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Skuld - Cantabile

When the Director of Patient Care summoned Skuld to his office, she nearly panicked. Could it have been the cold compress she made last week where she used three ounces instead of two ounces of mild mint? Or was this about her bumping into a nurse's aide? Running around a corner on the left side of a hallway couldn't have been her worst idea that day; she spilled soup all over herself in the cafeteria just hours later and walked about since morning, ignorant of the bird poop in her hair until evening.

But it wasn't about any of those things. Even the strict Physican Sibilus, more terrifying than any shushing nurse, had become accustomed to Numbskuld's antics in her four years of apprenticeship. He sat her down before his desk in the tidiest office known to man and opened his large courtyard window. The last wisps of summer augured a dry and foreboding start of spring. In five days, Granea would welcome the beginning of a new year.

"I hear you travel to Waxtide on the last quarter of every moon. How do you like it there?" His hands clasped before him on the table. The director's imposing gaze overrode the weary gray in his hair. Skuld amused herself, thinking him a fish eagle with wing feathers touching before his beak of a nose... yet not even her vivid imagination could quell the shaking of her knees.

"Yessir, I like the library there fine." She nodded.

"How so?"

"Qidan's collection has a great focus on economics and mercantilism." Being a girl with an open book for a face, Skuld couldn't lie her way out of a bucket. Her expression reeked of disdain. "Every search I do, I end up with books on how and where to sell and buy materials, rarely on how to use or where to find materials. Waxtide's collection is famous for its completeness and roundedness. I've no troubles there."

"Will you be going this quarter?" He asked

"Yessir."

He raised an eyebrow at this. "You will not visit your father at Kandabetta for the new year? I hear you are quite close to old Jotner."

Skuld blushed up to her ears. It nearly slipped her mind that Director Sibilus never forgot a face or a name. She gave him a sheepish smile. "We had some, um... differences... in our last few letters. It might be safer to give him a few days to cool down, else he'll keep me hostage at home and have me drop out of the program."

"The same old. I will not say that I disagree with him." He leaned forward. "You've three months until your certification exam, am I correct?"

"Of course, sir." Sibilus was always correct. He didn't miss her cheek and almost rolled his eyes, to her mild surprise.

"You could have a recommendation from any of your instructors or directors to any hospital as an herbologist, yet you are the only one of your graduating year who has yet to apply for a sponsor or an institution."

"I wish to be a field medic, sir." Her soft, chipper voice hardened into a light frown. "That's been my intention from the very beginning of my apprenticeship."

"There is time still to be a field medic after parmeceutical instruction. The University of Waxtide has an excellent pharmacy program."

"Sir, I wish to be--"

He cut off her protest with a wave of his hand. "Yes, as you have declared." He stiffened to perfect posture. "The military always accepts applicants, but it will be harder to get into an institution or find a sponsor if you do not seize the chance now, fresh from graduation." Sibilus heaved a sigh. "I cannot change your resolve, but I, too, will ask you to reconsider."

Silence hung like a spider silk suspended between their eyes, a drop of dew clinging in the center, held there by their eye contact. Her deep turquoise eyes shone brilliantly like the jewel-like atolls of Ceraisona. His hazel ones leered back with remorseless obdurance, green and brown and bits of blue, the surface of Mount Kallis. The dewdrop collapsed through the thread as Skuld looked away. "Y... yessir."

"Very well." He pulled out a box wrapped in brown paper and tied with several coils of hemp string. "This is the reason I've called you here." Skuld accepted the parcel.

"Sir?"

"My son Eldren is studying in Waxtide. Have you seen any performances by Troupe Adelaide at Theater Verthandi?" Skuld shook her head to him, to which he replied with another brown paper-wrapped item. This one was thin. He offered it to her like a card, held in the seam of his index and middle finger. "They are performing a cantade on the Eve of the New Year. I happen to have a ticket that I have no need for, so you should go if you wish. Eldren will be in it."

Skuld nearly dropped the parcels. Fumbling till she got them safe in her hands again, she blabbered, "H-h-he's trouping at Th-theater Adelaide?!?! No, I mean-- He's adeling with Troupe Verthandi--"

"It would please me if you could deliver the box to him along with my tidings for the New Year." He was content speaking right over her inept tongue in his stoic, professional drawl. "There is a ticket and an authority pass in the envelope. You will be able to visit the staff-only area with it."

Skuld opened the flap on the envelope and slipped the contents out just far enough to peek at them. There was a written consent pass, signed and sealed by whom appeared to be the director of security, and a luxury seating ticket for the row closest to the stage. Skuld swallowed hard. A ticket like this was bought on a month's worth of her stipend, a year's salary for poor laborers. She didn't want to begin imagining what connections and bribes he might have used to get the pass.

"Well, apprentice, I know you are busy with your work. I won't keep you any longer."

She knew a dismissal when she heard one and scrambled to find her feet before he did, as apprentices should in the presence of a superior. The director opened the door for her and gave her the slightest of bows. She hesitated. Some part of her nagged at her feet, bashing down on what little there is of her sensible side.

Skuld was half-way over the threshold when she stopped.

"Sir?" She turned her head up. He towered over her by a good foot and a little, casting a pole-thin shadow over her face.

"Do you have something to ask me?"

Skuld opened her mouth... then closed it... then opened it again.

"My time is precious, Apprentice Skuld."

"I'll tell him." She cracked an impudent smile. "I'll tell Eldren that you really wanted to see him." Without waiting for a reply or a reprimand for running indoors again, she vanished down the stairs at the end of the hall.


Chapter 1 with horses

Skuld and her courier escort wave goodbye to each other at the mail bureau.

Four days later, Skuld found herself at the high-coasted city of Waxtide. She would have enjoyed her walk from the mail bureau if her rump wasn't so sore, riding from Daylight to Nightfall. That dratted young filly had no consideration for her rider and galloped ahead whenever the road was straight. Skuld and her buttocks couldn't care less if the wench's ma was a prize-winning racehorse. The caravan was slower than courier, but boy, was she happier riding an inglorious mule!

A small plaza offered a fountain carved of stone, decorated in bronze. Three winged women held up an urn overflowing with water, representing the Valkyries of Venetia holding the Waters of Wisdom. Skuld stopped there to remove her back satchel and get a drink. A few firm shakes got the worst of the travel dust out of her clothes and hair. If Director Sibilus saw her now, he'd never write her a recommendation anywhere. Drinking unboiled water from a public source? Spraying dirt and sand everywhere? Skuld snickered to herself. He'd sooner have her sent to the pig sty. Wetting a handtowel from her back satchel, she wiped the grit and sweat from her exposed skin so she didn't look like she rolled in one of the beaches nearby. Only when she was satisfied with her cleanliness did she ascend the stone steps to Waxtide's most coveted treasure.

Ballads had been sung over the Library of Waxtide. There lived about 300,000 volumes in the unrestricted section alone. Some existed only in scroll form, preserved so well against time and tear that they garner the envy of aging women, or so the bards sang. The restricted sections hold untold numbers. Several floors were required to contain it all and a staff of nearly 200 full-time librarians administrate the system on a daily basis.

Stainglass windows shimmered, set into thick wooden doors. Skuld let them close quietly behind her and seal in the scent of old paper. Ashen with ink, musky with time, salty from the sea... it filled her lungs with a nostalgic pleasure. Beautifully crafted masonry and carpentry held it all together. 

Not many were here at such a late hour the day before a holiday. A few staff whispered behind the circulation desk to Skuld's left. They wore the dark-green bands of silk around their sleeves, denoting intern statuses.

"... Books are spelled against burning. Even you can execute such a simple protection. It's not like they can do any harm."
"We don't know what they intend to do. One does not simply bypass the security of a federal library--"
"It might just be interns accidentally setting off small fires because they can't scribe."
"If that was a joke, it wasn't funny."
"Nothing's funny when you're working on New Year's Eve."
"At least we're closing early. How much time do we have left?"
"Five minutes till gates shut--"

"Er... excuse me." Three heads turned to stare her down. Skuld put up her hands and shrank back. "I reserved a few books beforehand, and--"

"Your card, please?"

Skuld reached into her belt satchel for it. The slim metal card with her name punched into apetures was barely larger than her palm, square in shape and made of white steel. A thin strip on the back shimmered differently depending on what angle she placed it in the light. She swore that the patterns on it changed, they were so intricate.

The closest intern picked up a thick notebook and flipped through it like a deck of playing cards, barely glancing at the contents. Skuld had seen this before. Librarians were superior translators who only needed a glance to read the sentiments in writing. It took mere seconds for her name and reservation to be found.

"Please wait just a moment." The intern said politely, returning Skuld's card. She passed her fellow interns on the way to reserved shelving. "Restriction Level M books. Please fetch Master Ninvena?" Two left, leaving the third to take care of another patron.

Skuld checked the time on one of the ornate wall clocks. There was almost an hour before the show. If walking briskly and ignoring traffic, it would take half an hour. Skuld shifted from foot to foot while the parcel in her bag grew ever the heavier.
Eldren - Andante

"Hips! Hips! Hips!" the woman shouted, prancing around in circles on the smooth wooden floor. “Your hips are your keys to motion! Your hips are your wings! If you step on straight legs,” the woman demonstrated, “you can't move! Everything's locked! But as soon as you slide your hip side and back,” she said, sliding her hip back, “you free up your range of motion!” She took a gliding, graceful step on her newly freed leg. “Does that make sense?”

“Yes, Miss Adelaide.” came a chorus of eight, looking between their mid teens to early twenties, all dressed in identical gray-tan tunics and slacks.

“Excellent. Do those two steps ten more times. Slowly. Make them absolutely perfect. Slide your hips all the way back on each step. All the way back. Then an inch further. Understood?”

“Yes, Miss Adelaide,” muttered several of the students, who turned back to the mirror and repeated two steps – a simple side-side exchange – putting, as instructed, meticulous care into the placement of the hips and step. The woman, towering over the students, donned a bright lime green dress with white accents that both fit tight to her full figure and contrasted sharply with her vibrant ginger-red hair.

“Stop,” she suddenly muttered. “Floralie.” She walked over to a girl in the middle of the group and grabbed her with one hand on the near shoulder and two fingers of the other hand pressing into her breastbone.
“Lead the step with your ribcage,” she said, pushing her to the side and forcing the girl to drop down a foot to prevent from falling. “Keep your frame high. Then step straight back, and roll the hip to the side, THEN back.” She lowered her fingers to the girl's left hip and pushed sharply back, forcing her waist to stick out and a grimace of discomfort to flash on her face.

“Just like that. Fifteen times, to get over the pain.” She removed her hands and continued her survey of the studio.

Even for one experienced with her teaching methods and quirks, it was hard to tell what Miss Grecko Adelaide thought of her students – or of anyone in general. As the tallest member of the entire Troupe, with a full figure to boot, her demeanor would change from bright and friendly to stern shouts of “AGAIN! FIFTY TIMES!” at the drop of a swallow's feather. Not to mention that her sincerity was backed by a smile that never failed to make you feel self-conscious, and nail-thin, twilight-black eyebrows that could unnerve a brick wall with a twitch. If Dragons There Be, then be one she – majestic, graceful, and just as terrifying.

“All right, that's enough,” Grecko spoke. “Go clean yourselves up and relax for a bit before dinner.” The students made for the exit, with chirps of “Thank you, Miss Adelaide” from a couple as they passed her. A couple seconds later, the studio hall was empty – save for one student in the back, who continued practicing the two steps and hip rotation. Grecko slowly approached him, watching from a distance.

“Your range of motion has increased. You're doing well.”

“I can do better.”

Miss Adelaide chuckled, then drew a sharp breath. “I don't doubt that.” He continued stepping side to side.

“When you're done with that you can add the arms. Remember: palms up, lead with the elbows.” The boy nodded and kept working on his step, while Grecko watched. Several moments passed.

“Your father didn't return his ticket this time.”
The boy paused mid-step, wordlessly staring in the mirror for several seconds, then returned to his routine.

“That's unlike him.”
“It certainly is. I always receive his classic 'Letter of Apologies and Regrets' the morning after I send the tickets out, but none came. Like clockwork, that Dr. Sibilus. And always far too professional for my liking.” The boy continued practicing his steps.

“Add the arms.”
“I'm not yet comfortable with the feet-”
“Add the arms.” she repeated, perfectly calmly. The boy paused, then repeated the steps, flourishing his arms out to the sides and over his head with each iteration.

“Your right index finger. Raise it higher.” He did so, continuing his steps in silence. After twenty repetitions, she raised her hand, the boy stopping mid-step and looking back up at her.

“That's enough for now,” she said, turning around and heading towards the door. “Get changed and meet us in the dining room.”

“I think I'll stay and practice. I'm not that hungry.” He turned back towards the mirror. Grecko paused, then turned around, cocking one of her deadly eyebrows at him.

“Eldren.”

He continued practicing the step, slowing down intermittently while she stared. Then she sighed and turned back around towards the exit.
“No more than twenty times. It won't do you any more good than it's already done.” She stepped through the door, leaving the boy in the room. Eldren slowed his step, glancing back at the doorway to make sure Grecko was gone, then reached into his pocket, pulling out a cleanly folded sheet of paper and small ink pen. He sat down and looked at the blank sheet for a couple seconds before writing, in the top left corner:

Father,


He continued to stare at the sheet for several seconds. Then he folded it up, put the pen and paper back in his pocket, and walked towards the door.
Sulsaga icon

Intern Savenia stood outside the door of her mentor, as usual. Checking the time, biting her nails, stuffing her hands in her pockets, standing on her tippy-toes, whatever she could do to pass the time. Goodness, this job was so boring. Everyone always pictured being a Librarian, especially one in the absolutely magical city of Waxtide, as being so exciting and pulse-pounding. It was one of the few jobs around the place where being an intern was a coveted-for apprenticeship - what could be cooler than playing the squire for a grizzled Librarian who fought off demonic monsters of legend? Those type of book mages, too old to be mere organizers but still too young to become Senior Practitioners who don't need interns, were always the rough outdoorsy type who shunned the library for the adventurous outside. And those mages were cute, not to mention intern-mage romances weren't uncommon. It was a young woman's dream job, which was why Savenia used all her possible charm in order to make sure that she got this dream job.


So why was it turning out to be a nightmare?


Being an Intern was the exact opposite of what she predicted. Her Librarian was an Arcane Archaelogist, a title she couldn't top in the Boring category no matter how hard she tried. He wasn't tall, he wasn't muscular, and he didn't even like going outside. All he did was coop himself up in his dusty old office and read and study old fossils and books and make weird noises. She'd been in there once or twice, without him knowing of course, and it was nowhere near as exciting as he made it out to be. If her Librarian prohibited her from entering his office, he could have at least made it worth sneaking into. But noooo.


Savenia looked to the side and bit her lip slightly as she thought more of her Librarian. He had his perks, of course... He was definitely young, and thus a bit easier to snag if she really wanted to. He had none of the manly pulchritude she was hoping for, but his slim figure and angular face had its own charms. And his hair... She couldn't stop herself from giggling to herself for a moment. His hair, a shade of burgundy that was definitely not from around Waxtide, was absolutely to die for. And when he flipped his head - or tilted it while reading! - was just divine. He was cute, of course, but the problem still stood that he was boring.


She heard a door open in her perch outside of her romantic fantasy, and stood up straight in preparation for her boss to order some more book cleaners or bone waxers again. Savenia was pleasantly surprised, at least at first, to realize that the noise came from the outside. It was one of the interns from the front desk area, one that was above rank to her, and she stood still and awaited orders from him.


"Master Ninvena has a guest, Savenia." Savenia politely nodded and gave two knocks on her Librarian's door - their signal that meant "Come on out" - before opening it. Upon hearing her Librarian's footsteps, she bowed and closed her eyes, as was customary. No more words were exchanged as her Master and the Intern who summoned him left into the Library Commons. Before they left, Savenia sneaked a glance upward at her Master and donned a devilish grin.


Boring or not, he had a beautiful butt.


Skuld’s attention followed a splash of burgundy from the far end of the chamber. He couldn't have been that tall, she thought, but as that splash grew bigger, she felt her neck ache with the strain of looking up.


In grammar school years ago, Skuld once saw classmate show off a metal bookmark. It was a thin, pretty thing with a red ribbon tied to a hole at the top. The boy often stood it vertically in the crack of his book. That was what she likened this man to -- a rod-straight bookmark towering above the ant-like letters, so serious a figure that the teacher never did manage to confiscate it.


As for the bookmark himself, he sauntered to the back of his desk and adjusted his glasses. Taking a glance at the client in front of him, he was a bit taken aback at how young she was, as well as how short - but that was irrelevant. From his short time at the Waxtide Library, only 12.4% of all clients were minors old enough to attend the venue without parental supervision, and he had not served a single one yet. Sulsaga tilted his head slightly and studied the girl, glancing over her somewhat scant clothes and observing her body language. She was apparently studying him as well, but with an air of childish curiosity that he lacked, or perhaps hid better than she did.


The girl was fidgeting slightly when he entered, letting her eyes dart around the somewhat large archives, but now that he was at his desk she looked up at him and stood completely still. Unnaturally so, he noted, and held her hands in front of her without so much as a moment of hesitation. The usual position of an apprentice; a bit more that he figured about her. Sulsaga absentmindedly pushed his glasses an inch higher on his nose with his middle finger as he pondered what she could possibly want to check out. Maybe a book on her trade? A scrawny girl like her had at least a 60% chance of being in a studious guild, but exactly what it could be seemed to elude him.


“Um…” She cocked her head slightly to the left. The side ponytail looked like a weight, trying to pull her down as she tried to get the kinks out of her neck.


He looked in her eyes with a cold stare, as if expecting more of a response but not willing to grant her any words.


Skuld knitted her brows. Monthly trips to Waxtide had introduced her to almost all the staffing librarians but the interns and the senior staff. The interns either rotated assignments or had permanent assignments to their Masters. The seniors holed themselves up in their studies and came out once in a blue moon to bathe, so Skuld liked to imagine. Was he new? Most people wouldn’t forget that shock of colorful hair in two or three lifetimes.


Courteously, Skuld cleared her throat. “Er… about the books…”


Sulsaga looked away from the girl and opened up the book that was on his desk. Alls Day Funeral, the Unabridged, Annotated Volume 3. As soon as she mentioned her books, the mystery evaporated and so did his interest in the newcomer. Sure, she was still salvageable for study, but he doubted she would stick around that long - or that she was worth it. On the other hand, his gripping tale (currently exploring the amoral sexual experiences of Vistaelus the Eighth as he went about his conquests in the Eleventh’s Crusade) was much more deserving of his attention and study. He heard her fidget again and gave a quiet sigh. “Yes, yes, your books. Which ones?”


“Oh, yes, I have a list…” Her voice waned as she turned her face away, one hand fumbling for the clasp on her belt satchel and the other prematurely rummaging into the closed flap. She managed to pull out a folded parchment after a scuffle and handed the neatly folded rectangle up to the counter, neatly stacked with her library card. “I wrote ahead last week via swallowmail, just in case, so the books should already be reserved, and…” The second item she placed on the counter was a thin strip of metal engraved with a series of incomprehensible patterns. “My director and training Master have both agreed to oversee me and allow me to check out requested books above my clearance, with their supervision. This is spelled by them... I think.” Though the words she spoke were born with dignity, her voice turned it into child’s babble, sheepish and casual. “I’m not Gifted, you see. I don’t understand how clearances and things work.”


Sulsaga sighed when he heard that she had a list. He opened his mouth and prepared to say some smart comment about how she was interrupting his Tale of Two Loins chapter, but remembered how his intern reacted the last time he made such a remark, and abstained. Instead, he snatched away her list and looked over her metal strip. A glow in his emerald eyes signified that he was Reading the signatures, and vanished a moment after it appeared. “Very well. I have your books here.”


He reached down and pulled up a tall stack of grimoires and manuals over various subjects. He let his eyes rake over them before setting them on the counter - Biology and Herbology, The Complete Guide to Herbal Depressants, Nature’s Constituents, and the second compendium (of 18) of Theater for the Culturally Deprived. Interesting topics; unsuitable for one such as her. This squirrely, long-winded girl was going into medicine or some form of natural biology? It was almost frightening.


But on the outside, Sulsaga gave no indications that he even read the spines of the books. He pushed the small girl’s possessions to the edge of his expansive desk and returned to his gargantuan book. “If that will be all, ma’am, you may leave. Payment is on the front desk.”


She reached for the armful and shed her back satchel. There would be room inside if she took out the box. Outside, a clear, deep clang tolled like music.


“Ah--” Skuld jumped to her feet, pulling the neck of the pack shut securely. The library was closing. Interns sighed happily in the background. The entire chamber filled with a chaotic cadence of books being stacked. She did a double-take.


“Say, have you been to Theater Verthandi?” Soft but clear, her voice carried the inquiry to the burgundy-haired librarian the way an eating-house waiter brought wine in a fine glass. It was almost unlike her… but it was too difficult to say for certain. All around them went the soft thump of books.


Previously sitting with an out-of-place and peaceful grace, Sulsaga looked up at the retreating girl with a puzzled brow. Her question had caught him off-guard, but then he remembered the last book of hers that he had noticed. Of course, this was simply some small talk that some visitors made about the contents of their rentals. No reason not to play along, he reasoned. “No, I haven’t. I’d quite like to go someday,” he stated quietly and with a monotone volume. Of course he didn't mean it - the Theater was of the very lowest priority of his aspirations.


In her left hand, Skuld cradled the parcel she was entrusted. Her right hand deftly slipped only the ticket from the smooth, brown-paper envelope. There wasn’t time enough to copy what she needed before she left Waxtide. Furthermore, the person who truly wanted to see the cantade was not her.


“Here.” Careful to retain the backstage pass, she slid the smooth, heavy paper of the ticket onto the cold counter before him. Finely printed patterns watermarked the back, preventing forgery.


Sulsaga looked at the girl now with barely hidden surprise and confusion. Was she...giving him a pass to the Theater? Why? What could possibly be her purpose? He had barely paid her any attention, so...what was going on? He gingerly took the ticket from her hand and looked at it, then her, with wide eyes. He couldn’t think of anything suitable at all for this type of situation - this kind of random generosity had exactly a 0.001% chance of happening in such a stressful environment, unless there was foul play involved. He began to think of the possibilities of a medical apprentice being involved in counterfeit businesses.


Pulling her clasped hands high above her head, she stretched, audibly cracking her spine with a smile slapped across face. She would a have a real chance to go one day, and on her own power. Theater Verthandi and Troupe Adelaide weren't ready for her yet! Skuld tucked away the envelope with care. As if oblivious to Sulsaga’s confusion, she walked away, paid her fees, and vanished into Waxtide’s night winds.Template:Foot


Scarcely an hour later, Sulsaga had finally wrapped up his final errands and was returning to his study to gather his things. By now, most of the library was deserted save for the other few Master Librarians who still lingered, and their interns. Speaking of interns, his was busying herself with various things in her small desk by the door when he entered. He gave her his usual nod as he walked by, but she made no response, so preoccupied was she. A stern Master would have perhaps punished her for it, but Sulsaga gave no care to such rigid social notions.


As he sat down at his own desk in the study, the door open, her rustling in the hallway became more and more intrusive. He sucked his teeth as he questioned Savenia with an annoyed tone. "Intern Savenia, what on earth are you doing over there? Is your desk infested with parchment flies again?" The last infestation ended up bloody, and he'd rather not have to Read another spell to destroy them. He still found parchment fly corpses in the pages of some of his more obscure novels.


"No, Master - just excited for this weekend! I'm sooo tired." Her returning chime was indeed tired, but still kept her characteristic enthusiasm and bubbly volume. She had apparently mistaken his annoyance for genuine concern, a mistake he didn't bother to dispute. Eventually an idea reared itself in Sulsaga's head - why not get rid of two parchment flies with one astral arrow incantation?


"Well then, Intern Savenia, I have a ticket to the Theater Verthandi. Mayhaps you'd like to go?" He smirked as the ceaseless rustling and banging in her desk stopped. She would leave and he would have this stupid ticket off his hands - a perfect ending to an otherwise productive night. Just a few more chapters of Vistaelus' prosperity and he would go to his apartment and rest. Savenia stood up, the knees of her tights gray with dust from the floor, and walked to Sulsaga's door. She didn't dare to enter his study without his permission, even after hours, a quality he appreciated as the two looked at each other.


"M-master...Are... Are you inviting me to go to Theater Verthandi? ...With you?" One of Savenia's boots lifted up into the air and a blush flashed on her angular face. Now she wasn't making eye contact with Sulsaga anymore.


"No. I only have one ticket."


"...Oh." Her foot stomped back down and Savenia's brow knitted with some form of frustration. Sulsaga tilted his head slightly and Savenia noticed; the blush grew warmer, and she turned around and crossed her arms. "Hmph! Well in that case, Master -" she said his title with a surprising amount of scorn - "I have plans this entire weekend. Have a nice time at the Theater, with your books. Or whatever!" She left the study-way and roughly gathered her things from her desk as she did so. The ticket in question still sat in Sulsaga's outstretched hand, but now had no one to satisfy but its holder, and for the second time that day, Master Sulsaga was speechless in confusion.
----
03:37, October 12, 2013 (UTC)


Eldren - Andante

"Am I not good enough?" the boy asked.

"Eldren!" the older man scolded. "You will not guilt people like that! Especially your own mother!"

"Then why are you leaving me again?" Eldren whined, tears already sidling down his slightly chubby cheeks. The woman knelt down before the short, slightly chubby boy.

"This is something mommy has to do for the family. I'll be back. You be a big boy now and stop crying." The half-hearted consolation did little to stay the boy's tears. Escalating the volume of his wails even further, he lunged forward and grabbed his mother's leg.

"Don't go!" he shouted.

"Eldren! Get off me, boy!" she yelped, thrashing her leg. His father immediately reached down and yanked him off, the residual flailing of the woman's leg kicking him in the chest and under the chin as he was pulled off, a grunt in the middle of a wail.

"Eldren, look at me. Eldren!" his father spoke, staring directly at him. "Stop crying and look at me." Eldren gulped down his tears and looked up at him in fear, his face still wet. Father or not, the word of Cervantes Sibilus was not to be disregarded.

"You will not disrespect your mother like that. Do you understand me?" Cervantes never raised his voice to anyone - mostly because he never needed to.

"Eldren. Do you understand me?" Eldren sniffed loudly.

"Answer me, Eldren." The boy looked at him through watery eyes.

"...Am I not... good enough?"

"Oh, for God's sake," his mother snapped, marching down the hall. His father hung his head and sighed heavily.

"I don't have time to put up with this again," she continued, her voice irate. "Help me with my bags."

"Of course," he responded, getting up and heading towards the hallway - but stopping just before, turning back and pointing at Eldren.

"We're not done. We're going to have a talk." He continued down the hallway.

"Don't even bother," came the faint voice of his mother from the foyer. "Not like he'll learn anything anyway."

"I do wish he wasn't such an annoyance to you. He just makes these moments harder." Their conversation continued while Eldren sank to the floor, rubbing his overflowing eyes and sniffing back tears that had drained to his nose. His eyes closed, and the world faded to black--


Eldren opened his eyes. The painted wood ceiling of the Troupe house greeted him, as well as the light breathing of the other male students in small beds around him. It was still dark. He sat up, then quietly got to his feet. Glancing around to make sure he didn't wake anyone up, he walked out to the hallway.

Tonight wasn't the first night these memories resurfaced. It wasn't a frequent happening, but it wasn't as rare as he liked. He continued down the hall a bit when he heard a faint noise coming from one of the rehearsal rooms - the one he had been rehearsing in the past several weeks for the cantade that was to be tomorrow. He walked towards the room, and as he got closer he became aware of a light coming from within.

Eldren stepped inside. A lamp sat in the middle of the room, and on the adjacent side in front of a mirror stood a girl, spinning a full turn in place then stopping, over and over. Her eyes were closed, and the way her head followed her body made her look like a wooden spinning doll.

"You shouldn't close your eyes when you-" Eldren started, but was interrupted by a yelp and a crash as the girl toppled to the ground in shock.

"-sorry."

"I- who are y- Eldren?" she asked as she got up to her feet, still spooked by his entrance. Her eyes squinted to see who he was, then her face immediately dropped to a displeased look.

"What are you doing here?" Her sharp stare would have been a glare, had she the guts.

"It's the middle of the night and we have a performance tomorrow. You should be sleeping."
"You're one to talk!" the girl snapped back. Eldren recognized her as Floralie, one of Grecko's younger students.
"Or does someone as good as you not need sleep?" Floralie sneered. Eldren's eyes widened, caught off guard by her aggression. Her face saw this and softened slightly, still displeased but no longer focused on him.

"I'm sorry. That was uncalled for. I shouldn't say things like that." She got to her feet, looking away from him.

"Why are you practicing?"

"Why do you think?" she snapped, then immediately looked down again.
"The second act, third song, when the mermaids dance. I can't land correctly on the spins. Miss Adelaide scolded me for it." Eldren nodded. Floralie saw this and scoffed, turning away.

"Not that that's anything YOU would be familiar with," she scowled. Eldren stared.

"...Sorry. Again. I just-"
"My being here isn't good for you. I'll leave." Eldren turned around and started towards the door.
"Wait!" Floralie said. Eldren stopped and turned around. She was looking down, her face serious.

"Eldren..." she started. "...am I not good enough?"

Eldren's eyes sharply widened. The question hit him like a fist to the face. He stood there, unresponsive for several seconds. Floralie looked up, crestfallen.

"...You don't have to answer that. I'm just being dumb and I need to get over my-"
"She likes you."
"What?"
"That's why she scolds you so much. She's paying attention to you. If she didn't think you could get better, she wouldn't say anything." Floralie looked at Eldren, agape.

"...Gosh, I-"

"You should go to sleep," Eldren said, walking out of the room and down the hallway back to the guy's sleeping quarters. As he walked, he noticed his shadow abruptly vanish - the light from the practice room had been extinguished. He walked quietly back into the shared bedroom, climbed into his bed, and fell back to sleep.


~


Looking down at his clammy cloth outfit, Eldren entertained the upsides and downsides of being a merperson. All that swimming keeps you in shape and attractive, he thought, looking at his similarly fit performing companions as they hid in the alcove underneath the stage, awaiting their musical cue. A detail that Troupe Adelaide goes to great lengths to display, but that the original folk tale that inspired the cantade, The Death of Lysithea, was rather quiet on.

He had caught a glimpse of the crowd - Theatre Verthandi rarely failed to sell out on evenings when The Death of Lysithea played - but saw no familiar faces. One in particular he was searching for had eluded him. He had little time to reflect on this, however, as he, along with the handful of merfolk he was hiding in wait with, heard their cue and felt the platform under their feet jiggle slightly as the massive, invisible hydraulic pump released its safety, ready to propel the merfolk into the light of the stage.

"Get ready," one of the guys muttered. Eldren was already kneeling slightly.


- and with a flourish of the orchestra, the lift launched the mer-people over the stage, two or three feet into the air, as a great splash accompanied their entrance, complete with cerulean waves of water - magecrafted, of course, by three robed casters holding books in the front corner of the choir pit - appearing to splash about, as if they had jumped out of the water. The five of them immediately stretched their chests and arms out, striking grand poses as they flew into the air, and landing deftly on the left end of the stage, to the whoops and cheers of the now-energized audience.

Quickly falling into his routine, Eldren used every opportunity he had facing the audience to scan the sea of faces for the one he was after. The one who Miss Adelaide said didn't return his ticket. The one who, just maybe, hasn't forgotten...?
Sulsaga icon

"Yes yes yes yES YES YES!!!" The frenzied cries of a very close customer swelled like waves as the musical started on the stage. They were thousands of times more excited for the play than Sulsaga was, he reasoned. The yelling continued as Sulsaga rubbed his temples with irritation and irately closed his book. Maybe it was kind of a bad idea to believe he'd get some reading done at this event.


A quick look around him showed that most attendants were in fact extremely excited for the musical, despite its slow first act and the fact that it had been a theater classic for years. (Could he be the outlier?) The ticket he was relinquished was very close to the stage, so close that he could see the orchestra in their lowered pit. It must have been worth a lot of money. Sadly this meant that all of the noise behind him would probably ruin his chances of hearing the show as it performed. Just great, he thought to himself with a tone of bitterness. He crossed his arms and slouched in his seat.


I should have expected this, perhaps, he continued to ponder. The only reason he came to The Rites of Lysithea, as he nicknamed it, was some flawed sense of commitment - somebody had bought this ticket, and it just wouldn't be right to not use it. And Savenia had a big mouth...if word got out that he was "wasting his weekend" again, the interns would be laughing behind his back for another two months. That was the worst possible outcome, by far.


And so he watched the musical with opaque eyes that picked apart every miniscule error that the actors and dancers made. Admittedly, they were very few, and they took a serious eye to pick apart. From what he could hear, it was a very beautiful show, one that pleasantly surprised him. But try as he might, Sulsaga couldn't shake the feeling that somebody was watching him, and he couldn't even feel from where. Little snippets of the orchestra's symphony clued him in that some climax in the play, possibly the finale, was fast approaching. He gripped the arm-cushions of his chair in tense anticipation. The faster this was over, the faster he could get back to Vistaelus and his knights-round of bastards. This ought to be good.
----
22:48, October 23, 2013 (UTC)


"Still you say you long for me?"

The roar died like a flame doused with water. The audience fell to absolute silence. "Seven days you've lied to me...?"

A cantadress sang the prelude to Lysithea's dying solo, pitiful in the puddle of her overturned barrel. Jewel-like sequin scales glittered with prismatic colors while the once rainbow fish tail she wore showed only worn, silky silver. The mermaid had little time to live.

"What makes you man must be the blood tempted to sin, from the womb where you begin... as I was given life by the sea!"

The strings and flutes began an elegy to the mournful throbbing of drums. While it was a new take on the traditional funeral marches of Granea, the melody was anything but somber. Fisherman Orbal charged from the left. His wide gestures and thunder-like voice sent a shaking through the halls. The choir became their army in this crucial scene.


"Lysithea!"

"Don't come near me, leave me be."

"The heart that you've captured from me, I have lived,"

"You wretched scum! Go, begone!"

"I'll earn riches, so please, wait and see!"

"A single wave of the ocean is worth more than you'll ever receive."

"Lysithea, come back to me."

"Give it back to me!"


The orchestra modulated to the next key and began a heated war with the choral staff. Powerful instrumental hits battled for dominance against wordless, vocalized chords. A cavalcade of dancers dressed as dark butterflies entered from stage left in a thin stream but poured out into a fan-like shape. They whirled in their acrobatics, filling the stage with the presence of death's servants. Lysithea and Orbal mouthed their exchange soundlessly in convincing mime, allowing the chorus and the rest of the stage to take the spectacle until their turn came around once more. But... it never did.

A crack resounded through the whole of Theater Verthandi, so loud that it culled the circus-like atmosphere like a machete on a sickly calf's neck. The performers seemed hardly to notice. Miss Adelaide would sharpen an already razor-edged tongue on their faces if they stopped for just a sound. Did a stage effect mage falter somewhere? Or was it one of the giant fans up above that had gotten stuck and broken? It came from the very center of the stage, child-height fingers bursting through the wooden platform where a poor apprentice had been twirling moments ago. It tore apart the boards in a single thrust as if struggling to pull the rest of itself onto deck... whatever the rest of itself consisted of.

The youngest butterfly dancers at seven to ten years of age screamed first. Then the audience followed suit and fled the stands in droves. Someone quick-witted took up a stage prop and slit Lysithea's mermaid tail costume so she could escape with everyone else. The only people not yet in panic were the orchestra and the choir who, facing the audience, couldn't see any of the chaos that was happening except reflected on the conductor's horrified face. He was an old, stubborn war veteran and continued to conduct, albeit at a rapidly increasing tempo, until the frantic song finally ended at four times the original speed. Only then did the musicians make a dash for the side doors in the orchestral pit.

Already his human torso was visible as a finely-sculpted shield. Scarlet skin veined with glowing cerulean bloodstreams patterned his body like a tattoo. Medina's Kraken finally destroyed the last of the emptied stage. His shoulders rose and rose, pushing against the stone half-dome that cupped sound from the performance to the audience. Theater Verthandi was known for its deep, sturdy foundations. In but a handful of moments, he uprooted the entirety of the dome, its famous arch of fans still spinning, and threw its corpse onto the grass.

Medina's Kraken groped at the sides of the theater. A strong set of nearly 20 squid-like tentacles propelled him forward on the walkway from stage to stands. It wasn't nearly large enough for him, he who could use the whole of Theater Verthandi as a large seat cushion. Each one of his tentacles ended in the eye-less head of a red-blue striped sea serpent with milky-white mouths and fangs as long as swords. With one bite, one snakehead took two men swallowed them whole . Medina's Kraken raised his eyes to the sky where the bright planet of Venetia shone gold in the East. Not all the howls of all of Granea's wolves could rival that single word he uttered.

"LUUUUUUUUCIFEEEER!"

The tracks of his seasnakes dug deep ditches through the theater. What bodies had failed to best divine selection lay crushed in those long, meandering graves.

Sulsaga icon

Sulsaga was perhaps the only calm person in attendance, still.

Unfortunately, he knew as little of what had just transpired as anyone else. Calm was his stride as he walked away from the now-ruined theater, unlike every other customer running and screaming from the area. Well, I was anticipating a climax. I suppose this was worth the trip, after all. The giant creature thing looked to be in the same aesthetic theme as the rest of the aquatic cast members, but he was quite sure this was not just another anticipated part of the show, considering the deaths and destruction. In fact, it interested him so that he made a point to remember to investigate and research the raider once it was detained.

That is, it if was detained. Its gigantic appearance defied logic entirely and he entertained a small thought that the local police and disturbance investigators wouldn't be able to defeat this thing. Would a Librarian's talents be needed at that point? A hypothesis I'll have to assume is true for the moment... Instead of following the rushing crowd, Sulsaga turned and stood on the hill he now stood on. People continued to rush past him, rustling his long coat around his legs. For now, I think I'll just watch the show. It's much more explosive than I anticipated.

The monster let out another scream for Lucifer. I'll have to look that up, as well; it's a name I recognize.
----
16:27, November 10, 2013 (UTC)
Skuld icon
Skuld - Cantabile

Pieces of the ceiling collapsed. The tremors shook Skuld off her bench and she tumbled under the long, wooden tables of the cafeteria beneath Theater Verthandi. A book inside her satchel hit her ribs on a corner, making yelp. She hit her head on table's underside sitting up to rub it. Darkness and noise hit like an explosion.

It was just as well that she fell. When she opened her eyes again, a large ceiling panel lay in a cloud of dust, clattering where her body had been moments ago. Some screams echoed down the hall and from the kitchen where the concession staff worked. While the show was happening, no one else would be down here but the staff... and her.

Skuld peeked her head out warily, listening for anything else falling before she snatched her book and notes off the tabletop, stuffing it into her back satchel. The fine debris made her cough a little so she covered her nose and mouth with a handkerchief. Several of the magelights were out. When she stood, each shadow she cast meandered longer and more distinctively than the next. The pillars around her echoed with a scream that jarred her sore ribs with pain.

"Hello?" Nothing answered. Skuld coughed a little more and cupped her hands to try again, a little louder this time.

"Hello!"

Far in the distance near the entrance hall, she heard a stampede of shoes. The seating rumbled above her, a sky that thundered, a harbinger of storms. Pieces of the ceiling and the walls were knocked to the floor by the panic, even as she stood there. A beautiful painting of a nude foreign woman hit the ground where its frame cracked and broke. But that wasn't like the first imact she felt, Skuld thought. This was no explosion. Even if everyone stood up and jumped up and down, if something didn't weaken the Theater first, not a single magelight would flicker. Perhaps the structural maintenance mages were slacking...

"Outta the way!"

Someone pulled her aside. Skuld tottered and fell. A graying-haired man in the blue lindweave uniform of a custodian panted. He was bent double with his hands braced on bent knees. Where Skuld had been standing, a shattered glass orb trembled from its fall from above. The hallway seemed dimmer again.

"Th... thank y--"

"Sharpen up! You wanna die?!" He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her to her feet, only to half-lead-half-drag her behind a stone pillar. "C'mere and sit tight a sec."

"Sir... um..."

"Shush your sweetness." He put both hands around a massive picture frame and heaved. The portrait of Grecko Adelaide resplendent in green came away. He tossed it aside with less reverance than socially acceptable. Underneath was a single, rusty looking door.

Skuld leaned in to get a better look but only earned another shove from him.

"Git outta the light. Hard enough to see without you standing innit. Here'zit, the bastard." Triumphantly, he held up a dirty copper key and stuck it into the door's keyhole, wiggling it a few times. "Just gotta... hah!"

The door swung open. Behind it a set of stone steps, just barely lit by the evening sky, rang with the noise of chaos. The city was a-roar.

"Well? Git going!" He shoved her forward and Skuld stumbled up the first few stairs. She just about crawled up all the way on all fours but he tugged on her ankle before she could poke her head out the top. The custodian crawled up beside her. Like soldiers from a bunker, they slowly ventured their eyes out for a peek...

"Holy Horses of Venetia..." No breath would go into his lungs. It caught in his neck and could go no further but out. "What IS that thing?!"

Skuld gulped. "Th-the collection at the Library of Waxtide is amazing, y-y-you know? I'm sure they'd have s-something on it. Fair certain."

Medina's Kraken plowed his way through the upper walls. Throwing back his head, he split the sky once more. "LUUUUUCIIIIFEEEEEEEEEER!" Skuld cringed as the ground quivered again.

"Girl, git running."

Skuld yelped. The custodian had just smacked her on the butt.

"What about you?" She asked.

"Might be other people below, stupid kitchen boys or whoever." His voice cracked when he chuckled. "I served too, ten-eleven-year-ago. No falling anything's a-breakin' me."

Skuld shook her head. "I'm... I'm a-a medic, I can help you, I--"

"You small thing? You'd just be inna way."

"At least let me thank you properly." She protested.

The custodian laughed outright. It was so perverse, that laughter in the face of certain demise, that it was a challenge to death itself. He held up a hand and wriggled his fingers obscenely. "Y'already did. Inn't everyday a geezer like me touches the bum of some pretty young thing."

"EH?!"

"Now git! While that thing's busy terrorizing other folk. Hmph. Mayhaps he'll eat on'ov'em tax-collecting wax-moustaches."

Skuld tumbled onto the grassy fields as he shoved her. She ran a few steps and looked back into the pit of the stairwell, hidden behind a couple of shrubs. The custodian was already gone.

Her stamina was low from the day's worth of travel yet she somehow found the strength to run down the path. People scattered like ants on a heated plate. Cold sweat washed her temples and forehead, prickling the hairs on her arms and legs. Her bared stomach felt cold in the tropical air.

Turning her head around, she tried to get a better look at the Kraken itself. Its snakeheads threw themselves into the ground like a man pounding ricecakes with a wooden mallet. Each time a new victim or two were snatched up. The scales they wore gleamed scarlet in the twilight. Someone ran alone along the topmost seats of the theater. She saw him on the edge of the wall, calling attention to himself. His life ended in an instant in an explosion of red splatters.

Her palms felt too wet with sweat. It didn't feel right to run. If she ran now, she would never be able to face herself later... not as a medic, not as her father's daughter... and not as herself. The years that she told herself that she would succeed her father and the years that she spent training herself for the field would mean nothing. Everything she had worked for up until now, she thought, could have been meant for this day alone.

So she ran, faster than she thought she had the strength for. Her thighs strained, cramped, burned, but she ran as a body fell to the ground by the gate, ignoring the panic of everyone who ran in the opposite direction, staring right past the terror in their eyes. Those were not the people who needed her.

She dragged a man off the ground and to the side. Despite the teeth marks in him, he still breathed raggedly. To survive a snake's head must have been the luck of the Lunar Tidings. If he couldn't be saved, then...

"So you've come for me, Farelle..."

"Sir, you must not speak. I'll get you fixed up in just a moment." Skuld tried not to sound scared. Her numb, clammy hands got the clasp on her belt satchel open. She had to stop his bleeding. Dainesilk compress clotted blood naturally. If she could just apply pressure to his wound...

"Ah... you're not Farelle. A valkyrie? Come to gather my soul?"

"I'm a medic, I'm here to--"

"I fought hard as a soldier, but all my brothers have died. My sweetheart is dead. If you've come to take me as a warrior..."

"Sir!" Skuld had gotten his shirt off and wadded it up into a ball, pressing his wound. Yet blood soaked into the fabric too quickly. It crept into the dry cloth until the whole thing was contaminated by the red of lost life. Her hands were sticky.

"If you've come to take me as a warrior fallen in battle... please take me as a hero so that I may see them... Surely, they are surely heroes..."

"No! Please, stay alive! Sir, please, I... I can save you."

"You have already saved me, Valkyrie."

Like a ferret escaping into the shadows, she felt his life slip out of her hand and into the next realm. Skuld was dry. Dryer than parchment on a winter day. She wished to cry and no tears would come. She wished to swallow but her tongue was but sand. Dumbly she stared at the half-open eyes of the Kraken's kill...

Eyes...?

Skuld leaned in to take a closer look. Popped veins on his eyeballs, a purple rash, symmetrical on his face... a faint foam from his saliva, a milky-white tongue...

"Venom...!"

Defying her feeble body, she pushed herself to her feet again and ran toward the thick of the crowd. The snakeheads had venom. She suspected a poison that shut down the humors of the blood or something that altered the state of the mind. Anyone who got grazed wouldn't have long to live, and who knows if the venom could penetrate skin? If it splashed, then...? And there were victims of trampling, those who could not escape fast enough, fell, and became stepped on by others in the desperation to live. The front gate of Theater Verthandi was a deathtrap but it invited her with a beckoning hand. Her job had only begun.
Eldren - Andante

It was over before it even began. Eldren rolled over, slowly.

"Oww..."

He looked down at his left arm, realizing with a shock that it was twisted backwards.

"Aah! OW!" he shouted as he grabbed his left wrist with his other hand, pulling his arm back proper. With a grimace and a yelp through clenched teeth, he shoved his shoulder back into its socket - an injury he had to endure in practice, but never like this. As he looked around with blurred eyes, the memories of the past several minutes floated back to the fore, albeit just as out-of-focus as his vision was. Some manner of beast bursting from the ground, the Amphitheatre destroyed, and a name. Lucifer...?

Before he could ponder further, common sense smacked him in the head. He jumped up, scanning the ruined stage for stragglers. It looked like everyone who could run already had, but it was hard to tell - the stage was cleaved down the center, and the force of the blow had thrust a hydraulic lift on the left end up through the stage itself - creating a gigantic metal pillar towering precariously off-angled above him, like a misshapen gargantuan sword in a wooden stone. And on the ground, leaning up against it was a small, familiar figure.

Eldren ran up to her. "Floralie!"

She looked up, offering a weak grin. "You're okay..."

"Are you all right?" Eldren offered. He saw blood on her legs through her cloth outfit, now torn in several places near the legs. She slowly turned herself and pressed down on the ground, Eldren offering an arm of support, but her weight on his sore arm caused him to drop her out of shock.

"Aah! Sorry..."

"I'll be fine." She looked out towards the city. The gated entrance, normally hidden behind rows of elevated seats, now beckoned its gaping maw towards the two of them from across the ruined theatre grounds. The sounds of chaos, drowned out by Eldren's recovering confusion and panic, suddenly surfaced as they looked outwards.

"Hopefully they made it out," Floralie started. "I saw Jack and Odessa running that way shortly after I was hit. Then again, maybe that's not such a good thing..."

"What WAS that thing?" Eldren asked, the two of them still fixated on the world that lie outside the gate.

"I don't know." Her voice grew hoarser. Eldren looked down at her in concern, her eyes still fixated outside.

"You should go. They probably need help, and you can fight. I've seen you."

"But what about you? Won't you need to-" Eldren started, but was interrupted by a grunt as Floralie slowly bent forward, pushing off her knee and wobbling her way up to her feet, leaning against the hydraulic pillar for support. She took a cautious step.

"I'll take care of whoever I can find he-" she started, but was interrupted by a hacking cough.

"Floralie!"

"-whoever I can find here," she finished, taking another step. "Go!"

His mind still a gray storm of confusion and fear, Eldren simply nodded, running down to where the store rooms beneath the stage were and grabbing his knitsack. As he clenched the outside, feeling the familiar swell of the boli within, the very air itself was overtaken by another spine-chilling scream from the beast.

"LUUUUCIIIFFEERRRRR!!"

Time seemed to stop. Eldren climbed back up to the theatre grounds. Floralie was nowhere to be seen. He looked out at the theatre front gate.

"Is Floralie going to be okay?"
"What about Jack? Odessa? Nairi? Miss Adelaide?"
"Where did that beast come from? Was it below the Theatre this whole time?"
"Who is Lucifer?"
"Is my father in the wreckage?"
"Did he make it out safely?"
"Did he even make it to the show?"
"Is this happening back home?"

The open gate to Theatre Verthandi was a deathtrap, but it invited him with a beckoning hand. He started towards it with firm steps, not knowing what questions to ask anymore.

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