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    version 22: awakening


    GHAUL -- Year 209


    "(souls are not meant to live more than once — death was not meant to be temporary, and she is so sure that every time her heart starts to beat again that irreversible damage is further inflicted)" -- Anonya, written by Colby

    [private]  i fear rivers overflowing; Starsin
    She wakes in the middle of the night with a soft gasp.

    The habit of turning to the left has begun to fade over months with nothing to see there; yet tonight her eyes still flick left, her body leans into the empty space. Lepis is forced to catch herself. There is not someone there to do it for her. The nightmare is already beginning to fade as she becomes fully awake, and with it goes that brief second of brightness. All those months, and there is still a moment each time she wakes that she is able to forget that he is gone.

    This time, the always-rending realization is followed by the memory of earlier that afternoon, of the evening he had disappeared once more into the sky.

    Her children are tucked around her feet, and Lepis kisses yearling Celina’s forehead and smooths young Elio’s mane before stepping over them gently and out into the night. With them fast asleep and safe in their arboreal home, Lepis slips off into the night. Out here, the children cannot see her cry.

    Patrols of the border have become habit. Wolfbane is not here to do them, and she has not seen Aten in weeks. Pteron has been lurking along the northern border, but Lepis doubts that he is carrying out responsibilities, not with that droop to his head, that expression on his face. So it is her task, and since she will get no more sleep tonight, she sets out.

    The border lands shift as she moves through them – first the rocky edge of the ocean, then the land where jungle merges with the redwoods. Her tears begin to dry, though her eyes are red; it is too hard to grieve and watch for danger at the same time, and the instinctive need takes priority. The tropical trees begin to be replaced, and Lepis knows that she is in the borderlands between Sylva and Taiga. Her pace picks up, at least until she sees motion in the distance. Somewhere is there, a little deeper into the Sylva woods. The dun mare slows and then stops, her blue grey eyes peering through the woods until she sees someone.

    The starry coat is first at odds with the autumn forest, but Lepis remembers that Starsin has been sent to rule Sylva. It has been years since the dun mare has seen the other, but they had both pledged themselves to Loess, and that will always be enough for Lepis. She blinks eyes that are still a little sore from crying, and with a voice that probably sounds less congested to Starsin than to Lepis herself asks in attempt to be jovial: “What brings you up toward Taiga? Finally decide to join the better forest?”


    and let me crawl inside your veins. I'll build a wall, give you a ball and chain.

    Starsin, for all her intensity and sometimes brash, calloused way of handling things, was no stranger to heartache. She knew what it meant to spend every night next to someone and for them to suddenly be gone. She knew what it meant to have the foundation of everything you knew suddenly reduced to ash right at your feet.

    She also knew what it meant to have been the one that lit the fire that lead to the final destruction; to be the one that tossed the lit match into the gasoline and watched everything go up in flames, because if she was going to burn, she wanted it to be on her terms.

    The fact that her and Ophanim had risen from those ashes was a miracle in itself, and with his heart so securely inside of her own ribcage it was hard for her to imagine that they had come so close to being irreparable. The scar across her chest was ugly and jagged, but she found that she didn’t mind it because somehow the punishment had worked in their favor.

    And maybe that’s why when she had been slipping through the forest of the common grounds one night that the sight of Wolfbane with the red mare had caused her to freeze in her tracks. Maybe reliving her own betrayal and all of Ophanim’s infidelities at the sight of something that was clearly not platonic caused heat to flash across her skin, and her dark blue eyes to narrow accusingly. Wolfbane and Lepis – you didn’t have one without the other. They had been a figurehead of the South for as long as she could remember, and while she wouldn’t consider herself especially close with Lepis, there was still a sense of loyalty at having shared a home. She had been almost disappointed when they had left for Taiga, but she assumed they had their reasons. Lepis was ambitious, and it was why she wasn’t surprised to hear she was stirring trouble in her new home.

    It had taken all of her self-control to not reveal herself from the shadows, to not sweetly ask Wolfbane how his wife was fairing, especially after the tragic loss of their child in the Loess-Tephra war – just a small barb on a surely unhealed wound, since rumor had it that it was Wolfbane that had failed to save him. But Starsin was just so nice recently, and so she remained hidden and silent, listening to their thoughts and gathering her information – storing it away until she could decide how best to use it.

    As if she learned nothing from Litotes, Kensa, and Brigade.

    Or worse, maybe she had.

    When she comes across the dun mare along the border between their kingdoms, she is mildly surprised. For one, it was not often that Starsin patrolled in the evenings, but tonight she was restless. Maybe it was the familiar fluttering of life stirring inside of her, even though it would be months before she outwardly showed any signs of it. Whatever the reason, it almost feels like fate to have ran into just the woman she had been wanting to see. At how much more pleasant this would be since she didn’t have to seek her out to drop a bombshell on her. Clearly since she had accidentally ran into Wolfbane and the girl he called Lilli, and now accidentally ran into Lepis, it was a sign from the universe that she was suppose to share her findings.

    And who was she to argue with the universe?

    “Lepis,” she responds brightly – maybe a little too brightly, since Starsin was not really the sunny type. She dials it back, further emerging from the autumn colors of the forest to join the Taigan mare, humoring her with a laugh before offering her jaunty rebuttal, “Are we going to argue about trees in the middle of the night?” She can tell that she had been crying, because she recognizes the signs; the way her eyes still seem almost glassy, and the way tears had dried tracks down her cheeks. It causes her own eyes to dim a little bit, treading carefully with her next question while still trying to seem nonchalant, “Shouldn’t Wolfbane be out here doing the patrols instead of you? I’ve tried to send Ophie but he gets lost. It’s just easier if I do them now.”


    it’s not like me to be so mean. you’re all I wanted.
    ( just let me hold you Like a hostage. )

    “No,” Lepis replies with a shake of her head and a soft laugh that feels almost normal. “No point getting riled up so late at night. Waste of my breath anyway.” Only the faint pull of dried tears on her face remind her, and the fact that her light-hearted tone feels like it belongs to another woman. She sounds like someone whose world is whole. She might have kept it up, had Starsin not continued to speak, kept a solid wall between herself and the outside world.

    Wolfbane’s name pains her, but it is barely a scratch compared to the casual way she speaks of Ophanim. She loves him, Lepis knows; one does not speak of a husband they dislike in that fashion. The dun mare tries to smile, and is grateful for the long shadows across her face and the moon behind her.

    “He should,” Lepis answers, “But he is gone.”

    The words sound cryptic, she thinks, but it is difficult to say more around the hard knot in her throat.

    “I told him to go,” The dun mare manages to add, but only because she can’t stand the idea of Starsin thinking less of him for leaving. She had been the one to send him away, after all; he was only doing what she asked. She’d let herself think he’d argue, but it was her old husband who would have done that, not this creature that had arrived after months away, wearing his skin. She does not know the man who returned her only this past morning, and who had left before the sun had fully set.

    The dawn that will come soon will find him elsewhere, and though she wonders where he might be – in Loess with Castile? Or perhaps with Vulgaris or Litotes? It never occurs to her that he might seek out comfort in someone other than those three: who else could even tolerate the creature he seems to have become? Her laughing partner was gone, absent in those cold emerald eyes, his affable nature replaced by something sick and alien.

    my computer won’t turn on so you get a phone post!

    and let me crawl inside your veins. I'll build a wall, give you a ball and chain.

    For some it might be a burden to carry such knowledge. For some it might be too much to hear everyone’s true thoughts, to be able to pick out the truth that lay hidden in their lies. She was made for this, though. She had been born with a gift that somehow the universe knew she would put to full use. A gift that would not be left to wilt and waste inside a weaker individual; the ones that feel shame at hearing everyone’s thoughts, the ones that wish they could remain in ignorant bliss. The ones that would have just let Brigade and Litotes remain in the dark and unaware of the other, but what a waste of perfectly good firestarter that would have been.

    This time, though, her intentions are not quite so sinister. She doesn’t want to watch Wolfbane and Lepis go up in flames. She doesn’t want to think that a relationship she had considered to be so solid still had the ability to crack and crumble, because she doesn’t want to think that that could ever happen to her and Ophanim.

    She lets Lepis pretend to not be broken. She pretends to not notice that familiar feeling when you’re trying to keep the tears from trembling in your voice, when it takes every ounce of effort for the words to come out painless and easy. “Gone? For the night, or….?” Her voice fades and trails off with the unfinished question, and a tilt of her head makesit sound more innocent than it actually is.

    Wolfbane might be gone for just the night, but, from what she had seen in the forest he was looking to make it count.

    “I saw him, you know,” she begins casually, her dark blue eyes studying Lepis’ face with a false sense of caution. Like she is worried about what she is going to say next; because even though she cares and is not intentionally trying to hurt Lepis, there is still too much of her manipulative, malicious nature taking precedence over any sound thought that might tell her to find a more tactful way to deal with this. “Who is Lilli? I think that’s what he called her, anyway.” There is a cheshire cat smile threatening the edge of her lips but she bites it away, patiently waiting for the realization that she is sure will strike the other woman’s face.


    it’s not like me to be so mean. you’re all I wanted.
    ( just let me hold you Like a hostage. )

    There is just enough surprise – or perhaps Lepis is so busy holding in her own emotion that she is less sensitive to those of others – in Starsin’s voice that the dun mare takes her question to be innocent. Though she has heard of the mare’s ability, it does not ever occur to her that Starsin might not know the answer, or might not have already plucked it from Lepis’ mind.

    “I’m not sure.” Lepis answers. “He says he’s coming back, but I’m not sure he means to stay.” He might, she thinks, but if he does than surely Lepis will be the one to go. Sharing a land, but not a family? No, Lepis thinks; she could not stand that. She would go home, to her true home, back to Loess. That line of thought is bittersweet, and Lepis shakes her navy head as if to rid herself of the thoughts. Starsin is speaking again anyway, and the dun mare’s ears flick forward, eager for a distraction.

    She’d seen him, Starsin says, and brow furrows. Where, she wonders? He’s been gone only a few hours; had he really chosen to visit Sylva of all places? Lepis puzzles over it for a moment, her head shaking slightly as Starsin watches her for a reaction. Starsin then asks who Lilli is, and Lepis smiles. Oh, she realizes, he’s taken Lilli on a diplomatic trip. The copper mare had done well on her visit to Ischia, and Bane has chosen to go to the land he knows Lepis never will, and must have taken the new diplomat with him.

    “Oh,” She says, and there is a breathless sort of relief in her voice when she answers. “Oh, that’s Lilliana. She’s new to Taiga, training to be a diplomat.” Wolfbane had taken her to the Brilliant Pampas as well, Lepis knows, and Lepis wonders if perhaps the two of them had formed a friendship. Perhaps if he is spending time with a Taigan friend, he will not stay so long away. Maybe he will even come back sooner, maybe being so close to home will make it easier to forgive the unforgiveable. These thoughts – and other, more pathetically hopeful ones – flicker through her mind, just before speaks.

    “They came to Sylva on a diplomatic trip?” She asks the question rhetorically, hiding a sniff in a cough (or attempting too, anyway). Perhaps she has mourned the loss of her marriage too early, she lets herself think. Starsin is smiling, after all, and it’s second nature for Lepis to mimic it, and even to feel the soft sparks of happiness, of hopefulness.


    and let me crawl inside your veins. I'll build a wall, give you a ball and chain.

    She is sympathetic even if she lacks the ability to show it. No matter how much she may like Lepis she does not know her well enough to let her guard down. If she could, she would have told her that she understood; she would have told her how coming to Sylva without Ophanim was one of the hardest things she has ever done. That while living here without him was nearly unbearable, staying in Loess when he could hardly look at her would have been impossible. She knew what it meant for your relationship to be feeling like it was falling apart before your very eyes, and that trying to put it back together was like trying to shape and mold dry sand.

    She doesn’t know all the intricate details of their relationship. She doesn’t know who, if either of them, were at fault for what caused their foundation to shake. But she does know that every time she found another child sired by Ophanim it felt like someone was twisting the knife lodged in her ribcage for another turn. She knows that she had almost destroyed them by seeking revenge. And she knows, most of all, that if someone had ever seen Ophanim with someone he shouldn’t have been with – if there was even a chance he would try to come home and hide it from her – she would want to know.

    “Wolfbane has interesting training methods,” she begins, and she tries to keep the disgust from being evident in her voice. How interesting that he had brought his newest love interest home; to their home. Bold move, but she supposes a smart one, since it seemed to have worked. With a tilt of her head she observes Lepis, her intense blue eyes narrowing in an almost scrutinizing manner. “You truly have no idea, do you?” It is not meant to sound condescending or insulting. It is more of an amazement, and a little bit of sympathy, that Lepis trusted him so completely that it never occurred to her that Wolfbane developing a friendship with someone else had the potential to blossom into something more.

    Then again, Starsin basically wrote the book on that, didn’t she?

    She never claimed to not be a hypocrite.

    “It wasn’t in Sylva, and it definitely wasn’t a diplomatic visit of any kind,” she treads carefully, doing her best to soften the natural edge that often came with her words. “It was the forest near the meadow, and things seemed….not exactly platonic between them.” There is a brief pause, and a purse of her lips. “Maybe you should ask him about it the next time you see him.” Because Starsin, perhaps more than anyone, was familiar with what it looked like when you were about ready to step off that ledge you had been so carefully treading. 


    it’s not like me to be so mean. you’re all I wanted.
    ( just let me hold you Like a hostage. )

    The moonlight peeks through the canopy now and again as the branches overhead sway in the wind. Redwoods here dwarf the surrounding ever-autumn trees, and the light that filters through the leaves is warm and orange. It is not a shade of light that Lepis enjoys, so she has fixed her sharp gaze on the starry-coated mare lest it wander too often toward the Sylva woods.

    Starsin does not respond to her admission, and Lepis does look down for just a moment. Was Starsin surprised, she wonders, or disappointed? Lepis looks back in an effort to read Starsin’s face, and not for the first time she wishes she could understand other’s emotions as easily as she is able to give them. The grey mare is no easier to read after Lepis tells her that Lilliana is a diplomat in training. Starsin replies, and while the words themselves are not of concern (her husband has never been traditional), it is the tone in which they are spoken that has Lepis frowning.

    No idea about what? Her expression says plainly; it is unpleasant to be ignorant, but surely Starsin will not hold out on her much longer.

    Not in Sylva, Starsin says.

    Not diplomatic.

    Not platonic.

    Her descriptors fall like weights, each one heavier than the first.

    Lepis does’nt realize she is flinching away from them, and at the last she has even taken a step away. As though she could make the words untrue by putting distance between herself and the speaker.

    “No,” she is saying softly, “No he wasn’t… he couldn’t…” But the words are spoken mostly to herself.

    The easiest part of us, he’d told her. His trust, his heart, his undivided attention. She’d replayed those words to herself so often that they are forever seared into her heart, even though six years have passed since he had first spoken them aloud. Wolfbane had given her many things that night: love, their firstborn son, the courage to finally break away from an unhappy marriage. Never has he given her any reason to doubt him; in truth each day since has been piling on further gifts, bricks with which to build their relationship up into a thing that would never crumble.

    Yet their reunion had been a wedge driven into the very foundation, and Starsin’s words are the hammer blow that shatters it. 

    “I…” the word is breathless, her throat feels too tight to speak properly, or perhaps it is her chest. “Thank you. For…for telling me.” Her feet feel as heavy as her chest; she thinks she might want to run, but where to? She knows no place without a memory of him. She cannot outrun her own mind. She is not thinking clearly, Lepis is aware of this, but she asks Starsin as though the other mare might have an answer to an impossible question, as though she might know the mind of a man who no longer even seemed to know his own: “Why?”


    and let me crawl inside your veins. I'll build a wall, give you a ball and chain.

    For once, it is not her intention to hurt someone.
    For once, she wishes there was a way to make this easier, to not have to see the realization dawn across Lepis’ face.

    Because she knows that pain, almost. Ophanim has promised her over and over that no one he slept with had ever meant anything to him. He didn’t love them, he didn’t remember them, he didn’t feel anything for them. She never saw him with any of them, though. She couldn’t access his memories or his emotions, either, just whatever thoughts happen to currently be passing through his mind. The idea of him being with someone the way she had just witnessed Wolfbane with Lilliana...that was enough to split her in two.

    But only because it was her own hypocrisy doing the cutting, because it was hardly a secret that Starsin had had her share of infidelities.

    She knew Wolfbane was making a mistake that he would one day regret, just like she had. And she knew that she was playing an unnecessary role in breaking Lepis – because she can’t just mind her own business – but Starsin still hated that she didn’t know everything that had transpired between Ophanim and his countless flings. And maybe that was for the best, because thinking about it was enough to send her blood simmering. But that didn't mean she was going to keep it from Lepis.

    “I’m sorry,” her voice is softer than before, and the intensity in her dark blue eyes has muted. “But it seemed unfair to keep it from you. Because if someone had seen Ophanim with someone else like that…” Her voice trails off, and somewhere in her sleeping husband’s chest her heart constricts in hurt and jealousy – but also guilt from her own affair.  “If he loves you, he owes you an explanation,” she says as her sharpened gaze focuses again on hers, and that edge has returned to her voice as she retraces the steps that the Comtesse had subtracted. “Remind him of who you are, Lepis. You’re not some naive little girl that he can just toy with. If he wants to be a hotshot and fuck someone else or fall in love behind your back, then so be it. But he better be brave enough to tell you about it to your face.” She retreats slightly then, the taut lines of her face loosening as she says quietly, “Ophanim and I both had to own our mistakes to each other. That’s the only way we ever moved past them.”


    it’s not like me to be so mean. you’re all I wanted.
    ( just let me hold you Like a hostage. )

    lepis, comtesse of taiga
    i think i need a devil to help me get things right
    Remind him of who she is, Starsin says.

    But who is she?

    There was a time when she was nothing. When Lepis was nothing more than sadness and fear, when a kick to the ribs woke her up in the morning and a blow to the head put her to sleep at night (or afternoon, or dawn, or mid-morning). Six seasons of nothing but hurting inside and out, and only when she was used up, hollowed out, and empty was she unceremoniously thrown back on Loess’ doorstep. Scrabbling and desperate, she had held tight to anything in reach, used it to build herself into a semblance of what she thought she should be. Acting whole became easy, even when the foundation was hollow; gilt on rotten wood. Arthas let her lean on him, and she was grateful for the time it gave her, for the way she could slowly encase the rotten wood with some that had only a few termites in it.

    And then Arthas had taken her back to Sylva, and everything about herself that Lepis had been sure of began to crumble around her again.

    It was Wolfbane who had given her the first brick - solid and strong and hers - when he had given her the title of Cleric. He knew she was broken, and in more ways than the crumpled wings that hung from her sides, yet he trusted her with Loess. She made that brick her cornerstone, polished it until it gleamed, and around it finally built a self that she was proud of. She built it, with memories and actions and feelings, yet the cornerstone was always at the edge of her mind, a reminder she could not look away from. She could look away from Wolfbane though (she was a good wife, she told herself, she owed Arthas at least that). She was able to look away for nearly a year, until she could feel the very branches of Sylva pry at her, until the air squeezes the breath from her lungs and only in Loess could she breathe again.

    Then there was another year of back and forth: Loess during the day, Sylva at night. Sylva at night except for the nights that Arthas went to Rey or Despayr or Taria instead, and those nights she watched the stars glide over Loess and breathed with a relief so deep that she felt ashamed. Never ashamed enough to not lie though, never enough to hesitate when she reassured her spouse that there was nothing to worry about. Not ashamed enough to keep her eyes from Wolfbane, not ashamed enough to pull away on the dawn morning when he finally reached for her.

    Never ashamed enough to regret the choice she had made because she had known with iron certainty that being with Wolfbane was right even when she was unsure about everything else. She has questioned everything – it is her nature – and yet she had never questioned him. He was the cornerstone on which she had built her life – who is she without him?

    A sob breaks lose, a single gasping breath of realization.

    This is her fault.

    Wolfbane knew who she was, had reminded her of it with ink-black claws wrapped around her neck as they fell through the sky. He knew, and she’d denied it. She is nothing without him, they are nothing without the other, and she had denied him. Denied them. She’d as good as told him that she didn’t love him when she’ told him she didn’t need him, and he has always taken her at her word. The sharpness in Starsin’s voice pierces her bitter self-reflection. ‘Fuck someone else and fall in love’, the grey mare says; hadn’t that been their own story?

    It had been months in coming, that first confession, and yet the avalanche that followed had felt nothing less than natural. Months, she realizes, months just like those that he has been gone from Taiga. Had he even been gone, Lepis suddenly wonders, or had he just been gone from her? She thinks of Lilliana, who she had never thought to ask about Wolfbane. Could that be why the girl was willing to dedicate herself to Taiga? Why she had been so tolerant of Lepis’ rare display of frustration? No, no, she is getting carried away. Bane was not in the woods. He couldn’t be. Her husband might have hidden from her, but he would not have hidden from the children.

    It occurs to her in a knifing sensation that, for the first time in six years, she will not bear his child come spring.

    The knife twists and digs ever farther: Will Lilliana?

    Starsin has seen her husband’s face on the children of other women, Lepis knows, and she blinks back unshed tears to look into the grey mare’s face. How had she done it? Even the thought makes Lepis sick to her stomach, makes the darkest of emotions rise inside her chest and hurl themselves against the walls she so carefully holds. And yet...it is not that which hurts the most. It is not the thought of him sleeping with someone else that tears her up from the inside out. That is physical, that alone might even be forgivable. Might be.

    No. No, it is that he had to forget her to do it. He had to forget her, forget them.

    He chose someone that was not her, when the idea of choosing someone that is not him is as impossible to her as choosing not to breathe.

    This is not her fault.

    The sob is no less broken than at the first realization, yet this time she speaks and the tears do not fall. Her voice is no firmer than her conviction – it wobbles and waivers as she keeps the emotions at bay. “You are stronger woman than I.” The dun mare admits. “I think there might be  some things I cannot move past.”


    and let me crawl inside your veins. I'll build a wall, give you a ball and chain.

    She had never imagined that she would be the kind that could forgive infidelity, but, she had also never imagined that she would sleep with someone else as retaliation. She had never imagined that she was capable of purposely hurting the absolutely only soul that she loved, but it turns out not even she was aware of the full scope of her malice when she felt betrayed.

    He had forgiven her, and though she had once thought it was impossible, she had forgiven him, too.

    But when Lepis says she doesn’t think she can do it, there is nothing that she has ever understood more clearly. “I know,” she begins quietly, remembering a time when her thoughts were consumed with imagining Ophanim with his other conquests. She had been certain then that she would never stop replaying it over and over in her mind. It is not entirely gone; her insecurity still lurks in the dark corners of her mind, and Ophanim can now feel every time her heart twists with jealousy. “I didn’t think I could either. And it isn’t easy.”

    She sighs, searching the other woman’s face. Finally, she reaches forward, and gently brushes her nose against Lepis’ mane. “I’m sorry, Lepis. I truly am.” She withdraws then, retreating a few steps back towards the autumn forest. “If you need anything, you know where to find me.”


    it’s not like me to be so mean. you’re all I wanted.
    ( just let me hold you Like a hostage. )

    Okay here is a very bad closing post to this thread.

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