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  • Beqanna

    version 22: awakening


    LILLIANA -- Year 206


    "There is still something of himself - something of the Wolfbane who would always love her - that rallies against the slime. It says, 'lie in the bed you’ve made'. So he gathers the covers and tucks himself in." -- Wolfbane, written by Calcifer

    [private]  following the shadow when I know damn well that behind me is the light; ryatah
    The Devil was evil, mad―but I was the devil's wife.

    She will wonder, later, why fate choose to bring them together.
    Why the angel materialized in front of her, blood dripping from her throat, and why Gail knew, so immediately, that she wanted her to stay. Before she even had time to draw the conscious conclusion, she was drawn to her. Perhaps it was the savagery of her wound, but more likely it was something else, something inscrutable, like recognizing like.
    Or it’s as simple as her brand. Gail knows such artwork anywhere.
    Regardless, she is quick to shield the mare, an uncharacteristic test of her strange mix of resistance and power to him. She doesn’t know if it will work, but suddenly knows she must try.

    The angel says her name, and eyes flutter closed at Gail’s word. And then her valid question. Gail doesn’t know the specifics of their link, she knows only of its existence, could sense it about her. She doesn’t know how far it extends – perhaps he will possess Ryatah, and she will see those eyes fly open.
    “Then be quiet,” she says, and then takes her own advice. It is still, here, and she can quiet it further behind this shield, until there is only the faintest sound of breathing. She holds her. She waits. She isn’t sure what she’s waiting for until she feels it – a shift in Ryatah’s form, sensed more then seen, and she knows he’s there.
    A moment, and it’s gone. She has no doubt he’ll return, but thinks they have a short amount of time.
    “He’s gone,” she says. She doesn’t know how much Ryatah sensed him – how much he made his presence known to her, in these violations.
    “I’m sorry to keep you here,” she says, then laughs – as if she was a poor hostess. Which is she, perhaps. Holding her hostage, but only briefly. A small crime.
    “It’s been emptier here, lately, and I’ve quite wanted to meet you.”


    she fell for the idea of him
    and ideas were a dangerous thing to love
    Beneath Gail’s shield, she grows incredibly still. They are waiting for something, it feels like, but she isn’t sure what, and she doesn’t ask. This is different from the last time she had died; the last time when he had let the ocean fill her lungs and then brought her back almost immediately. Awakening on the shores of the afterlife, and then again on the cold floor of the lair, had felt mere heartbeats apart.

    This time, it is long enough that a quiet sort of panic has begun to set in. It twists into a knot in that space in her chest where a beating heart should have been, spreading like frost throughout her veins, cool and choking.  Carnage wasn’t bringing her back, and Gail wasn’t letting her go. She felt caught in the crossfire of some sort of wicked game, and the survivalist part of her mind was trying to work through the best angle to play. It was easy, usually, to just choose Carnage.

    But he isn’t here, and Gail is.

    She says that he is gone, and hesitantly, Ryatah opens her eyes. When she was alive she would sometimes feel him, but she has never been sure if that shiver that chases the length of her spine is just a conditioned response to what happens when she thinks about him, or if it was because she truly knew he was there. Whatever the case, she doesn’t feel anything here in the afterlife – no pulse to quicken and no breath to catch in her throat – and all she can do is take Gail’s word for it.

    For a moment she is simply quiet when she looks at her. The irony in their contrast is not lost on her; endlessly black to her bright white, a priestess of death to her angel. It makes her wonder, fleetingly, if Carnage sent her here on purpose, just to see how the two of them would take to each other. But Ryatah is not a jealous creature, and when she looks at Gail there is no envy in her stare, but instead just a vast curiosity, because how couldn’t she be?

    “You’ll find that I’m not all that interesting,” she says with a small smile, and if she were the manipulative sort it would sound deceitful. It would be difficult to spread before anyone the pieces and parts of her life and summarize it as uninteresting, but Ryatah has never seen herself as anything particularly intriguing.

    Deflecting the conversation away from herself, she looks across the afterlife, remembering the last time she had been here, in search of Dhumin – and how she had walked out an angel. “If everyone else can leave, doesn’t that mean you could too?”
    The Devil was evil, mad―but I was the devil's wife.

    She might have been envious, once, but jealousy was a thing long drained from her. It would have been impossible to exist otherwise; envy would have eaten away at her like a cancer. She knows Beqanna is populated with his blood, knows there are other dalliances, too, ones more convoluted and somehow more intimate. But he does not speak of these often to her, just as she does not speak of her other activities.
    (Here, they diverge, for the dark god is willful, and less inclined to share her, but what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.)
    But she knows Ryatah’s name, he has spoken of her. She remembers when he first spoke of her, of his actions at the forbidden dale – a general murdered and a queen blinded. For no reason, of course, other than the delight of chaos. His tone had changed more recently, as he spoke of the lair, of the ghostly kingdom he had recreated. He had been tactful in not mentioning the children conceived there – she learned of them later, and did not care, other than a faint wistful jealousy. She has tried to conceive here, and there was one child – Annapurna – but Carnage had taken her, and their other efforts had amounted to naught. It seemed a world of death was not kind to fertility, and all the magic they held between them could do nothing for this problem. He had offered to bring her a child, or make her one from the earth, but she had refused.
    This is the real jealousy, perhaps – of their livelihood. Their fecundity.

    “He talks of you enough to lead me to believe otherwise,” she says, and laughs, “and besides, anyone who keeps…coming back, willingly, is interesting.”
    She assumes it’s willing. He has been more interested in things offered freely, as of late.
    Ryatah asks another question then, one that Gail has thought of a hundred times. She’s tried, of course, to leave through the portal, but encounters the same strange membrane that had surrounded her when the others had first brought her back.
    “I tried,” she says, “it didn’t work.”
    She’d returned to the world of the living, once – at the power of a shaman. She had not sought Carnage out, had instead been with Ramiel, a beautiful and fleeting time that left her with twin girls, beautiful as anything and long grown.
    “This place was made for me, so I guess it can’t permit me leaving.”
    It sounds arrogant, maybe, but it was the truth. She’s powerful, here, more powerful than she ever was on earth. She likes that aspect, but would give it up in a moment for the chance to breathe again, to walk among the living.
    “You can leave, of course. Whenever you wish. I just…I wanted to know you, a little bit. Hear your story. If you would share.”

    she fell for the idea of him
    and ideas were a dangerous thing to love
    Something inside of her flinches when Gail says he speaks of her. Surprise, mostly, but it is a disquiet that lingers the longest in her chest. The idea that he tells anyone anything unsettles her for a variety of reasons, the most prominent being that it forces her to admit that that nameless, twisted connection between them possibly existed. Because when she is alone – when the seawater is gone from her hair and the illusion of the valley faded, when the heat of the stars fades from under her skin and the galaxy feels more like a dream than a reality – all she is left with is the mark on her hip, and in that sense, she is no different than so many that walk this earth. She is not the only one marked by him, and she will not be the last.

    She is not unique; she is not interesting. She is another playing piece like the rest of them.

    “I was taught to be willing,” she says quietly, but not remorsefully. It was a part of her nature, now, so thoroughly ingrained that sometimes she wonders if it was more intrinsic than truly learned. “I don’t know how to be any other way.” She doesn’t admit, though, how easy it is. That it’s not always out of fear, or survival, but instead just for the simple fact that she wants it. Because maybe there is something a little bit wrong with her that will never be right, a crooked piece of her soul that will never be straight.

    “I can stay, for a little while,” she offers, after Gail says that she herself cannot leave. She remembers how badly she had wanted out of this place the last time she was here, and she cannot fathom what it must be like to be unable to go; to rely on others to come to you for any hope of relieving the boredom and loneliness that eternity tended to be made up of.

    She watches her for a moment, contemplating what she asks. Her story is long and mostly unremarkable, interspersed with just enough turmoil to break up the monotony. But a lifetime of experiences has taught her that most were looking for something when they asked questions like this; she just isn’t sure what. “I wasn’t born here, but I’ve died here so many times it feels like I was. I came here a long time ago, from a place similar to Beqanna, but with far less magic. And that was where I learned to be...like this, I guess.” Obedient and willing, unafraid of the dark but cautious of those that rule it.

    “There was a place there...a jungle. I didn’t belong there, but I was invited anyway.” Because it was a place meant for shadows and malice, and she had been young and vibrant, entirely untouched and unbroken. It was hardly a wonder that she had caught the eye of their king – the man that she hasn’t seen ever since she left that jungle. “And that was where I eventually met Dhumin. We left together to come here, to Beqanna, and then to the Valley.” She skims over his name, like maybe if she can’t taste it she won’t feel anything. She won’t remember that he had chosen to stay here, in the afterlife, and she won’t remember how she had torn open all the wounds she had fought for so long to close.

    “And I’ve just never left. I don’t feel like I belong here anymore, but I would rather be lost here than try to start over somewhere else.”
    The Devil was evil, mad―but I was the devil's wife.

    I was taught, she says, and Gail wonders what she herself would say, were the question turned on to her. Was she taught, trained from birth to revolve around him? Or was it more intrinsic than that, something in her blood, in her makeup that draws her to him, and vice versa?
    (For surely, if it had just been training, he would have tired of her. It would have made sense when they were mortals together, before his godhead made itself known, but he would have had his fill of her, if all that she was was something trained.)
    “Who taught you?” she asks. What she does not say is they did a good job. That’s something he would say, and she thinks it, briefly, though she does not know Ryatah in any real way. She only has what she tells her, and her own guesses, her intuition that it may be more than that, some vein run deep within her, a likeness shared.

    She listens to the rest of the story Ryatah shares. She is surprised to learn that she was born elsewhere, and thinks, unexpectedly, of her father. He was born elsewhere too, though he had not shared many stories from that time – she had not been close, to her father, which worked in her favor when her own lover killed him, and she barely blinked an eye.
    Gail mostly knows Beqanna, albeit warped versions of it. A version of the beach, at the end of the world, time repeating and folding on itself a million times. And now this other realm, this death-place, like Beqanna viewed through fogged glass.
    She notices the other name, how something crosses her face when she says it.
    “Would you ever go back?” she asks, and she isn’t sure if she is asking about the old world or the old name. Maybe they’re the same.

    she fell for the idea of him
    and ideas were a dangerous thing to love
    Who taught you, she asks, and it makes her pause. Who had taught her? The king from the jungle had been her first brush with darkness; her first taste of that strange little thrill she got when she was afraid. But when she thinks of everyone that has molded and shaped her into who she was, he is not the first to come to mind. She had been young when he had found her; hardly even an adult. Why is a pretty girl like you alone in the dark? he had asked her, and she hadn’t had an answer. He had been the first to touch her, the first to trace the svelte curves of her body and scrape his teeth across her withers; the first to take a piece of her and make it his.

    But that was hardly an ember compared to the wildfires her life consisted of.

    It was everyone else that came along in her life – Dhumin, Dog Tag, Trashlip, Eight, and of course, Carnage – that slowly chipped away until she was sculpted into what she had become. They smoothed any edges she might have had, softened her into something pliable; sometimes by breaking, sometimes in much more subtle ways, but they all did it. “Everyone, I guess. It was how I learned to survive, by trying to figure out what they wanted. Or trying to be something they wanted.” There is a short, quiet, laugh though, her gaze sweeping across the afterlife that they stand in when she says, “It doesn’t always work, as you can see.”

    There is a shadow of melancholy that crosses her face momentarily at Gail’s last question, and while she isn’t sure which she is referring to – to Dhumin, or the jungle they had come from – it doesn’t matter, because her answer is the same. “No. There’s nothing left for me there.” She’s found new blades to cut herself with, and it had been made incredibly clear to her that some parts of her past wanted to stay there.

    For a moment, she falls quiet, but it is evident in the way she watches the black mare that she is thinking; trying to corral her thoughts into something coherent. She speaks, slowly at first, tentative because she is unsure of her boundaries. “I’ve known Carnage a long time, but, you’ve undoubtedly known him longer,” she starts, and there is no ulterior motive to her question other than a vibrant curiosity. “What was he like, when you were younger?”
    The Devil was evil, mad―but I was the devil's wife.

    She nods at Ryatah’s answer. She realizes, if the question were turned on her, she doesn’t know how she would answer. Certainly, much of her aches for those early years, when she was a queen and readily bore children. Even after he died (the first time), she had made a happy life for herself, she had gone into her own first death with the love of a dear and long dead man.
    (She had not wanted to come back. She had fought and screamed. Ironic, that she’s ended up where she has.)
    She is pulled out of this introspection at Ryatah’s question, which aligns similarly enough. She smiles, remembering him as a child, their strange bond. She never thought, then, that they’d both be around centuries later, that he would find godhood somewhere along she way, while she found…found what? Death magic that was largely worthless, for she cannot summon those she wishes to summon and she cannot save those she wishes to save.

    “Overconfident,” she answers, almost laughing, “and dramatic. Less controlled – he was scared to be with me, at first, because he assumed he’d hurt me.”
    He did, of course. Never physically – unlike Ryatah, he had never killed her, their romance lacked that particular aspect – but of course, there were many ways to hurt someone. Leaving them abandoned at the end of the world, for one. The fact he’d eventually shape galaxies to bring her back did not distract from how long that particular mission took.
    “I always knew greatness was in his blood. I never saw…this, though. Certainly never thought we’d be here.”
    She’s barely finished when Ryatah’s eyes change, and she knows they have been found. Instinctively, she rushes forward, embraces the mare, and something passes between them.
    “Thank you,” she says, “for staying.”
    She releases her shield, does not want to provoke him enough to come here (they will deal with that later, on her terms). In a blink, and angel is gone, and Gail is alone once more.


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