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Bending But Never Breaking
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JewellRavenlock
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 06, 2017 6:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

She watched the truck approach, appearing to wait for it to pass, but at the last moment, she stepped off the curb, directly into its path. It slammed into her petite, battered body, smashing her bones and crushing her organs with the force of the impact. First, there was shock. Then a pain excruciating enough to block out the constant, mental torture that had driven her off the curb in the first place. It was so strong. It consumed her. Then, as her blood spread across the cobblestone street where she lay, it too receded.

Her heart faltered before finally coming to a stop, bringing sweet relief.

“Mira?”

She blinked, watching the large truck pass by on the narrow street. It snapped at the skirt of her dress as it sped along, almost tugging her with it. She looked up at the knight, who was watching her carefully, concern etched in his brow. “Hmm?”

“We can cross now,” he gestured to the street.

“Oh.” They were out on their afternoon walk, a recommendation of one of her doctors. The sun was shining, although there was still a chill to the air. “Sure.” She shook her head free of the errant daydream, taking the knight’s arm as they stepped off the curb.

It was an unwanted thought similar to so many others that flitted through her mind these days.

Last week, she was helping Sapphire prepare dinner when she paused halfway through slicing a red bell pepper to consider sliding the sharp knife up her wrists. She knew just where to cut. It would only take a second. The cutting board was already stained with red. What would be a little more? Even with the teen standing right there, it was unlikely she’d be able to stop the flow of blood in time before she died.

Yesterday, when the sun was going down, Jewell leaned over the side of the balcony to gaze at Little Elfhame spread out below. She admired the way the buildings turned to gold and reasoned that it would be rather painless if she tumbled right over the edge. All she would need to do is sit on the parapet, swing her legs around, and push. Hopefully, she’d be unconscious before her body hit the ground.

And every day, when she took the handful of medication needed to keep her heart going in the morning, her dull grey eyes wandered over to the row of painkillers on the counter. She knew it would only take a moment to ingest the extra pills needed to slow her struggling heart down so much that her body didn’t get the oxygen it required. Her skin would start to turn as blue as her natural hair. Her legs would give out beneath her. In her last moments, she would feel cold and breathless, but she would feel numb too. Then it would be over. It would all be over.

On and on and on the ideas came to her wherever she went and at every time of day: when she was in the shower in the evening, when she was getting dressed in the morning, when she was walking along the river in the afternoon, when she stepped into a dueling ring at night. The thoughts were there. They were there every single day.

They promised an end to the pain. It was too great. It was ever present. The weight of what the Temple had done to her hung over her head. The violation of her mind, body, and soul afflicted her every waking moment, making her vulnerable and filling her with self-loathing. Her heart was broken. Her body struggled to work. She was alone and lonely. She was worthless, damaged, tainted, and used.

The thoughts tempted her with the sweet relief she desired and craved. They offered her the escape she needed.

She did not act.

She did not step off the curb, move from slicing the pepper to her wrists, push herself over the edge, gobble down those extra pills, step into an oncoming thrust in the rings, wrap a noose around her neck, or any other of the countless, unrelenting suicidal daydreams her anguished mind suggested over and over again.

Jewell had neither the will to take her own life nor the desire to die. She actually wanted to live. She just didn’t want to live like this.

So the thoughts persisted.

“Mira, would you like to rest a moment?” the knight offered kindly when they reached the opposite sidewalk. “You seem tired.”

She sighed, glancing at a nearby bench. It was too warm already to imagine that she could sit there and succumb to the elements if she waited long enough. Few people froze to death in April. “No, Merai. I would rather just keep going if I can.”
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 07, 2017 11:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

“Okay, so then we just burn it?”

“Yeah, that’s what Eva and Mase said.”

Sapphire laughed, “Sounds like fun.” She poured a little chemical mixture from her workshop on the man’s button-up shirt that was crumpled up in the plastic bucket on the patio. “What about the rest of that stuff? Are we burning it too?”

Jewell looked down at the box on her lap. Inside was everything she gathered from her house that was connected to Kal. Several pairs of earrings, including the heart-shaped sapphires he bought her when she hit Sapphire rank in the Outback and the pair made up of a simple platinum chain and setting for blue pearls which he gave her for Beltane two years ago. Several shirts pilfered from his loft in addition to the one they were about to set on fire. A piece of paper with his handwriting on it. A pressed, dried magnolia flower. Newspaper clippings and tabloid pages. Several photographs from different events: the two of them kissing on New Year’s at EgoTrip, dancing at Rand and Val’s wedding, cheering on Royal Pain at a Hydra fight last summer, Jewell helping him out of the ring when Claire took Old Temple from him, fighting each other in the last Diamond Quest, her arms around him after she won Overlord for the first time. Then there was a drinking glass from The Line. An empty tin that once held breath mints. An unopened bottle of Badsider inside a velvet-lined, wooden box.

It was the sum total of their relationship. It was all she had left.

Except the memories.

His thumb brushing lightly across her cheek where she had been cut by iron. His hand wrapping around her smaller one when Sapphire was hurt last summer. A million midnight kisses. The way they moved effortlessly together when they danced. Late night swims and early morning dueling practice. The sound of his laughter and the shade of his eyes. Her fingers running through his hair. His voice calling her home.

“No. I’m not burning this stuff.”

“You gonna toss it though?” Jewell shook her head. “Okay. We can always burn it later or take a hammer to the rest if you change your mind. Whatever works. I’m gonna go get the matches.”

The teen disappeared inside and the faerie looked over the box again, picking up one of the pictures. In it, a red-headed version of herself was standing with Kal, Kheld, Matt and Sylus. She didn’t need to flip it over to know what was written on the back in her neat handwriting: “Team Hydra; Hydra 2014”. They were all posing for a photo op. She was standing next to her new mentor (who towered over her) with the golden scepter of Old Temple in her hand and the biggest grin on her face.

Jewell sighed, shoving it back into the box as Sapphire emerged waving the pack of matches. “Let’s do this!”

“I hate matches,” the faerie grumbled as she set the box aside stood over the bucket with Sapphire.

“Just light one up.”

She did so gingerly, careful not to burn her fingertips. When she tossed the lit match into the bucket, the thing erupted with a woosh! and a burst of flames, sending both women skittering back away from it. “Whoa!”

Sapphire laughed, “Maybe I put too much of that stuff on it.”

Jewell grinned, the heat from the flames warming her face. “Maybe just a little.”

They watched it together quietly. Sapphire reached over and touched her arm. Jewell stepped closer and leaned against her. “Thanks… for doing this with me.”

“No problem.”

She didn’t feel any relief or freedom from doing this. Maybe that would come later.

Her brow suddenly furrowed in concern. “Hey, is the bucket supposed to be melting?”

“****!”
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 09, 2017 4:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“Sapphire?” She called out, not sure where the girl had closeted herself.

“In my room!”

She reached the top of the stairs, pausing to catch her breath before moving down the hall to the teen’s bedroom. She was fiddling with the napkin in her hand when Sapphire looked up from her workbench. “Hey. Um… if you have a minute, do you think you could maybe use your comm device for me? Or let me borrow it?”

“Sure.” She set aside the pair of needlenose pliers she was using on a small circuit board covered in elvish runes. “What for?”

Jewell took a deep breath, the admission coming with the exhale: “Crispin gave me his number.” She paused, unsure. “I thought… I thought maybe I’d like to meet him for tea.”

The teen reached out, accepting the napkin from Jewell with a too-wide grin. “Is that what they’re calling it these days?”

“Stop.” That wasn’t what she wanted from Crispin. Not now. Maybe not ever. She actually wasn’t sure what she wanted from him. Conversation, mostly. Conversation with someone who could legitimately relate to what she was experiencing. Someone who could come close to understanding the tumult in her mind. Someone who didn’t make her feel less than because of the trials she had gone through and the scars left behind. Someone who didn’t tell her to just move on and get over it. “Just… I just want to talk to him, so can you send him a message for me? Please?” She paused again. “Without the innuendo?”

Sapphire laughed. “Sure.” She dug her through the pile of spare parts she was working with, locating the device under some springs, and shot off a quick message to the number on the napkin.

Sapphire to Crispin: hey emo rock guy, this is sapphire. j wanted me to say hi.

Fifty minutes went by without a response. Jewell wandered back downstairs after ten of those minutes and a reassuring explanation from Sapphire that communication via digital message was not always instantaneous and she was sure Crispin was not ignoring her. At least not on purpose.

To Sapphire: Is that so? Good morning to you both.

“Hey mama?” No response. “MAMA!” she practically shrieked. “HE RESPONDED!”

Ishmerai was the one to shout back at her this time, “She is resting on the couch. She said come downstairs.”

“Unngh.” The teen dragged herself up from her workbench and plodded down the stairs as requested, plopping on top of Jewell’s legs on the couch.

“Oomph. You’re heavy.”

“He responded. I’m gonna respond back, okay?”

Jewell propped herself up against some pillows, suddenly more alert. “Yeah. I mean, sure.”

To Crispin: yep! also hi! this is my comm number. J doesn't have one cos she's a dinosaur.
To Crispin: she wants to meet you for tea. says that's not a euphanism (sp?) for something else.
To Sapphire: I've rarely met a faerie with one.
To Sapphire: I'd like that. Preferably without the attached euphemism.

Sapphire rolled her eyes.

“What? What did he say?”

“Nothing. You’re both just boring is all.” She didn’t bother to cover her yawn before her fingers were flying over the keys again.

To Sapphire: Did she mention when, or where?
To Crispin: wow. you're both so exciting.
To Crispin: when's good for you?
To Sapphire: I never claimed I was.
To Sapphire: Wednesday afternoon?


“He wants to know if Wednesday afternoon works.” She glanced up from the screen.

“Oh. Um.” Jewell bit down on her lip. She had been hoping to see him sooner, but things were rather crazy right now. She had her Madness duel tonight, Rachael’s challenge sometime this weekend, and the Diamond Quest on Sunday. “Actually, Wednesday will probably be good cause I’ll be back on my feet after the Quest by then. Hopefully.”

“Can’t believe you’re going after a Diamond.” Her blue ponytail swung back and forth as she shook her head. “You really are crazy.”

“It’s not crazy.”

“At least two intense sword fights this weekend and then the Diamond Quest? That’s crazy. You still have trouble walking up the stairs, and you can’t even hold your scepter.”

“I can hold the damn scepter if I want to,” she grumbled. “Just tell Crispin that Wednesday will be fine please.”

“Fine.”

To Crispin: sure. she should be less dead after the DQ by then.
To Crispin: where do you like to have your "tea"
To Sapphire: The venue I frequent tends never to have any down time.
To Sapphire: I should not like to subject her to a crowd.
To Sapphire: Teas and Tomes, however, is often quiet.
To Crispin: yeah, she's pretty jumpy and stupid around people sometimes lol.
To Crispin: She'll meet you at the Teas place.
To Sapphire: Between noon and one o'clock?

“Between noon and one o’clock at Teasn and Tomes work for you?”

“Yeah, that’ll be good. It’s quiet there.”

To Crispin: sounds good. it's a date.

Jewell leaned forward to see why Sapphire was suddenly grinning, glancing at the screen. “Wait! Why did you call it a date? It’s not a date.”

“Unnnngh!” she pulled the comm device away from her. “Stop spying!”

“It’s my conversation!”

“That you’re making me type.”

“So?”

“Sooooo… you’re impossible and next time you do this on your own. Better yet, get your own comm device.”

She sighed, “Just tell him it’s not a date. Please?”

Sapphire groaned, “You ruin all my fun.”

To Crispin: but not a date
To Crispin: she wanted me to add that
To Sapphire: I'm well aware, she can rest easy.
To Crispin: SIGH! neither of you are any fun

“Huh. He stopped responding.”

“Well what did you say to him?”

“I told him neither of you were any fun.”

Jewell sighed again, “And you wonder why he stopped responding?”
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PostPosted: Mon May 01, 2017 3:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“I just… what did you expect from him? What did you think him not loving you all this time meant?”

“I don’t know.” Her face was hot and red. Dark strands of hair were clinging to her wet cheeks as she looked up at Sapphire. “Something else. Like… that he just didn’t love love me. Like we weren’t going to be soul mates or something or get married or build a life together. And I was okay with all that. I don’t need that kind of love… but that doesn’t mean I wanted his indifference. His apathy. His complete,” her whole frame shook, “lack of caring. I thought we were at least friends,” she wiped uselessly at her eyes but the tears worked their way out, unabated, “but apparently I don’t even deserve that.”

“Oh mama.” Unlike when she cried on Monday night and Kal just stood there, watching her, Sapphire settled on the floor next to her and leaned into her.

She appreciated the comfort of the girl sitting next to her, but the tears had already started and they had to see it through to the end now. “Every time I think I’m getting better, it just comes crashing down on me all over again. Why? Why doesn’t he care about me? Even a little?”

Sapphire stretched her legs out in front of her, rocking her running sneakers back and forth. She started slowly and carefully. “I think that he does… I mean, he has to. How could he not? You’ve been friends for too long. And why else would he have helped you? Why would he have saved your life when he didn’t have to if he didn’t care?”

“But if he saved me because he cared… why not visit to make sure I was okay? He’s sneaky. He could have done it without causing trouble. He could have done it if he wanted to. He just didn’t want to. He didn’t even want to wait two weeks to say goodbye. He was doing me a favor waiting that long. He said he didn’t want to compound things. How…” her voice broke, “kind! As if all of this was just going to go away once I was out of the hospital. As if I’d suddenly be able to handle it. As if I wasn’t going to still be so… so broken!”

She rested her forehead on her knees and just sobbed while Sapphire grasped for something to say. Something to explain the unexplainable. “Maybe… maybe that’s just his way. Maybe he doesn’t know how to show he cares.”

“Well, it’s the ****ing worst way ever!” She sat up, wiping her nose on her sleeve, the epitome of a fine faerie lady. “If he really cared about me, how could he just walk away when I needed him like that? I told him I needed him and he just stood there and watched me cry. And it’s not like…” her gasping breaths approached hyperventilation level. Sapphire rubbed her back, trying to get her to calm down, but she let her keep talking. She needed to get this out. “It’s not like I needed him there as a lover. I couldn’t **** even if I wanted to. I didn’t need a lover. I needed my friend. And I tried to tell him that. I tried. And he just looked at me. He told me we would have just had our conversation sooner. And he told me that he was seeing someone new. And he just watched me cry like I meant… nothing.”

She folded her arms on her knees and buried her face against them, the last of her lament muffled. “I just… I want this to be done. I want him to go away. And I want him to come back. I want to have never met him. I want to forget all of this. I just…” her shoulders shook, “I can’t do this anymore. He gave me my life back but I still don’t have it back and I want it back. I need it back. And I just wish none of this ever happened so I could move on.”

“I know.” Sapphire sighed and kept rubbing her back, letting her just cry it out. Eventually, she was spent. Her sobs quieted. Her too-thin frame didn’t shake so much. “Mama, I don’t think we’re going for our run today. Do you want one of your chocolates? You could try to go back to sleep for a little while.”

She sniffled, trying to control the trembling of her mouth that was the precursor to another round of sobs. “O-kay.”

The teen drew the curtains while Jewell pulled off her running shoes before climbing back into bed. The sweet taste of the chocolate mixed with lavender calmed her breathing and slowed her mind enough that her tears dried on her face. Sapphire sat with her until she drifted off to sleep.

Jewell wasn’t sure how much time had passed before she heard the door open and lifted her head immediately off the bed: groggy, confused, and alarmed. “Just me,” Sapphire’s familiar voice came from the twilight shadowed room.

“Time for dinner?” she asked but the teen didn’t answer, walking right past her and disappearing into her closet. She could hear her rifling around in there, but ended up burying her head back under the blankets, unconcerned. If it wasn’t time for dinner, then it was time to sleep more while she could. While the sun was still up and keeping her demons and nightmares at bay. While the lavender was still in her system, fighting off her next panic attack.

Ten minutes later, Sapphire was standing next to her bed. “Get up.”

“Ungh.” She grunted at the teen. She had already forced her out of bed this morning for the run that had not happened. She wasn’t going to be forced out of her bed now. She finally felt empty. The crying jag had released all the turmoil building up inside of her the last few days. Now she wanted to rest and enjoy the numbness.

The sharp slap to her leg made her jump, throwing the blanket off her. “What the hell?”

“I said get up.” Sapphire tossed an outfit onto the bed: a sequined skirt and a loose, low cut top. “Wash your face and then we’ll put some ice on your eyes. We’re going out.”

“What? Where?” She stared at the outfit. “Where are we going dressed like that?’

“I contacted Issy, Val, and Eva. We’re going to the strip club.” Jewell stared at her, blinking and confused. The teen laughed, heading for the door, “Get dressed, mama. We’re getting your groove back tonight and then you’re moving on.”
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PostPosted: Mon May 01, 2017 9:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The sun was coming up over RhyDin. They couldn’t quite see it, but it lit the paving stones on fire just a few feet away from where they were sprawled on lounge chairs, bare legs stretched out before them with a heat lamp (and all the alcohol they had imbibed) keeping them warm. Ishmerai had abandoned them outside earlier when they insisted that they weren’t going to go to sleep but just drink more until it was time to go to the radio station for the latest episode of Too Blue. And giggle. A lot. At least they were close enough to the sober side of being drunk now where semi-rational conversation was possible again.

“Why is this so hard? Why are you are you worrying about it so much? You just put on clothes and then you do the thing!”

Jewell groaned loudly as Sapphire quizzed her on what she was going to wear in her challenge against Sabine that night. The topic had already been discussed ad nauseum at the strip club with Issy, Val, and Eva with even Mason joining in, but she was no closer to deciding now than she had been then. She used to take an odd pleasure in getting dressed. There was a satisfaction to be found in putting together an outfit that made her look good. There was something fun about trying to strike the right balance between feminine and fierce. A balance between wearing something beautiful and something functional.

“Because… I just am. Everyone is going to be watching me.”

And I'm so skinny. I'm so tired. I'm so worn out looking. I'm so damaged.

“Mama, it’s like...” she huffed, her alcohol fuzzed brain dragging the words out of reach. She tried again, “You’re just so afraid that when everyone looks at you, all they see is the stuff that happened to you or what you did instead of like… you.”

It was true. These days, Jewell just wanted to use clothes to cover herself. To not be seen. To hide. From the scars on her skin and the ones on her heart and the ones on her soul. She wanted to drape her too-thin frame in enough fabric that she simply disappeared. She didn’t want everyone to see: the damage, the trauma, the taint the Temple’s touch had left behind.

Sapphire wasn’t done, “And you’re so much more than that. Actually, you’re not any of that at all. So maybe you should just wear something that will make sure they’re looking at just you and thinking about nothing else but you and who you are in that moment.” She lifted her Badsider as if for a toast: “The Empress Overlady, kicking ass, being awesome, and looking smoking hot. Then they won’t be able to think about anything else, you know?”

Jewell chewed over that for a little while. This could be it. A moment to reclaim a little bit of herself. A moment to stop hiding and own who she was and maybe even own what had happened to her. She could stop being so ashamed of it or at least pretend not to be. She could stop saying, “Don’t look at me!” and instead proclaim loudly, “Look at me. Look at what I’ve survived. And look at how mother ****ing spectacular I still am.”

As she had several times over the last ten years, she remembered Koy’s timeless advice: Looking good is not dependent on being happy.

She didn’t need to just look good, though. She needed to look amazing.

She needed to be unforgettable.

“You know, Lil Blue? You’re pretty smart sometimes.”

“Indeed I am,” the teen laughed, lifting her Badsider for another sip. “Does that mean you know what you’re going to wear?”

“Oh, I know what I’m going to wear.”

Sapphire arched a brow at her in question.

“Absolutely nothing.”
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PostPosted: Wed May 03, 2017 1:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“That is amazing progress, Jewell. I’m so impressed.”

She allowed herself a pleased smile at the praise. “It’s not been easy. Sometimes, it makes me feel so exposed. And weak. But it also feels like…” Her gaze drifted towards the window as her fingers played with the hem of her shirt sleeves, tugging on them as she organized her thoughts. “It’s like every time I tell someone I trust? Even if it’s not the whole story, even if it’s only part of the story, it takes a little bit of that burden away from me and gives it to them to carry for me. To carry along with me.” She looked back at Dr. Bronner, “Does that make sense?”

“It does.”

Jewell took a deep breath, nodding. “So that’s what I’ve done. I’ve given it away bit by bit. And Mother of Nature, it’s such a relief.”

Helen smiled knowingly. “It’s not completely gone though, is it?”

“Noooo,” she stretched the word out. “Not really. I don’t think it ever will be. It’s like I always have more to give away? And it’s still always there, crushing my chest.” When she raised her hand to indicate where it hurt, her fingers didn’t come to rest over her heart. Instead, they brushed a spot lower on her ribs. The spot where Kal had stabbed her. “Sometimes it’s strong enough to take my breath away, but sharing it lessens the burden. It makes it more…” she struggled to land upon the right word, “manageable.”

“Manageable is good.”

“It is.”

“This is all very different from how you’ve handled things in the past, yes?”

“Just a little,” the faerie grinned.

It was different.

It was different from when she had found out her children were dead. She had pretended nothing was wrong for weeks before mentioning it to some of her closest friends, but she never told them exactly what had happened. About all the journeys she had undertaken and the trials she had endured in her attempt to save her kids. About why they had died and how she had failed them. About the crushing guilt that wouldn’t ever go away. About the way she had cracked a little when her cousin had said the words and she realized she wasn’t a mother anymore.

It was different from when she first came back to RhyDin: empty, missing her children, a shade of who she used to be, her magic locked away. She hid in the RhyDin Imperial Hotel for months, refused to reveal herself to her friends for weeks, and never told a soul exactly what had happened during those two hundred years she had lost to Faerie.

It was different from when she had sold her name to get her magic back last year. She didn’t tell her friends how her soul had been violated, how her magic didn’t work the way it was supposed to anymore, how she had the blood of the members of the Temple of the Divine Mother on her hands, how she still slept with the lights on because the nightmares never stopped.

It was different because Jewell was not left alone to her own destruction. Not this time.

“It’s still hard, but I like not being alone. I like telling someone. I like having them know. I like not isolating myself. There’s just this… security in knowing I don’t have to face this by myself if I don’t want to or maybe on days when I just can’t. Because those days happen. They happen a lot.”
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PostPosted: Wed May 03, 2017 3:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

She ran her fingers over the strings.

“It’s a six-string electric, but you know… adapted to be used here,” Sapphire explained, gesturing around to the tech-null area that was Little Elfhame. “Maybe not the easiest thing to start with, but you’ve played other instruments before, so I figured it shouldn’t be too hard and it’s pretty.” She paused. “The sound’s real good too.” Jewell nodded, never taking her eyes off the instrument in her arms. She could see Sapphire fidgeting in her periphery, twirling one of the bracelets around her wrist. “I thought maybe we could practice together.”

“You had it made just for me?”

The teen nodded, her smile bashful. “Yeah. Put the request in for it a few weeks ago. It took them a while to get the color right.”

“Why?”

“Because the normal blue was kind of plain and I thought…”

Jewell’s lips curled in a smile as she shook her head. “No. Why did you do this?”

“Oh. Well… because,” Sapphire rocked back on her heels, thumbs hooking into the pockets of her jeans, “music can help you. You need a healthy outlet for your emotions. Punching people is all well and good, you know? And I know it makes you feel better, but playing... it’s more constructive.”

She still didn’t look up at her. Instead, she admired the maple fretboard and the sexy curves of the body of the instrument. She stroked the smooth, polyurethane finished alder wood, tracing the subtle, gradient blue: midnight along the back, sky at the edges, metallic and light at the center. It looked like her hair. There were swirls of silver in the paint as well. Sparkling and alive. That was her glamour.

Jewell ran her fingers across the strings, eliciting a quiet strumming. A more constructive outlet. She was still weighed down with so much pain and rage and hurt. Fear too. She didn’t know what to do with it all. If she vented it in a fight, she’d probably destroy herself and everyone else in range. She finally looked up at the teen. “Can we start now?”

Sapphire’s eyes widened. “Now? Like right now?” The faerie nodded. “Sure!”
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PostPosted: Sun May 07, 2017 3:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“‘Beltane honours life.’ Surprise surprise,” Sapphire interrupted her reading. “As if we didn’t know that part. Are you sure we need to read this?”

“Just keep going.”

The teen grinned and Jewell rolled her eyes. The initial excitement over the May Queen announcement last night--when Sapphire opened a bottle of champagne that had bubbled all over the kitchen floor--had ebbed into a more restrained giddiness this morning. At Jewell’s request, they had pulled all the books that discussed Beltane from the shelves in the study and had them spread out around them as they curled up on the couch. With hot chocolate to fight off the late April chill, they took turns reading.

It wasn’t just enough that Jewell got to play the part of the May Queen this year at Beltane, she wanted it to be perfect. She wanted it to mean something.

Sapphire cleared her throat. “Okay, soooo ‘It represents the peak of Spring and the beginning of Summer. Earth energies are at their strongest and most active. All of life is bursting with potent fertility and at this point in the Wheel of the Year, the potential becomes conception. On May Eve the sexuality of life and the earth is at its peak. Abundant fertility, on all levels, is the central theme.’” The teen wrinkled her nose. “That’s a lot of talk about fertility.”

“Skip ahead to the part about the May Queen then.”

Sapphire ran her finger down the page until she found what she was looking for. “They’re calling her the Maiden Goddess here,” she snickered. “That’s you, right? The maiden?” Jewell just stared at her. “Maybe not. How about I keep reading?”

“That’d be great.”

“The maiden Jewell-- ow!” she rubbed her leg where Jewell kicked her before continuing, “‘is the manifestation of growth and renewal, Flora, the Goddess of Spring, the May Queen, the May Bride. The Young Oak King, as Jack-In-The-Green, as the Green Man, falls in love with her and wins her hand.” Her blue eyes widened, “The union is then consummated and the May Queen becomes pregnant.’”

The Empress blinked. That was not quite how it worked in Faerie. “Well that part isn’t happening for sure.”

Sapphire shook her head, “You shouldn’t rule it out.”

“I’m ruling it out.”

“Fine fine. Just ruin the entire event!” Jewell kicked her again. “Ow! Okay, sorry. I’ll finish reading. ‘For this is the night of the Greenwood Marriage. It is about sexuality and sensuality, passion, vitality and joy.’” Sapphire looked up from the book, “Sooo, are you going to let the Young Oak King show you his wood?”

The faerie smirked, “Maybe.”

“It’s about time someone did. Might as well be him.” Jewell shrugged, unwilling to divulge any plans or thoughts she had about consummating the Greenwood Marriage on Saturday with Canaan. “Okay, you read now. What does that one say about that chick? The goddess one?”

Jewell laughed, lifting the book off her lap. “That ‘chick’ is the goddess Flora. This one says, ‘The May Queen is Flora… She is the goddess of the flowers, and the princess of the Fae.’ And then… yeah, it’s just some more stuff about fertility. No thanks! You have the one on Creiddylad?”

“Mmmhm.” Sapphire shuffled a book off onto the coffee table so she could read the one beneath it. “Creiddylad, ‘represents self being the constant, central axis to life’s cycles. Nothing is permanent – lovers that come and go, our own emotional highs and lows, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ circumstances – they are all just a part of life’s seasonal changes. But what must remain is our love for self. We are our own central axis which everything changes around. We are our own best friend, our own lover.’” Sapphire snickered. “So maybe you need to just love yourself more.”

“Very funny.”

“Do you want me to get you a vibrator to help with that?”

“Sapphire,” she groaned.

“Maybe one of those magazines? 20 Ways to Better Mastur--

Jewell hit her in the face with a pillow. “Just keep reading.”

Sapphire’s face was red as she shoved the pillow aside, her grin too-wide as she found where she had left off, “Ahem! So, ‘Creiddylad is the eternal May Queen, always seeking peace and stability. She remains eternally constant in the face of all change. She is the promise of love…’ blah blah blah some boring stuff. ‘She endures through all hardship and despair.’ Huh, that last part sounds a lot like you, mama.”

Jewell smiled, pleased by the comparison. “I guess so. I did like that last paragraph, especially the part about constant in the face of change and seeking stability?”

“Yeah, that’s nice. I liked the part that came earlier,” she traced the page with her finger, trying to find it. “This one, ‘Nothing is permanent – lovers,’” she gave a pointed look at Jewell, “‘that come and go, our own emotional highs and lows, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ circumstances – they are all just a part of life’s seasonal changes.’”

“Mmm,” Jewell nodded, her grey eyes locking onto something over Sapphire’s shoulder as she thought about Creiddylad and about life’s seasonal changes. “I like that. It’s like it’s saying, ‘don’t worry, you’re going through a lot right now but this too shall pass.’” She smiled when she looked at Sapphire again, her grey eyes bright and clear. “Like, ‘Hey, you may feel stuck in winter, but your spring is right around the corner!’”


((Sources: Creiddylad – Goddess of Flowers & Self-Love, The Legend of the May Queen, Beltane.))
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PostPosted: Tue May 16, 2017 1:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

She filled her lungs with the cool evening air, fascinated by her ability to breathe and how good it felt. For the first time since she opened her eyes in the hospital, she was truly awake. There was no heaviness weighing down her limbs. There was no fog clouding her thoughts or medication to make her numb. Sounds were sharper and colors were brighter. She marvelled at the red rubies in the trees; the moonlight playing on the spider silk strings; the iridescent wings of a pixie darting past; the delicious, salty breeze off the ocean below the cliff and the way it tickled the hair at the nape of her neck; the lively green of the grass and the pure luxury of being alive to feel it tickle the bottom of her bare feet.

The magic of Beltane stirred Jewell. It flowed in her blood and seeped deep into her bones.

The primal drums, steady and strong, matched the beating of her healing heart, and she moved to their call. She did not hold back to the shadows tonight, a quiet ghost and shade of her former self. Gone was the weak and faded woman of February, March, and April. In her place was born an ethereal creature of May with fair skin turned gold beneath the flickering glow of the lesser fires, a red dress that moved around her like a living flame, and grey eyes sparkling with merriment and life. She moved as light as air amongst the crowd, greeting friends and acquaintances alike, barely touching the ground as she flitted through the clearing to offer a gift to everyone she encountered: a hug, a kiss, a Beltane blessing. Each was warm with the touch of the glamour clinging to her this evening, an enchantment that drew revelers into her proximity and imparted a piece of her energetic joy to them in return.

This was the night. Her night. This was the moment she had been desperately awaiting for three months now. For every winter, there is a spring. I have been stuck in winter, but tonight my spring begins. Tonight, she would lay claim to the life returned to her. She would shrug off winter’s lingering touch. She would cast aside the depression and anxiety weighing her down.

She had no need for such shackles any longer for she was the Queen of May.

The sylph standing up on the dais cleared her throat to get the attention of the crowd. When she spoke, it was pervasive. Among the people, among the trees, in the air. "Attention please! Make way for the Queen!"

Jewell’s cheeks turn red at Shae's call, but she grinned at everyone she passed as she made her way to the dais. Both the platform and the throne atop it were hewn roughly from the fat trunk of the same oak tree. She could see the fresh willow garlands and swags looping the head and armrests of her queenly seat from where she paused at the bottom of the steps, staring up. Her throne. Anticipation built in her chest, pressing on her heart. This was it. She raised her brows at Shae. “Up I go?”

Shae looked down from where she stood on the tree trunk dais and smiled at Jewell. The expression wide and wild. "Come, claim your kingdom!"

Yes, this is mine. My kingdom and my life. Taking a deep, steadying breath, Jewell climbed the dais to join Shae at the top. When she turned to face the crowd, she lifted her chin and there was a smile playing on her lips: confident and radiant.

Shae turned to pick up a crown of red and gold blooms that lay waiting on the throne of wood behind them. Stepping forward, she held it with care. "Revelers, mad delighters, pay heed, I pray. I present you all, your Queen of May." With that, she offered the crown with all due ceremony to Jewell.

“Thank you, Shae!” Jewell accepted the crown, holding it in her hands carefully. When she spoke up, her voice was loud and clear. “I am honored to wear the crown this year. This year especially because the May Queen…” Swelling emotion caught the words in her throat, forcing her to take a deep breath. This wasn’t just some simple, silly honor. Being queen meant something to her. It meant everything to her. When she continued, her voice was stronger, more passionate. “The May Queen is the symbol of rebirth and renewal. She has survived the trials and hardships of winter. She has endured the cold and the frost and the long nights that seem to have no end.”

“And after?” Her grin grew like a budding rose. “She rises again, slowly at first but eventually stronger and more beautiful than ever. Like a blossoming flower. Like the fires we dance around tonight. Like the great phoenix, she is kindled back to life. She cuts away the old, casts off that which is dying or dead or maybe just holding her back, and in doing so, she makes room for new growth.” She paused, letting her next words hang in the air, quiet but still crystal clear, “And new life.”

She raised the circlet of flowers up into the air, “Here's to life!”
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PostPosted: Wed May 17, 2017 11:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It was Monday. A normal, ugly, stupid Monday.

Beltane was over.

She drew the blanket closer to her face, closing her eyes and wishing desperately to sleep. There were nightmares there, but being awake was its own nightmare. One she wasn’t interested in facing today. It took too much energy to face it. Too much energy to even lift her head off the pillow. It was glued there. Stuck. Motivation was needed to lift it and Jewell had none. She could not force herself out of bed. Not today. There was no point. There was nothing waiting for her outside the comforting cocoon of her fluffy white comforter. It took all her strength just to tug it up over her face to hide.

She could not face this day.

Beltane was over and the magic was gone.

It had lasted through the week: The evening of Beltane fires and wild dancing. A night with Cane and Sal. Afternoons in Feygarten. A day at the Meadowmeet. Rousing fights at the Battle of Beltane. Through it all, no smile had been brighter than her own. No laughter clearer and more joyous. She had been alive again. Energetically, spiritedly, wholly alive.

But the glamour had been undone. She was not Creiddylad the Eternal May Queen. She was a silly fool. It had been a Beltane enchantment all along: the confidence, the radiance, the seizing of life and all its many opportunities. The illusion was shattered. The clock had tolled midnight, stripping her of the Cinderella spell. She was nothing but a broken woman with scar tissue on her heart and soul and a thousand bad memories she could no longer escape.

She was hollowed out. She was too keenly aware of how empty she was because she had been so recently full. Bursting to the brim with life. The holiday was over, taking with it all her vitality. A renewal of life! What a joke that was. She was no more able to face life now than she had been a week ago. Putting on that crown had not been a cure all. It had not cured her ailing heart or damaged soul. Beltane had not fixed her. The holiday had done one thing for her and one thing only: it taught her that she was capable of appearing and pretending she was fine if she wanted to, but she had to care enough to want to pretend.

Right now, she didn’t care. She didn’t care about anything. She was flat. She was a slug.

Ishmerai would come in soon. He would try to coax her out of bed. He wanted her up. He wanted her around people. But she did not want to move. She did not want to breathe. She did not want to pack so she could go visit Harris and Seirichi in Adenna. She did not care that Zan was in town. She did not want to put on clothes so she could meet Crispin for drinks later. The color had bled from the world again and she was just one big blah.

She wanted to be left alone to hide under the blankets forever.

“Mira,” the knight knocked on her door as he pushed it open, “Avani sent over that cinnamon roll bread you like so much.”

Right on time.
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PostPosted: Sat May 20, 2017 6:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“May Queen.”

The carton of eggs went flying into the air, making an impressive arc before hitting the ground on the other side of the kitchen with a series of crunches.

“Mother ****er!”

“Mama?” A pause. “Everything okay?” Sapphire called to her from the other room.

“Yes! Just startled.”

This was far from abnormal these days. Everything startled Jewell: a knock on the door, the chiming of the clock, someone saying her name, the bang of a trashcan on the street, the shriek of children as they dashed outside, the brush of a stranger’s arm in a crowd, the pan handlers in the marketplace, toast popping out of the toaster. On and on and on. A million little incidents that made her pulse race, her muscles tense, and her heart jump.

Hearing voices in her head was pretty much the top of the list though. The Namekeeper’s whispered commands were never far from her mind. She heard them waking or sleeping. Eilya Fitae Amaavian. Name your allies. Tell me their plans. Tell me what they can do. Now show me what you can do. Bend the water. Pull the blood from this man. Lie still. Do not move. Do not scream. Pretend you enjoy it. Fight this soldier. Fight five soldiers. Fight them with a sword. Fight them with your fists. Fight them with your magic. Protect the priests. Kill the intruders. Take out the witch. Summon some elementals. Kill him. Kill him. Kill him.

The deep, resonant voice of PathFinder was very different but it still shook her badly.

“Don’t do that,” she hissed at the unseen opal. Then she stared forlornly down at the carton of eggs. All of them were broken. “Damnit.”

“Who are you talking to in there?”

“Myself!”

Pause. “Oookay. Do you need a mop?”

“No. I got it.” She grabbed a dishtowel and knelt down, scooping up a few of the broken eggs that had escaped the carton and dumping them back in before mopping up the dripping yolks with the towel.

“My apologies,” the green rock sounded contrite. “I did not realize you were so easily startled.”

It was easy enough, now that she realized who was speaking, to continue the conversation in her head (so as not to arouse suspicion in Sapphire) even though it pained her to do so. She didn’t want anything or anyone in her head again. Ever. “**** happened. It’s made me jumpy. In fact,” she halted her task, fingers bunching up the dishrag as they formed a fist, “you’re partly to blame for all of this.” Upon realizing that, her renewed cleanup efforts took on an angry vigor.

It had been Koyliak’s suggestion that PathFinder (instead of ShadoWeaver, as Jewell originally imagined) might be able to help her when she had revealed to the Fashionista the precarious situation she had involved herself in with the Temple of the Divine Mother. So she had challenged for the green rock. Andrea had been kind enough to allow her to hold onto the opal in the days leading up to their duel, and The Empress had dared to hope that she would escape the coming months unscathed.

Only she hadn’t won the challenge, and despite Andrea’s offer to let Jewell hold onto the opal as long as necessary, she had been forced to return the gem to its rightful keeper because hen she had desperately asked PathFinder for help in protecting her from the calling of her True Name in the event that she did not win the duel, the opal had said no.

It wasn’t that he couldn’t. He just wouldn’t.

That was unforgivable.

“If you had just helped me when I asked, none of this would have happened.” Sitting in the loft above The Line, covered in soot and iron wounds and Ishmerai’s blood, asking Kal to kill her. The chains around her soul at The Namekeeper’s calling. Unspeakable deeds done in the dark of night. The fight at Sanctuary. A knife to the heart. Kal asking, ‘So, what brings you by, lass?’ like he didn’t know. All of it could have been avoided if PathFinder had just said yes. “So get the hell out of my head. I don’t want anything to do with you. Any of you. You’re all worthless.”

“I am sorry for the troubles you went through in February, child, but I am not sure now that I could have been of assistance to you even if you were my holder at the time. However, I do believe I can be of assistance to you now. I saw you at the Battle of Beltane. Your glamour is strong, but you are deeply hurt. You are struggling. Let me help you.”

“I don’t care. I don’t want your help! I don’t need it.”

“But--”

“I. Don’t. Want. To. Hear. It. GET OUT!”

And with a strength of mind most would doubt that she had these days, Jewell forcibly shoved the presence of the opal from her.

Perhaps he expected such an attack, but undoubtedly he did not anticipate the fury behind it. He retreated, sneaking back on the edges of her consciousness to whisper one more thing: “When you tire of being broken, you know where to find me.”

Then he was really gone.

Jewell stared down at the tiny, scattered pieces of white eggshell littering the floor, closed her eyes tight, and tried hard not to cry.
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PostPosted: Fri May 26, 2017 2:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“I thought a basic set of shield rings wasn’t really enough. Not for what I wanted.”

The Temple had made her feel unsafe. Not just in her city, which had always been a haven, but in her own body. She needed to change that and soon. She was tired of cowering.

The knight flattened the piece of paper out on the table. The drawings were precise with Jewell’s neat handwriting filling the margins around each of the ten rings. Her legs were tucked beneath her so she could lean forward, stretching across the table to point out the different features. “The ones on the right hand are a little more typical. Two rings for focusing my energy coming out,” she pointed to the one that she would eventually wear on her pointer finger and the thumb of her right hand. “While these three are for forming an actual shield of energy around me if needed. And they all store extra energy too.”

“Sounds practical.”

“The left hand ones are a little more… interesting. Since energy comes in through the left, I wanted these to protect me from any energy or… well, anything from entering my body.” She explained as if they both were not familiar with the natural flow of energy in the body. It helped make the theory she was working on clearer in her mind to repeat it. “The thumb one will protect my mind.”

“So no psychic attacks?”

“Right. It will shield my thoughts too.”

“Good idea.”

“This next one protects my chi,” tapping the pointer finger ring. “And this one protects my physical body,” she tapped the pinky finger one. “So that should actually help with poisons. I might still keep my other ring though too. Just in case.”

He nodded, twisting the paper to read the label on the one for her middle finger. “Your soul.”

Her features darkened. “Yes. No one has my name and they never will. Not again. But this is just extra protection.” Ishmerai reached across the table to touch her hand. She brushed him off. “The last one is for my heart.”

“But Mira, this is for incoming energy and attacks. That will do you little good if you allow yourself to fall in love again. That is outgoing.”

“I know. I know. These are just preliminary ideas of what I want them to do, though. And that one should at least protect me from empathetic attacks and maybe anything else coming at my heart.” She paused. “Including an iron shiv.”
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PostPosted: Fri May 26, 2017 3:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“Ugh!” she tore the little nodes they attached to her skin from her chest, tossing them away from her as she stepped off the running machine. Once the ground stopped moving beneath her feet, she doubled over, her palms digging into her thighs as she panted, sweat pouring down her face.

“That was terrific, Jewell.” She spared the therapist a scathing look in between trying to convince her stomach not to empty her meager breakfast onto the floor. “Come on. I told you that you have to be more patient with yourself.”

She didn’t have time for patience.

It wasn’t enough that she had defended her Overlord title three times since she had been hurt. It didn’t matter that she had fought a handful of people in Duel of Fists and won since she had been hurt. It didn’t matter that she had entered a Diamond Quest, made a good showing against Nayun and Harris, or that she could walk pretty far without losing her breath these days. It didn’t matter that Sapphire had reassured her that she actually was “a skinny little asthmatic badass.”

She was still weak. She was still infirm. She was still broken. She still couldn’t even jog without causing the machines to scream in alarm.

“It’s not… good... enough.”

“Jewell,” the physical therapist working at the place Eva had recommended her to folded his arms over his chest, “you have a hole in your heart. I’d say that what you’ve been able to accomplish is more than good enough. It’s actually pretty damn impressive considering the doctors still aren’t sure of the extent of damage the iron did.”

The doctors weren’t sure, but Jewell was sure: Permanent damage. Too much damage.

The stab wound hadn’t just stopped her heart. The iron had been in contact with too much tissue inside her body. It had burned whatever it had touched. It had scarred it. It could be years before it healed.

It could be forever.
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 13, 2017 12:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“Hello.”

“You are a bad ass bitch.”

“Don’t be sad.”

“You’re doing great.”

“You are strong and beautiful.”

“You are intelligent and funny.”

“You are worthwhile.”

“I love you.”

Jewell groaned, letting her forehead thunk down against her battered arms folded on the vanity surface. This was supposed to be part of her daily routine along with all the physical and occupational therapy she did. It was supposed to be helping.

She hated it.

Doctor Bronner reassured her that it would work. Eventually. She told her it was a common recommendation for victims of violent crimes to help with empowerment and self-esteem.

Victim. It was a terrible word, but it defined her now. Everything about her. She was a victim. That’s all she was. Someone harmed, abused, and broken by the Temple of the Divine Mother. Shattered glass shoved back together. A porcelain doll ready to break. She could feel the stress fractures spreading out from the scar beneath her ribs all the way to her fingertips.

She didn’t want to be defined this way. She didn’t want to be just another victim. Jewell wanted to be something more. Something greater. But her self-worth was gone, scattered far away and out of reach. She was left full of doubts, hopeless, anxious, weak, devastated, and scared. Things were never going to change. She was always going to be broken.

“No no no no no.” She propped herself up on her elbows, scrubbing her hands roughly over her face. This was only temporary. She wouldn’t be a victim forever. The Empress would rise above. She always did. She would rediscover herself or remake herself or re-define herself.

She would do whatever it took, and she would do it on her own.

Jewell lowered her hands, leaning forward against the vanity strewn with trinkets, jewelry, makeup, and a set of throwing knives. She stared at her reflection in the mirror: sun-kissed cheeks, a freckled nose, and slate grey eyes that had yet to lose their haunted look. She took a deep breath.

“Hello. You are a bad ass bitch.”
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 02, 2017 3:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The sun baked her oil-soaked skin.

It was nice on the beach. Nightmares didn’t attack her in the light of the midday sun. They couldn’t get her when she was floating in the water either, letting the murmuring waves cradle her broken body.

In the sea, she was queen. No one could touch her. Nothing could hurt her.

“Jewell? It’s time to turn over.”

“Huh?” She cracked an eye open and then smiled at the cabana boy. “Oh thanks Jared. Do you think you can grab me another drink?”

“Sure thing sweet thang.”

She giggled at the name, turning over so her back could soak up the sun a little more. She kept one eye open to watch Jared jog towards the small beach bar.

He had a nice butt.
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