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Lirriel
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Traitor in Our Midst

((Posted 6/25/11 by Giulietta))

((Crossposted from rp-haven. First blog post, hopefully I didn't do anything too dumb with it...might experiment with first-person narration eventually, but for now I think this'll do. This should take place right after my visit to the infirmary.))

Giulietta flopped onto her bed in the Dragoon barracks, body aching with exhaustion. Between the heals she'd cast on her way back from Ironforge -- without them, the dizziness that had threatened to unseat her from her horse -- and the adrenaline that had driven her through the ride back, she was well and truly worn out.

Her two new cats nosed at her boots, alternatively mewing at her for food and batting at each other angrily with tiny, ineffectual paws. "Stop it, Kethaera," she croaked tiredly, as the fleshier Winterspring cub pounced on the smaller white kitten and began to gnaw on its head. Of course, being cats, they ignored her completely, so she gave Kethaera a sharp nudge with the toe of her boot to dislodge her. That only gave the kitten a chance to make her move, though. "Bianca, would you -- oh, for crying out loud." She picked the kitten up by the scruff of the neck and dropped her unceremoniously at the head of the bed, where she looked completely baffled and dazed. Kethaera watched from the foot of the bed, cocking her head curiously. 

"I'll never know what they were thinking, giving you two to someone like me," Giulietta muttered, then lay back and shut her eyes, trying to ignore the pounding in her skull. After a moment, Bianca curled up against her neck, her small furry body expanding rhythmically with every breath. 

Giulietta almost dozed off. But somewhere between waking and dreaming, memories of that evening slipped sneakily into her ears. "Never thought anyone would want a stupid, incompetent little girl like you."

Her eyes flew open. The walls seemed to close in on her, bright and unfamiliar, and the palms of her hands tingled with anxiety. "What if he's right?" she murmured out loud. Unbidden, images from the evening's battle flashed before her eyes. 

"Wait -- wait, hang on!" She roughly tried to push Atleen and Dragoon Dunbar aside, trying to get another look at the face. The two big men didn't get out of her way, quite, but they put up their swords for a moment. Giulietta blinked down at the man who had been tumbled into the snow. "Cap'n -- cap'n, is that you?" 

 Dragoon Dunbar froze, eying her warily. As she stared at him, the wiry older man raised his hands and started to clap slowly. "Oh, good job, Rossini," Morris Johnstone sneered, lips twisting into a humorless smile. "Recognizing your commanding officer, that's very good."

Still woozy, she couldn't quite put together the whole scene. It just didn't make sense. Glancing to the side, she saw a metal pipe glinting up at her from the snow, one end smeared with blood. "I don't -- I don't understand -- "

 The Captain shrugged,  getting to his feet and brushing snow off of his trousers. "Well, I'll tell ya something. Neither do I. All this business with an elite Stormwind military group, well. I just didn't see it coming." He grinned recklessly. "Never thought anyone would want a stupid, incompetent little girl like you."

She flushed painfully. "I'm not -- "

"But, incompetent or no, I'm not about to let you spill my secrets to your new friends." He narrowed his eyes at Atleen and Dragoon Dunbar, looking them up and down. "Getting rid of you woulda been a cinch. 'Course, I didn't figure on your little 'escort', but..." He meets Giulietta's eyes, grin widening. "It's still gonna be way too easy."

 With a roar, Giulietta drew her sword and threw herself at Johnstone.

Had she been stupid, then? Atleen and Dragoon Dunbar'd had the right idea, hadn't they? They'd judged the situation accurately, and they'd been taking care of it when she'd interfered. And that had made everything much, much more complicated. If Dragoon Dunbar hadn't been there when Johnstone started throwing fireballs at them, matching her blow for blow -- or if Atleen hadn't been there, casting her in the cool relief of the Light every time she strayed into one of Johnstone's blasts -- then that would probably've been the end of her. Never mind the battle, even; she'd wandered off the path to look for herbs, of all things, so that ridiculous metal pipe would have been all the bastard needed. 

She'd been so happy when Johnstone had invited her to his unit. If she was a braver person, she would have gone all the way back home just to tell her mother: "See? I'm fine. I did well. I'm not worthless." Getting an assignment after only two years at the Northshire Academy -- that was something to be proud of, for sure. But it probably didn't count if your captain was a traitor. 

How long would it be before the Dragoons, too, realized all she was really capable of?

"All right," she muttered abruptly, sitting up carefully to keep her head from spinning. "I need -- a walk. Yeah. A walk into the city, that'll do me good." The cats stared up at her expectantly, their claws glancing off the mail over her thighs as they pawed at her. "And yes, all right, I'll pick up some food on the way back. Maybe then you'll let me sleep."

Lirriel
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Traitor in Our Midst 2

((Posted 6/25/11 by Giulietta))

((Crossposted from rp-haven. Feedback appreciated! Particularly, if someone has a title for the Ironforge Guard other than "Guardsman", I'd be most obliged. It just don't sound right.))

 

"Glad you could make it, Ms. Rossini. Have a seat o'er there." The dwarf jerked a thumb over his shoulder, indicating the small interrogation room behind him, and started scribbling something on the clipboard he was carrying.

Giulietta did as she was told, ducking through the door and sliding into a chair. It wasn't actually uncomfortably cramped; she could stand fully upright in the low-ceilinged room, and there was just about enough room between the chair and the table for her legs to fit, but it was very clear that it had all been built for people smaller than her. And she'd never been particularly big. 

Outside, two of the dwarves were arguing about something in low voices. She couldn't really make out what they were saying, but it must have had something to do with her; the first guard, who had invited her in, kept glancing furtively back at her. She wished that they would hurry up and get it over with; waiting had never been one of her strong points. Her stomach rolled with nervousness, and she smoothed her tabard down with shaky fingers. I've got the support of the Dragoons, she reminded herself sternly. Remember that.

 "Sorry to keep ye waiting." She looked up to see the dwarf enter the room, shutting the door behind him. Even with her sitting down, he was just about eye-level with her, but that didn't really put her at ease. "I'm Guardsman Connelly, and I just wanted ter ask ye a few questions about the man ye brought in the other day."

"Of course. I'm sorry it took me so long to come, I was...recovering from injuries."

"Feelin' all right now?"

"Much better, thanks."

"Good to hear." Connelly set his clipboard down on the table and took a seat across from her. "Why don't we start with somethin' easy: how do you know this man?"

Giulietta pressed her lips together tightly, then raised her chin and fought for composure. "He's my captain. Was my captain. I was about to transfer out of his unit."

Connelly nodded, making a note on his clipboard. "How long did ye work together?"

"A little over a year. He hired me right out of Northshire Academy."

"And he said he was a captain in the Stormwind military?"

"Yes. He did." Giulietta hesitated. "Why, is he -- "

Connelly shook his head. "Now, lass, even if I knew that I couldn't tell ye. You know that. As it happens, we haven't brought Stormwind into this yet, so I haven't a clue. I'm just tryin' to find out what we can." He finished writing something, then frowned at his notes. "Now. During the time you worked together, did you notice anything odd about his behavior?"

"Not really. No."

"No violent outbursts, nothing like what happened a few days ago?"

"No, nothing."

"Anything queer about the nature of the work you were assigned?"

"No, not -- " Giulietta hesitated, then smoothed a loose strand of hair behind her ear. "Well, I suppose -- there wasn't as much combat as I expected. Or, well, any at all. But then I thought he was just being gentle with us new recruits." Of course, she reflected belatedly, that was hardly good reasoning for the full year that she'd worked under him. Much more likely that he'd kept the real work away from the stupid, incompetent little girl.

Connelly's thick eyebrows drew together. "No combat? What was it, ceremonial or somethin'?"

"No, not at all." She looked down at her hands, folded neatly in her lap. "It was, uh, deliveries mostly. All sorts of places. Westfall, Duskwood, Stranglethorn -- "

"Dun Morogh?"

"Oh, yes, of course. Last few weeks I was working for him, I was going back and forth between Stormwind and Ironforge all the time."

"Hmm." Thoughtfully, Connelly scribbled another note. "And where were those deliveries made, in Ironforge?"

"Sometimes just outside the city gates, if I was meeting another messenger. But mostly in the Forlorn Cavern." 

The guard grunted. "Doesn't look good, that," he remarked frankly. "All sorts of things get to happening out there."

"Oh." Giulietta blinked. "I...didn't know?"

Connelly glanced up at her, and she suddenly realized that she was leaning forward in her seat, eyes wide, hardly breathing. He flashed a grin at her. full of good old dwarvish cheer, but she wasn't buying it for a minute. "'Course ye didn't. Sweet young lass like yourself. Still, you'll want to be more careful from now on." He tapped his pen against the clipboard, and Giulietta wished fervently that she could read what he was writing. "All right, one more thing. Might seem silly, but I've got ter ask. Do ye have any idea why he wanted to attack you?"

She swallowed. "Yes. He said he wanted to keep me from sharing his secrets. And no," she added hurriedly, seeing Connelly sit up a little straighter, "I don't know what that means. If I did, I'd tell you, believe me."

The dwarf sagged a little with disappointment. "Ah, well, can't be helped I guess." For a moment, he sat there, skimming over his notes. "Well, Ms. Rossini, thank ye for yer time. You've been...very cooperative."

"What, do you mean that's all?"

"Unless ye have anything more to add, yes." He smiled pleasantly enough. "Don't worry, I'll call ye in again if I need ye. That's a promise."

"I -- all right." She lifted herself clumsily out of the chair, trying not the knock over the whole set-up. "But please, really, don't hesitate to send for me. Truly, I only took this long to come because of -- "

" -- yer injuries, I know." The dwarf laughed. "I can still see the knot on the back of yer head, lass. Don't worry yerself."

Very kindly, he showed her back to her horse, and she swung herself into the saddle uneasily. Guardsman Connelly waved her on her way, and she clicked her tongue and tugged the reins to get the horse moving. 

"I knew it," she muttered to herself, once she was well away from the city. "Completely useless, I was."

Lirriel
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Traitor in Our Midst 2

((Posted 7/7/11 by Giulietta))

((Crossposted from rp-haven -- critique welcome and appreciated! I'm not sure how much I'm supposed to be explaining these scenes, but I figure I'll do so anyway? Giuli's just gone to talk to Harrigan about her old platoon; he's told her that the Stormwind tabard they gave her is a fake, and wants her to make a list of the places she's made deliveries for her old captain. Also, I apologize for the excessive introspection; my metal Pandora station went over all soulful for no good reason. >.<))

The maps sat in the corner, rolled up inside the hollow wooden tube she'd always lashed to her backpack before traveling. It was the first purchase she'd made with her own earnings, and that too at the demands of her captain, who'd tired of sketching directions every time he sent her out. With those maps at her side, she'd never been afraid of getting lost. Even if she couldn't read, she knew the shape of the roads, the places where they skirted mountains and arched over water, and that was enough to get her where she needed to go.

She hadn't even looked at them since the Captain's arrest. Her patrols mainly took her to the outskirts of Stormwind and its surrounding shires, and it had only taken a couple of days for the relatively small area to become as familiar as the back of her hand. It'd been nice, in a way -- knowing just where she could cut through to woods to take twenty minutes off a trip, and always knowing how far it was to the next inn. 

Now, she popped the cork she'd jammed in the open end of the tube and inhaled deeply as a damp, musty smell wafted out. Probably the last time she'd opened it had been in the Wetlands, though she couldn't actually remember it. The map, the musty smell, and the tabard that Giulietta still clutched in one hand all seemed to be from worlds away. Like a completely different life, though just over a week ago it had been the only life she knew. 

It seemed foolish to be missing it now. Her orders were clear, and she could follow them. It wasn't even going to be all that hard. 

With a practiced shake, she unfurled the maps and spread them out on the floor of her room. The smell filled the room -- damp earth, just a hint of liferoot and briarthorn -- and she pressed a fingertip against the fine vellum, mouthing the names of places she'd once ridden through. She rummaged in her bags for a moment, extracting a barely-used quill and ink bottle.

It took a few hours, but she barely noticed the time passing. One by one, she found the characters labeling the lands she knew by sight and sound, and copied them exactly onto a fresh piece of paper. Occasionally the pen would spot the the paper with unsightly blobs of ink, and after the first hour her hands started to shake a little. But eventually, the words began to take shape, each minute line of each alien symbol just where it was supposed to be: Menethil Harbor. Khaz Modan. Stormwind Harbor. Booty Bay. Thandol Span. The Forlorn Cavern.

Eventually, she sat back, back and wrists aching, and admired her handiwork. A smudge of ink on the back of her right hand caught her eye, and she turned her hand over to find thick black smears on her fingers and palm. She snorted, and checked her left hand -- only to find that it was entirely clean, and still clutching her old tabard.

She sighed, pitched the piece of cloth across the room, and scrubbed at her face with clean hand. "Forget it," she muttered under her breath. "Just -- forget it."

Lirriel
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Finding Her Wings

((Posted 8/10/11 by Giulietta))

((Crossposted from rp-haven. No real plot-like point to this; was just doing some thinking about all the various problems one might encounter when flying for the first time. Feedback of all kinds appreciated!))

Giulietta struggled with the reins, brow furrowed in concentration. It was no fault of the nameless black gryphon she rode, really; he'd been perfectly behaved, as far as she could tell, since she'd first mounted him. No, this was all her own doing. Most people would probably have the sense not to try and read a map while flying. At least, she'd never seen anyone else flying around like that, a map flapping madly between their hands as they steered. 

Finally, she managed to hit some sort of balance, and get the map to lie mostly flat against the back of the gryphon's neck. She studied it intently, disregarding the landscape before her for the moment. As far up as she'd brought them, there was almost no chance of running into anything but the occasional mountain peak, and even those were few and far between.

The gryphon rolled his eyes back and squawked at her, maybe noticing the distracted set of the reins. Giulietta reached out and patted his glossy neck feathers, muttering "There, there," absently. The whipping, whistling wind drowned out her words, but the gryphon turned his head forward again with what seemed like the avian equivalent of an indifferent shrug. 

For a few almost peaceful seconds -- well, as peaceful as you could get, hurtling along in the middle of the sky with nothing to hold you up -- Giulietta let herself become absorbed with the map, tracing the lines of mountains and rivers and roads. Tendrils of hair escaped the bun at the back of her neck and lashed across her face. And then --

"Wait a minute," she said suddenly. She looked down. Way, way down. 

There was no mistaking it -- they were about to pass over their objective. 

"Down!" she yelped, digging her heels into the gryphon's flanks and yanking on the reins. "Go down, quick!" And the gryphon, as well as he'd been trained, did exactly as she said. He went down -- quick.

It was at times like these that she fervently missed the ground. 

She almost seemed to lift up off of her seat as the great beast nosedived, and clung to the reins in terror. His wings were tucked neatly along his sides, letting air stream past them easily, and doing absolutely nothing to keep them from plummeting out of the sky. Giuli might have screamed, but she never would have known -- the roar of wind was deafening, and if that wasn't enough there was a strange and unbearable pressure in her ears that threatened to cave her whole head in.

All in all, she was more than a little dazed when the gryphon finally opened out his wings and set them gently on the ground. Hastily, she leapt out of the saddle, leaning one hand against the feathery creature for support. They were both covered in a fine, cool mist from the clouds, and her face was numb and tingly from the cold and the wind. Head spinning, she decided to sit for a second or two to get her bearings. 

That was when she saw the massive stony creatures surrounding her, and remembered why she was supposed to be here. "Colossi," she murmured under her breath, not thinking.

At the sound, three of the mobile statues turned their heads. Rumbling a deep, unearthly battle cry, they thundered towards her.

"Oh, fel," she hissed, and yanked her sword from its scabbard.

Lirriel
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The Roots of Healing

((Posted 11/21/11 by Giulietta))

((This is a story that started with a book, and ended with a lot of hullabaloo. I'm chunking the story 'cause if I try to do it all at once, I really might faint dead away. Too long. Way too long. But I hope you like it anyway! Comments and constructive criticism welcome at rp-haven.))

 

Giulietta thought that she was probably doing something stupid.

It was late, and the Keep was quiet. Her cats had long since dozed off on the bed, curled up against her sides like small soft pillows, their bellies rising and falling with every tiny breath. Giuli's eyes itched with exhaustion, but she dragged them open, not quite ready to stop reading yet. Not just two months ago she'd barely been able to write her own name, and now here she was, poring through a massive tome about as thick as her own forearm. A tome that most of her teachers at the Abbey would probably have turned their noses up at, or even thought was blasphemous.

But whoever Mohan Marim was, he certainly had a passion for healing -- a passion for doing things the way they should be done, whether or not anyone else agreed with you. In a way, Giuli could respect him for that. In each of us lives a portion of the will of our Creator, he wrote. In this portion is our will to survive, our knowledge of good and evil, our sentience. And in this portion is our power -- power to do as the Creator would. They were good words, she thought, shifting uncomfortably as a sleeping Kaethera flailed a tiny clawed paw into her side. Smart words, heavy words, the kind of things that Giuli would never be able to articulate herself. They were almost convincing words.

Suddenly, she felt a chill, and shuddered. Bianca lifted her head sleepily at the movement and mewed quietly, then put her head back down and went back to sleep. Giuli glanced at the door, frowning -- hadn't she closed it, and locked it? Odd for a draft to come in...

Careful not to wake the cats, she slid off her bed and went to the door, opening it and looking into the Hall. "Hello?" she called quietly, feeling a bit silly. "Anyone there?"

No one answered, so she shrugged and shut the door again. Just tiredness, she told herself, and hesitated for a moment. She should really sleep, soon -- she'd need to be alert for patrol in the morning, and she couldn't very well claim that the book was as important as work.

"Just a few more minutes can't hurt," she murmured finally, and clambered back into bed, fingering the yellowing pages. Such a scholar she was becoming, she thought, and a smile twitched her lips. The clerics would have been proud -- though really, it was probably just a phase. She'd be back to her normal self once she got back on active duty.

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The Roots of Healing 2

((Posted 11/21/11 by Giulietta))

((And another chunk. Constructive crit and comments welcome at rp-haven!))

 

Giuli was in an awkward position when her guildstone chirped at her. "Rossini, petitioner's chamber, now." It was Lieutenant Goldengale, and she didn't sound happy.

Grunting, she put the muddy piglet she was holding into the little boy's arms and fumbled for the stone. "On my way," she said, and then turned a stern frown on the boy. "Now. Can you promise me I'm not going to have to run 'round after that stupid animal again?" The piglet had somehow managed to find every muddy puddle in the city, and had squirmed around so much that clods of it had gotten under Giuli's armor, in her hair, and down the back of her shirt.

The boy pursed his lips. "Um..."

Giuli sighed. "Look, I've got to go. If he gets away again, bother someone else, you hear?" She swung a leg over her horse and tugged sharply on the reins.

"Thanks, ma'am!" she heard the boy call after her as she galloped away, and she smiled slightly to herself. She feigned irritation, but it had been good to run around after that pig, breathe the air and use her muscles for the first time since she'd been injured. There was a hot tightness around the ribs she'd broken, but otherwise she felt just fine. Dirty, sure, but that had never bothered her much.

As she cantered up to the Keep, she gave herself a once-over and winced. She really was a mess, and she doubted that the Lieutenant was going to be happy about that. Then again, the Lieutenant hadn't sounded happy to begin with, and wouldn't look favorably on a delay either. Giuli dropped her horse off by the stables, and ran the rest of the way to the Petitioner's Chamber.

Lieutenant Goldengale looked up from her paperwork as Giuli ran in. " 'Light duty' ends up with you looking like that?" she remarked immediately.

"I wasn't fighting!" Giuli protested. "There was a thing with a pig, and a..." She waved her hand vaguely.

"That is not 'light duty'," the Lieutenant said firmly. "Have a seat."

"Mostly it was the pig," Giuli said meekly, and sat, trying not to get mud on the nice wooden chair. It wasn't like the pig was secretly affiliated with the Horde -- how could catching it be considered active duty?

"Still not light duty. Light duty is paperwork," the Lieutenant said, then added without preamble, "Why did you run away from home?"

The question took Giuli completely by surprise. She'd opened her mouth to defend her story about the pig, but then had to close it again, not sure how the fel to respond to that. She sagged a little in her seat. "...sir?"

"Answer the question, Rossini."

Giuli hesitated. "It's...complicated?"

"Explain."

"And I didn't really run away, so much, though that does sound like how my -- " The bottom dropped out of her stomach suddenly. "Is my mother her?" she blurted out abruptly, trying to keep the panic out of her voice and not entirely succeeding.

The Lieutenant's face was stern and unforgiving. "Explain the situation, Rossini. I am not in the mood for the runaround."

"Sorry, sir." Giuli straightened her back and tried to slow her pounding heart. She can't be here, she couldn't possibly have found you here...

How could she possibly explain things to the Lieutenant? Stormwind was a completely different world. They'd never understand. "I...well, I wanted to be a soldier. Pretty much ever since I can remember. But girls didn't do that sort of thing in my village. My dad taught me how to fight some, but...he was in the army, and he was away a lot. And everyone else wanted me to cook, and clean, and sew -- and I'm terrible at that. Well, you've seen my rooms."

"So you ran away and enlisted."

"I did not run away," Giuli said, and she was glad that her voice didn't rise in pitch like a whine.

"Were you an adult when you left home?"

"I was eighteen. Old enough to sign up for training in Northshire." She still remembered that day -- how such a simple thing, getting one year older, had felt like the biggest accomplishment in her whole life. "I told my mother where I intended to go. She...didn't take it well." That was an understatement, but Giuli doubted the other woman wanted to hear about how her mother had followed her to the outskirts of the village, screaming about how Giuli was nothing but a fool of a child, how she'd get ripped apart by orcs or worse within the day.

"All right, you didn't run away. That's good." The lieutenant seemed to be less annoyed than she'd been previously.

Giuli shrugged with a shoulder, avoiding Goldengale's eyes. "After the things she said, I...didn't see any reason to go back home."

"Good to know." She didn't seem to be particularly impressed by the story; maybe she heard these things all the time. "Okay, here's the issue, Rossini."

Giuli blinked, and started to feel her stomach roll again. That hadn't been it?

"A cleric from Northshire came by the meeting looking for you."

Giuli frowned. "Who?"

"Didn't get his name, didn't need to. The Abbey's not big." Cerwis pauses, then says, "Your mother is ill."

And that was when everything went to hell.

Lirriel
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The Roots of Healing 3

((Posted 12/28/11 by Giulietta))

((Sorry for the giant break in story -- lots and lots of RL stuff happened. But here, have more story! Crossposted at rp-haven here. And if you just got here, here's the other parts: I,II. Constructive criticism welcomed and appreciated!))

 

Giuli was nervous -- nervous, and scared, and a number of other things. But in the hours leading up to her departure, it somehow all resolved down to being nervous about visiting. It had been years since she had seen the clerics of Northshire Abbey, and she wasn't sure how they would remember her -- if, in fact, they remembered her at all. Did they talk to each other about their old trainees? It seemed like they'd have better things to think about…though the fact that they had taken such an interest in her mother's case was an indication that they at least thought well of her family. 

Wasn't it?

She had agonized for hours over what to wear. It was a silly thing, true, but somehow it had seemed overwhelmingly important. At the Abbey, she'd never worn dresses -- she'd had quite enough of that growing up. Always too much fabric to handle, an opportunity to embarrass herself ambushing her every time she tried to move. Besides, at the Abbey she hadn't been a woman; she'd been a soldier. Soldiers weren't generally expected to dress like ladies. 

But Stormwind had changed her. The other Dragoons had changed her. Why, they even had the option of wearing a dress in uniform. It was unlike anything else she'd seen. And no one seemed to care if she got grass stains on her sleeves, or mud on her skirts. They -- well, they, like the clerics, had better things to think about.

Still, in the end, she chose a comfortable shirt and trousers. Better for riding in, she told herself firmly. 

Riding through the gates to Northshire felt almost like traveling back in time. She could feel herself shrinking back in her saddle the closer she got to the Abbey, trying to fit herself into the body of the girl she had once been. No, she told herself firmly. No. Straighten your spine. Act like what you are -- a Dragoon. 

The inside of the Abbey still smelled the same: musty like old books, a bit like the sweet-smelling grease that they used on weapons.  Giuli breathed it in, and sighed. This place was safe. This place had always been safe. 

"Giulietta." A deep, resonant voice surprised her, and she whirled around to find an unfamiliar cleric standing directly behind her. "I'm so pleased you've come."

"I -- I don't -- do I know you?"

He smiled gently, and shook his head. "No, you do not. I apologize. But I have been searching for you for several days now, so I know your face rather well." He inclined his head slightly. "I am Brother Aumed."

Giuli frowned at him, uncertain. "You're… new here. Aren't you?"

"Indeed. But I have kept myself busy regardless." He waved a hand inside the building. "Please, let us talk. It would be good to find somewhere private, I think."

Hesitantly, Giuli followed him. This wasn't going at all like she'd planned. She'd thought she'd at least see Brother Patrick, maybe Brother Michael, and they'd tell her what was happening. Instead, there was this stranger, and suddenly the Abbey wasn't feeling so safe anymore. 

Once they were alone, he turned to her with a slight concerned frown. "Tell me, Giulietta. How much do you know?"

Giuli twisted her fingers together. "I…I know my mother is sick. And I know that you need me."

The other man regarded her steadily for a moment or two. He was quite a bit older than her, Giuli judged; most of the clerics here were. The beard was a bit unusual, but he had that same untouchable tranquility that all the clerics did. It made her relax, just a bit. "Child," he murmured quietly, gravely, "I am sorry – truly sorry -- that you've suffered so."

And he meant it. And that just made everything worse for Giuli. Because, even though she'd come, and even though she'd told the Lieutenant that honor and duty would bring her here…love for her mother hadn't. She'd been suffering -- but mostly because of guilt, that she couldn't be a better daughter than she was. 

Brother Aumed didn't comment on the way her face crumpled, and for that she was thankful. She hugged her arms to her sides, determinedly looking down at the cleric’s increasingly blurry shoes. She felt a large, warm hand on her shoulder. “I am sorry,” he repeated, “but I must still be sure that you know what is happening.”

She nodded wordlessly.

“Your mother is very, very ill. Her life is in grave danger. And we’re not sure what exactly is causing the sickness. We do know, however, that use of the Light is meeting with…limited success.”

Giuli blinked rapidly, and shook her head in confusion. “Wait – what’s that mean, ‘limited success’?”

Brother Aumed sighed heavily. “It means that we can merely stave off the inevitable.”

“The inevitable.” Giuli considered that word for a moment. “Do you mean…death?”

Brother Aumed hesitated before answering. “Yes.” His voice was tired and heavy. “If we don’t find another way – if you don’t help us – then yes, she will die.”

Reality slammed into her with all the finality of a brick wall. “I see,” she said very quietly, dread heavy in the pit of her stomach. This was it. Her mother, coming up against the end of her days, and no one could help her but Giuli. Little Giulietta, who’d never been all that good at healing anyway – she’d tried, she’d tried as hard as she could, and she’d only ever been able to close up the most superficial of scrapes. The Light never seemed to want to obey her unless she was in a full-throttle rage, the kind that pushed all the way through hot and into ice cold. Anything less, and the power always seemed to slip away between her fingers – just the way her mother’s life would. She might as well try to climb a rope made of water…

“Giulietta.” Broad hands shook her sharply, but gently. She looked up with a start, to find Brother Aumed’s grey eyes peering at her intently. “Listen to me,” he said softly. “You can do this. I have faith in you.” The way her said that word, faith, was like magic. Like a word of power, something with purpose in it. “All the clerics will be there with you – and anyone else you might want by your side. We will lend you our strength, and our power. You have only to be your mother’s daughter – and in this, you cannot fail, no matter what might have passed between you.”

Giuli’s heart was pounding. Yes. Yes, she could do this. How could she not? Clerics were not quick to praise, and even less quick to have faith. If he was asking her to do this, there had to be a reason for it. All she had to do was say, yes, yes, tell me how, tell me when.

But then, oddly, she heard a voice in the back of her head. A voice that sounded an awful lot like Lieutenant Goldengale. Do not let them pressure you into anything.

Surely this wasn’t what the other woman had meant. And yet…and yet, Giuli was starting to get that feeling she sometimes got, that life was carrying her along with it rather than her telling it where to go. So far, life had never carried her anywhere good when she just let it run on its own like that.

Giuli took a step back, dislodging Brother Aumed’s hands. The man’s brows knitted together. “I’m sorry,” Giuli breathed, then swallowed and made herself explain. “I – I need to think. I need to cool my head and think.”

If Aumed was disappointed or annoyed, he didn’t show it. Instead, he merely clasped his hands in front of him and bowed his head. “Of course. Please do.” He hesitated. “Time is short, but we are not yet at the end of our abilities. I would have you do nothing in haste that you wouldn’t do otherwise.”

She nodded at him and, not knowing what else she could possibly say for herself, fled.