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    Mazikeen -- Year 214


    "“Content to admire you from afar.” Well that’s just bullshit. She wasn’t *content* to be admired from afar. She would rather not see him at all then be tortured by a buffered distance." --Mazikeen, written by Squirt

    [private]  Play my chest like a xylophone
    There's a peace in the forest that she doesn't try too hard to question. The trees rise like pieces of ribcage, but they have always done that, and the jubilant insects that turn the air to fairy dust where the sun's rays filter golden through hungry, joyful, branches don't look any different to her eyes. They've never hidden their skeletons and the normalcy of them and of the forest's quiet shadows pull her in ever deeper, deeper, to where she doesn't need to be reminded of things changed in the darkness. Only the shyest animals live in the places she frequents, grey fox, woodthrush and occasionally, white deer that freeze as soon as they catch sight of her. These are her least favorite moments, her coffee-dark eyes as stuck to them as a tongue to a lake-ice, lost in the delicate curls of their bone and the hollow, dark spaces where their liquid eyes should be.

    She doesn't know they're white; you can't tell by a skeleton.

    The deer are rare, though, and the rest never leave the skulking shadows, hunting beetles and berries in the understory. She has left the lion behind, chewing bitterly at bark and the tender shoots springing up in the sunlight, taking advantage of this brief space between the long night and the leafing out of the branches above. She has pressed the lion deep into the darkest recesses of her heart because even though food grew dull and scarce, she could not bring herself to gnaw at invisible meat. She can still smell the accusing blood of the doe she left to rot at the river's edge months ago, blood that poured hot and copper across her tongue while the creature died, a pile of bones gasping and desperate and doomed. A pile of bones for everyone to see, now, not just a monster for Beryl as the snow melts away around it, but for the world.

    But with every second that ticks by, Beryl loses herself a little more, cares a little less, and it's almost a relief. It's a relief to feel the concern falling away from her heart, to feel the freedom of apathy. They are all already bones and she can't care about bones drying in the sun. She can't care about Brennan or Lilliana's girl, she can't care about Leilan or Eurwen, and if something in her chest twinges oddly when she thinks those thoughts, she knows it is only her imagination because there's nothing between the bars of her ribs to twinge or break, just light as golden as the skin she forgets she had.

    She presses on - there's a clearing nearby, though the path is difficult to pick out - and she imagines that branches pluck at her mane, and how - if she still had it - it would be knotted and wild from the feral existence she leads among the tulip poplars. It's almost funny, and she barks a sharp, strange, laugh out to patchwork trees to think how she would look if the whole world hadn't been turned to a graveyard. It's a laugh hard as a crow's and it ricochets off the humorless trees like a stone until it finds a wandering ear, and Beryl might be angry that he, particularly, is there to overhear her except that she doesn't recognize the haloed skull peering at her from among the bushes. The sharp edge of her sinuses draws in breath with a great rush of sound in the silence of the deepwood and for a moment, she wonders why she bothers to keep breathing - the habit, like eating, is too hard to break -  then she clicks her teeth together, embarrassed and angry, at the way the skull tilts, at the way it has the audacity to seem amusued. The lion claws at the back of her throat but she swallows it down.

    We are bones. What can you do to someone that is already dead?

    Image by ratty

    Cassian hot mess girl delivering hot mess words

    He would be lying if he said he hadn’t hoped to see her again one day. It didn’t matter that during their last encounter she had tried to shred him to pieces. It was the moments after that stuck in his mind. The face of someone who desperately needed a friend.

    He’s not good for much, but he is good for that at least.

    Cassian had not expected that today would be the day he ran into her again however. At first he only notices the shape moving in the distance, pale against the trees, when the sound of harsh laughter rings out. It catches his curiosity, just as it would any bored horse of his particular mindset looking for a distraction. But when he peers closer and recognizes the shape he sees, a queer sort of delight bubbles up in his chest. He shouldn’t be delighted, but he can’t seem to help the wide, impish smile that curls his lips as he peers around a tree to avoid losing sight of her.

    When she catches sight of him, her teeth click together in a familiarly irritated way, and laughter begins to rise before he quickly pushes it back (though perhaps not quickly enough). He frequently forgets the halo now ringing his dark head, but when the light glances across the rough bark of the tree, disturbing the shadows, he is reminded that she had never seen him with it. Perhaps she didn’t recognize him.

    Or perhaps she did. Hard to say, she had found him very annoying the last time too.

    “Couldn’t stay away, could you?” he quips easily by way of greeting, warm dark eyes crinkling in amusement at his own teasing. Moving around the tree, he approaches with a distinct lack of caution despite their… turbulent history. Plucking a twig from her tangled mane, he discards it at their feet before offering her a boyish grin. “Is it because you missed me?”


    If a halo could sit jauntily, that is how she would describe the one above his head, crooked and wry, laughing at some half-remembered joke, but the smile on his face is no different than that of any other skull - crocodile wide. Beryl is vaguely aware of her own halo, a shining light that fills the forest darkness, its warm glow full of false hope. It can't heal the shattered feeling that wells up sharp against her breast-bone.

    For a moment, she only stares back at the eyeless thing that watches her with its graveyard grin, and she is tempted to say that she does not recognize him at all. Only the Bodach sits easily in her mind with his black bones made of dull shadow, but the rest? Recognizing a skeleton takes so much more attention to detail than she can stand to give it, staring at them makes her angry. It makes her nauseous and horrified and sad, and she balls it all together into a hard little ball of venom and poisons herself with it a little more each day.

    So she wants to tell him that she doesn't recognize him, because it's easier to add to her collection of hurts and self-hatred than it is to admit that as soon as he speaks, she does, and that, maybe, she had missed him too.

    And that he is one of the last horses that she would have wanted to see, would have wanted to see her.

    Like this.

    She hadn't realized her own vanity until he's there, laughing at her like before, as if they aren't all monsters, all just dead things pretending they're still alive, and she's left wondering how her heart could possibly feel as if it's dropped into her stomach.

    "Cassian?" She knows it's him, but she questions it anyway, "You survived the Eclipse."

    To be honest, that is something of a surprise.

    If you can call this living," she says, gesturing bitterly to the bony plate of her shoulder.
    Image by ratty


    A laugh bubbles up his throat at her words, though it is more than a laugh. It is a thing that hides uncomfortable truths of his own, though he has always been very good at brushing them aside. “It would take much more than a few monsters to kill me.” His reply is easily spoken, filled with the light-hearted humor that masks any uncertainties he might have. Then he continues, a falsely put-upon sigh leaving his lips. “I seem to have developed the bad habit of always coming back.”

    He’s never quite certain if he always will, if perhaps this time might be the last. For a man with so few insecurities, this is perhaps one of his greatest. There’s a strange sort of uncertainty in not being able to die.

    But as with everything else that makes him uncomfortable, he brushes it aside. A problem to be dealt with at a later date. Always a later date.

    Her next comment strikes Cassian as oddly curious however. He tilts his head, features quizzical as his gaze roves her entire form, trying to determine what she had meant. As far as he could tell, she looked perfectly alive to him. Although, perhaps she had encountered some trouble during the eclipse. This notion, much to his surprise, draws a flutter of concern from the pit of his belly.

    “You seem perfectly alive to me.” he quips back lightly, though he can’t quite hide the note of disquiet. Shifting forward, he reaches out to touch the shoulder she had indicated, muzzle gently brushing the galaxy skin there. She feels as solid and real as she had last time they’d met (though he must say this is certainly more pleasant than teeth). After a moment, he withdraws slightly, brown eyes lifting to hers. “Did something happen to you… during the eclipse?”


    She might have to agree with him about his bad habits. Even though a minute ago Beryl was thinking that she might have missed him, her mood shifts too easily to irritated - patience has never been her virtue and now that the world is dead and its people no more than animated bones, it's easier than ever to be indifferent. She almost doesn't feel bad for it, but there's a hitch in his voice that catches against her ribs and stops up the unkind words on her tongue. There's plenty of reason to assume that Cassian would joke with her, that he would lie about the way the world has changed while darkness set across the land. There is every reason to believe he would find away to pretend nothing was happening at all, but she can't find the sense in the game. Instead, it annoys her. Is he joking?

    She won't be able to stand it if he's joking. The anger feels like fire running up her spine. In what world is this perfectly alive?

    "I don't--" He reaches out touch her shoulder and she freezes, tension washing over her, waiting for the dull clacking of bone against bone, for the chill of nausea to come, but it doesn't. It feels like whiskered lips on skin and the skeleton girl growls softly, bitterly. Memory is an inveterate liar.

    Bite, says the lion, feeling the weakening of her grip, Bite, and rend, and crack.

    The thoughts make her mouth taste sour and she steps away slightly, just out of reach of those grinning teeth. Did something happen?

    "Don't make fun of me, Cassian." There's an edge to her voice, something between a growl and a sob, "It's not okay. I don't want to live in a world of bones."

    She exhales sharply, exasperated, furious, grappling the cat so desperate to surface from inside her, to pick apart the empty bones and show him why he shouldn't tease her. The loosening hold comes with the appearance of long canines but she pulls the creature back, swallows it away again, though it claws the whole way down, leaving her raw and glassy-eyed. It leaves her voice cracked and discordant.

    "You can't just pretend this away! The Fairies may have gotten the sun back but look at us! Skeletons? Am I the only one that's not alright with this?"
    Image by ratty


    He may have been tempted to tease away all her frets and worries, but this does not feel like a teasing matter. To a stallion who had met the worst and most raw edges of life with determined humor, it is a unique experience. He would like to claim it is the memory of tooth and claw that make it so, but those are the furthest things from his mind at the moment.

    As the smile that she can’t see begins to fade, Cassian eyes her curiously, unaware that the slight head tilt might make his haloed skull appear to tip just a bit more jauntily than normal. But the seriousness of his words when he speaks belies the unconscious lightness of his form. “I would never make fun of you Beryl.”

    For all his lightness of heart and bantering manner, Cassian had never wished to inflict harm with his teasing, never intended cruelty with his words. It unsettles him that she had found them so. That suggesting she is alive might somehow appear a mean-spirited trick in her eyes. And for the first time in his life, he is at something of a loss for words.

    He had always used humor as his armor, always teased away the pain and hurts of the world as though that might make things better. But this is something he hadn’t encountered before. Whatever she sees in the world now is as real to her as her golden features lined with raw pain and despair are to him. And as much as he wants to tease those lines from the corners of her eyes and chase them away from the tight edges of her lips, he knows levity is not the answer.

    “I’m not… pretending anything away.” Cassian begins slowly after staring at her for several long moments as understanding dawned. A small, wry smile quirks the corner of one lip as he continues. “I don’t know how to say this gently, but… we’re not skeletons.” He steps forward, nose reaching out hesitantly to touch her cheek, unsure if she would let him. “Did you know get lines in your cheek when you clench your teeth?” His nose moves down a few inches, skimming gently. Even now, he can’t seem to help the note of humor that enters his voice. “And your nostrils flare every time I make you mad.”



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