Bloodbound

“The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.”

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Mallory
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Bloodbound

Post by Mallory » Tue Dec 18, 2018 3:01 pm

October 3rd, 2018 - Vyrna.

“Reinstatement was never part of our arrangement--”

“But tetka--”

“That is enough, child.” The man standing before Jeza was fifty years old, showing signs of his age in the lines on his face and and his graying hair; but she found the way he turned from her rebuke in shame as childish as his pleading. “Go back to your home, Evgeny, and be thankful that you still have it.” Her lips curled as she turned away from him, and her sneer grew when she looked askance at him, vibrant green eyes narrowed. She flicked three fingers to dismiss him.

She heard him stumble as he bowed and backed away from her, and snorted at his mumbled apology. It was a long walk out of the grand ballroom where she held court as the family’s matriarch, and she knew she would have to listen to his nervous muttering and his shuffling feet for fully a minute before he reached the doors.

Jeza distracted herself by admiring the jeweled rings on her fingers, each of the stones gleaming from an inner fire. There was no outside light for them to catch: dark, heavy curtains lined the ballroom’s mullioned windows, where an ugly mixture of soot and snow piled onto the ornately wrought iron.

“...but then if I -- no, no, that will not work again...”

She glowered when her useless nephew’s words reached her again. A decade ago, he still could have made a decent offering. But no doubt the Old Man would turn up his nose at such a shriveled morsel... She pulled the soft, wrinkled skin of her palm with a too-sharp fingernail, eyelids fluttering as she meditated on her blood, flowing just beneath the surface, only the tiniest amount of pressure separating what felt like the only warmth left in her body from the miserable cold of this ancient house.

Not my blood. His blood.

They were all of them rivers, flowing into the tumultuous, treacherous sea that was the Old Man’s hungry maw. When she closed her eyes she could See them all, nieces and nephews, her remaining siblings, her children and grandchildren, a vast crimson web of tributaries. There were holes in the web, left by the dead, but there were always new faces to fill in the gaps, sooner or later.

There was a hole in the web, downstream from her sister Lidya... and her nephew Evgeny... but what had been the face of this missing tributary? And when had it left such a hole?

Jeza cried out in shock at the splitting pain that erupted inside her skull. Not just splitting -- spreading, a sustained ache that accompanied the feeling that something was being forced back into place. She let out an anguished groan as she covered her eyes with her cold, clammy hands, too-sharp nails biting her skin, and little rivulets of blood wept their way down her face.

New images flashed before her eyes, too fast for her to understand at first: Mariya screaming on a mass of sweaty and bloody bedding, midwives hurrying in and out of the room as Jeza and her sister looked on dispassionately; their family’s withered patron, shuffling slowly across a green glass floor, supported on either arm by Lada and Pietr as he moved towards the swaddled bundle held in their son’s arms; the nervous, mumbling voice of Evgeny in her ear, worrying over his future at the college as she reached down into a crib, scooping up the infant that beheld her with vibrant green eyes...

“Nadya.”

Jeza’s eyes flashed open as she pulled her bloody hands away from her face, taking deep, gasping breaths as her senses returned to the present moment and all the pain that came with it. Their patron was shrieking in his vault, the cries of rage strong enough to rattle the windows of the ballroom, as doors crashed open and servants raced down the halls to investigate. And her nephew was on his knees, not yet out of the room, struggling to pick himself up from the puddle of his own vomit. He was bleeding from his nose and ears, she saw as he dared a fearful look back at her. His eyes were wide.

He remembers, too!

“Evgeny Volokhov,” she thundered, “what did you do with your child?!”
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Mallory
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Re: Bloodbound

Post by Mallory » Tue Mar 05, 2019 12:26 pm

October 6th, 2018 - Riverwatch.

A stillness had fallen over Mallory and Eri’s cozy Dockside home at this early morning hour. Both of the owners were sleeping and all the lights were out, casting every room in shades of gray. The security delinquents in the mudroom barely spoke at all and never above a whisper, playing cards by the faint light from their phones and the furnace as the minutes ticked by.

The silence was even deeper in the master bedroom. Eri was curled into a ball on her side, and Mallory lay on her back, one arm stretched over her horned head, the other draped across her stomach. The only motion besides the steady rise and fall of their breaths was the rapid fluttering of her eyelids as she struggled through a dream.

The first disturbance was a change in the air, an almost imperceptible hum or a low breath, the same given by a space that is utterly dark yet undeniably vast. Next was the duvet slipping from her legs, falling away in a quiet shifting of fabric as she rose off the mattress inch by inch. She groaned with discomfort as her left arm dangled behind her head, and reached out towards the ceiling to blindly seek something to hold onto -- the duvet, a pillow, Eri -- and finding something else entirely.

A thread, visible in flashes for mere fractions of a second, a far angrier shade of red than the blood that regularly spilled from her hand and fed her specters and hounds. Her fingers closed around it; her nails shifted and cracked, long and black like claws, and dug in deep. Distant screams of anguish echoed through the ominous hum in the air, and fire hissed and crackled though the hearth in the room remained cold and unlit. The pressure she placed on the thread grew and grew, and she strained against it, groaning as she pulled... until it gave way in a sudden flash of deep black smoke, and left a burning message on the ceiling above her:

SINE QVIBVS CORDIBVS DAEMONIORIVM.

Her eyes opened in the same moment that she fell back to the bed, awakening with a deep and terrified gasp. There was no sign of the message, nor any of the sounds she had heard before, only Eri shifting from the disruption and rolling over to ask her in a quiet, sleepy voice:

“Doushita?”

The witch took several calming breaths before she sighed to Eri, “Just a nightmare.” Just another nightmare. She rolled over to face the delinquent, curling an arm around her as she tried to will herself back to sleep.

((Eri's character used with permission!))
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Mallory
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Re: Bloodbound

Post by Mallory » Thu Mar 14, 2019 12:25 pm

October 31st, 2018 - Vyrna.

The wind and rain battering at the doors and windows of the Volokhov manor like a starving mob echoed down to its foundations, deep beneath the ground. Jeza could hear earth and stone shifting and groaning around her as she shuffled down the empty corridor of the family crypt, the silver cap on the end of her cane clicking against the polished green marble with every labored step. Mariya was supporting her on her other arm -- no longer a Volokhov, now a Vedemar, though she still proves useful, the matriarch mused as she looked at the other woman out of the corner of her eye.

Mariya must have sensed Jeza's gaze on her, and offered an uncertain and clearly unfelt smile in reply. "Such wind, to shake such a mighty house... I have never seen a storm like it in my life."

Jeza's expression tightened, though it remained inscrutable. They were ten more steps down the hall, and her companion had fallen into worried silence, before she spoke again. "You have, though you would not remember it. You were only a few days old. I was the first from the Families to come visit you... to ask that you be matched to be a Volokhov."

They stopped as they came to a set of seven steps, each carved with the names of former matriarchs and patriarchs, steep enough that the end of the hall was obscured from view. Mariya sucked in a soft breath and looked to Jeza, green eyes wide and pleading: "I am sorry."

"Are you truly?" Jeza replied. "To be rid of such a man?" It took a long moment for Mariya to dare to shake her head a fraction, and the matriarch laughed wheezily and patted her on the arm. “There are many things you should be sorry for, Mariya Vedemar, but do not count your divorce among them.”

Mariya sighed, relieved as she began to lead Jeza down the stairs, but gasped when the older woman dug her fingers into the crook of her arm. She had surprising strength left in her bones, and her nails were long and sturdy and felt like talons in Mariya’s skin.

“Do not mistake that for fondness, dear Mariya. I am not your babushka, and I have not forgotten your sins against my family. It is good for both of us that you have told me all about poor, lost Nadya,” she said with a strained grunt as they descended the final step, “but it is good for you that I trust Evgeny less... else he would be providing me with all he remembered about his daughter, and you would be helping to locate him.”

The strangled question died on Mariya’s lips as she followed Jeza’s gesture to the end of the hall and the great black iron doors lined with chains. Two guards stood to either side, featureless minions of roiling shadows, and shimmering claws like oil slicks formed to curl around the chains and open the door for them.

As soon as they cracked apart, Mariya heard a familiar voice, screaming for mercy.

Fine green marble tiles gave way to smooth green glass, covering every inch of the strange chamber beyond the heavy doors, easily mistaken for obsidian if not for their strange hue. The walls were sculpted into sharp, interlocking shapes like a closed jaw of glistening fangs, rising up into a dome, with the black iron face of a gargoyle fitted into the center, its teeth bared in anger. Its jaws, too, were clenched shut.

An intricate web of fine grooves, twisting channels, and deep, oblong depressions marked the floor. They were the precious bloodlines of the Volokhov family that served as tributaries, overlaid with their place in the vastness of the cosmos. Jeza knew her own place, and Evgeny’s, where he now trembled and begged on the floor, held in place by two faceless suits of darkened armor with their heavy gauntlets clamped on his shoulders. There was another place not far from him, an empty heart-shaped pool that had none of them could see or remember until four weeks ago.

Mariya was trembling beside Jeza, who curled her lip in disgust at the sight. The matriarch reached into her short jacket and found a small bundle wrapped in black velvet. “I trust that you still know how to use this,” she sneered, and shuffled past her towards the center of the room. Evgeny tried to clutch at the hem of her dress as she passed, but to her he was dead already. He did not receive so much as a glance.

“My lord Arius! We have heard your anguish, but today we may begin its end!” she called out, lifting her arms slowly to the mouth of the gargoyle high over her head. “With the death of Evgeny Volokhov,” she continued, raising her voice to be heard over the man’s frenzied screams as Mariya stepped up slowly behind him, “we do not close a tributary to you, my lord, but break the dam to fill a new tributary! On your word, it will be done!”

Silence and the now quiet, breathless sobs of Evgeny filled the chamber as Jeza’s echoes faded. Mariya had her hands wrapped tightly around the velvet bundle, looking up at the ceiling and around the room with wide, terrified eyes. The animated armor, and the faceless guards outside, remained motionless in their vigil.

Above the chamber, something rattled. Claws clicked on iron, and the face of the gargoyle seemed to shriek as its fangs ground slowly apart. Long, pale fingers curled over the edge, nearly pencil-thin and milky white, ending in sharp, sickly black nails. The creature in the ceiling did not breathe, but after a long paused, forced a raspy voice out of his throat:

“Find Nadya Volokhov.”

Evgeny’s eyes widened and, with a surge of adrenaline, struggled against the armor with surprising strength. “Please, not me! It should be her!” he cried, throwing back the arm he’d managed to wrench free at Mariya. “I can help, I know more of magic than--”

A silver blade hissed out of the golden sheath in Mariya’s hands and passed smoothly over Evgeny’s throat, parting his skin as easily as scissors through cloth. It ended his words with a gasp, and the armor grasped his head and held him over the steadily filling pool that marked his ultimate place in the Volokhov family, and in Lord Arius’ universe.

A sacrifice, and nothing more.

Once the blood reached the top of the pool, it flowed through the shallow channels that surrounded it, though it heavily favored the heart-shaped pool that belonged to Nadya Volokhov. It did not fill until Evgeny’s was overflowing, and the armor let him fall to the floor, unblinking and unmoving while his life force found every channel where his life force had moved. His blood trickled past the pool, finding a few fine lines that twisted and crossed...

...following them until they flowed into to an ugly web near the center. It was as if someone had taken a hammer to the glass to create the tangled mass of hundreds of cracks and grooves, yet dozens of them reached clear across the room. It was a complex series of connections -- a veritable nexus that led the raspy voice from above to hiss,

“RhyDin.”
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Mallory
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Re: Bloodbound

Post by Mallory » Mon Mar 25, 2019 3:15 pm

December 13th, 2018 - The Lyceum.

“Is that Lady Ganderfald’s blade?”

Safiya’s words stopped the witch in her tracks, just short of the pentagonal counter in the shop that both women owned. It was early in the morning, early enough that there were no customers yet, and the glow cast by the magical skylight overhead was dull and hazy; but the young sorceress was already there, standing between two towering shelves and clutching a cloth bundle of luminous crystalline vials, watching warily as the ruby-hilted sword floated ahead of the witch in the clawed hands of one of her spectral servants.

Mallory turned her horned head to regard Safiya, her green eyes glowing strangely, fire-like in the dim light of the Lyceum. They often looked strange since the fight at the Golden Bough. “It is,” she said finally, as the specter shifted to lay the cursed blade down on the counter. “Penny and I found it last night. In one of the old forges, in the collapsed sub-level.”

“It was in the place where you felt its presence?” The witch nodded mutely. “Then it wished to be discovered by you.”

“I think so,” Mallory murmured, and found she couldn’t keep her eyes off of the weapon for long. She drew two slow steps closer to the silver blade, regarding its gleaming surface with a predatory hunger that took her by surprise. There was a growl building in her throat, and she quickly cleared her throat and shook her head to dispel it. “I don’t think it’s intelligent, but... it’s clearly imbued with power.”

Safiya was quiet and still for a long moment, maintaining her distance from Arane’s terrible sword. “I suspect that it is infernal,” she ventured carefully, tightening her grasp on the bundle in her arms, “based on its connection to fire, and rage...” Her gaze shifted to Mallory, ticking to her horns before settling on her green eyes. “Have you touched it?”

The witch shook her head slowly.

“Will you ever wield it?”

“I don’t know.” Mallory’s answer was swift and honest, her uncertainty clearly written in her troubled expression. “I mean... it’s clearly powerful--”

“But what does it do?” When the witch shook her head again, Safiya took a half step forward as she pressed, “Then why would you wield it?”

Because power is reason enough. Mallory’s eyes fell to the weapon again, watching as the reflections of flames danced across its strange silver surface, though there were no flames for it to reflect within the Lyceum. You hold the power to protect the ones I love... and to feed this gnawing hunger I feel, before I sate it with something worse... She gestured to the specter, and it curled its claws around the blade and lifted it up, holding it up to the hazy glow from the crystalline skylight --

-- then bore it towards the cellar door behind the counter, and Mallory turned a small smile on Safiya as she followed it. “I’m locking it away,” was the most reassuring nonanswer she could call to mind. “For now. Until I can figure out what to do with it.”

“May I... offer some advice? As a friend,” Safiya said, again careful with her words and tone. The witch looked both chided and guarded, but nodded her assent, and the sorceress proceeded. “There is no crime inherent in the pursuit of magical power. Every night you cut into your flesh, in pursuit of an immortal heart... and one day I may imbibe a draught of my own making, to extend my own life, until I am sated.

“But take care that your ambitions are not disrupted by... impulses.”

Mallory frowned, taking a step forward and tapping one of her horns. “This was a -- it was by accident, I didn’t... I didn’t want to... to absorb him, or whatever I did...”

“I know,” Safiya said, giving her a half-smile. “And I know that an immortal heart is important to more than just you... so be careful.” The witch nodded and turned her back on Safiya, though she could feel the sorceress’ gaze on the back of her head as she and the cursed sword descended the stairs...
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