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Uncovered (A Journal)
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Claire Gallows
Eternal Light
Ancient Wyrm
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Joined: 21 Feb 2013
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 14, 2016 8:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

November 8th, 2016

Dear Journal,

I think I am having an identity crisis. Kind of one of those “What do I want to be when I grow up” moments. I wear a lot of hats. I do a lot of things. But up until now they have all just sort of been… things I had to do at the time. What is my long term plan though? Once upon a time, I had my career with the Guardian Corps. I was right on the cusp of officer candidate school when everything back home went to ***. If I had had it my way, I would have kept with it until retirement. It was a good job and I was good at what I did.

When I came to Rhy’din, I briefly joined the Watch. I had other offers but public service seemed like the best way to go for me. It is what I knew, what I loved. I like helping people. Things with the Watch went awry though and I ultimately ended up quitting. Law enforcement in Rhydin is a fickle, tricky thing considering there are no actual laws here. It makes doing your job really difficult when more often than not it is based on your moral compass rather than by the proverbial book. When the Watch set free a man responsible for nearly ruining my life, that was when I decided I was done with them.

About a month and a half after I came to Rhydin, a man who called himself The Raven (spooky, right?) decided to threaten my friends and the city that had taken me in. My temper got the best of me, I went in guns blazing which was a foolish thing, of course. Where I could easily contend with the villains of my own realms, Rhydin was a whole different monster, literally. The details are still a little fuzzy to this day but something happened and I woke up in a dank, nasty sewer somewhere underneath the city. I only spent forty-eight hours tied up there but the things that happened will stay with me for eternity. I was beaten, tortured, assaulted in ways that I refuse to think about because they were that *** horrific. Thankfully there were people looking out for me. Not so thankfully, this Raven guy decided that he would tell my friends that I was still alive by cutting off one of my fingers.

Don’t worry, I got it back.

Anyways, Brian Ravenlock negotiated my release. When it actually occurred, I only remember bits and pieces because this… monster… got into my head so badly that I did not know up from down. I am pretty certain Katt Batten took a few bullets on my behalf, something I will never be able to repay her for. They ended up taking The Raven in too. Held him in lockup while deciding just what to do.

And then they let him go. Evidently almost killing someone (among other atrocities) warrants a slap on the wrist if the victim is too traumatized to speak up and say they want the book thrown at their assailant. Yay Rhydin, right? So I quit the Watch. Sure it meant I did not have a steady paycheck but I had saved up, I would be okay for a little while. Law enforcement here is a joke anyways and they have no proper military so the entire skillset that I had cultivated and amassed with the Guardian Corps went to waste.

A lot has happened since then. Some good, some bad, and I feel like I have made the best of my time here when I am not being forced to contend with gods and monsters and saving far off worlds. Is Professional Hero a thing? Never seen it on a job placement exam but hey, who knows. I have busted kneecaps for money, I have set up non-profits, I have modeled, I have mentored, I have made myself into some sort of sports star or something, I have opened a restaurant, I have invested in other businesses, I have done a lot. But I still do not know what I want to do with my life.

We are comfortable financially. Between the money I make through my various endeavours, the money made by the Rhydin office of Caelum Enterprises, and the support that Noct’s father offers, the children and I should be set for a long time. But someday I won’t be able to duel anymore, my name won’t draw money for signing events or memorabilia, and I will be nothing more than a prominent mark in the history books. I cannot predict the course that Lucis will take but without Noct, I have zero right to the money amassed by his family and I don’t feel as though King Regis will be able to help forever. They have a war to deal with. A war I cannot help with no matter how desperately I may want to. If Lucis falls, so too does the Caelum Dynasty. I can keep Caelum Enterprises running but so many of our people have ties to Lucis, I do not know what they would do should something far more catastrophic befall their homeland.

Anything I know about business, I learned from Noct and his people. The Sassy Owl Saloon makes a little bit of a profit but nothing major. Enough to pay the bills and the staff and a little bit extra for a rainy day. We own the building so we do not have to worry about a lease at the very least. That means that the apartment will be there if we need it, though I do not know how comfortable it will be once the twins get older. It is only a two bedroom and there is no space to add to it. We will see how the distillery fairs once it opens. The reception has been good for the brand so far, so time will tell if a full time taproom will do the same.

Maybe my calling is business and philanthropy. Between the Owl, the distillery, the orphanage, and the youth centre, I could keep my hands full for a long time. It isn’t quite saving the world but I think it could make an impact just the same. Would that be enough for me? It would mean that Averia and Alexander have their mom around. It would mean that we can put food on the table and keep a roof over our heads and still have enough to live comfortably. I might not be able to duel forever or be the so called gold digging baby mama that so many on the Lucis Council claim me to be but I can make it on my own. I think. We shall see, I suppose.

--Claire
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Claire Gallows
Eternal Light
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 14, 2016 8:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

An obligation to a man she barely knew took her to the Arena on a Wednesday night intent on playing the part of support or some such nonsense. In truth, she barely knew Nat Candle but he was up and coming in the Arena, an unknown variable with a kind smile and a fighting spirit. He had only participated for a short time in her Squire Tournament when she was Overlord, but still he had come out of it with her Overlord’s Grant so it seemed only required that she should attend the subsequent challenge even if she was no longer Overlord. While watching, Taneth had practically put her to sleep by toying with her hair but one question cut through the crowd to jolt her back to consciousness.

“Can I get something on record about what happened with your squire? Jimmy Kretz down at the magazine would love it for the spread he's doing on the new position.” It was not even intended for her but her eyes snapped open to seek the source in the crowd. Cory Sommers stood near Jewell Ravenlock with his voice recorder out. It made Claire’s heart leap into her throat only to sink like a stone into the pit of her stomach. It was not Jewell’s fault. Likely the current Overlord hadn’t the slightest idea as to what fate had befell Nikolai the elder. Claire did though. She made her escape to the Arena’s locker room before anyone could notice. Though it was hardly the epitome of privacy, she still shimmied free her phone from her pocket and stepped to the furthest reaches of the room, getting as far from the doorway and prying ears as she could before clicking the call button. Gio answered on the third ring.

“Shouldn’t you be at the Old Market Challenge right now?” Was his greeting. Claire took a deep breath, biting back the sarcastic response that was so instinctual in the face of Giovanni’s smarminess.

“Yeah, I am here actually. Well. I am in the in locker room, but it is in sudden death out there,” she answered, dropping to sit on a bench between a row of lockers. Many of them had seen better days, battered and vandalized by graffiti as they were.

“Okay, so let me rephrase; shouldn’t you be out actively spectating considering you gave the Grant to that young man?” Gio sounded annoyed in the way that he got when Claire knew she was interrupting him. Part of her felt bad. The rest of her remembered just how much she paid the man.

“No. I had to get away for a few minutes. The press is poking around about Nick’s disappearance.” She mumbled into the receiver. On the other end, Gio blew out a low sigh, quieting for a few moments as he did when he did not have an instant answer.

“What have they asked you?” He inquired. Claire tipped her head back against the wall to stare up at the ceiling.

“Nothing yet but he was asking Jewell for a comment on what happened with her squire. I did not stick around long enough to hear what she had to say but I am the one who appointed him and she was only his Overlord for a week and a half when he died.” Claire explained, her words spilling out as quickly as they touched her tongue.

“When he disappeared, Claire. We have no proof that he died, no body, nothing but the word of a hysterical teenaged girl with a history of substance abuse and mental health issues.” Gio reminded her, making her sit upright. If looks could have killed through a phoneline, Gio would have dropped dead in seconds.

“Don’t you dare, Diamante. Don’t you dare talk about Addie that way. You know nothing about what she has been through and what it is like to have to deal with everything alone as she has. Aside from that, yes, we do have proof. There was evidence that Nick’s essence passed through the veil to the other side. I took… steps… to ensure that he would be taken care of.” None of it was meant to come out as a snarl but it did, vicious and protective of her temporally challenged goddaughter.

“What did you do, Claire?” Gio asked after a pregnant moment of silence.

“I did what I had to do to keep a promise. My hands may have been tied as far as helping him here and now but I failed him once, Gio. I was not going to fail him again.” There was a gravity in her tone that told Gio it was better not to question her in depth as to what she had done. The less he knew, the better.

“Okay… very well,” Gio conceded. “So how do you wish to proceed then?”

“I do not know! Why do you think I was calling you?!” She squeaked before taking a deep breath to calm herself.

“All right. If he has not asked you anything, you have nothing to answer. Don’t offer any information freely otherwise.” He advised.

“And if someone asks? What do I say then? I was his Overlord first. He was my Second in my challenge. He was associated with my goddaughter and it won’t take people long to put together the connection between his last name and Kruger’s. ***! I do not think Kruger even knows. Gio, what do I do?!” It was easy to tell that her panic was rising again, bubbling like boiling water just beneath the surface until she was certain that steam was going to pour from her ears any moment.

“Firstly, I need you to breathe. It won’t do to get worked up over facts we cannot change, yes? Secondly, give me a moment to think.” Gio exhaled. “If someone asks you about Nick, Addie, his disappearance, her involvement, or the note put on the corkboard with their weapons… hmm. Let them know that while the facts behind such things are not immediately clear, that you are working to find answers to those questions but in the meantime, you hope nobody will jump to conclusions based on the little information that we do have. And then, let them know since this involves people quite close to you that you will not be commenting further and that you request privacy for you, yours, and your team at this time.”

“I… can you email that to me?” Claire asked. Outside of the locker room, a roar of the crowd drew her attention, likely announcing the end of the match. Her shoulders sank slightly before she sat upright, readying herself for the trek back out into the Arena. “I will practice it so I do not *** it up when they inevitably ask.”

“I can. Though, you do not know that they are going to ask you anything, Light. While he was briefly associated with you publicly, he had almost as long with Miss Ravenlock as well. She is capable of offering any comment she may have and likely, the less she knows about the situation, the better.” He said slowly, still thinking things over.

“So, we are just going to sweep this under the rug like Addie did not dump their blood covered squire weapons at the board with a vague note about how Nick isn’t coming back?” She asked dryly.

“We are not sweeping it under the rug. But in a place where people come and go at the drop of a hat, is it really so farfetched that he may just be gone?” Gio tried to be gentle in his question but it still cut deep.

“It isn’t… I guess. Do we need to get Addie on board with this too?” Getting to her feet, she scrubbed a hand over her face as if it might wipe away her fatigue.

“It may not be a bad idea. Oh… Light, by the way… those jersey requests came in…” He added hesitantly. It took her a moment to swallow the lump in her throat, answering him with a soft sigh.

“Have them sent to the Owl… I will… I will do something with them, I guess. I need to get going. Please send me that email and I will talk to you tomorrow or something.” She was suddenly far more tired than she had been. Thankfully the din was dying down in the Arena, she could likely sneak away undetected.

“I will do that as soon as we get off the phone. Claire, for what it is worth, I think you did what you could which is often more than most people can do. You did it, as you always do. Please do not blame yourself for the choices of others…”

“Thank you, Gio. I will try not to.”
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Claire Gallows
Eternal Light
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 14, 2016 8:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

November 9th, 2016

Dear Journal,

That guilt thing is getting to me again. No matter how I try, it won’t quiet either and I am reminded of it at every turn it seems. Gio says I should not blame myself for the choices of others but in this instance, I cannot help but feel like I could have done more to prevent what happened. I suppose such vagaries warrant a more in depth explanation so though I am tired, let’s do this.

As the 109th Overlord, I was given the opportunity to name the first ever Squire to the Overlord. I ran a two week long contest in which participants dueled, cheered, and got their history on in order to rack up points in hopes of becoming the first Overlord Squire. Such a position would come with a hefty prize purse and a shiny new shield as well as the opportunity to put that on their resume. Because, you know, that is evidently a thing. Among the participants for the squire spot were Michi D’Artainian (yes, like Harris D’Artainian but with boobs and a worse attitude problem), Dimitrii Sixtus (whom I had just unseated as Overlord), Grace Frigg (my former Magic mentee), Nat Candle (whom I gave the Overlord’s Grant to), Bailey Raptis (current squire of New Haven), and a boy named Nick.

At first I knew very little about Nick Allen. His last name was common enough but it bore just the sort of similarity to another Allen I know that it all sort of clicked in my head. Much like Adelaide of the future came back to our present time, it seemed Kruger’s son Nikolai had done the same in search of Addie. Such things are dangerous business and it was with no lacking amount of wariness that I allowed him to participate. In this time, Niko is only four years old, so to see him all grown up and pulling stunts in the ring like his father was rather surreal.

I thought that Michi or Six might win the whole thing but a second half surge on Nick’s part launched him into the lead and he ultimately ended up taking the whole thing. Leave it to an Allen boy to do that, right? I named him my squire and then asked him to come get the Shield of Gondar from me at the Sassy Owl. That made for an interesting conversation. He told me a little bit about why he had come back. Long of the short, Averia… or at least, the older version of my daughter, asked him to come find Addie. To make sure she was okay and to help protect her from what might be trying to hurt her.

Addie and her boyfriend Kane broke up here awhile back. I guess he was supposed to be her bodyguard as well but evidently duty goes out the window when it comes to broken hearts and so she has been struggling these past few months. That’s another subject for another day though because wow, talk about a huge mess.

Anyways. Back to Nick. Due to the things that I have done in the past, I can do very little that might upset the balance of the scales one way or the other. Already they tip precariously and my hand is a weighty one when it comes to the repercussions of my choices. My hands were tied when it came to helping him accomplish what he sought. So, he asked me to make him a promise. That I would find a way to get to the point from which he had left to do something for him. In the course of coming to 2016 from 2033, his father, who had been meant to come with him, was killed by whoever it is that has been causing so many problems for Addie (and Raven too, I think, but that is yet another story, you know?). He asked me to find Kruger, to make sure that he was not alone.

I promised.

Kruger Allen has always been something of an enigma. Though I have known him for more than three years, I know very little about him. Admittedly, some of that comes from a lack of effort on my part, but the rest comes from the facades that he dons so easily. It would be difficult to discern truth from tall tale with him. He has an odd thing for me. That’s another thing I have yet to come up with an explanation for either, but still. Some call it a crush, others call it an unhealthy obsession. Regardless, I do not know why I of all people would be the subject of such affections. That’s neither here nor there and hardly pertinent to the overall point of this story that I am rambling about, so let’s get back on track, Claire.

He is my friend. I could not let him die like that, or at least I could not let him be alone, left to the whims of those who had killed him. It was in the future though, one of many possible futures at that. So I had time. But then… everything blew up all at once. I do not even know what led to it all, but on the night before Halloween, I got a frantic message from Raven saying that Addie had been on her roof, hysterical and ranting about having killed Nick. She was covered in blood and impossible to understand. Raven said she jumped from the roof and ran off with Nick’s shield.

It took me a little time, but I tracked her down to the Arena where she ended up. She had just dumped the Shield of Gondar along with the sceptre of Old Temple in front of the Arena’s corkboard with a note. I had not had a chance to read the note when I saw her. Just as Raven had said, she was covered in blood and had obviously been crying. I could not get a clear answer out of her until I asked if she had killed Nick. She said she did, but Raven said there was no body on the roof and Addie had been babbling about him disappearing right out of her arms. It all sounded so crazy that it was hard to believe. Normally I am decent about getting her to talk to me, but she ended up shoving past me and leaving. I lost track of her shortly after but I should have followed her. Maybe it would have answered the plethora of questions that linger for me to this day.

Her note said that Nick was not coming back and that she quit her own squireship. No explanation beyond that. Just “Nick’s gone, I quit”. There was no sign of Nick anywhere. So… I looked elsewhere. I do not mean in Rhydin but rather in the realms beyond. While my power lacks in most in betweens, I can still get a feel for those traveling through them and sure enough… I found him. He was dead. I wanted to scream, to cry and to yank him back to Rhydin, to give him life anew and make everything better.

But I can’t. Not without paying a price far greater than anyone can comprehend. All of this cosmic power and I am bound by the laws. It is stupid. So… I found a loophole. I went to the date that Nick had asked of me months ago. Just as he had said, Kruger was dead, his forge destroyed, his body ruined. Whoever had killed him did so in spectacular fashion. It isn’t likely a sight I will ever forget. But I made sure he was not alone. In doing so, I found a way to help Nick in the process.

I got to see Alexander, far more grown than he is now. He must have been eighteen by then. I told him what had happened to Nick, swore him to secrecy. I told him there was a way to fix it but he had to wait to do it. He seemed to understand what I was talking about so at the very least it seems some future version of myself has at least passed on those gifts and lessons to my children. Small victory, I suppose.

But surely there was more I could have done. Should I have kept better tabs on Addie and Nick to make sure this would not have happened to begin with? Surely I could have, right? I am conflicted on it because I feel like I could have but Gio had a point. I cannot blame myself for the choices of others. For all of the power and resources that I have, I am not omnipotent. I am not all knowing, all seeing, and all powerful. I cannot stop every bad thing from happening and I cannot keep others from doing things that hurt them. I can try. I can try really hard. But I can also fail at it.

And failing is not necessarily a testament to my worth as a person or as a friend, a mother, a teammate, a mentor. I know this is true. But sometimes, my mind tries to convince me to the contrary. It is a mental battle that I wage every day and sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. Some days I think I lose more often than I win but I keep fighting. Because it is the only way that I can get to the days that I win. I am able to help and to save people despite those failures. That is what keeps me going.

--Claire
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Claire Gallows
Eternal Light
Ancient Wyrm
Ancient Wyrm


Joined: 21 Feb 2013
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Jobs: City Guard, Sword for Hire
Can Be Found: The Sassy Owl Saloon or Underwood Manor in New Haven
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 15, 2016 2:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“I do not want to talk to you.” Addie said instantly upon answering the phone. After six text messages and three missed calls, Claire had been sure it was going to go to voicemail again. Before the girl could hang up, Claire was quick to interject.

“Just a moment, that is all I want!” She said as fast as she could. For a moment she thought it was too late, that Addie had already hung up on her. After a few seconds though, a quiet sigh on the other end indicated that the call was still connected.

“I can’t handle being yelled at again, Aunt Claire. Please.” The girl sounded much older than her nineteen-almost-twenty years. It made Claire frown though Addie could see none of it.

“I wanted to apologize for how I spoke to you in the Arena… I can’t imagine what you are going through right now and I should have been more sensitive to that.” There was more she wanted to say, but she forced herself to be quiet. After all, she had told her that she only wanted a moment of her time.

“It is fine.” Addie said after a moment.

“No, it is not fine. It was uncalled for and for that I do apologize. You do not have to forgive me, I am not asking for that. I just wanted to let you know that I am sorry for how I acted and I wanted to see if there is anything I can do to help.” The more she spoke, the softer her voice got, the conviction bleeding away until it was but a whisper as she offered her assistance. Addie went quiet again.

“No, I do not think there is. I am… I am going to see Kruger tomorrow… to tell him.” On the other end, Addie sniffed. “He’s going to hate me…”

“Addie… you do not have to do that. Do you want me to tell him instead? It is a messed up situation and it is not your fault…” Loathe as Claire was to be the one to deliver the news to Kruger that not only had a future version of his son been in Rhydin but also that he was now dead, well, she did not want Addie to have to do it either.

“I need to do this. It is on me.” Addie whispered into the phone.

“Are you sure? I’d be more than willing to--”

“No. I mean, yes, I am sure. No, I do not want you to do it for me. I need to… to talk to him anyways. Nick would have wanted me to.” Addie swallowed hard enough that Claire could hear the gulp. Claire winced.

“If you are sure. If you change your mind, just tell me. I, um, I have something… something that was supposed to go to Nick. Did you want it?” The older woman held her breath. It was a coin flip for whether she would agree or if it would tip the teenager over the edge that she seemed to be wobbling upon.

“What is it?” Addie asked after a few moments of quiet consideration.

“I… um, I had a jersey made for him… to thank him for being my squire and my second…” Claire said slowly, listening very carefully to any of the subtle sounds on the other end of the call.

“Oh…” Her goddaughter said. That was not an answer but it also was not a breakdown. Something in the background sounded like the striking of a zippo’s flint. After a moment she exhaled a long, slow breath. It made Claire cringe but she held her tongue rather than point out the bad habit Addie had picked up. After another inhale and exhale, she sighed. “I can take that to Kruger if you want me to.”

“If… if you think that is the right thing to do… you can keep it, you know…” Claire said softly.

“No… I can’t. I can’t have that reminder. Look, I gotta go. I will come by and pick it up before I see Kruger. I promise. Bye Aunt Claire.” With that the line went dead.
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Claire Gallows
Eternal Light
Ancient Wyrm
Ancient Wyrm


Joined: 21 Feb 2013
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Jobs: City Guard, Sword for Hire
Can Be Found: The Sassy Owl Saloon or Underwood Manor in New Haven
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 15, 2016 2:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

November 10th, 2016

Dear Journal,

I am literally the worst ever. So. Remember how I talked about things with Nick and how he died and how everything with Addie is all messed up? Yeah. I called her today. It took a few tries but eventually she picked up. She almost hung up on me right away but I got her to talk eventually. I started off by apologizing. Because really, I was less than kind to her at a time when she needed a friend more than anything. Sometimes when I am worried, I have the tendency to go into commando mode where I focus too hard on the resolution and in turn I am brash and cold and mean. She deserves better. I do not think she thought much of my apology and truthfully I do not blame her.

She told me that she is going to talk to Kruger tomorrow… to tell him about what happened to Nick. I tried to offer to do it for her but she refused to let me help. She’s stubborn like her mother, I guess. It is also vaguely reminiscent of Serah, which I think is why I am having such an issue accepting that she may not want my help. In her time of need, I failed to be there for here and in trade, I may have done irreparable harm to our relationship.

They say that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. I have not forgotten though. I remember everything in excruciatingly painful detail. But still I find a way to commit the same grievous mistakes that I have made time and time again. So maybe that little saying needs to be tweaked and I need a firm slap upside the head or something. Try as I might to fix things, it seems I am simply doomed to repeat my sins over and over.

Maybe it will ultimately cost me everyone I have ever loved. That would be a suiting curse, all things considered. For all that I have done, for all those I have hurt, an eternal atonement and forever spent alone is a punishment befitting my crimes.

Or I gotta snap out of it because this is not Pulse or Valhalla or Eos. I am not subject to the judgment and whims of beings greater than me. I am not their pawn, I am not their puppet. I am not their slave or their play thing or something they can deride and guilt for the sake of getting their way. I deserve to be happy for once. Just this once. I have given and lost so much over the years that should I not be due for a little dose of Happily Ever After? I am not asking for a fairy tail ending, no, not in the least, but could the universe cut me a little slack at least? That is not too much to ask, I don’t think.

--Claire
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Claire Gallows
Eternal Light
Ancient Wyrm
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Joined: 21 Feb 2013
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Jobs: City Guard, Sword for Hire
Can Be Found: The Sassy Owl Saloon or Underwood Manor in New Haven
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 15, 2016 2:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“Hello?” Claire hadn’t expected a call from Addie, not so soon at least. But sure enough, the girl’s image popped up and Claire answered immediately.

“I did it.” No greeting, no pleasantries, just straight to business. Addie’s voice sounded hollow, lacking warmth or really any emotion.

“Wait, what? You did what? Oh! Crap. You stopped by Kruger’s, didn’t you?” It took Claire a moment to catch up but once she did, she grimaced as she awaited the response.

“Yeah…” It didn’t seem possible but her voice deflated further.

“Oh… how did it go?” Claire asked gently, afraid of the answer.

“It… went. I don’t know. He’s mad. Hurt. Quiet in that way that he gets when he thinks he might blow up. He didn’t yell… which I think might be worse than if he had yelled...” Wind caught Addie’s microphone, crackling interference over her voice to drown out whatever else she said.

“Are you okay?” Came the inevitable follow up.

“No. I’m not. I have to go. Bye.” Before Claire could protest, Addie hung up. Leaving Claire with her unanswered questions in a corner booth at the Sassy Owl. A soft sigh issued from her lips as she set her phone to the side of the stack of documents she had spread across the table. A half drank pint sat just within her reach, tempting her with the nectar of the beer gods. In front of her, a wide array of quotes, statements, and estimates had been melting her brain with an endless slew of numbers and other information.

By the end of January, she needed to have a building renovated and equipped for everything the distillery and the attached taproom would need. She needed a staff and stock and a business plan ready and in place before it opened. It was mind numbing but it was just the sort of distraction she needed after the past couple of weeks. Setting both elbows to the table, she set her head in her hands, her fingers weaving through her hair.

“You all right, boss lady?” A feminine voice chirped from the booth’s edge. Claire rocked her head to the side without sitting up even though she already knew who it was. Casey Malachi took up a lean against the support wall that divided one booth from the next and cut her employer a concerned but casual smile. Blonde haired and violet eyed, there were times that the woman reminded Claire of Clarice Queen before she died, though a little less Asian and far less mouthy. Claire afforded her a tired smile and sat upright, her hands dropping to the table top.

“Thinking I am going to need a whole keg if I am going to make it through all of this,” she said with a sweep of her hand to gesture toward the paperwork.

“I can getcha a refill if you need one. Are you hungry?” Casey asked. The tender was a server through and through, always willing to take care of each and every patron that came through the Sassy Owl Saloon’s door. Claire shook her head.

“No, I think I may need to get out for a little bit of fresh air, clear my head you know?” It would give her the chance to walk the block and a half to Kruger’s Exotic and see if the smith was okay. “Save my table for me? Make sure no one messes up my… well, my mess?”

“Would you be able to tell if they did?” Casey teased with a grin. She was a pretty girl, not like Rhydin Bombshell Hot, but passably pretty by most standards and her smile made her look positively angelic. It was no wonder the woman raked in the tips. Claire chuckled and reached for her beer to finish it off. The empty pint glass was set down a moment later.

“Sure I would. I’m the Queen of Organized Chaos, don’t you know?” Claire could tease right back with the best of them as she slid for the booth’s break. “Watch my stuff?”

“Of course. I’ll have another beer waiting for you when you get back.” Casey assured her, stepping aside to make sure the woman had enough room to get out. Claire gave the woman an appreciative smile and set off for the door, tugging a hoodie on over the thin tank top that, while comfortable in the booth, would have been a tiny bit chilly in the brisk autumn air just beyond the exit. The closer they got to winter, the darker it got earlier in the day so when she stepped into the street, the sun was already working its way down over the western horizon for the day. The dark streets of Rhydin, while precarious things for some, failed to scare her. For all of things that went bump in the night, she would never hesitate to bump back and so she started down the cobblestone street that led from the market’s center toward the further reaches of the district.

Kruger’s Exotic Weapons, Armor, and Leather was not a place Claire ventured often even if she called the proprietor a friend, but since it sat only a block away from the Sassy Owl Saloon, she passed it often. With her arms folded and her chin down against the bite of the wind, the distance was quickly covered and at the shop’s front door, she paused. During the warmer months it wasn’t unusual to see the door propped open, allowing the ringing of hammer on metal to sing its song into the streets. But winter was coming and the door was closed. Claire tipped an ear to the door’s crack, listening for the melody but within she heard only silence. She pressed a hand to the door to open it just a few inches.

“Kruger?” Claire called quietly. There was no response but a thump on the second level drew her gaze upwards. She listened to the silence, waiting for it to happen again. Only quiet reached her ears. The private residence above the shop was hardly her business, not to mention she had no idea how to reach it so, regretful, she backed out of the doorway and tugged it shut before retracing her steps back to the Sassy Owl.
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 15, 2016 2:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

November 11th, 2016

Dear Journal,

Grief is a funny thing. Not like funny haha but rather funny in the way it affects us all differently. One loss to another could even change how we process it and seldom do the stages of grief progress in such a way that makes logical sense to those suffering through it. Grief is ugly and painful and has a nasty way of holding on to us even when we thought it let us go a long time ago. In my life, I have lost more people than I can count, more than I would like to think about. Most days I am okay but others it is like everything rushes to wash over me like a tidal wave and I can’t keep my footing in the sand no matter how hard I try.

I want to tell Addie that Nikolai will be okay. That he is being taken care of, that if all went right, he got to go home. But I can’t. Already I toed the line of upsetting the balance and if his sacrifice is what pushed it back into line for Adelaide, I do not want to disrespect that by potentially unraveling his work for the sake of assuaging her grief and guilt. I want to though. I want to tell Kruger too, but again I can’t. Addie told him today about Nick. While I am not sure of how far in depth they spoke, I don’t believe that it went particularly well.

Out of sync or not, it was still his son. To hear that he died when Kruger did not even get a chance to know him is the sort of shock no parent is prepared to handle. In a place like Rhydin, this sort of thing isn’t nearly as out of place as one would hope. The timelines converge here on this node of the Nexus and as such, strange things happen where they might not be possible elsewhere. Nowhere else have I seen such fluctuations in the time stream as I have here, and without consequence most of the time even. It is an oddity perhaps worth studying some time but for now, I simply try to take it in stride and do the best that I can with what I am given.

Once upon a time, I stood in Kruger’s shoes. Well, close. Late in 2013, an odd fluctuation in the Nexus brought forth a number of temporally challenged people. People that had died, people that had never been born, everything in between. They ended up in this Rhydin and those that lived here were left to contend with just how to deal with these people. Some were here for only a short time, others linger even years later. Among them, a girl who was my daughter in another life arrived.

Lila was a beautiful mess of a girl. Talented and angry and reckless and caring, she had so much potential. In her life, I hardly gave her the life she deserved. Her version of me kept her away from her father until he gave up on her and then proceeded to drink herself to death, leaving Lila all alone at the age of fourteen. Granted the man who had fathered her wasn’t exactly my idea of a good role model and when she came to this line, he proved that by denying not only her existence but that of the nearly dozen girls that arrived claiming the same fatherhood as well. I had trouble contending with her being here too. I think I likely did not deal with it particularly well at first but Noct pointed out that this was a chance for me to right a wrong, to help a girl that needed it, a girl that happened to have my blood in her veins.

I think it was too little, too late. The damage was done, I could not save her. I tried for the better part of six months to help her. I included her in our family things like Thanksgiving and Yule and offered my help should she want it. She declined most of the time, came and went as she pleased. Noct did a little bit better than I could, took her out on jobs, taught her things like how to shoot. It was an odd sort of bond but it was something. It was not enough but it was something.

Noct and I got married on May 2nd of the following year. We did not find out until we had left for our honeymoon, but Lila committed suicide early that morning. It was only a few weeks after she had failed in her bid for an opal in the Outback. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but considering who it was against, I could not have expected anything good to come of it. At the time, Harris D’Artainian held FireStar. In another life, Harris D’Artainian was Lila’s father. That is who she challenged. He beat her pretty horrifically and then to add insult to injury, dropped her off of the Bridge in the Outback. The fall hurt but I imagine the blow to her pride was worse. I didn’t think it would push her to take her own life though.

Just another name on the list of people I have failed. She is the reason we founded the Farron-Queen Memorial Youth Centre. It was in her memory that we did this, so that no young adult would ever end up feeling the way she did. I may have only been her mother for a short time but her death was a devastating thing. No parent should have to bury their child. There is no closure for that sort of thing no matter how much you try to press on.

Nick may not have been in Kruger’s life, but he was still Kruger’s son and for that, his death is something to mourn and grieve. However that might happen.

--Claire
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 15, 2016 2:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“Fresh air help?” Casey asked as Claire came back through the Sassy Owl’s front door. The blonde was wiping down the bar as the staff prepared for the inevitable dinner rush that would likely chase Claire from the pub’s dining room back up to the apartment above it. Claire ran a hand back through her hair and plastered on a wooden smile.

“You know the air quality here is not that great.” Jesting, she headed back over to the booth that she had claimed as her own. Just as Casey had promised, a new beer was awaiting her, freshly poured within the past five minutes from the looks of it.

“So that’s a no then, got it. You want to put in an order before things get crazy?” The tender called after her pink haired boss as the latter went to slide into booth again. Her paperwork was exactly where it had been left, a mess of information that she was having trouble processing.

“Could you put in for a pizza? Box it to go and I will take it up with me when I go home.” She answered. Casey nodded and set off to the kitchen to do as she was requested. It left Claire to the low rumble of a burgeoning crowd and the thoughts that sought to override talk of business statements. Somewhere in the stack of paperwork was a list of buildings for lease. She would need to find time that weekend to go look at them. It would mean either wrangling a babysitter for the twins so she could take Cooper with her or she would have to go alone and report back to the cowboy with her findings to narrow down their prospective locations.

A place like Rhydin was filled to the brim with microbreweries and their beer brands. The more prominently successful ones like Red Orc and Silvermark could be found citywide while some of the smaller brands tried their best to carve a niche for themselves as if they could stand out in a sea of beer. For all of the borderline alcoholics in the city, Claire had been surprised to find that there were few local distilleries. It had only been nine months prior when Cooper had first shown her the still he had constructed outside of the guest house at Caelum Manor. It had drawn her curiosity, mild at first. After all, she had bigger things to worry about and the cowboy’s business was his own.

Then everything went to ***, Noctis died, and Claire was left to try and figure out just what she was going to do with her life. Late in the summer, she persuaded Cooper to bottle his creations and with a little insight and expertise on Giovanni’s part, Claire had formulated a rough plan for how to market such a thing. Whiskey and bourbon were hard to get right but Cooper Gallows did in a spectacular fashion. Hangman Distillery, a play on Cooper’s surname, debuted at Booze Fest and the reception they received was encouraging enough that Claire thought maybe, just maybe, they might be able to make it bigger than it was. While she mulled over the listings in front of her, she tried not to think about Addie and Kruger and Nikolai yet their faces still managed to make their presence known at the edge of her consciousness, poking and prodding as if they might get her attention away from the allegedly pressing matters in front of her. Thanks to that, Casey startled Claire for a second time as she set a neatly constructed cardboard box on the table.

“Order up! Half and half, cheese and meat lovers. I snuck a couple cookies in for the babies too, don’t tell their mother.” Casey grinned, an infectious thing that had Claire smiling too as she gathered her papers into a neat stack.

“Thank you, Casey. I will make sure they get those cookies.” Maybe not tonight but eventually. Or Claire would eat them instead since she knew just how much sugar went into those things. Either way. Setting the papers on top of the pizza box, she grabbed for the pint glass and slid out of the booth again.

“Welcome, boss lady. Good luck in your challenge tomorrow!”
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 15, 2016 2:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

November 12th, 2016

Dear Journal,

Another day, another challenge. No, seriously, I am not being facetious or overdramatic. Rather I had to defend my barony this evening thanks to an ever so lovely farce of an event that allowed challenges to every sitting baron. The cost? All you had to do was get two duels in over the course of a handful of days and then on Halloween, be the first to post a challenge up for one of the barons. Six of the seven were challenged in the event and the seventh only escaped by virtue of Old Market being loyal and already under challenge. There were some other issues that weekend that soured my mood on the whole thing but when all of the dust settled, I was left to contend with a challenge from Salvador Delahada. I may not know much about him and truthfully that is fine by me. He has a meat shop not far from the Owl, he ran a team for Iron Fists League that was incredibly successful in the regular season, and he has the sort of blood that seems to corrode whatever it touches.

Lovely, right? Me, myself, and I, well, I can’t say I am wholly keen on letting that stuff touch me, so I spent hours in the gym to prep. Quick on the feet, rapid strikes, fast escapes. It would be the best way to avoid him and his weird blood. While I have a horrid record when it comes to defending, especially in comparison to initial challenges, I managed to do well enough to pull off the defense. Dragon’s Gate is mine if only for a little bit longer. Terry had her challenge for Dockside immediately after. It did not go as well unfortunately. Terry had the challenger down four to one but the young lady worked it back to sudden death and ultimately ended up winning. While it sucks, it’s just Terry’s luck. I got my first barony from King a few years ago in a similar event, though I had to jump through more hoops in order to get the chance.

I managed to defend, Terry didn’t, Hope has yet to complete hers and if she manages to make it past Myria (no small feat), she has a queued challenge right after that for the Halloween event. Another day, another challenge, it feels like it is never ended. But I go to all of them that I can to support my team. They are a piece of a family that I have made for myself. It is more than a team, like I explained on the Arena cork board a few days ago. I do not ever have to question their loyalty because it is not just sports and dueling that we are dealing with. I see them outside of the gym. Our kids play together (at least when Malik is able to visit Rhydin from Kalidar), we help each other with our various endeavors. Hell, Gio even bailed Hope out of jail off world once. Though that may have been a tiny bit team related. That man is a god when it comes to negotiating his way out of a tight spot and man has that come in handy when it comes to dealing with public relations for both the company and the team.

While the other founders of the team are no longer active, they are family too. I may not see them with the same frequency as I do our newer additions like Hope and Terry but at the end of the day, when you are a member of the Dirty family, you are exactly that, family. Terry was the first Baron to ever take an interest in me (even if she just wanted to get my number for a date) and hers was the first squireship I ever held. That New Haven rapier is smarmy as ***, but it was a good teacher, all things considered. I should not really be surprised then that the girl who beat Terry tonight was her squire as well. Misery did quite well in Madness this year, upsetting more than a few brackets (mine included). She also recently won the Panther’s Claw so really she is the definition of an up and coming duelist.

She also happens to be in Addie’s band. So… would it be wrong of me to try to use that to keep tabs on my goddaughter? Some part of me thinks so. The rest of me feels like it is just a little to opportune to pass up, you know? I don’t know. I will have to think on it, I guess. Addie has a right to live her life the way she chooses, right? I just want to protect her. The girl has been through so much and aside from just a few people that she has picked up since coming to this Rhydin, almost everyone else that should have been there for her has not been. She deserves better.

Okay, anyways. Even though Terry lost, nobody is in a bad mood which is nice. The beer is flowing, everyone is talking and laughing, and though I have a bit of a headache, I think I am content to hang with them for a little bit longer. Cooper and the twins are upstairs and the Owl is locked up tight save for us. It works out into a pleasant little microcosm of all I need in this world. My friends, my family, some good food, good conversation, and a little bit of warmth from the cold. I know not every night can be this good but man it is a nice thought. Tomorrow will come and it will be back to the grind… including this long ass list of buildings I need to go look at for the distillery, but for now, I think I am going to close up this silly little book and go enjoy the company.

--Claire
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 15, 2016 2:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“Sprinkles or chocolate chips?” The cowboy asked the little girl sitting upon the kitchen counter. Not quite two years old, her short legs were still chubby with baby fat and bare save for burgundy and gold striped socks on feet that kicked against the cabinet beneath her. She leaned and peered over the batter being mixed in an opaque bowl, thoughtful as she considered the choices she had been given. It always amazed Claire just how observant Averia was. Her wide silver eyes seemed to drink in every detail in her surroundings and though she spoke very little, she never failed to come up with an answer when needed. Her little fist grasped at an open bag of chocolate chips, holding it out to Cooper who took it and began dumping them into the bowl while stirring them in evenly. “Chocolate chips it is.”

“Sprinkles! Sprinkles!” Alexander hollered from below, wrapping his arms around the gurahl’s trunk of a leg. He was a day and night contrast from his sister. Where she was quiet, he was loud. Where she was dark and calm, he was bright and wild. He may have been dressed similarly to his older twin in the red and gold of a football team that Claire knew very little about, but beyond that their similarities were minimal. One thing was for certain though, they both adored the man who so eagerly entertained their diverting whims and copious affections. Though he had only two arms and both were fairly busy, he still stooped to scoop Alex up, sitting him on the counter beside his sister.

“You’ll getcher sprinkles, don’t worry.” He tweaked the boy’s nose, eliciting a wild peal of laughter from the toddler who set into kicking the cabinet with his sister. It was a lovely cacophony of sweet, sweet chaos, and Claire sat at the dining room table watching it all with her cheek propped up on her hand. A steaming cup of coffee sat in front of her, billowing little wisps that curled and tickled her chin with their heat. It had been a sleepy morning and she had much to do later in the day but for the time being she savored the sight of three of her favorite people communing in a way that only Sundays seemed to bring out with such adorableness. Cooper looked over his shoulder, catching her staring. A crooked smile pulled his beard framed mouth askew. “And what ‘bout you? Sprinkles or chocolate chips?”

“I’m not particular. Whatever you’ve got left after the wonder twins have had their fill.” She matched his smile with one of her own, curling a hand around the mug whose broad side declared her not a morning person.

“Easy to please, I like it.” He drawled with a bob of his eyebrows. With his eyes locked on hers, he palmed a few chocolate chips to the twins who quickly stole them from his grasp and stuffed them into their mouths. His grin grew more, tugging mischievously as though he hadn’t just done that and she wasn’t looking at him when he did it.

“I saw that, ya know.” It was hard not to smile so she hid it behind a lift of her cup and fixed him with her most serious face.

“Saw what? Don’t know what you’re talkin’ ‘bout.” His brows lifted and he affected an air of innocence. The whole sight of it was enough to make her giggle into her coffee. It could have used one more spoonful of sugar but for now she left it as it was. The moment was sweet enough on its own.
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 15, 2016 2:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

November 13th, 2016

Dear Journal,

There are few things in life as great as Sunday mornings. They have become a little piece of heaven on Rhydin that I am doing the best to not take for granted. Though the twins have a habit of waking up at the butt crack of dawn, Sundays seem to be the one day that they let Cooper and I sleep in just for a little bit. It is a wake up slow sort of day and I am fast finding that I quite like waking up to him with his arm around me. There is something safe in that embrace that I can’t quite explain. Never have I had to rely on someone else for such a thing, independence has always made it so that I am secure if I have to sleep alone but I could get used to him being there.

After we get up, Cooper makes breakfast. On Sundays it is usually something fun like pancakes in silly shapes or waffles that have sprinkles in the batter. Averia and Alex love it and their infectious little grins are too hard to pass up. I think that might be why Cooper doesn’t mind doing it every Sunday. Me, I’m dangerous in the kitchen. I think if it came down to me making breakfast, we would either have to settle for cereal or I would be making a run down to the Owl to see about having breakfast made there. Yeah, Claire and the kitchen do not get along, let me tell you that.

Cooper introduced me to football this year. It is a sport played on Earth, more specifically in the United States of America, which is where he is from originally. There seem to be a lot of Terrans in Rhydin and more specifically, lots and lots of Americans. Serah’s old roommate is an American. She’s from a place called Texas, which is in the United States but is not anywhere close to Wyoming or Virginia which are, like, two of the only other places I know. Cooper was born in Wyoming but grew up in Virginia. He has talked about taking me there some time. His mom and siblings still live there. In all of my life, I have never had to meet the mother of a man I was seeing. Noct’s mother died when he was quite young. I’m told moms are harder to deal with than dads. It makes me wonder if that will be true when the twins get older. And then that makes my heart hurt, so I’m going to think about other things instead.

Anyways. Football. It really is a bit of an odd name for it considering ninety-nine percent of the time, the players’ feet are not touching the ball. It is this weird oblong ball that they pass and run around a giant field while trying to get to the opposite side without the other team stopping them and within a set number of plays. Well, more specifically, downs. There are a bunch of rules that go into it and sometimes the rules get broken so the officials throw yellow flags and then penalize the teams based on what they did wrong. I thought it was kind of weird at first but there is a lot of heart that goes into the games and Cooper likes watching them so I figured why not try to enjoy it. Alex thinks it’s the best, he will sit and watch the whole time when it’s on.

Which brings me back to Sundays. They are fast becoming a sacred time and I think I may be finding the appeal in why people go to church. This is my church, my own private sort of worship. A family that I love until I think my heart may burst, a warm home full of love and laughter, a handsome man willing to explain the nuances of why he is calling zebras blind on the television when I see no zebras on that football field. His patience, for all of his annoyance at the game, is worthy of sainthood. He pulls me into his lap (but makes sure he can still see the TV) and tries to explain things to me when I have no idea what is happening. It is this weird sort of normalcy, like the kind that you might find in a circular for a department store or in a sitcom on the television.

It is everything that I thought I would never get in life. Everything that I thought I would never be worthy of. Not after everything I have done. I am not a good person, I am not a good woman, I hardly pass for a good mother. But somehow, divine providence has ordained that for now, just for now, I can be granted a reprieve from the woes and tribulations of a life like mine. I must not get complacent though. Every time I do, that is when it is all taken away from me, and trust me, there are many that would be all too keen on ripping everything I love from my grasp.

I fear the day may come in which they may try. Whoever it is would be a fool though. They don’t realize just what lengths I think I would go in order to protect what I have built. This is mine, this happiness. I won’t let go without a fight.

That all sounds so very dramatic, no matter the logic backing such thoughts. Though I may have to revisit them another day, for now I do believe that my sacred Sundays are calling my attention once more. Averia has staked her claim on the cowboy-jungle gym and I’m certain if I don’t put a stop to it soon, she will be sitting on his head. Which is hilarious in its own right and I think Cooper would let her, but did I not say that moms were harder to deal with than dads? Why yes, yes I did. Until next time then.

--Claire
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 18, 2016 2:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“I think I like the one in Old Temple but what do you think about that one versus Dragon’s Gate?” Rambling aloud, she flipped back and forth between two real estate listings for the indicated locations. They had been narrowed down from a list of close to thirty and so her entire Monday had been spent touring each one with a pair of men who spent a good chunk of the time arguing over just how extensive of renovations each of them would need in order to accomplish what she was seeking.

On one side, Dubream Blackhorn argued that many of the locations, despite needing TLC, were in prime locations for the sort of business arrangement that Claire was seeking. He spoke endlessly to the importance of location, location, location. Things could be fixed, map placement couldn’t. There was no beating a prime neighborhood, ripe for new businesses.

On the other, Jason Jericho argued that positioning mattered little if you had to dump more money into the building before it ever opened than could possibly be made up within the first year of operation. Running a profit was hard enough without starting off with a massive deficit. Claire listened to both sides while trying to hold off a yawn. Really, they both had good points, but what they didn’t realize was that most of it didn’t matter. When she knew the place, she knew the place, and so it came down to Old Temple or Dragon’s Gate.

“Old Temple affords you a new location on the south side of town while Dragon’s Gate would only be a hop, skip, and a jump from the Sassy Owl Saloon. Both have their merits dependent upon your business plan.” Dubream, a short and stocky dwarf, said as he pushed up his glasses further onto the bridge of his nose.

“It’ll cost you at least twenty percent more to renovate the Old Temple spot.” Jericho pointed out from the opposite side of the pink haired woman. She didn’t look up from the listings, pursing her lips as she read and reread them.

“Twenty percent… twenty percent. Hmm. Did Dockside have any merit? I like the idea of getting something on the south side of town.” Finally she looked up between the men. Jericho and Dubream both cringed at the same time.

“That place was a disaster…” Jericho quickly answered.

“Horrid location.” Dubream had to talk over him to be heard at the same time. Claire frowned back down at the pages, one held in each hand.

“I’m going to eenie-meanie-miney-moe it.” She declared. The men exchanged an unsure look that made Claire laugh. “I’m just kidding. Come on. Let’s go look at both of them one more time and if push comes to shove, I will have Cooper come look at them and see which one he likes better.”
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 18, 2016 2:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

November 14th, 2016

Dear Journal,

You know, there are weeks where things seem to go well and I can’t help but wonder when the proverbial rug is going to be pulled out from beneath my feet. Sunday was uneventful, relaxing. I didn’t quite get everything done that I wanted to get accomplished but that was only because I have this ridiculously comfortable couch and a warm boyfriend and cute kids that wanted my attention all day. Poor me, right?

Today I had to pick up a bit of that slack and honestly I think I am glad that I waited until today to do it. Talk about borefest supreme. Dubrem and Jericho took me through like thirty billion listings for potential places for the distillery. It was mind numbing but eventually we narrowed it down to two that I really liked. There was a two story brick building in Dragon’s Gate, not too terribly far from the Inn, that had a lot of potential. It had a lot of space and could have made for a neat little taproom. The other was in Old Temple, which of course is instant bonus points for me. The building was little more run down than the one in Dragon’s Gate though so it was going to need more work in order to make it functional for our needs.

But it sits right on the riverside and the back wall can easily be knocked out for more windows to give one hell of a view for those in the tasting area. If we build it correctly, we could even add on a deck that overlooks the water. The idea reminds me of this little place down in Dockside that sits right on the river’s mouth. They are pretty hole in wall as far as places go but the food is excellent and they have this little deck out back with a whopping three tables. It takes a month to get a table there but it is so worth it.

I would love to have something like that, you know? Though maybe with more than three tables. Somewhere that people go out of their way to try to get into. Don’t get me wrong, I really love the Sassy Owl. It is comfortable and homey. It makes money, enough at least. We have our regulars and we have enough traffic to keep us busy. But I see the distillery and the taproom as an opportunity to do something different.

Jericho warned me against the Old Temple location if only because of the cost that would go into renovating it and getting it up to code for what we are doing. Between Cooper, myself, and our other business partner Nigel, money is not the issue but rather the vision. If the vision is there, the money will be too. I think the vision is there with the Old Temple spot and I think… I think maybe I can even have it done in time for Cooper’s birthday in January. I don’t expect he will want much attention drawn to his birthday but maybe a grand opening combined with a little celebration will be okay. I happen to think his birthday is definitely worth celebrating and this next year is a big one.

Forty whopping years old, over the hill, black balloons, all of that. It makes me feel like a cradle robber, all things considered, but hey, whatever. I think I am quite lucky that he was born and such a thing should be celebrated. Especially considering everything that man has been through. He is a fighter and though death tries its best to get its hands upon him, he is resilient enough to hold it off.

Part of me is afraid that a day may come where he can’t keep it at bay any longer but I promise to be there for that day. I will fight with him, for him, whatever he may need. I’ll do it. I promised. It might be a little selfish on my part but I have defied worse fates and come out for the better at the end. Certainly he can too. I am not going to let him go down without a fight. Death will have to try harder than that. It feels like I am tempting it by saying that but for all of my fear, I have hope too. For every promise that I may have made, Cooper has made three more in kind. He is a man of his word, that much I am certain of.

There are deals that are made every day for the lives and souls of those with a more fluid mortality than myself. Though I try not to make such deals anymore (or because I cannot without grave cost), there are many out there that do. Sometimes the deals are made with the mortals themselves, other times it was a trade, a bet, a deal between deities. At times it is for the sake of short term benefit for the mortal, other times it is desperation that draws them to such deals with the devils. Just because we do not rule over hell does not mean that we are not capable of invoking such upon those who cross the deals made. Cooper has been relatively mum on the minutiae of his situation but he has assured me that there is nothing that I, nor my powers, can impact.

On one hand I accept that. I can’t fix everything no matter what I try. On the other, I can’t help but feel like it’s a challenge. It is a call to arms, a blatant “come at me bro” that begs for my attention. I have stood defiant against beings surely greater than those that hold Cooper’s debts over his head, I have no problem doing it again. I love that man with every fibre of my being. That sort of thing should never be discounted. If there is one thing I have learned over the course of five centuries it is this; all it takes is a spark to incite a wildfire and I am an inferno waiting to burn. I will burn for those I care about, gladly, and there will be no force in the multi-verse that can put a stop to my rage. The list is short of those that I would do such a thing for and there are few things of which I am certain in this life, but among them, this; the world is welcome to try its hand at getting to me. I welcome the challenge gladly and hell, I make a decent punching bag half the time. But the moment the attention is turned toward those I love, let it be known that hell hath no fury like mine.

There is something to be said about that kind of insanity. Love makes us do crazy things though, can I be faulted for protecting my only reprieve from such a thing? I have been fighting for so, so, so long that it is my first instinct when it comes to having something good and you know what, there is nothing wrong with that. I dare Death to try.

--Claire
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 18, 2016 2:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“We’re off to see the wizarddddd,” Claire sang on the way out of the Shanachie Theater after a Tuesday night performance of the Wizard of Oz. While Alexander had not been the biggest fan, Averia had watched the whole thing with rapt attention from Claire’s lap. As they left, the girl sat atop her mother’s shoulders, a little queen of the world from a high perch over all. Well, over all except for the cowboy, who was still taller by a head. Mid-November was chilly but the babies were bundled up in cute coats in shades of brown that brought the family’s ensemble together as if, gasp, they had coordinated it.

“Buh!” Alex shrilled suddenly, pointing. “Buh! Buh! Buh!”

“Buh?” Claire quirked a brow and looked around. Alex wriggled free of Cooper’s grasp and was off like a shot across the pavement outside of the theater. He ran as fast as his short, chubby legs would take him until he reached a shadowboxed promotional picture for the play depicting the main characters. Lifting onto his toes, he pointed as high as he could at Glinda the Good Witch of the North in all of her pink, poofy dress finery.

“Buh!” He said proudly. Claire looked back to Cooper then to the poster with a smile quivering at the edge of her lips.

“Is that Belle, Alexander?” Giving Averia a bounce, Claire started over toward the little boy. He nodded, cheesing a grin at his approaching mother. Cooper’s steps were right behind hers and she stopped short so he could retrieve the platinum mopped toddler. Lifting him up, he put Alex face to face with Belle’s picture. Alex whacked a little hand against the glass, giggling.

“Is Buh! Yay!” Alex clapped, giggling. Following suit, Averia clapped too but didn’t add in a giggle to match. Claire chuckled and peered upwards at the girl then back down to her son.

“Should we go back inside and find her? Do you want to go say hi?” She asked. Alex’s eyes widened and all over again he was trying to wriggle out of Cooper’s arms, intent on the theater’s doors. Claire glanced to Cooper and grinned. “I will take that as a yes.”

It meant delving back into the crowd again but there were no complaints as they pushed back into the theater to find Belle post performance. It was a madhouse even though it was only a Tuesday but between Alex’s excitement and the look of sheer pride on Cooper’s face, it was more than worth the wait. For her last performance it had only been Cooper and Claire attending. This time around, Claire couldn’t help the swell of warmth in her heart that came from seeing all of them together.
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 18, 2016 3:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

November 15th, 2016

Dear Journal,

Okay, so it was a bit of a weird night. I know the point of this journal thing is not just to recap things like day to day life but I think today is worthy of being put down on paper just to get it out of my head. It is a messy jumble of good and bad and annoying. I can either start with the good, the bad, the annoying, or from the beginning. I am getting pretty good at the whole doing it from the beginning thing so I suppose we will take that route. The day itself was uneventful save for the gymnastics required in order to put two rambunctious toddlers into outfits that are more than onesies and leggings. We decided to go to the Shanachie for Wizard of Oz. I was hesitant to take the twins since they are so young but Averia absolutely adored it. Alex thought sitting still for that long was terribly overrated. He did, however get quite excited over seeing Belle there. That was kind of the whole point of us going to begin with, but okay.

Belle is Cooper’s daughter from another timeline. Yeah, he has one of those too, looks like we have another thing in common. She arrived earlier this year, the victim of a rather tumultuous upset on her side of things. I have yet to hear too much about it but really it is not my business nor my story to tell. It was shortly after Noct died when Cooper suddenly had to deal with this. It was before he and I ever considered being together but I couldn’t help but feel like I had a responsibility to at least set Cooper straight on what he needed to do.

I guess that is a little bit of leftover guilt on my part when it comes to the temporally challenged kids I have. This girl was on her own with no family in a world that was familiar but not. That is enough to *** up the most well adjusted adult let alone a young person like that. It was pretty weird at first but eventually Cooper warmed up to the idea. He says that after all, he won’t be able to have any kids of his own in this time, Belle may very well be the closest he gets. It makes my heart hurt when he talks like that but they have a budding relationship that is sort of in the father-daughter realm so I guess I will take what I can get without complaint.

Anyways, she performs with Shanachie Theater here in town. Cooper and I saw her in a performance of RENT here awhile back and I don’t think I have ever seen him look more proud. The Wizard of Oz was a test of the family unit as a whole and you know, I think we passed. Alex thinks Belle is pretty much the bee's knees and Averia liked watching all of the lights and such. All together it was a successful outing with only minimal hiccups.

After we finished up there, Cooper took the twins home to toss them in the tub and get them to bed while I ran over to the Red Dragon’s Great Hall for Katt’s first town hall meeting as Governor. I have known Katt pretty much since I came to Rhydin and of those I have met since coming here, I can’t think of a better choice for governor. While the Governor’s position may not have any true power behind it, it still bears influence and Katt will use that influence for the betterment of the city. I am not the most political person ever but I try to at least be aware of what is going on in the city in which I am raising my children.

Katt is seeking applicants for a small council that she can rely on during her tenure. Like I said, I am hardly political and frankly I doubt I have anything I can offer to her that she can’t already get from herself or from others in this city but I figure at the very least, I will throw my name into the hat to at least let her know that I am here if she needs me. It is the thought that counts, right?

At the very least, the food was good as always. I briefly ran into Zack which was awkward but the extent of our interaction was summed up with nods and hellos. I can deal with that even if it feels like a knife twisting between my ribs. It amazes me how someone who was once so important to me feels like a stranger. I loved him once, I probably still do somewhere in my heart, but when I look at him now, he isn’t the same man. Whoever he is now, that is his right to be… maybe it is better that way too. Then I won’t see hints of my old best friend and wish that I still had him.

Such are the follies of the heart, I suppose. Anyways, time to move on (in several respects of the word). I made it home not long after the meeting, Cooper had the twins in bed already. These sorts of things make me question just why I spend so much time on other things outside of the house. I hate missing time with them. But ultimately, I think I do most of it for them. Or at least that is how I justify it to myself. So, they were in bed. Cooper and I stayed up for a little bit if only because that time is pretty ****ing sacred, all things considered. That peaceful, child free silence where we can sit and talk about whatever we want without officiating arguments over toys or singing along to children’s songs, it is pretty glorious.

We went to bed a little later than usual but I didn’t get to sleep for very long. My phone went off, which while it is not exactly an anomaly or anything, is still annoying just the same. On the other end, Giovanni had some pretty ***-tastic news. Due to a minor slip up, Hope had been stripped of her title. Just like that, Dirty drops two Swords titles all in one go. Ugh. Of all three of us, I did not expect myself to be the only one to retain it. That said, Hope would have defended without issues, of that I have no doubt.

Gio wasn’t particularly happy about it but hey, what can you do. At this point it is onward and upward. At the end of the day, Terry, Hope, and I all have commitments outside of sports. No longer is dueling our top priority. Terry has her job at St. Mary’s. Hope has her husband Davien and son Malik. If Malik is anything like his mother, she is going to be in trouble. I have the twins and Cooper and millions of other things that require my attention. Team Dirty, for all the family that it is, sometimes needs to pay attention to family rather than business. Gio does not always like this but he understands it at the very least. He is also pretty good at reminding me of what I need to do in order to pay the bills for family though, so it is a weird balancing act we have to do.

So that was the trifecta of my day. Theater, politics, and sports. Who would have thought. I think quite honestly that tomorrow I may just shut the world away, enjoy the little loves of my life and figure everything out on Thursday instead. Surely life can wait for a short while. I think of everything together, it just reminds me that I need my family most, chosen or blood. Dueling won’t always be there for me but the people will. On the hand, the logical course of action from here would be to convince both Terry and Hope that they need to go for the next titles on their lists. On the other, why bother, you know? Hope made All Title Holder in the Outback, Terry only needs one more barony now to do the same in the Arena. Me, myself, and I have done nothing so impressive so I sort of feel like I am slacking in comparison.

Perhaps that is my cue to step up and take a little bit of the pressure off of them. I am arguably the weakest link between the three of us, so by that logic, I should be the one working harder to give them a reprieve. Part of me wants to tell them to disregard whatever game plan Gio offers and to just take the rest of the year off. With Iron Fists League on hiatus this year, it would be the opportune time to do so. Add to that the fact that the holidays are coming up, then you have a perfect storm of reasons to hold off.

What can I do in the meantime? I already have two titles and unless Matt Simon comes back at me again, then I will likely hold onto MoonBeryl for awhile. Granted if he does and I hold onto it still, I will of course have to try my hand for the Tower of Air again. That feels like an odd sort of setup, where I of all people can manage to outwit Matt in the Outback but he has no problem holding me off on the Isle. Normally it would be reversed but ever since I lost the Tower of Earth, I have not quite been able to get in touch with whatever it was that clicked so easily for me before when it came to Magic.

I had the Tower of Earth for a whole year and two defenses before I finally lost it to Ahni. I don’t think there was a better person to give it up to but prior to doing so, I think I may have *** something up. I noticed it shortly after the twins were born but the Keeper’s key I kept for the Tower had been damaged. The emerald inset in the handle had cracked and from that point on, I couldn’t feel the bond that had tied me to my element for over a year. I lost the tower soon after and I can’t help but feel that this contributed to my loss.

I know it sounds really crazy to blame such a thing on a key but I think it was more symbolic of that bond being broken than it was the key itself that did anything. In the months leading up to my loss, I had to rely quite heavily on Earth’s talents in order to function even halfway normally. Carrying the twins was rough on me. After all, this vessel is no longer tied to the realm of the living and as such, bearing life within me takes a special channeling of energy that conflicts heavily with every atom of my being. As it stands, I am not even sure if I could do it again. Once nearly killed me. It may have had it not been for the tower. It shielded and protected me, keeping me safe from harm both outward and inward. It provided for my needs and made sure that I always had a set of eyes on me, ready to help should I need it.

I never really thought that I would be the silly sort that would miss a title, but just like I miss Old Temple, I miss the Tower of Earth. For all that the yellow rock drives me to the Tower of Air on the opposite side of the Isle, my heart remains deep in the mountains that were home for so long. Before long I will have decisions to make, we shall see if I am strong enough to make the right ones. But that is enough rambling for tonight. There’s a cowboy calling me to bed and I’m not going to say no.

--Claire
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 19, 2016 9:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

“I am going to tear out your throat, Claire.”

"Kinda hard to do that when you're dead, huh?"

“We shall see.”

Impact. Hands, feet, fists, elbows. Everything outside of the confines of the ring was a blur, scented with the lingering burnt atmosphere in the wake of pyrotechnics.

“Do you yet feel guilty for what you have done to this world?”

"Excuse me? And what might that be?"

“When is this?”

"...December. Whatever year they call it. Twenty fourt...wait. Why?"

“Then, it has not come to pass yet. You don't realize what you've done. How amusing.”

"If anything, I'll just be cleaning up your mess. Again."

“Delightful. The blood of so many, on your self-righteous hands. I've had worse dreams than this.”

"**** you, you self righteous prick."

“Do they not teach manners in the world that you are from? A wonder that a woman with such a foul tongue tastes so spectacular. And you do, Claire. Your unique flavor still lingers in the back of my throat, and I am quite dead. Keeps me going. I'd like some more, please.”

"I'd just as sooner yank your ass back to the seen realm just so that I can rip your throat out and gut you from stem to stern myself. So you can go to hell where you belong."

“Birth. You are pregnant. That will end well.”

"And I'll be a far better parent than you ever were. Where are your kids these days, Vanny? Hmm?"

“Perhaps, I will reach through the void and seek a new body to be my own. It is tedious, this unlife. So very boring. Would you be a good mother to me, Claire? I wonder.”

"Nope. You're dead. You have no power over me anymore."

“My benefactors would not take kindly to my usurping that little meat pocket growing inside you. But, they are oh-so-very uninspiring benefactors at that. I haven't amused myself since the night that you murdered me, and I am feeling ... comedic, this evening.”

"See, now you're just playing. What is it, are you here or are you not? It's not polite to tease, Vanion."

“Uncertain, and irrelevant. Dream or no, I am liking this concept more and more. Rebirth through my killer. Tell me, Claire, do you not secretly wish for me to be inside you?”

"Are you trying to make me throw up in my mouth? Everything you got was your own doing, Vanion."

“True. Injusticed as it was. Unfortunately, I never forget a face that slights me. And you, my dear, have caused me quite the inconvenience. If I were a bitter being, knowing that you've damned yourself and your world for your would-be heroics would bring me satisfaction. But cause and consequence just isn't personal enough for my tastes.”

"No, you don't get to make yourself out to be the victim here. I only helped do what many threatened. And you can bet your naked arse that should anything come in the future, we'll be here for it too."

“Such fire. It will snuff so wondrously. Baby's hands around mother's neck, squeezing. That is how you will die.”

“No…”



“No!” She gasped, sitting bolt upright in bed, awash with the perspiration of panic. The sheets were tangled around her legs, leaving her to kick them free. Her thrashing and shallow breathing were enough to rouse the sleeping gurahl that occupied the bed beside her. His warm hand touched to the small of her back, a quiet comfort meant to soothe the residual trembling. Though the room was pitch black save for a blinking green light coming from her phone on the bedside table, the longer she sat there, the more her eyes adjusted. Black wasn’t so nearly black but rather differing shades of dark and darker. Pressing the heels of her hands against her eye sockets, she tried to squish away the last remnants of a dream that came to her much too often.

“Alright Slugger?” Cooper rumbled behind her, his broad hand swiping up and down along her back. Claire shuddered an exhale and dropped her hands to her legs before swinging them over the side of the bed.

“Yeah… just… just a bad dream.” She mumbled, grasping at the edge of the mattress. The floor was cold beneath her feet, sapping the last warmth of sleep and dragging her back to the here and now. Each moment that passed slowed her frantic heart until finally she was certain it was no longer at risk of shattering her ribcage with its violent cadence. After a moment, she cleared her throat and got to her feet, letting the flicker of a notification LED light her way to the bedroom door. “I’ll be right back, you’re okay to go back to sleep.”

Though she had told Cooper to go back to bed, she doubted he would and he would likely still be awake when she returned. It was wishful thinking that had her hoping that maybe just maybe he might heed her words. After all she didn’t know when she would make it back to bed. Tightening the drawstring on her sweatpants, she padded down the short hall down that separated the master bedroom from the apartment’s living room. Her footsteps were muted briefly by the plush area rug that sat diagonally across the room but the quiet was short lived as the slap of her feet was renewed on the far side. She angled herself past the dining room table and through the kitchen. Her path took her past the front door, her hand grazing the lock out of habit only to find it already secure. It was something to focus on before she made it to the mostly closed door of the twins’ bedroom.

There at the threshold she paused, her ear tipped to the two inch crack between the door and the frame. It was late enough that both twins were fast asleep and the soft music that often accompanied their dozing had turned off for the night as well. So silent was it that she could once more hear the throb of her heart as it crept into her throat. It was quiet, too quiet. Seldom were such things possible in a house occupied by two almost two year olds. It was always prompted a brief panic in their mother who bordered on the verge of excessive paranoia about their safety even on the best of days. Just outside of their bedroom a war raged on, albeit internally, for their mother. Claire went back on forth for whether to go in, her hand set to the door’s edge where it needed to be gripped to keep it from squeaking upon opening.

“They are okay.” She murmured to herself, the breath of a whisper escaping with no small amount of hesitation. It was exactly what she told herself every time she checked on them after having that nightmare but it never helped. She always went in, this time was no different. Gripping the door, she eased it open and stepped into their bedroom. On the left, nearest the door, Alex slept sideways on a green and white bedspread. His pillow was at the foot of the bed and one of his arms was flung off the side of the bed between the mattress and the temporary railing installed to keep the wild child from rolling out of bed. On the right, Averia was ever the pretty princess, still beneath the purple and white bedspread she had been tucked into hours prior. The dim glow of two separate night lights offered twin orbs of muted orange to bask their angelic faces in a soothing light.

They were, in fact, just fine. Some part of her wanted to go to each of them, to bundle them up and cover them in kisses until her soul calmed down, but it wasn’t fair to wake them for her own selfish issues and so there she stood, just inside the door as she watched them sleep. It had been nearly three years since Vanion Shadowcast died but he still found ways to haunt her even still. What had been a mere matchup of foes in Iron Fists League took a strange turn the next season when Vanion returned in a far less corporeal form. Though she had come out victorious in scoring, his words were still a noose around her neck two years later. It only tightened here and there and some days she didn’t even notice it. Others it was less easy to forget, an ever present reminder of all she had sacrificed to rid the world of one sliver of chaos and insanity. It was a reminder of the threat he posed even after death, a perpetual curse upon the world just waiting for the right trigger in a world full of itchy trigger fingers.

Claire lost track of just how long she stood there, sentinel over the sleeping toddlers, but eventually she convinced herself that it was okay to leave them to their dreams and as carefully as possible, she slipped from their room, tugging the door shut behind her. In the hall she lingered for a moment longer before retracing her steps back to the other bedroom. Maybe it was the apartment’s layout or maybe it was a mother’s instinct worn thin by a dangerous city but they felt too far away and for a few moments, she missed Caelum Manor. At least there they were only a few steps down the hall instead of across the entire apartment.

When she made it back to the bedroom she shared with Cooper, she listened at the door to see if he had gone back to sleep. It was quiet enough that on the contrary he was likely still awake. Sighing softly, she slipped through the door and bumped it shut with a hip. Under the pretense of being silent, she tiptoed through the room and climbed back into bed. Cooper, just as she thought, was waiting, a strong arm offered out to haul to her in as soon as she took it.

“You good?” He rumbled in her ear as he tucked her close to his chest. He was warmth and safety and everything she needed so slowly she relaxed against him. Her nod caught the edge of a well built pectoral before she laid her head down with a quiet sigh.

“Yeah… just had to look, you know? Make sure everything was okay.” She murmured, staring into the darkness as he wrapped an arm around her and rubbed her back. Though his hand was rough, his touch was not. Tender as he swept his palm along her shoulders, he turned his head to press a kiss to her forehead. His mouth was warm, soothing. She couldn’t help but close her eyes.

“Nothin’ll happen to ‘em on my watch, promise.” He mumbled against her forehead. Claire bobbed a gentle, barely there nod that bumped her head against his mouth. She felt the curl of his smile, muted as it was, and the bristly tickle of his beard. He felt like home and his words carried a vow that she felt all the way into her heart. There was more she wanted to say to him but the heat he put off was an intoxicating sort of thing. It was likely intentional on his part but she was not going to argue it.




[[*Italicized flashback text pulled from IFL log circa November/December 2014 between Claire Farron and Vanion Shadowcast.]]
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 19, 2016 9:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

November 16th, 2016

Dear Journal,

I am not afraid of many things in life. With all that I have seen, with all that I have done, and with all that I have been through, very little is enough to rattle my countenance these days. On that short list are fairly typical things like losing the people I care about, seeing them hurt and letting them down. Also on the list are things like egomaniacal necromancer elves coming back from the dead to haunt me through my children. Okay, so maybe plurality is not the best way to phrase that. There was one, just one. After all, I am not sure if the world could handle another one. So long after everything happened, it is rare that I am forced to think about it but sometimes it sneaks up on me at the worst of times.

It started innocuously enough with a tournament. It was the very first Archmage Tournament in which I ever took part. I was new to Rhydin and new to dueling and new to everything that the world had to offer. And I can still remember the feeling of his hand over my mouth to keep me from screaming as he forced me to bear witness to the cries of the dying and dead. I had never met this man in my life but he knew how to exploit that weakness within moments of meeting me. A friend of mine at the time told me that it must have been because I reminded him of an enemy he had once had. What quarrel that meant he had with me, I still to this day do not know but the fact remains that a mere meeting was the catalyst for such events that still haunt me to this day.

As time progressed and this… foul, loathsome creature regained his foothold in Rhydin after an uncertain time away, he continued to try and provoke me. Little by little he succeeded until it was impossible not to recognize him for the evil influence he was. I have seen many a villain in my time but none could quite compare to Vanion. Shadow, though a relatively new but quite dear friend, had long known Vanion and knew exactly what he was capable of. It is ultimately how we came to found the Dragon’s Gate Orphanage because the golden elf was using the children of Rhydin’s streets for his nefarious bidding. That could not stand, not so long as people like Shadow and I existed.

Though we managed to set up the home for the children and get many off the streets, it was not enough to stop his rise. His campaign of terror and fear hit a crescendo less than six months later. Ultimately we had to put a stop to him once and for all. I had taken on bigger baddies than him, surely it would be a piece of cake. Right? Wrong. It came down to five of us; myself, Shadow, Zack, and two others. Vanion was holed up on the Overlord’s Isle so we laid siege accordingly.

I am not proud of the things I had to do on the island. Too much blood was shed and too many had to die by our hands for the sake of justice. We served as judge, jury, and executioner all the in the course of a single night. Our path carried us around a magically warped and twisted version of the Overlord’s Isle where we ran across mercenaries, zombies, cannibalistic chefs, ghosts, an undead dragon, and finally a portal that took us to what seemed like an entirely different world. I may have been no stranger to such jumps but it was still jarring just the same. All the while we had been herded to our final destination, wherever it may have been. It was exactly what Vanion wanted, witnesses to some great ascension plan he had concocted.

Let me tell you, ascension is not all it is cracked up to be. There is that say about great power and great responsibility but what the saying does not mention is that such power is also an immense burden, one I would not wish upon even my enemies. Yet they all seem to seek it for their own, caring not that it will ruin them little by little. It ultimately becomes their downfall, their suiting demise, but still they seek it. Fine, whatever.

Try as we might to convince him not to go through with it, there is no talking sense into insanity. He was a broken man, ruined by the loss of his family and a need to exact revenge upon those who took his loved ones away. On a base level, I think… I could empathize with his plight. What would I not do for those I love? Would I tear down the worlds and let them burn if it absolved me of a fraction of the pain that I would bear should I lose them?

I would…

And I am not sure if that should scare me or if it makes me normal. Not as though I have ever really been normal in any capacity of the word. Is it wrong to love people so? Is it wrong to hurt when we lose them? Is it wrong to wish to make the world hurt too? I suppose that last one is where it gets tricky. In his last moments, I think I truly felt bad for Vanion. But he died. He was beyond salvation. And though that campaign was supposed to be the end of his influence, he still found a way to haunt me.

Less than a year later, rumor had it that he had come back in time to join the Iron Fists League once more. The year prior, he had wiped the mat with me but the sheer tidal wave of panic that rose at the thought that he might have returned easily eclipsed any fear of in ring loss. I watched. Very carefully. He was not whole but there was definitely some portion of him still tied to the here and now. As luck would have it, we would be paired up again and it was then that he reiterated to me exactly why he had to die to begin with.

I was pregnant at the time, fighting through a proxy granted to me by the grace of the Tower of Earth. As soon as Vanion realized it, he lamented just how perfect it would be should he be reborn through my child. That he would love nothing more than to watch me die at the hands of my own flesh and blood.

It was… unsettling to say the least. I try my best not to think about it or about him or about the things we did to stop him. Sometimes it happens anyways. Sometimes it comes to me when I sleep. Sometimes I can’t fight it off. Tonight was one of those nights. I just have to keep telling myself that it isn’t real. The blood on my hands may stain them forever but these are the sacrifices we make.

--Claire
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 19, 2016 9:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

“It’s Thursday. You said you would be in touch so we could put together a plan for just how to handle all of this.”

“It is, in fact, Thursday. I am so pleased that you are capable of reading a calendar.”

“Claire.”

“Giovanni.”

“Don’t be like that.”

“Like what?”

“Petulant and difficult and sarcastic.”

“Oh but Gio, you love me this way.”

“Sometimes. But that is neither here nor there. What does your agenda look like today?”

“I think I am going to play with play dough.”

“With… what?”

“You know, the colored dough that kids play with and make things and… anyways, Addie got this fun factory something or other and wanted to bring it over to play with the twins. It is a total mess. So that is what I am doing.”

“And do you have any time at all to go over our game plan?”

“Leave it lie for a few days, Gio. Please.”

“Claire.”

“That isn’t a request, Diamante. You may tell me what to do in the capacity of the team but I am still your boss. Lay. Off. We will talk about it Monday.”

“But of course, Lady Light.”

One of these days she was going to throttle him through the phone for his smarmy use of an improper moniker but for now she let it slide. If he could put up with her temperamental and mercurial swings, then surely she could entertain his snark for a few minutes while she mashed a ball of electric blue dough into a flat pancake so Averia could press a star shaped cut out into it. She did not even both to say goodbye as she slid the phone from her shoulder, punched the end call button, and set the whole thing to the side. It was just as she had told Gio on the phone, business could wait. Family would need to come first. The three toddlers sitting at the dining room table amidst a mish mash of different colored dough, tools, and toys were proof positive that she made the right call.
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 19, 2016 9:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

November 17th, 2016

Dear Journal,

Priorities are such weird things. They change by the minute, the day, the week, the month, the year, the decade. What was once important no longer is, what never mattered before suddenly takes top priority. They are static, changing. They are the ebb and flow of the tides, the moons, the seasons. Impacted just as likely intrinsically as they are externally. So many things factor in that it is no wonder that it seems impossible to sort out just what is up and what is down and what matters not in the grand scheme of things.

I am rambling and none of it makes sense. I think I have a storm brewing in my blood, a need to discharge all of this rising electricity in my veins. I should get away from Cooper and the kids, if only for a few hours, while I sort my head out. No easy feat, if history proves to be precedent. I am not even sure just what has me set upon a razor’s edge but it is there, right at the fringe of my consciousness, waiting for the right opportunity to sucker punch me right in the ****ing throat.

The weather is changing, winter is coming. I hate the cold. I ****ing hate it with every single fibre of my being, every atom of my entire makeup. I have always chalked it up to being raised on a tropical island, you know, since Bodhum was perfect year round, but I think it is something more than that. It is far too reminiscent of a cold that I once experienced and thought I may never recover from. Cold and dark and so very empty. It was worse than crystal sleep and you know, it may very well have been worse than death. The Void is no joke. Often times there is no coming back from it. Yet here I am.

I am a defier of odds, ever in opposition of the path laid out before me. You would think that it gets tiring, fighting all of the time. But it is what I know. It is safe, you know. Sure, I could go along with things, take the easy way. It would certainly be less stress. I don’t know. Like I said, I am not making much sense right now and I haven’t the slightest idea why. My first instinct is to run because that would keep them safe. The blast radius is never a pretty one and I would never forgive myself if any of them were caught within it. They will be okay with Cooper, that much I am certain of.

--Claire
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PostPosted: Sun Nov 20, 2016 5:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The mahogany table beneath her head was cool save for the spot that radiated heat from where her coffee mug sat. She rocked her head side to side, rolling her forehead against the polished wood. It was Friday morning and rather than training or enjoying breakfast with the twins and Cooper or doing any number of other productive things she would rather be doing, she was stuck there, in an overly plush office chair, surrounded by a combination of suits and bruisers as they discussed the state of business within Caelum Enterprises and the Rhydinian holdings associated with it.

“In the wake of the election, requests for assistance have increased by about thirty percent. We could use some more boots on the ground but barring anything catastrophic, we are expecting it to even out around the new year.” Who was talking? That sounded like Sven. Claire tilted her head to listen a little more if only out of respect to a man who had done so much for her and her family, Serah included. It still did not stop the quiet yawn that slipped from her lips.

“Are you seeking to pull from the Rhydinian population or import from elsewhere?” Gio asked, somewhere to Claire’s right. Ish. Maybe forward right. She was not quite awake yet to be certain.

“We had considered Lucian blood but…” Sven trailed off. Claire did not have to look up to know there were eyes on her. The rocking of her head stopped and she sighed, her warm breath leaving a barely there imprint upon the table that dissipated quickly. For a few moments she sat there beneath the weight of their gaze, wondering if she could wait them out or if she would be forced to acknowledge them. The clearing of Gio’s throat solved that after a minute. Claire’s shoulders sank slightly, relieved.

“Though preferable, not feasible at this time. So noted. If needed, I have a few contacts that can assist in recruitment if needed.” Gio’s pen scratched along a piece of paper followed by the tap of his fingers against a tablet sitting right beside it. “Anything else on that front?”

“That is all I have.” Sven confirmed, his chair creaking as he sat back. Furtive glances returned Claire’s way and her shoulders sank again. After a moment she pressed her hands to the table’s edge and pushed herself up in her seat. Any remaining eyes that were not on her turned her way as she did. Claire frowned.

“What.” She snapped. She sat back in her seat and set her elbows to the plush chair’s arm. At that moment, one could have heard a pin drop. The faces looking back at her ran the gamut of emotions, from neutrality to concern, from anger to sadness. It had not been a kind year. Today she missed Noctis quite badly. She felt it in every muscle, every movement, every breath. Gio’s brows lifted, his head inclining toward her. It was a hint, she needed to say something. To delay, she reached for her coffee, taking a slow drink and setting it down. With that done, she exhaled and stared down at the cup, her fingers lacing at the table’s edge to keep them from fidgeting. “I know that the past year or so has been… particularly trying. We all have lost something, someone. We miss our families, our friends. The help we can offer them is minimal and in return we can ask little of them. Our problems here seem so trivial when we look at what our home is going through but our orders are firm.”

“Thank you, Lady Light.” Gio said gently. She didn’t look up as she nodded in acknowledgement.

“Have we received any word lately?” A voice piped up from the back of a gathering of enforcers lining the opposite side of the table. Claire shook her head softly but Gio took the moment to answer out loud.

“It has been some time however our last contact with our King indicated that he was still secure despite the tumult within Insomnia.” That was what Claire should have said. She was letting each and every one of these men down by failing to answer their questions. They still had families in Lucis, wives, children, parents, siblings. Some had lost those people and she was supposed to be this beacon of hope for them, but there she sat, awash with her own grief as it welled up at the most inopportune time. When they sought answers and reassurance, she could only try her best not to fall apart.

“As soon as we have more information, we will be sure to communicate it accordingly.” She mumbled, repeating a statement she had fed them many a time over the past year.

“Alright, moving on to other business. The classes for the Old Market Women’s Shelter are under way and--” Gio began, only to stop as Claire pushed her chair back from the table to stand. Once more all eyes turned toward her as she slid aside and tucked the chair against the table.

“Excuse me… I need some air or something. I will get a recap from you afterwards.” She muttered sheepishly in Gio’s direction, starting for the conference room’s closed door. Each step she took sounded like a gunshot amidst the dead silence but thankfully Gio cleared his throat and continued before she could escape.

“Enrollment is encouraging but we need to increase coverage at the training center during classes since our--” The rest of what he had to say was shut out by the closing of the door behind her. She couldn’t get out quickly enough.
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PostPosted: Sun Nov 20, 2016 5:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

November 18th, 2016

Dear Journal,

I am a grudge holder. I have been all of my life. If I am crossed but a single time, it is practically an instant implosion of any sort of bridge that remained. The light from their fires has lit my way through the dark on a number of times, ever an army of one against the world. I have played the part of hero and villain, martyr and saint, savior and sinner. The masks I wear are varied. Some are pristine and perfect while others are cracked and broken. Mother, sister, boss, captain, commander, lady. They do not always fit quite right but they are comfortable things. It leaves my inner circle quite small. Those that see behind them are few in number but they are worth having. Those outside of the circle, the ones that see the masks, do not see me.

This leads to misunderstandings and conflicts and issues and grudges and I am left with more enemies than friends. Maybe enemies is too strong a word but I have pushed many a person away for slights large and small. I thought for so long that this would keep me from getting hurt. If they were held at arm’s length or further away, I could excuse myself from letting them in.

I am really bad at this… whole thing. Being human, responding to others in a socially acceptable way, holding my temper, not letting my emotions get the best of me. For all that it feels like I lack so severely in that department, sometimes I think they rule me. There is no even middle ground, no equilibrium, just extremes. Highs, lows, never in between.

I think… I think that perhaps it is time to let some of those go. To work toward evening out, toward making amends. Life is much too long to carry such poison for so long. The list is long and likely reparations will not always be well received or accepted but if I go halfway to find no one to meet me then so be it. At the deepest depths of the waters that isolate my isle from others, I will stand with my hands out and my breath held, ready to rebuild smoldering bridges should the desire be there to fix things. Long ago I thought just such a thing would drown me and I think that is what has kept me isolated from others for so long but despite my innate social awkwardness, I would like to think that maybe just maybe I am capable of straightening this out and sort of… I don’t know, being normal.

Why do I have to be so ****ing weird, you know? With my friends I am just fine but put me in touch with someone I do not know well or have had issues with in the past and suddenly I am all kinds of awkward turtle. Is it a lingering Bhunivelze effect or am I really just that stunted? I find myself looking back, way back, you know to try and remember but there is so much to sort through, the good and the bad, to see just who I was underneath it all. Was I ever real? The little slivers that I can see through the layers make me out to be an emotionally deficient and distant little child of a girl. Maybe I have always been this way. Maybe I put on a good show. Is it too late to change? Five hundred years is a long time to be set in your ways, even if I had no say in a good portion of that time.

I am not so delusional to believe that it will be easy. After all, I have a terrible inability to admit when I am wrong about things. It is easier to adamantly deny even the remotest possibility of being wrong for the sake of saving face. In the end I save nothing at all except for striking one more name from my list of associates. If I am meant to live forever then this is surely no way to live. I might not be too sure about where to start and surely there is no definitive beginning for something like this, so I guess **** it, we’ll do it live, you know?

In the end it my hope that by making amends, I can not only absolve myself of some of this guilt that I carry like baggage constantly but also to undo some of the things I have done to others. I have not always been at fault but saying sorry is hard for both sides. Perhaps it will set a good example. The world could use a little more of that, don’t you think? Admittedly some of this is spurred on by all of the writing I have done. It has been insightful if not fully cathartic. Part of me feels like it has brought to light issues I was not aware of and I am not sure if that was Doc’s intention. Regardless, they need to be addressed so I am slowly but surely formulating a game plan to do exactly that.

Though I may not be too sure about whether or not I will continue this stupid journal thing at the end of the month, I gave it a try just as I promised I would. I am nothing if not good for my word, good or bad. Now I just need to figure out what to do with any of the so called insight I have gained through the course of this little exercise. On one hand, I could throw this whole thing into the fireplace, watch it all go up in smoke until there is no remnant of the secrets I have recorded here. On the other, I could hold on to it. Even if I do not keep up with it down the line, maybe it will eventually be something I can come back to and maybe even laugh at. Wouldn’t that be nice? I could share it with someone if I were of the mind to. Maybe Cooper. I think of anyone, he deserves it the most. I am not so great at explaining what is going on in this crazy, ****ed up mind of mine and he has been so unbelievably patient. Of everyone I ever met, he has earned it the most. More than any man or woman I have been with, more than any friend or family member. It’s him. It’s always him.

--Claire
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PostPosted: Sun Nov 20, 2016 3:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Why am I being scowled at?" She asked Kruger through a mouthful of funnel cake.

"It's called a phone call, Claire... not ignoring me."

"Someone hold my queue. I've got a big baby of an Anvil to deal with." She scowled as well, getting to her feet to grab for Kruger's arm to less than gently haul him off somewhere to talk to him.

Hauled off in whatever direction Clare was going, probably easier with all the head shots he took tonight. "Now? You want to do this now? Fine... now's as good as later."

"Damn straight we're doing this right now. You wanna get on my case, then *** it, we'll do it live." Whatever else was said was lost to the stairs save for the two traveling up them. When Claire finally stopped and let him go, she turned on him with fire in her eyes. "What. The. ***. Is your problem?"

Kruger's brows dropped, looking hard at Claire so as not to be put off by the sudden heat coming from her. "Tell me you didn't know about Niko and I'll gladly apologize for everything. Problem is I just can't see you not knowing. Jewell I can, she's so self concerned that she wouldn't look at anything or anyone that didn't directly affect her." Not that the woman didn't have things to answer for. Those would have to come later.

"Want me to lie to you? Tell you what you wanna hear? You already know the answer, Kruger." Already her anger was cooling, replaced by something harder to discern. It came in the furrow of her brow and the bite of her teeth against the inside of her cheek. "But you also know that things are always more complicated when you involve people like Niko and Addie." And Lila and Jade and Gabe and the list went on.

Maybe he had wanted her to lie. It might have been better than the truth. He could live a lie, hell he did that all the time. "No, there's enough lies going on." He was angry, but his tone had softened quite a bit. "I never give two *** about complicated. You already know that too though. Everything is complicated." He did his best to ease the tension from his body, but the flex of his fingers as they curled inward played across his forearms. "I just... You should have told me. Someone should have said something. Stupid as this may seem for me to say Claire... until now, I trusted you."

I trusted you. The minute flinch in her expression was as good as if he had struck her no matter hard she tried to restrain it. It set her back a step and then two, her hands dropping to her pockets as she set her jaw, her shoulders rolling into line a fraction of a second later. It was a steady rise, brick by brick, of a wall she knew shouldn't go back up. When she finally found her words again, they were short, clipped. "He trusted me too, to help him when he didn't think he should go to you. I tried to get him to but he didn't want to and if there's anything the years have taught me, it's that Allen men are impossible. I did right by him so be mad at me, hate me, I can carry it. But I did just as you would if the roles were reversed. Or at least what I thought you would."

His eyes closed, hiding for as long as he could the real feelings that might be there. "I don't hate you. I know enough about you to know you did what you could. I'm not asking why you didn't stop him." Kruger's chin descended to touch his chest, an audible swallow before his head rose and though he'd tried to hide it, the grief was still there in his eyes. "I'd never keep your children from you, no matter how much they asked me to. I'd find a way to tell you... and at least let you decide what to do about it, if anything. He didn't even want me to know... What the hell did I do?"

"I thought he had more time." She admitted. Nick's time had been short, so short, that it was but a blink of an eye in the grand scheme of things. There hadn't been time for her to wait and see, to let Nick go to Kruger on his own. Claire was no stranger to what Kruger was feeling but even after all this time, she knew not how to contend with it. "He lost you, Kruger. Just before he came. *** a kid up to watch their parent die only to see some past version of them just fine." She spoke from experience, a crushing weight that reminded her of just how far Lila had fallen and how much of that was Claire's fault. "Don't be mad at him... or Addie... they did the best they could with the hand they were dealt."

He heard her, that bit of an argument held weight. "I'm not... I... It's just so unfair." He didn't want to dredge up names, to put Claire through the memories of what had happened with Lila. "I would have made it okay, I could have done things." He wasn't sure what exactly, but he was sure it didn't have to cost Nick his life. It was hard to explain to her exactly what he was thinking, or feeling for that matter. He'd tried before, done his best with Addie's mother. Oddly the last things that Claire had said were like a slap to the man. "Mad at him, at Addie? They're just kids... and I love them. Don't look at me like I'm weird either. I'm not blind, and Addie needed... needs someone older." He couldn't quite get the words out in a cohesive manner. "I know he's your friend but he's not stepping up." The last of it he let her interpret as she would.

"It is," she agreed with a soft nod but forced herself to compartmentalize everything into neat little boxes where they would ruin her carefully crafted calm. "But it's done now. We move forward." How desperately she wanted to save him from his pain, to tell him that all would be well with Nick in the end, at least if things went as they were supposed to. She may not have been able to break the rules but her children could bend them and though some older version of herself would be pissed, it was a sacrifice that Claire of the here and now was willing to make. Claire sighed, suddenly tired. It set her back another step, her hands digging further into her jacket pockets. "She looks up to you... she was certain you were going to hate her for telling you but she wouldn't let me tell you for her." Her gaze averted with his final statement, a barely perceptible tension creeping into her shoulders and limning her expression until for the briefest moment, the flicker of torchlight made her eyes look like they were lined with the glossy threat of tears. There and gone, she turned away before the dam could break. "Look out for her, if she will let you."

"I'm afraid my forward is mired in things that I guess is normal for the most *** up city on any planet I've ever heard of. I don't know why you came here of all places. Don't get why you are so tangled up with... I don't even know why I let you be so tangling to me. You don't need to worry about Addie, she may not know, may never ask for it. I'll be there though." Somebody had to be, as many somebodies as could be found. "I talked to her the other day, young Addie I mean. Talked with her mom... I can't ignore what's happening here Claire. I know a few things. Addie's situation, I had things to do with it. Nick fixed that. I'd have fixed it, but I wasn't given a choice. He chose for me, so yeah. That leaves the mess he made when he got here. That's on me. But I can't be myself and be what I need to be. Surely you understand that." Maybe she did, or maybe not. Kruger, despite his hurt at her knowledge, despite everything, he believed that there was little that escaped her vision or the mechanics of her mind fitting into place. All except one. There might be just one thing about him that she'd never understand, and he wasn't feeling giving tonight.

"There's a lot you don't know." She remarked. Her tone had shifted, locked up to the point that the hint of vulnerability had smoothed over completely. Such was an easy shift in masks, one for another as it cracked. "Regardless of what you might think, I'm going to be worried about her. It's my job." Though it hurt to look at him, she forced herself to, turning her gaze back to meet his. Aquamarine was crystal clear and somehow in the dim light it became evident that there was green in her irises, visible only at such a close proximity. "He didn't make the mess, don't blame him. Averia asked him to go so if you wish to assign fault, blame me. So you just worry about being you then. I'll fix it." She always did. Always. "What else can I do to make you feel better?"

"Much as it doesn't surprise me that somewhere there's another Allen boy who'll do anything for a Farron girl, she didn't ask him to do the things he did. She wasn't the one to bring him here or in doing so make Addie visible once more. She'd have told him not to bother with shields, no matter what their power, and kept him away from you." They were too close together, those hints of green couldn't escape the practiced inspection of his own eyes like grain in the field. Her last question hurt him though. A tiny thing registering in his face before he slammed home his own mask to shield it.

"That's a dangerous thing to ask me, Claire. An impossible thing that even you can't remedy now." His hands hurt, not from the fight he'd just been in either. The strain of the clench he'd been holding was burning through his muscles and letting go was only the first step. It would take the same effort to straighten his fingers all the way, so used to holding the handle of a hammer were they. He'd managed to do it though, his touch at her jaw the barest whisper of contact between callused fingertips and her skin. "There're things that could make me feel better, but I've learned something in this life. I don't get what I want most. I get to watch as you move from one to another and... I don't know what else to say." He knew, but this was hard enough. How could he expect her to deal with the things he wished had been different.

"Cooper seems like a good guy, better in my opinion than the last two. 'fraid that's all I'm gonna get though, the offer. I'm afraid that I'll be long dead before you find me waiting, which is a shame since I think I was there first." Kruger stopped himself before he said even more than he wanted to.

"Even the best offense falls apart without a proper defense to set it up for success. And him coming to me is the best thing he could have done." There was an edge to her tone, razor sharp to match the hardness of her gaze. The more he spoke, the deeper her frown set until not even the gentle graze of his fingers could free the tension that had locked her jaw.

"Don't make this about us. Don't you dare. Th-this is about Niko. And... and Addie. I... just, don't." She drew back from him with a shake of her head. In her pockets, her hands had clenched into tight balls that she had to force to relax for the sake of withdrawing one to push back through her hair. It did little to tame her locks but it kept her from lashing out, as much for her benefit as it was for his.

"I offered you my friendship, Kruger, and I am grateful for your friendship over the past few years. So if that isn't good enough, then go, but don't you dare stand in front of me and act like you, or anyone for that matter, has any sort of claim over me based on... on what, dibs? Some... ****ed up sense of entitlement because you've been around longer? No. *** that and *** you." After the week she'd had, it was impossible to hold off the glistening along her lashline as she backed away from him. Only once she was out of reach did she turn her back on him, her shoulders shaking as she started for the exit.

"No Claire, it's about everything. Niko and Addie are just the tip of it.No, I don't get to choose, I don't have dibs. I just get to watch you be happy time and again and maybe you don't understand exactly what that's like. Don't you dare think that turning on it and running away changes it either. I know how it is. All I will ever get from this is whatever the *** we are right now. You've deserved better than you got. Better than I've ever had to give. Believe me, Niko is the best I have to give you. So run or dammit turn around and hit me. You can do that much, don't ignore me." She was going, he was perhaps a fool for letting so much more than he had wanted to flood out of him. He'd been a fool before, he would be again. He backed away from her, pressing his back to the wall.

"But Claire... if you go now. I need you to remember. The best I have for you bled to death on a roof in New Haven, and there's nothing I can do to change that now." Hers weren't the only moist eyes in that small space. How the hell she'd managed to strip him so easily of every defense he'd never know. There it was though.

"Stop it." She whispered. He threatened her composure, he tested her resolve, he sent her running because it was easier than daring to try and contend with what he threw at her back. Short of the stairs, she stopped with her back to him, her head lowered to pass both hands through her hair, tangling at the crown before letting the pink flow free. Each word needled along her spine, daring her to move, to turn back to him to let him see the redness in her eyes and the quiver of her mouth. Finally she did and though five centuries weighted her gaze, there was a fatigue in her expression that made her look younger, more vulnerable.

"And that is a burden I will bear but the best you have is four years old and still has more potential than you realize, right here in Rhydin. What you lost on that roof was one possibility of many. He has, and will, live and die a million times. You will drive yourself insane if you dwell upon one when you still have so much potential under your care. Do the best that you can to make sure those future potentials are the best that they can be." She took a breath, her eyes closing briefly as she exhaled.

"So be hurt, be ****ing devastated if you have to be but pull yourself together for the little boy that still needs you to help him become the man that would give everything for his friends. Just..." Claire sighed. "Don't get angry. Anybody can become angry, that's easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose and in the right way... that is not within everybody's power and is not easy." A beat. "You'll ruin yourself otherwise."

"Does my ruin matter so much? I am angry Claire, because I'd have traded places if I could have. Because I know that's what he was probably afraid of. In the end, I'm to blame for being me. Like all things, but who else can I be? So, I'm angry and it's futile because without being me... I just wonder if he'd been better off." Without me never left his lips. He wouldn't say them. Claire had managed to unhinge him once without trying. He was more wary this time.

"That's not what's happening now though. It's got nothing to do with how I feel for the kids. All the kids Claire." The latter just in case she wondered where his head was. His weakness was the kids, and always had been. "That won't keep any of them safe." Or Raven, more that he refused to say aloud because she would stop him most likely.

"Hurt's fair though I guess. Nothing I don't feel pretty often. You didn't hear that from me though, because it ain't meant for anyone but you." He shook his head, he was rambling now and the need to get out of her sight was burning through him. He could only take so much of it before it became overwhelming. "Go, work... and don't think about any of this. It never happened, I was never here... I don't feel anything for you." He emphasized that by twisting away from her, though he couldn't find the power to turn all the way around as he had with Addie. Some things would always be too difficult for him to do.

"Fine. Have it your way." With an exasperated sigh she knuckled her forehead then drew her fingers down to pinch at the bridge of her nose. The wind had been sapped from her sails and she was drifting, watching him with something indiscernible etched across her expression. Her hand dropped further, smearing her fingers over her mouth before falling away completely.

"If you don't want to think about it, then fine. Convince yourself of it but you don't get to tell me what to do." Despite the harshness of her words, they lacked bite as she turned back the way she had intended to escape. With a foot on the next step she looked over her shoulder at him. "It was Aristotle, by the way. That quote. Just... something to think about."

With that she climbed the stairs as if they were the greatest of mountains without so much as a single glance back.

He looked at her as she said the words over her shoulder at him. When he thought she was out of earshot. Kruger shook his head. "I wasn't saying it for me. I already know I'm doomed, just thought I could spare you along the way." Kruger watched her all the way down the steps until she was gone from view.

"Aristotle... Now you know why I don't use the damn name unless I have to. I don't want to think about... I just want to break things and people." Talking to himself, the more things changed the more they stayed the same it seemed. He pushed off the wall and headed in the opposite direction that the pink haired woman had taken.




[[Thank you to Kruger for this scene!]]
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Claire Gallows
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PostPosted: Sun Nov 20, 2016 3:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

November 19th, 2016

Dear Journal,

**** this. **** everything. **** everyone. I’m done.

--C
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PostPosted: Sun Nov 20, 2016 9:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The kids were in bed, Cooper was close to asleep, and Claire was still stewing in her hurt and anger. Her words had failed her, her emotions had done worse, and though the cowboy worried over her, she had sank so far into shutting down that all she could do was assure him she was fine. Fine, fine, fine. She just needed time. That was all she needed. Sometime around midnight she decided she also needed air to go with that slice of time. She touched a kiss to Cooper’s brow, assured him that she would be back, and left, helmet in hand. It was cold, likely too cold for a ride, but there was neither rain nor snow to slicken the road so if the worst she got was a chill, she could handle it. The thick leather of her jacket did well to guard against the cold’s bite but she knew once she got going that it would find a way to wriggle through any gap it could to set ice in her veins. She was careful to ease the black and pink sportbike out of the alley behind the Owl, waiting to open it up until she was well enough away that it wouldn’t wake the twins. The start and stop of the city was hell on her hands, her stiff fingers refusing to ease their hold at stop signs and lights, so she directed the bike south, cresting the bridge between the market and Old Temple.

The city’s southernmost gate was passed often and today was no exception. She didn’t so much as slow on her way through before the roar of the bike beneath her whisked her away from the city. If one abided by the speed limit, it typically took forty-five minutes to get from the gate to Caelum Manor’s front gate. Without the twins and the Jeep, Claire’s primary reasons to obey the signs were but an afterthought. It was hard, especially on the Suzuki. Long ago, Zack had doubled its power, resulting in a beast of a machine, capable of cutting her commute time to a mere thirteen minutes. There and back, that’s all she wanted, a much needed piece of solitude thanks to the open road. Just as she thought, the wintery temperatures settled into her flesh only a few minutes into the breakneck journey so she kept her head and chest low to the bike’s frame to cut down on drag. The scenery flew by, a blur of black and blacker lit by twin moons half full. Eventually it gave way to the increasingly dense woods that signaled to her that she would be home sooner rather than later.

Home. Hardly. Home was currently sleeping in the apartment above the Sassy Owl Saloon. Home was Averia’s bright silver eyes, wide and observant. Home was Alexander’s laugh, wild and unrestrained. Home was Cooper’s arms, sturdy and warm. Home, she needed to go home.

She needed to have slowed down at least two hundred yards before the curve in the road. There was no correcting in time, not at that speed. Ducking low into the turn, she felt the back tire wobble just before it slipped. In one moment she was flying down the road. In the next, her stomach lurched with the separation from the bike as it slid out from under her. Fear, confusion, she couldn’t outride this one. So rarely was she out of control of her body that finding the forces exerted over her by gravity and its friends made it impossible to think straight. There was cement and sky, rolling over and over to blur the stars and the pavement’s yellow paint into a smear of color. Yellow, yellow, it was all yellow like healing bruises and like the voice in her head.

This again, really?

Each bump felt like running into a wall at two hundred miles an hour. Oh… wait. She felt denim shred and the road did its best to tear at leather. Was she flying or was she skipping over the ground like a stone chucked across the glass surface of a lake by the hand of a giant? Surely the latter judging by the way her teeth rattled each time her helmet bounced. Impact after impact sent white hot flames through her bones until she was certain she had caught fire by shear friction alone. It seemed as though the world would never stop flipping when suddenly it all came to an abrupt stop. Her back bowed with the contour of the tree trunk that had halted her tailspin, the resulting crunch equal parts bark and bone.

Inertia was a bitch.

Only vaguely aware of her condition, Claire groaned, her breath fogging up the inside of her visor. It was warm and it tickled her nose like Cooper’s beard when he kissed her. Nothing hurt at least but moving, that was a chore. She couldn’t force so much as a twitch from her fingers as the starry night sky darkened. The stars were so pretty this far outside of the city but as much as she wanted to stare at them, Valhalla was calling.
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 21, 2016 2:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“Oh gods, she’s dead. There’s no way…” The smoldering mass of twisted metal at the roadside had sent up a billowing stream of smoke for hours, signaling to those who ventured into the woods that something was afoot. With the dry tinder of trees in the fall it was easy to think that a wildfire had sparked, sending rangers from a nearby preserve out to check. It wasn’t quite time for the morning shift to come in so the three men at the station drew straws to see who would go and who would stay. In the end, two loaded up into one of the station’s short cab pickups to ramble down a gravel drive to get to the main road. Armed with extinguishers and fire suppression spells, what they didn’t expect was the path of scattered plastic and metal that stretched along a wicked curve in the road to cut a tangent line off into the trees. At the end of the line, a woman’s still form had crumpled around the wide trunk of an ancient tree.

“Douse the vehicle, I’ll check on the driver.” Both men exited the truck at the same time but while one rounded to the bed to gear up, the other jogged down the short incline to where the woman’s body rested, illuminated by the headlights of the truck. He touched the sign of the cross with two fingers as he neared, forehead, chest, both shoulders. Her chest was still but it appeared the heavy leather jacket she wore had withstood the wreck fairly well. One sleeve was pushed up her forearm, her skin an abraded mess of pink and dirt. Further up, just beneath the cuff of the sleeve, the material bulged with what he guessed may have been a break in the bone. The denim jeans she had worn had not been nearly as lucky as her jacket. Patches of the fabric had been grated away completely, exposing road rash covered flesh. What was left of the material was stained black in places, particularly around the sharp protrusion of a fracture in her lower leg, but she didn’t seem to be bleeding from any of her injuries.

“Damn…” He muttered, stooping beside her. The visor of her motorcycle helmet was cracked, spiderwebbing lines across the plastic while keeping it in one piece. With a shake of his head, he cautiously checked her pockets for any form of identification. Within her jacket, a leather wallet produced a thick stack of cash, a handful of cards, a license, and a photostrip from a booth at Citizens Day earlier in the year. Within the quartet of pictures, a man and a woman posed with two toddlers, the foursome crammed into the tiny booth with big smiles and at least a couple laughs. In black and white, he couldn’t tell what color her hair was, but the license he drew out confirmed it. The braided tail of pink that fell over the biker’s shoulder matched that of the picture. The name, his heart fell as he read it. Behind him, his partner swept the white foam of a compact extinguisher over the motorcycle, or what was left of it. When the trigger was released and the shkkkk of the spray died down, he spoke up. “Ey Mikey… s’the name Caelum ring a bell?”

“Uhh, don’t the Caelums own a bunch’a land across the lake from work? That big ol’ compound with the training center?” Mikey called, looking from the bike to his partner. The woman still hadn’t moved but Mikey made his way over anyways. He’d never seen a dead body before. The thought set his stomach in knots and made him want to toss the donuts he had eaten just before they got the call.

“Crap… that’s right. Get on the radio and get Smith to send emergency services this way.” Jim shut the wallet and tucked it gently into the woman’s pocket again.

“I got the bike taken care of, we just need clean up crews at this point?” Mikey asked, stopping well before Jim and the woman. Though he didn’t want to touch her too much, Jim slipped two fingers beneath the bottom of her helmet to press his fingertips against her neck. He felt nothing at first but after a moment and a little deeper pressing, his eyes widened.

“She’s got a pulse, man! Barely, but it’s there! Go, go, go. Get ‘em to send a chopper or somethin’, whatever’s fastest. Just hurry up!” Jim shooed his partner off. Mikey went scrambling up the embankment and ran for the trunk, the radio inside their only tie to the civilization. Jim dropped to his knees and carefully pushed up the helmet’s visor. Her eyes were closed but her pretty face was unbattered save for swelling in her bottom lip.

“Miss? Missy, can you hear me? Can you open your eyes for me?” He asked. No response came. If she wasn’t dead, she was close. Jim leaned down, turning his ear toward the opening in the helmet. It may have been wishful thinking but he was almost certain he could just barely hear the rattle of breath from the slight parting of her lips.

“Jim! They can’t get a copter in here but they are going to land just north of here and have an ambulance bring her to them.” Mikey shouted from the truck’s side, the radio still in his hand.

“That’ll take ‘em almost an hour to get here and get her out to them, she doesn’t have time for that.” Jim sat up, his brow furrowing.

“There’s no one closer, Jimbo. She’s just gotta hold on.” Mikey said.

“Hear that, darlin’, you gotta hold on. They’ll be here soon.” Jim said to the woman. Gently he took her hand, careful of the shredded gloves, and sat until the distant whirl of sirens assured him that she would be okay soon.
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