The Red City

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Cristoval
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The Red City

Post by Cristoval » Thu Mar 07, 2019 5:20 pm

March 3rd - early morning...

The small café was close to the river in Dockside, not a waterfront view but the sounds of waves lapping, bells ringing, and ropes and wooden docks groaning filled the narrow street leading up to it. Even at this late hour there were a couple of older women out front playing chess at a small table, kept warm by a brazier of fiery lodestones. The interior was small and cozy, with a single barista working behind the counter, and a student and several of his textbooks occupying a corner table.

"I like this place," Val sighed as they approached, "though they give me my tea for free, so -- I may be biased."

"Definitely speaks in their favor." Conner chuckled as he followed at Val's side.

His mood was always a bit withdrawn after a night at the Hold. It took a lot of his extrovert energy to be the emcee in a venue like that. Putting a jovial spin on violence to keep the drinks flowing and the wagered money changing hands. But tonight, he was particularly quiet as they walked. They were inside the place before he thought to say, "If you'd like more than tea tonight, mate, my treat."

"Baklava." Val didn't hesitate on Conner's offer, speaking up as soon as he reached the counter. "And tea for two." The barista smiled and nodded at the order, and Val picked a seat that looked out on a small back garden. He settled in with a sigh, setting his bag down beside him, and replacing his holy symbol around his neck. He had been clutching it in his right hand, fidgeting with it often on their walk over.

Val's hasty order brought a faint smile to Conner's lips. He watched the man for a moment while he made the financial exchange. He pulled out the seat across from the priest, paused to remove his coat, then took the chair. "How are you feeling?" It hadn't just been a tough night for Conner, after all.

"Tired. I had hoped for an easy night before traveling, but it is the Hold." Val secured the clasp on the leather cord, then tucked the symbol into his shirt, and clasped his hands together on the edge of the table.

He remembered something with a faint grunt, and shifted to slip an envelope out of his back pocket, slightly folded now. It was unsealed. "I had meant to give this to you earlier. Address for a telegraph station connected to Riojara but outside the quarantined area. And... again, I am sorry I only learned of this today."

Conner had just settled into a lazy lean against the chair when the envelope appeared. He shifted up, reaching to take it now. Maybe he wasn't yet ready to speak about the impending departure, but instead, he continued another conversational strand. "Why don't you let them pay you? For your work?" He turned the envelope in his hand as he leaned back again, looking across at Val. "What you do has value in a place such as that."

"At the Hold?"

"Aye." Conner set the envelope down on the table, having undertaken little investigation of it.

"Hmm." Cristoval folded his hands again, tapping his thumbs together as he thought. "While poverty is part of my oath, there is nothing forbidding me from accepting payment, so long as I give away all that I do not absolutely need. Some of my, ah... brothers and sisters do this. But I have found that when a place pays you for what you do, they may expect you to do it a different way under certain circumstances... and my vows will always come before the wishes of an employer."

As usual, there were aspects of Val's vows and lifestyle that Conner found both bewildering and frustrating. He glanced towards the window, but all he could see was his own reflection there. "So long as you don't work for the house, should be alright."

There was a quiet chuckle from the healer, though his expression was kind. "Are you offering to pay me for my work, Conner?"

He looked back across at Val, and sniffed in mild amusement. "Iffin I've given the impression I'm capable of it, that was a blunder on my part, mate."

Their tea arrived. "Then from one pauper to another... cheers." Val lifted his gold-handled glass mug and smiled across the table at Conner. He enjoyed the aroma, and a slow sip. "I suppose I have known little that is different from my current means, as a grown man. I entered the seminary when I was twenty, and the War started soon after that. I have been a seminarian, a soldier... a prisoner... and a priest. Even as a soldier, my options were to give my paychecks to my Order at the time, or to send them home."

Conner sighed. "Nothing against your Order, mate." He drew his own glass mug in closer by the gold handle. After rolling some thoughts around his head, he just shook it and offered a faint smile across the table. "Can see all of those things in you." There was nowhere to go, at this moment, with a discussion of his devotion to his Order.

"The prisoner, too?" Val was curious as he returned Conner's faint smile. The baklava was set on the table before them, and two forks. He cut off a piece.

"Leaves a mark, aye?" Conner thought so. He could see the prisoner in the man. In the same way he could see the soldier. And the priest. He didn't pick up his own fork, but he did bring his mug closer. "Prisoners, soldiers, and men of faith. Each with a keen understanding of the fickle hand of Providence. The essential favor of freedom."

"Mm. There is a thread," he nodded to Conner. "Before I went to seminary, I traveled with a few close friends. It was mostly in our own country, and a few on our country's borders. We worked when he had to, and otherwise we did as we pleased. I enjoyed it, the complete freedom... and yet I see a thread from there, to my priesthood in the Flickering Flame now. Even though the former was complete freedom."

"How so?" Conner took a drink, watching the man across from him, trying not to think about the steady creep of dawn.

"The simple answer would be that, then, I liked to read poetry and nap in the sun and befriend the local strays, as I do now. But it is more that... in that moment in my life, as I understood it, I was where I wanted to be in the world and doing what I wished to be doing. And that is where I am now. Not in seminary, serving my first Order; nor in war; nor in prison. But what I do now for the Flickering Flame, and where my life is... gives me the same feeling as I had as a very young man."

Conner looked across at Val, his dark eyes searching the man who sat before him. From that answer alone, he felt he understood Val more than he ever had before. He reached for the envelope, finally turning his eyes to it while he confessed, "I'll miss you."

"I'll miss you too, Conner." Val looked down at the envelope as the other man drew it closer. "Your voice and your face and your presence... but we will have each other's words, until I return."

His gaze moved from the letter back to Conner. "There has been a tuberculosis outbreak in Riojara for the last three months, and they have been under a quarantine almost the entire time. They think it will end soon, but it will be worse before it is better. My Order has two people there now, but they need more. I am the closest."

It had somehow been easier to confess when he wasn't looking at him, but Val's own words drew Conner's eyes up. He looked for a long moment before returning his attention to the envelope, and nodded mutely. He assumed it had been given to him only for the purpose of the address. He wasn't sure if Val wanted it returned but he assumed not, folding it up and leaning to tuck it into his back pocket. "And how will you keep yourself from falling ill?"

"The usual precautions. I will be wearing a mask and gloves when I interact with patients, and otherwise minimize my contact with others while I am there. The Fllickering Flame is not the mightiest of the goddesses of light... but she has rites of cleansing for her servants, and they help."

Val added, a moment later, "This will be my third outbreak."

Conner set his mug back down on the table, the glass rattling in its gold holder. "Alright, mate."

Cristoval heaved a long sigh and rubbed his hands together, as if weighing something very grave. "I think... I will be sealing up the cat door in my apartment while I am gone." He looked up from his hands to Conner. "Can you water my plants? I will not be able to bring them with me."

"Can I bring them to mine?" Conner's brow furrowed. In the least, he liked the idea of Val having something to come back for.

"Yes. If you like, I can help you carry them over tomorrow afternoon, before I go to the airfield. Perhaps a change of scenery will do them good. It must be boring, being in the same room for years. Even for a ficus."

Conner shook his head. "I'll manage it. Got enough to prepare, I'd imagine."

"Mm." Val nodded at that, though it made his next decision a lot easier as he set down his empty mug of tea. He smiled at the barista approaching and said, "One more, please."

This one he would savor.

((Adapted from live play with Conner Reid!))
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Cristoval
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Re: The Red City

Post by Cristoval » Mon Mar 18, 2019 9:41 am

The first letter arrived on the morning of March 17th. The envelope was weather-stained and bent in places, having seen its share of rough country on its journey from its apparent point of origin:

Estación de Diosalva

It was sturdy enough to have saved the two thin sheets of light blue paper within from any mud or rainwater. The top sheet was, strangely, hand-written in a neat, pretty cursive; and while it bore Cristoval's name at the bottom, there was a note attributing the penmanship, punctuation, and formatting to someone named Rosario. The bottom sheet was a copy of the telegram itself.

Dear Conner,

I am beginning this letter on the 10th of March. The journey by plane was uncomfortable, but uneventful. Did you know it was my first ever? I shared this joyous experience with the chickens that were my fellow passengers. I made the rest of the journey on foot, as there are no trucks or carts to speak of to offer me a ride. I passed the Provincial Border on the morning of the 6th, and arrived in Riojara on the 9th.

The city is on lockdown, as I expected, and they nearly did not let me in. I had morphine to bring to the hospitals, but did not show it to them as I feared they would take it. There have been problems with the government and gangs controlling medicine here. My brother and sister in the Order, Peter and Diana, have been assigned to the same clinic as me, but they left to procure supplies the day before I arrived. They have erected a shrine to our goddess in the courtyard, an unlit lantern they fill with gold-colored petals, and I tend to it as my limited time permits.

I am worried for Peter and Diana, but I am not alone here. I am working with a doctor, Teresa, and two nurses, Francisco and Miguel. We have had little time to talk, but they are able physicians and must be kind-hearted for their continued devotion to their mission.

We have forty beds and thirty-eight patients in our clinic. Four passed away the day before I arrived, but by Providence or our attentive care (or both? who can say?), there have been no others since. Francisco asked me to give rites to the dead before the soldiers came to take them away. The Flickering Flame has no such rites, but I found the words to say and they seem to have given Francisco some comfort.

I am glad to have eased his sorrow for his own sake, as well as for his strength which we will need in the weeks or months to come.

There is a rooster here named Felipe. He is blind yet manages to crow at dawn, which is likely because he crows at most other hours, too. He has a special fondness for peanuts, but will come to you even if you call to him with an empty hand. He does not possess the same wit or provide me with the same depth of intriguing conversation as you, but these are difficult times and we are making do as companions.

How is everything faring at the Hold? And your own pursuits in the sport, how are they going? Has anything interesting happened? Whatever you have to share with me, I will be glad to have it to read.

Say hello to my plants.

Yours,
Cristoval
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Re: The Red City

Post by Conner Reid » Thu Mar 21, 2019 9:05 pm

Conner’s letter arrived in the usual way -- which is to say that there was nothing remarkable about the envelope save the penmanship which was probably neater than those who knew him but hadn’t seen it would expect.

Cristo,

I am relieved to read that you arrived safely, even though the journey was arduous. Nervous chickens are surely not the best traveling companions, but I can imagine worse.

Winter is finally breaking its hold on the city. The streets are still wet each morning and evening, but the birds sing again and the trees are sporting a promising green. As much as I enjoy the character-building cold of winter, I am ready for the sun.

The Hold is as bloodthirsty as ever. At times I understand the desire for it. To feel alive through proximity to violence. To feel alive by risking all there is to risk and yet emerging whole and triumphant. But in truth, everyone is trying to heal a wound that cannot be healed in such a way.

The more sporting duels, those in armed combat, have entered the spring tournament known as ‘Madness.’ These are duels in warded rings. I have yet to fight in the first round---perhaps I am the last to do so but for my opponent. My opponent is a known slave-trader which gives me no pleasure. Winning or losing at sport means nothing really, and yet I can’t help but to assign meaning to our impending fight that does me no service. Rest assured I will grin and jest with him as I do with all. You needn't worry.

Spring is surely the season of the transcendentalists. I should be reading soaring lines meditating on the glory of dancing daffodils. And yet all I wish is to dance in cummings’
puddle-wonderful world. Does your order assign any special meaning to the seasons?

I am pleased to hear that you have made a friend, Felipe, even if he is of a fowl nature. (Do not be angry, Cristo, how could I resist?). But I’m surprised by your cruelty. After all, how does the blind rooster know that your hand is empty until he has already come to you?

Your plants miss you.

C. Reid
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Re: The Red City

Post by Cristoval » Wed Apr 03, 2019 3:15 pm

This letter arrived on the morning of the 3rd, and was not as muddy as the last, though more bent. It had been tampered with, opened and resealed and stamped twice by a militia called El Escudo de la Frontera Provincial.

Dear Conner,

Alas! You are right, I should not deceive the poor bird so. But I have need of his company and only a poultry sum of peanuts to give.

I am confident in your good humor, but sorry that you must share a ring with such a man, regardless of the outcome of your bout. I find that solitude among noise is the best balm for bad company. Going to a bawdy play was my remedy, when my friends and I traveled and sometimes quarreled.

The golden petals in my goddess' shrine are dry and crumble to the touch, but the new season has given us a bounty to replace them: bright yellow roses in the garden that seem to glow at dawn and dusk. Felipe likes to nap under the bushes now that they have new leaves for shade, and I confess that I have taken to doing the same. The air in the courtyard is something I avail myself of as often as my duties allow.

The clinic has been quiet, though that has been for a lack of staff and no lack of patients. We are at forty-five patients and no more beds, so I have given up my own cot as well as Peter and Diana's. They have yet to return, and my grieving heart is all but certain of their fate. We have lost two patients since my last letter, a brother and sister, and I gave them rites as I had done to the others, but these were harder.

Still, they comforted Francisco, and others who were well enough to come and watch me pray.

The Flickering Flame offers no meaning for the seasons beyond reminding us that darkness needs the light, much as the sun drives away the winter and brings us into spring. The flaw here is that I find myself expecting goodness in the spring, and wickedness in the fall; but I felt warm during the long nights, and here I begin to feel cold. I pray often to Her lately to warm the hearth of my soul, as often as I read your words.

Thank you for the gift of your words, Conner. I am sorry that my own have been so heavy. I hope that your spring is warmer.

Yours,
Cristoval
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Re: The Red City

Post by Conner Reid » Tue Apr 16, 2019 8:01 pm

The new letter arrived in the usual way, not particularly worse for wear given its journey. If it had been opened and read, it occurred many days after the letter had left Conner’s hands.

Cristo,

It is easy to find light here, protected as I am from the sickness and death that you face each day. You needn’t apologize for the weight of your words. Were I able to carry the burden, you know that I would. Instead, I bring you only the light that my words can shine, such as they are.

The cherry blossoms are in bloom, which is mighty fine if you live in New Haven with the other well-to-dos. Down on the docks, spring reminds me that, ah yes, fish guts have a powerful scent indeed.

The Madness tournament is near its end. I lost in the first round, though I made a respectable fight of it, if I may say so myself. A new fighter faces an old one for the final glory. Lord Arithon Falessen is one of the two. I had not seen him in the Hold that I could recall, but his ability with a sword is quite impressive. Myria Graziano is the other, a fighter well-known in the Arena. I expect the final fight to be at least somewhat interesting---though less so to me now that my wagers have failed.

Business has been slow of late, but I did solve an interesting case that you might enjoy. A young lady, it seems, had possession of a mirror that at one time showed her visions of the future---time both near and many years from now---but always hopeful and uplifting. In the last several weeks, however, the mirror had begun showing her dark, apocalyptic scenes, often involving her own gruesome death.

The young lady could think of nothing she had done to bring on her own impending doom or otherwise change the mirror’s opinion of her. At first, I was certain that the young lady herself had fallen prey to a curse, either deliberate or stray. But I could find no trace of magic upon her. I reasoned that perhaps the mirror itself had been cursed, but it too was free from mystical manipulation (aside from its foundational enchantment, of course).

After several days of investigation, I discovered that the young lady had recently moved the mirror away from a treasured place in her bedroom and into a slightly less desirable position in the water closet. With this clue, I felt for certain that the solution was near! What was it? Well, it seems the mirror itself preferred the view out of the bedroom window which looks out onto a lovely scene of the river. Until I cast a speaking spell, the poor mirror had no means to communicate that it did not enjoy being entertained only by the lady’s (and her gentleman caller’s) daily ablutions. In all fairness, who would?

All is now sorted and the lady and her mirror are friends again. And before you ask, no I did not look into the mirror myself to see scenes of my own future. I am occasionally foolhardy, but I am no fool.

I hope this letter, though long-winded, has offered you at least a little diversion. Perhaps a small improvement on Felipe’s company, however brief.

I admit, I am not sure I understand what has happened to Peter and Diana if it is something other than that they have fallen to the same illness you fight each day. I worry for you, my friend.

It is particularly sad when a young person dies. There is a sense of injustice to it. That both they and we have been cheated of all the possibilities a full life has to offer. I possess no words of my own to console the loss. But I take some comfort from the words of Thornton Wilder. “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

The sun shines the same on places of life and places of death. And for that we should be grateful. I hope its warmth finds you, Cristo.

The bridge is love.

C. Reid
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Re: The Red City

Post by Cristoval » Sun May 05, 2019 2:02 pm

This letter was both muddy and bent, having traveled across rough country and been opened and resealed at least once on its long journey to RhyDin. It bore the stamp of the same militia as last time, as well as that of an organization called St. Aldwin's Errant Knights.

Dear Conner,

I begin this letter on the 20th of April, and I expect it will take me many days to finish. The spring rains have come to this country, breaking dams and spilling mud and offal into the rivers, and the suffering in Riojara has only grown stronger.

It feels a strange thing, to hear the raindrops that are killing women and men, and to think of better days spent listening to their song. At the windows, it is hard to hear any other noise, and the city becomes a mirage of dark towers shrouded in the hot mist, and I imagine I am anywhere else. The cats come to the apartment in RhyDin when it rains, and they purr on their perches while I read, until the lullaby soothes me to sleep.

I did not expect to find much rest here, but the weight of exhaustion has taken me by surprise. I awaken and wish only to sleep again the moment my eyes are open. The air is bad here from everything that happens: the humid rain that makes this place feel like a sauna, the smell of too many souls in too little rooms, and the sickness that hangs stagnant and heavy in every room and corridor.

We have sixty-two patients here, and still only the forty beds. Thirteen have passed away since my last letter, including one of the nurses, Miguel. Francisco has stopped coming to hear me pray for them, and though Teresa has started, I fear it brings her no comfort. She watches me and no others as I go through the paces of the rites, frowns and speaks to no one, and leaves before it is done.

At least it still brings me some comfort, and I have to believe the warmth of the Flickering Flame comforts the spirits of the dead. Perhaps these feelings are the bridge of love you speak of, between the lands of the living and the dead.

I am gladdened that the lady and her mirror are friends again, and sorry to hear that the fish guts are in as strong a bloom as the cherry blossoms, though such is our sad lot as we live in cities by the sea. I am sure that the sun shall break through the clouds again, and I will be glad for its warmth, even if the hot, thick air makes me feel weary.

Perhaps I shall find the rains have broken by the time awaken from my rest.

Yours,
Cristoval
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Re: The Red City

Post by Conner Reid » Thu Jun 13, 2019 8:24 pm

The letter was written in a hasty hand and it was dated shortly after Cristoval's last letter had been received, but who knows how long it took to arrive.

Cristo,

From the outset of our friendship, I have reconciled myself to never challenging your calling. I do not intend to do so now. I do not intend to come between you and your orders. But I must ask something of you. I must.

Come home.

Conner
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