear that gripped his chest. Lady Crag would know. She would get the answers. Could tell him if this was one small act or a multifaceted attack. If his Queen and Cousin were safe.

He blended into the background. He knew it. Saw her sharp eyes turn to the man on the floor. Darion, she called him. Another Ebon-gray. Because one wasn’t enough. While Lady Crag and this Darion spoke Willoughby turned his focus to Lady Shore. Whispers too quiet to disturb the others in the room. ”Rest easy now, lady. You’re in a safe place. Old Willoughby is going to see you through.”

Lady Crag made a command. The apprentices shuffling forward to see it through. He stepped back. Moving like a man in a dream to the counter. Mixing a brew while he listened. Took it all in. Waited for the room to settle. His chance to ask after his people. Maybe a ‘well done’ for the woman still breathing on the bed.

”Here, chap. To settle you.” He realized only once it was done, a warming spell set in its depths that he had crafted a calming brew. His spells in such matters were atrocious. Backfired every time. But this, this was safe. A drink to take the edge away. The same recipe he used for River’s sleepless nights.

pain is real, but so is hope

Offline Irisviel Crag

Re: The Bite of Winter [CW]
« Reply #11 on: February 11, 2018, 09:51:21 AM »

"Of course you couldn't," Irisviel soothed. The swish of her skirts a quiet warning. She walked here, ruled here. Not a coy call, the stride too strong. Firm. Controlled. Like her emotions. No need to upset them any further, both princes distressed by too much queen's blood.

Part of her wished he had though. Left her there.

No need to ask if the offender was dead. Iris knew without being told, without even looking. This strange, wayward prince was less mystery to her than others. A maze of service flitting across the land, strung with Jewels no one could deny. Not even a queen. Irisviel stopped beside his bed, fingers trailing through the grey hair at his forehead, sweeping it away from his face. Hand cupping his ear as stroked the side of his face.

She paused when Darion spoke, hand drawing back. Wren's healer prince was in the background, murmuring to his patients. Iris would have to remember to speak with him. Carefully, she took the paper from Darion's hand, blood smudged along the creases. But the image was clear, stark against the weathered white of the paper. Irisviel frowned, thumb rubbing a corner against her finger.

Something flickered across her face and was gone, the paper vanished.

"Well done, my friend."
She smiled for him, moving out of the way so Willoughby could hand him a brew. Hand sliding over the healer prince's shoulder. "Drink your medicine, Darion." She hovered at the end of Ophelia's bed, the Yellow Jeweled queen shifted uneasily against the sheets, as if she knew who watched her. No friends to each other, the pair of them.

"She will live, Prince Willowbank?" She'd never been any good with healing craft. Not even the simplest of spells to staunch a paper cut. Irisviel had been made to create bleeding, not stop it, she had come to realize. "A full recovery, do you think?" She waited for him to come closer, angling her body so that he might feel the invitation to approach safely. Lowering her voice so that only he might hear. "I have felt Wren, she is well. Will you go to her, or stay with your patient?"

She would give her instructions later. Outside this sick room. Something had to be done. Iris very much doubted Wren was in any danger, not with River's Ebon-grey at her disposal. But that didn't mean Rodgau wasn't. Especially with River's Ebon-grey outside of Wren's control. They really needed to work harder on that girl's leashes.

Offline Darion Greenstone

Re: The Bite of Winter [CW]
« Reply #12 on: February 13, 2018, 11:26:03 AM »
He took the brew silently and without complaint, cradling the mug in both hands as he leaned into Iris’s hand. So cool against his forehead. Aeon closed his eyes, soaking in her comfort.

Well done. It was all he wanted to hear, really. A balm over his anxieties.

Well done.

“It will put me to sleep,” he said, neither question nor gripe, his body too weak now for either. Never mind, then. He lifted the brew to his lips with a sigh, and drank.

The room had quieted, and Aeon hoped it meant that the worst of the chaos was done. His gaze lingered on Ophelia, and then turned to the Healer Prince. Willowbank, Irisviel called him. A pang of something shot through his chest; an overwhelming gratefulness, or perhaps just common, garden-variety relief.

“Thank you, Prince.” Barely louder than a whisper. “For saving her. And for the brew. I asked much of you, and I am in your debt.”

A wash of calm, then. Fluttering eyelids.

“I will stay,” said Aeon, whispering decisively. With effort, he hauled himself up onto the bed neighboring Ophelia’s. “She will be confused when she wakes. I do not want her to be alone.”

Offline Willoughby Willowbank

Re: The Bite of Winter [CW]
« Reply #13 on: February 13, 2018, 10:44:28 PM »
”If she has the will to Lady Crag.” Willoughby answered without hesitation. Unashamed that he could make no promises. The healing had been enough to put together what the sharp blade split. It was beyond his power to make Lady Shore want life, however. Sometimes they slept and never woke. Even when the Craft was perfect. There was no explanation. So he offered no excuses.

The second question was harder to answer. Not once had Willoughby thought to be afraid of Lady Crag. Judgment twisted perhaps by too much love and trust for River. He didn’t need leashing, like his poor cousin. From Wren or anyone else. But Iris was a queen. Stronger and soothing compared to the one whose blood ran down his shirt. She didn’t have to invite him closer, he would have come anyway. Because he needed to. It was good of her, though, to be so considerate. Drawing nearer to the wholesomeness of her Gray the prince nodded. ”Yes.” There would be phantom pains. Scars on the skin and soul. Maybe aches when the weather changed. Those were not things that would keep her from living an active and complete life. He didn’t burden Lady Crag with such trivialities.

His hand tucked over his heart. Tore suddenly by the third and hardest question. Eyes dragging to the sickbed. Then back to Lady Crag. He knew the answer. ”Thank you lady... She’s safe with River.” His cousin would call at him if his control wavered. He believed in them, though. Wren would manage. ”I’ll not draw attention by rushing where I’m not needed.” They were all safer that way. And he had a patient here.

The other prince was pliant. Queen petted and filled with a brew designed to work despite his jewel strength. Hand falling on his collar bone Willoughby winked, ”Think nothing of it, friend. You did your part and I did mine. No one owes anyone.” A healer was a healer was a healer. Even if he was a prince or a Steward and several things in between.

They would sleep then. Lady Shore and her Darion. Smoothing his own brow Willoughby felt hands pressing him towards the sink. Moved forward in a heady rush he complied. Frazzled around the edges. ”Was there anything else, Lady Crag?” He asked over a shoulder, eyes unable to meet her face again.

pain is real, but so is hope

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