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    COTY

    Mazikeen -- Year 214

    QOTY

    "“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]  this is going to bring me clarity | Mazikeen
    #1
    Gale
    this is going to break me clean in two --
    this is going to bring me close to you



    Mazikeen’s foretelling - that Gale would not be having restful nights - has proven true.

    Gale does not have nights at all, and he barely even has days. The brindle stallion spends from dawn till late-afternoon sound asleep, impossible to rouse anytime before noon. When he wakes, it is almost always with an ache in his head that makes everything painful, and so he spends till dusk standing still and waiting for night to fall.

    The late autumn fades into winter.

    A mint green woodpecker searches for an early morning breakfast in a branch directly above Gale. The bits of wood dust fall through the still air, settling on his navy blue skin as his ears flick at the assault of the noise overhead.

    The sun has not yet risen over the horizon, and as Gale stretches out one pale wing, he finds that he is slathered in sweat from exertion he has no memory of. His heart is beating quickly too, he finds, and the clouds of his breath are thick and heavy in the cold air around him.

    The snow had only recently stopped falling, and as Gale looks behind him he can see the prints of a large, clawed animal. They end in his own hoofprints.

    Waking like this is not unusual, but usually it is later in the day, and never is it without a cleaving migraine. Gale frowns, but there is no trace of shadows in his mind, no hint that this might be a trick.

    He takes a long breath, and looks around. He’s standing just above the subalpine treeline, with high cliffs at his back and a thick forest ahead. To either side stretches the alpine meadow where the Curse most often leaves Gale. There is no one else in the meadow, but the sun hasn’t yet risen much above the horizon, and the shadows of the forest could hide many things.

    His ears flick forward - had that been the sound of a footstep?

    “Hello?” He calls.

    @[Mazikeen]

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    #2
    Mazikeen
    Mazikeen had been giving Gale space - she’s been giving everyone space. She’s retreated into herself, ever-restless with the growing children, and returned to her habit of wearing herself out until she is forced to sleep.

    There's an ache deep inside her when Gale is not beside her when she does sleep, and she wrestles with the selfishness of wanting him when it's her fault he's not there in the first place. When she had bargained for days she had not thought about how he’d be spending them sleeping, nor had she thought that they’d be spending them apart. But she doesn’t know how to ask for his company when he has so little time to himself, doesn’t know how to ask if he wants her with him when he’s standing there, waiting for the night to fall, or to tell him that she still wants every second. So she leaves him alone and spends her days wishing he’d find her because she refuses to make him uncomfortable by openly seeking him out.

    Openly, because most of her days and nights are spent following him. Like they’re back on Islandres and she’s a hunter, a spy, and it is beginning to drive her crazy just as it had then.

    She had traded her usual large predatory forms for something smaller this morning. As a black pine marten, she had just lept from a tree and landed in the snow when she hears his voice. Mazikeen freezes, uncertain - it’s still early enough in the day that she has no idea who it is that’s speaking.

    Does it matter?

    She's been heard and she won't retreat. So she shifts, becoming herself - this time with striped hawk wings at her sides. The eight claw marks on her shoulders are pink and healing but she’s still ashamed of them. Ashamed of how weak she had been, how she hadn’t hidden her pain well enough from Gale.

    And she also feels like she’s twice her normal size and it’s comforting to have the wings there to conceal what she’s sure are obscenely bloated sides (though really, it is not as bad as she thinks).

    Her voice is cautious and concerned when she moves from the shadows of the trees, her curving horns casting a faint orange glow on her features as she replies to his question with her own. “Gale? Are you... How are you?” It's what she's wanted to ask him every single day since autumn and it is, she hopes, a question where if it is the Curse who answers she'll know.
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    #3
    Gale
    this is going to break me clean in two --
    this is going to bring me close to you



    His blue eyes blink slowly as he takes in the morning around him, looking toward the sun, and then the south and at the bare branches and shallow snow on the ground. Gale had stopped counting the passage of time, but it looks to be already winter. So that’s weeks gone then, weeks at the very least. What has he been doing all that time? What has it been doing in his body?

    Gale shudders, closing his eyes and taking a long breath. The sound of snow beneath hooves draws his attention up again, and he sees Mazikeen moving toward him in the snow.

    He feels a dull weight in the pit of his stomach, feels the sharp burn of guilt travel up from his chest. He has not had time to think of anything at all, and only now recalls the bloodshed of their earlier encounter. The Curse - which has kept its promise to Mazikeen in all other ways - chooses this moment to share again with Gale the memory of where the injuries came from.

    Gale winces, and looks away rather than meet her orange gaze.

    “Well, I don’t have a headache for the first time in...well, a long time.” He looks at the ground, scuffing at the snow with one dark hoof. His thoughts are too numerous, and he spends some time sorting through them, his eyes downcast.

    He should look up, Gale knows, should meet her gaze. But if he does, he fears he might break. So instead he forces his gaze slowly upward, to her long legs, beautifully patterned wings, the marble curve of her neck. He wants to memorize her, so that he might never forget how she looks no matter how hard the Curse might try.

    Only when he is sure he can meet her gaze without crumbling does he do so.

    The glow of her twisting horns illuminates her face, and Gale admires the familiar lines of her cheeks, and notices the dark hollows beneath her bright eyes. She is not sleeping much, those hollows tell him, and the guilt he feels spills out as words

    “I’m sorry,” he tells her, “For whatever it’s done. I’m so sorry.”

    @[Mazikeen]

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    #4
    Mazikeen
    It doesn’t escape her notice that his gaze diverts from her and she feels… sullied. That taste of bile rises in her throat again but she doesn’t look away and in a moment she's glad she doesn't. Mazikeen watches him, watches those eyes trail up her body to her face and she feels a hesitant flicker of hope that maybe, maybe, he still loves her.

    And then he’s apologizing and she shakes her head, instinct drives her forward a few steps before she hesitates and stops in her tracks. She wants to comfort him and touch him so badly that the red marking on her nose itches with the intensity of those thoughts. How is she always finding herself back here in this same place, unsure of him? He’s proven that she doesn’t need to be over and over but every time feels like it’s different. And sure enough she’s thinking that this time is different. It has to be.

    Mazikeen is grateful for the fact that her voice doesn’t waiver when she speaks - there’s a fierce determination in it, willing him to believe what she says because even in her twisting, confusing mind she believes this much. “You have nothing to apologize for.”

    Some of that fierceness fades when she continues and her own guilt seeps into her words. “But I do. And I’ll never stop being sorry.” Not about the act itself, though that certainly had not been thought through but she's actively pretending it had not broken a piece of her. She’s not sorry for the deal she had struck, not sorry for trying to buy them a little more time. She’s sorry she hadn’t thought about how it would affect him, how she hadn’t been strong enough to hide how it had hurt her, and sorry he had been used too. At that moment, what had been asked of her seemed almost trivial. Just a transaction she had wanted to get over with as quickly as possible before the Curse changed its mind and decided to keep Gale instead of what she offered in exchange for him.

    Does he know why the Curse has been taking him at night? Why it had left marks on her? Does he know exactly what she traded away, barely even hesitating, in order to get a future with him? Even if he no longer wants a future with her...

    She inhales and fire returns to her eyes as she buries her pain a little deeper. “You don’t deserve this nightmare. And… and I’m going to do whatever I can to end it for you.” And she does not mean in the way she had promised to back on the beach of Islandres.

    She should tell him about their children and their fate. But instead she just adds quietly, trying to convey to him the same thing she's always trying to say - that nothing has changed for her. “Even when you can’t stand the sight of me, I’m not going anywhere. I’m still in this.”



    @[Gale]
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    #5
    Gale
    this is going to break me clean in two --
    this is going to bring me close to you



    Had Gale known how his refusal to look at Mazikeen made her feel, his apologies might never have ended. His visceral reaction to the memory of the assault was to his own involvement, and his guilt at having been unable to do a single thing. The Curse had promised Mazikeen not to tell Gale about their deal and to leave them be during the day, but this had been far too delightful an opportunity to pass up.

    (The Curse is not sure why Gale is not exhausted and in pain this morning. Last night had been no different than any other. The strange workings of magic, perhaps, or maybe the chicanery of a quarter moon. It has had a busy evening though, stalking deer and eating only the hearts, cornering a snarling sky blue bear and wrestling just to test its mettle, so it soon drifts away and leaves Gale to the first morning he has had in months)

    That she had not left him is something that he was vaguely aware of even in his semi-lucid state. She was a pale shape at the corner of his eyes in some of those rare moments they were open, and the scent of her was often on the mountain wind. It comforted him, and the comfort made him feel guilty.

    He is a danger to her.
    And yet there is nowhere he wants to be but right here beside her, except perhaps closer still.

    He needs to leave.
    And yet when she moves closer he meets her halfways, so that her hesitant stop doesn’t even matter and he is sweeping her up in a tight embrace.

    If she struggles, tries to get away, he will not blame her. He would not want to be close to himself if he were her either. But he is not her, he is only himself, and her nearness still makes everything better.

    ‘You have nothing to apologize for’ she says, and Gale laughs at the absurdity. At first he thinks she must be joking, but then she continues, saying that she is sorry, and Gale struggles to imagine what for.

    For keeping her promise?

    Gale pulls back, his navy face creasing into a frown. He meets her gaze, her fiery determined gaze, and hears the doubt she has in him - in them - when she makes her promise.

    Some things it’s better he doesn’t remember. Something he has done has sown that doubt, he thinks. The Curse has shared a single memory - are there more? What else has it hunted in the darkness of night?

    “You are the one thing I will never grow tired of Seeing,” he swears, pushing back a lock of her hair before drawing back to meet her gaze.

    “But promise me you will not risk yourself for me. I cannot bear the thought of you getting hurt, not when it should be me, when I’m the one who is Cursed.” He chatters, as he often does, whatever filter between his thoughts and words falling away as it always does with her. “Keep yourself safe, and the children too. You’re more important than I am.”

    @[Mazikeen]

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    #6
    Mazikeen
    Gale meets her halfway and relief is a brief tremble that runs through her at the surety of the contact - so she holds him even tighter so he does not mistake it for anything negative. Mazikeen had been scared that Gale would never touch her again, that the last time would have been it and it would’ve given that moment all the more potency in her mind. She doesn’t care if it never extends past embraces or kisses again, because this is already enough to soothe away one of those fears she never could have vocalized.

    As he holds her she changes her horns, not making them disappear this time but turning them into tight curls - like the faun horns he had when they first met.

    There is a brief, flutter of concern that this isn’t him at all - but it is so easily cast aside when he reassures her and brushes aside some of her hair. Mazikeen so badly wants this to be real and she once again wonders why she lets herself doubt Gale so easily when he’s always proving that she doesn’t need to. But then, it’s not really him she’s doubting - it’s herself. Those unspoken fears and insecurities clouding everything - and so few of them have to do with the Curse it’s almost funny.

    His mention of keeping the children safe causes her heart to squeeze and she knows she should tell him what she’s done.

    But then he’s saying that she’s more important than he is and Mazikeen's shaking her head again before she presses her response as a gentle kiss into his skin. “Not to me.”

    When she pulls back, she says with a soft fierceness “We’re not going to agree on this because I can’t bear the thought of you being hurt either. You didn’t ask to be Cursed and maybe there’s…” She hesitates, uncertain of if the darkness inside him truly sleeps during the day or if it still observes. It must observe, it had known exactly what it was doing when it was with her. So she shakes her head again, any possible plans she might share falling away. “I’m going to do what I can to make sure you don’t hurt anyone.” Aside from a few animals she had found with their hearts removed… but she’d prefer the Curse’s attention to be there instead of elsewhere. “And I’ll… I’ll try to include myself in that. And the babies.” Try, because she will break that promise for herself in a heartbeat the first time she thinks she can save someone else. And she'll break it for their children as soon as they're born and she leaves them in the cliffs.

    Unless she can think of another plan. But those thoughts don't linger now.

    There’s a ghost of a smile, even though she knows what she’s about to say isn’t actually all that funny. “If it helps, I’m not entirely sure I can die. So we don’t have to worry about that.”
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    #7
    Gale
    this is going to break me clean in two --
    this is going to bring me close to you



    The hope in her voice is painful to hear, but Gale doesn’t look away. She sounds so fierce, so determined. She has plans. She has not yet given up.

    So that is why she hadn’t pulled away.
    She still loves him.

    This would be so much easier if she didn’t.

    “So it will be able to torture you forever then.” Gale responds, the flat words an even more callous reaction than a lack of laughter at her statement. How can she not see how this will end? How can she still think there is hope?

    “You don’t even know this is me.” He says softly. His eyes are sad and still, meeting hers with blue resignation. What the Curse had done to her would have deterred a weaker love, but she clings determinedly, and even with the weight of reality hanging over them Gale can feel the warmth of it shining from her bright eyes.

    “I don’t have much longer,” he admits. Every morning he is weaker, every afternoon he struggles to remember who he is. “It is getting stronger. Getting...ready. For something, I am not sure what.” Gale shakes his head, because prying makes it burn, and he hisses sharply in pain.

    This is not the Curse that had killed Gale’s father, but it is made of the same dark magic. Wolfbane had gained his powers by eating the heart of his grandfather, and if there is a chance that neither twin is a suitable host, the Curse intends to kill Mazikeen and devour her heart in an effort to gain her shifting as well.

    @[Mazikeen]

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    #8
    Mazikeen
    His flat reply to her not-great-joke stings and she bites back in a fierce tone, a few cracks of light flickering on her coat but they fade quickly. This is not true anger - just annoyance and determination. “It won’t torture me forever. I’ll take care of it. I promised you I would, Gale.” Not yet, though, and maybe he can sense that for now, she hesitates. Not even hesitates - she won’t consider it until she has to, until she knows for sure there’s no going back. And until then, she was going to do whatever she could to end the curse in other ways. Because even though Mazikeen still believes she’ll find a way to fulfill her promise - issues with his healing and shapeshifting yet to be sorted out - she wants to save Gale too. She wants to give him the future he was robbed of.

    Whether that was by giving the children over to the curse or through some other way, she doesn’t know anymore. Those are thoughts to sort out another time. Something to fill up her watchful hours until spring arrives and she needs to make her decision.

    Stubborn to a fault, she meets his resignation with her hope. “I believe it is you.” She will not explain that based on her last interaction with it, she does not think the Curse could resist taunting her if it was in control right now. And she has seen no signs yet that it has not kept to their bargain - so maybe she had done a successful job at selling their children. It would be far smarter to question him but that is not how Mazikeen wants to spend the rest of their seconds. She thinks it worth the risk, even if this does end up being false. At least she tried. At least she wasn’t hiding in the shadows.

    Mazikeen had known where this was going to end but that doesn't make it any easier to hear Gale admit that he doesn't have much time and these last few seasons aren't nearly what she hoped they'd have when he had first arrived in Hyaline. She'd promised to cherish every second but she was selfish and wanted years.

    When Gale hisses sharply in pain, she moves forward again instinctively. She brushes her muzzle against his cheek and then his neck before embracing him. All thoughts that she should tell him about what the Curse is waiting for fade away because she’s no longer sure that is the best plan. So she just breathes in his scent and when she exhales into his skin she asks quietly “Will you spend today with me?”

    One last good day, she doesn’t say, but she thinks he’ll understand anyway. While his headache is gone and his mind is as clear as it’s likely to ever be again, what better chance are they going to get? She’s going to fight for more, for that future with him, but for now... one more day of good memories before the sun goes down and takes him from her.


    @[Gale]
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    #9
    Gale
    this is going to break me clean in two --
    this is going to bring me close to you



    He knows she means to keep her promise, and that is exactly the problem.

    She’ll take care of it.

    And while she’s doing so, Gale will be watching her suffer at his own hands - or claws or hooves or tentacles that the Curse might use.

    ‘I believe it is you,’ she says determinedly. If anything could defeat the Curse, Gale is sure it would be Mazikeen’s determination. But her determination does not stop him from seeing the images the Curse feeds him instead, images of the future.

    A future where Mazikeen is dead, and the twins beside her. A future where Mazikeen becomes enamored with the Curse. A future where Mazikeen is bleeding and crying in front of him, and his claws are pressed into the throat of a small black foal.

    Bile rises up in his throat, and especially uncomfortable feeling for a creature accustomed to being equine. As she leans toward him he pulls away, but not so far that he cannot close the distance between them when the feeling passes, and presses his face against her neck. Not torn open, the touch tells him, not like in the images of the future.

    Strangely, he thinks of his brothers asking him - separately - what had brought him to Hyaline. Mazikeen, he had told them both, and holding her it hasn’t ever felt more true. She feels like home, warm and strong and safe.

    She doesn’t feel breakable as Gale holds her, as he tells her that yes, of course he will spend today with her. She does not feel fragile, and yet he fears that before their tale has ended that every bit of her he loves will be crushed into the same nothingness that swallows him each night.

    “What shall we do?” He asks, pressing his nose below her ear, that soft place he loves so much. This morning feels like a gift, and he does not intend to waste it.

    @[Mazikeen]

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    #10
    Mazikeen
    Too much flashes through Mazikeen’s mind in that moment where Gale pulls back from her. Concern, hurt, and that renewed determination - if he even considers trying to put distance between them she’ll hunt him down and pin him to a tree to keep him here if she had to. She hadn’t let him maintain a distance before to spare her - it was too late then and it was far too late now.

    But the moment passes and when he reclaims the space between them all her thoughts fade away as he presses his face into her neck. He’s the only one that has this effect on her, turning the white noise she usually associates with anger into something pleasant - something that makes everything else fall away.

    A content smile dances through her orange eyes as he presses his nose to that soft place below her ear and she leans into the touch, replying quietly. “Anything you want.” She thinks about how she had wanted to take him to Taiga where they could race and climb the trees - or how she’d still like to see Islandres in the sunshine. But she doesn’t want to waste any time travelling. Mazikeen doesn’t want there to be a distance between them that she cannot breach by stretching out her neck. So she tries to think of what they could do in Hyaline.

    And though there is something that has been one of their favourite pastimes, she feels a twist in her stomach at the idea of bringing it up now. Had that been what Gale had been hinting at? Before the last time, it would have barely been a question. The pleasant haze caused by his mouth on her skin doesn't keep out the conflicting emotions that rise up in the few seconds she gives herself to think. She would be perfectly fine if that particular activity was out of the question, it might be too painful for them both to try and she'd hate to put either of them in a position of ignoring their discomfort for the sake of the other if they realized halfway through it was a mistake. And yet... part of her wants to reclaim it. Wants to have Gale erase the unkind memories with his touch and wants to erase his fears, even momentarily, with hers.

    She just doesn't know if it's possible to salvage what she let the Curse take from them or if it's even worth the risk. She also doesn't know how to ask him what his thoughts are.

    So she pushes those all of that away and speaks of other things - she's sure they can enjoy the day no matter what. Her voice is thoughtful as she toys with the short hair of his mane with her lips. “We could go swimming, it’ll be cold but I make a rather fetching walrus if you remember.” She smiles a bit brighter as she says this and it warms her tone, soothes away her troublesome thoughts that linger. “Or there’s a waterfall that’s sure to be frozen by now near one of the cliffs and it’s beautiful in the sunlight.” She lists off a few other ideas including staying right where they are. It doesn’t matter to her what they do, so long as they’re together.


    @[Gale]
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