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Bright Lights

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126 Re: Bright Lights on Fri Jan 27, 2017 12:45 am

"But you won't need it anymore, when we're done here," he smiles, and for a moment, I feel a pang of sympathy for Ljuba as the stench of his rotting teeth no doubt reaches her nose. "I would be more than happy to take it off of your hands. As my payment, of course."

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127 Re: Bright Lights on Fri Jan 27, 2017 12:51 am

"Fuck you," I scowl, grabbing the scarf in my hand as I prepare to stand.

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128 Re: Bright Lights on Fri Jan 27, 2017 1:03 am

"It's a fair price!" he complains as he steps back quickly, his posture almost cowering from her. "And because it's so dear to you, I won't even ask for anything in addition to it!"

"That's enough," I snap, shaking my head at him as I reach out to stop Ljuba from going anywhere. "You're not getting the collar. You'll recall, we already have our arrangements worked out. You will do as I ask, as you have always done as I ask, and that will be the end of it."

"That arrangement was made seventy years ago!" he shouts, spitting with rage as he stands up taller - and my, he is much taller than he looks. "I can't put food in my belly with earnest apologies!"

"You won't have a belly to put food into if I so deem it," I say coldly, nodding at Ljuba for her to sit down as the man immediately cowers again and nods his understanding - though his continue grumbling hints at his double-dealing nature and leaves me with a heavy feeling of a friendship about to draw to its close. "Ljuba, these are your scars that need healing. Are you comfortable moving forward with this?"

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129 Re: Bright Lights on Fri Jan 27, 2017 1:23 am

Shifting back into the seat, I look up at the sculptor apprehensively before nodding slowly. 

"Yeah," I say, clearing my throat as I reach up to unfasten the collar tensely.

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130 Re: Bright Lights on Fri Jan 27, 2017 1:30 am

I hold out a hand for the collar once she has it off, tucking it carefully in my bag to keep safe while she submits to the sculptor's techniques who is already busying himself at his workbench. I'm sure my expression is heavier than it might normally be as I watch him. After such a long day, it's difficult to keep the blank mask that usually hides my thoughts so well in place.

"I have a tincture you'll need to drink," he says after a long moment, finally looking back at Ljuba with distaste as he gestures for her to take the seat by the bench where he can offer her the cup. "It's something of an anesthetic - a sleeping potion. My process is unique, one of a kind, not because it's so difficult to do, but because it's... shall we say, a little uncomfortable. The tincture will help with that."

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131 Re: Bright Lights on Fri Jan 27, 2017 1:34 am

I only shake my head as I move to sit where he'd guided me, glancing at Lavellan as though he could speak on my behalf. 

"No," I say hollowly, a flush of embarrassment tinging my cheeks at the muddled word. I've shown enough weakness in the last few days, and if I pass out - I pass out. The last thing I want is to add myself being in a drugged haze to the list of Lavellan's worries, not when he's risked so much just to bring me along.

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132 Re: Bright Lights on Fri Jan 27, 2017 1:39 am

I raise an eyebrow at her refusal, knowing all too well what it feels like to undergo this process with an undamaged visage. I can't even begin to imagine how different it will be with half her face missing. The sculptor only grins at her refusal as he puts the tincture aside and picks up the first of his tools.

"Very well," he says with sickening sweetness. "Let's begin then, shall we?"

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133 Re: Bright Lights on Fri Jan 27, 2017 1:50 am

Offering only a nod, I clasp my hands together in my lap as I look up at him, my eyes widening slightly at what appears to be an iron pick the size of my pinkie. My heart races at the implication as he moves towards me, but I don't falter as his hands catch my face so he can drag a finger along my mangled jawline. His touch trails up to my ear - my scarred and misshapen ear - before moving back towards my throat, and he seems to take great pleasure in tucking my hair out of the way fondly. It's a gesture that leaves my skin crawling as I close my eyes against his stench. 

I can't help but wince as I feel the cool top of metal press against the skin just below my ear, his hand moving across as though comparing with the other side. I'm not expecting the piercing heat that follows as he drives the pick into my flesh, and I yelp sharply as he maneuvers it to his liking. 

Clamping my mouth closed, I try my best to swallow whatever sounds will follow, every muscle in my body tensed as I work to stem the flow of pained emotion threatening my composure.

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134 Re: Bright Lights on Fri Jan 27, 2017 1:57 am

I can't help but note the stark contrast of Fergus's work and the... attention I had shown Ljuba just this morning when I'd fixed her other injuries with a magic not entirely dissimilar to this. But this is tainted with a wholly different feeling, one that drives deep into my memory as Fergus continues to grin and lick at his rotted teeth with each piece of metal he drives into her fractured and misshapen skull.

To my credit, I manage to make it until Ljuba's face is streaked with tears and marred with pins, ready for Fergus's magic, before I get up and quietly slink away into the kitchen. My whole body shakes once I'm out of view, a cold sweat drenching my clothes and clinging to my skin as I go to the sink and hunch over it with my hands braced on either side.

I hate coming to see Fergus.

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135 Re: Bright Lights on Fri Jan 27, 2017 2:04 am

The room is a blurred haze through my tears, but the moment Lavellan rises and disappears, my heart jumps. Something about being alone with this man makes his demeanor even more unsettling, and the seeming joy he pulls from my whimpers leaves my stomach flipping uncomfortably. Lavellan trusts him - or claims to - but that doesn't mean I do. 

My magic is already tickling up my spine, growing stronger with each pin he drives into my face as I hold onto it. A distraction from the pain, a warmth in my chest that leaves me feeling safe. A promise of something being returned that makes the pain worth sitting through.

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136 Re: Bright Lights on Fri Jan 27, 2017 2:22 am

I can hear Fergus telling Ljuba to relax, coaxing her to let the tension in her muscles go so he can get a proper form shaped as he begins his magic. The recitation of his incantations further unnerve me as I try to focus on anything else, my attention moving to the fridge for something to drink.

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137 Re: Bright Lights on Fri Jan 27, 2017 3:27 am

My face is on fire as he starts his process, my hands anxiously pulling their gloves off as I drop them in my lap and wring my hands in an effort to pull my mind anywhere else. My eyes close against his proximity, and I try not to let my disgust at his odor register on my face as he works. 

The pain is beginning to lessen, though it's still tingling sharply through my cheek and under my eye as I feel him shift before me. My eyes open when his hands rest on my knees, my expression pinching as he seems to inspect his work. 

"You're actually quite lovely with a full face," He says with a sickening sweetness, "Sort of like a doe-eyed little girl."

Swallowing thickly, I glance past him towards the area Lavellan had disappeared to before the sculptor's hand seems to travel to the soft skin of my inner thigh, the action catching me so entirely off guard I can only stare at him as he smirks back at me. 

"What are you doing?!" I hiss, the shock of my own voice doing little to quell the panicked response of my hands scratching at his arm to get him off of me. There's a sick and twisted look on his face as he forces his hand further up my slip, and my jaw sets angrily at his perverse boldness. 

"I don't do this for free," He hisses as he reaches to grab my hip, his hand pressing fiercely to my bare sex as I yelp.

My thighs tighten around his arm as I dig my nails into his arm, anger filling me as I use his presumptuous touch against him. With my voice returned, the process of paralyzing him with my invasive probing is much more fluid, and I hiss the commands in his face as I lean towards him as his expression slacks. 

Memories rush past us as the room seems to fade into blackness, my hand closing around his throat both out of spite and to give me more control over the contact. The man before nearly disappears as we're transported to a dank and grimy room, it's stone walls glistening with water dripping from the ceilings above. My fingers dig more deeply into the sculptor's throat as I look around, the memory setting into motion as I recognized the lithe figure hanging from chains on the wall to our left. Lavellan. His body is bruised and malnourished, but it's definitely him. His hair is more blonde, though the beginnings of salt and peppered streaks are already taking shape at his temples. He's rambling in a language I don't recognize, and I hear it echoed from behind me as I turn to see a much younger sculptor smirking as he rests against a table of tools. Whips and blades, vices and chains, tools for torture scatter the table as the sculptor hisses back at Lavellan before turning to grab whatever strikes his fancy from the table. 

The thought of this man torturing Lavellan enrages me as the memories shift again, but I don't pry any deeper. No, I don't need to waste my energy on that, not when it's so easy to begin forcing my own twisted visions into his head. Visions of his own arms chained to those walls in that dungeon, his own table of toys laid out ahead of him as the blurred faces of his victims gather around. Having my voice back enables me to nearly spit the spell in his face that will enliven his hallucination even further, adding feelings and sensations to the imagined touches. He's trembling under my touch as I shove him off of me, and he stumbles back onto the floor with a look of terror on his face as his own torturers line up to take their turns.

With the sculptor on the floor, I dust my self off, trembling as I adjust my slip and my coat back over my front. Once on my feet, I look down at the blank stare of the man on the ground, growling angrily as I step forward to stand over him. My head cocks to the side as I stomp his hand with the heel of my boot, grinding into it with as much weight as I can.

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138 Re: Bright Lights on Fri Jan 27, 2017 3:37 am

The sound of commotion in the living room is enough to pull me away from the sink - another spell of nausea having pulled me back after I'd tried and failed to down a jug of water. I'm more than a little perplexed to find Ljuba standing over the terrified man, his hand crunching under her heel as he yelps and whimpers, his gaze fixed on the nothingness over Ljuba's shoulder. Mixed feelings freeze me to my spot, vindictive satisfaction stilling my tongue even as I try to get the dried, dead thing to tell her to stop.

"What'd you do?" I ask, finally, as I stare at his glazed and frightened expression.

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139 Re: Bright Lights on Fri Jan 27, 2017 3:43 am

"Let him know a hand up my dress doesn't go unpunished." I scowl down at the man, tucking my gloves into my pocket as I dust my front off again and look up at Lavellan, frowning slightly. The age on his face doesn't even begin to match the aging of the man on the floor, but that's a question for another day. 

"Then I broke that hand."

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140 Re: Bright Lights on Fri Jan 27, 2017 3:53 am

There isn't even a flicker of my stoic mask to disguise the disappointment that comes across my features, my shoulders sagging as I look at Fergus unhappily. Shaking my head, I step over to him and bend over to wave a hand in front of his face.

"Fergus! Fergus!" I snap at him, slapping his face when he doesn't respond. "Damnit, Ferg," I murmur as I kneel beside him, my hand disappearing under my coat to pull out the knife kept there. My free hand goes to rest on his chest for a long moment, my eyes closing as I get a feel for his heartbeat - its frightened flutter something I'm all too familiar with.

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141 Re: Bright Lights on Fri Jan 27, 2017 3:57 am

With a pinched expression, I watch him as he settles of Fergus, a familiar still coming over him as him as his posture seems to soften.

"What- no!" I frown, reaching out to catch Lavellan's wrist as I pull the knife from his grasp. "We don't need to leave a trail behind us, right?" I say hopefully, my own voice still sounding foreign as I look at Lavellan sadly, "He won't remember we were even here - I'll see to that."

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142 Re: Bright Lights on Fri Jan 27, 2017 4:21 am

I look balefully at the knife she's taken from me before looking up at her with a frown. It's strange, hearing her voice and seeing more symmetry to her features, though she still has a significant scar over her right cheek and along the canthus of her eye.

"You've only just gotten your voice back," I say hesitantly. "Are you sure you're up to that? He's been alone in this house for so long, I can't say I trust his judgment anymore... if Richard offers him what he wants, he might tell him we were here."

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143 Re: Bright Lights on Fri Jan 27, 2017 4:27 am

"He won't know where we are," I say quietly, more breath than voice as I offer him his knife back. "It won't be anything spectacular, but he won't even remember Richard's put a bounty out... I don't know if I can stomach anymore death today."

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144 Re: Bright Lights on Fri Jan 27, 2017 4:36 am

Swallowing, I nod in agreement and get to my feet to tuck the knife back in my belt. "Do it," I say stiffly as I head to the man's bedroom to retrieve another bag I'd hidden in his closet long ago.

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145 Re: Bright Lights on Fri Jan 27, 2017 4:48 am

I watch as Lavellan leaves the room again, nerves settling in my stomach as I look down at Fergus before stepping over him to see what is available at his work table. There's not much in the way of herbs that I can use, but there is a small bottle of the tincture he'd offered me.

Sleep is sleep, I think, grabbing the bottle and squatting at his side. I wave a hand in front of his face before opening the bottle, content he's too dazed to respond to my pouring it down his throat. It doesn't take long at all for the tincture to start working, his blank expression growing heavier before his eyes drift closed.

Planting a hand on his forehead, my own eyes close as the familiar incantation passes my lips, the freshest of memories coming to the forefront of our linked minds. It's more intoxicating - Weaving through touch as opposed to drops - but it's a high I can't relish right now. Not with the threat of Richard and his dead men less than a day behind us.

Working quickly, I twist and taint the memories of Fergus's day until they're nonsensical and useless. It's not my best work, but it'll do for now. He might figure out he's missing time, but how that came to be will remain a mystery.

Once I'm done, I rise to my feet and pull the gloves back out so I can pull them on, waiting for Lavellan as I adjust the scarf around my now-bare neck.

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146 Re: Bright Lights on Fri Jan 27, 2017 5:11 am

It takes me awhile to dig through the mess in Fergus's bedroom to get to the loose floorboard in his closet where I'd stuffed the old, tattered backpack. When I finally get it out, the dust falling from it in clumps, I'm hit with a flood of long forgotten memories. This bag had seen me through the worst years of my life, and here it was again, getting me through gods only know what next.

I'm pleased to find the preservation charm is still in place when I open it to find several changes of clothes folded neatly inside, the smell of fresh laundry still clinging to them. I find a pair of warm pants and a thick sweater tucked near the bottom as I make my way back into the living room, my arm going out to hand them to Ljuba without so much as a glance as I make my way into the kitchen. What space is left in the bag is filled with cans of food, canteens of water, and the contents of a rusted old coffee tin Fergus thinks disguises the cash tucked in the bottom. It's not much, but it will get us through a few more weeks at least.

"Maker be with you, my friend," I say as I pause to squat down so I can pat Fergus's face roughly, a disapproving frown still pinching my expression. "Or whatever fairy tale you worship these days," I sigh as I pat his shoulder a little more gently before getting to my feet. I'm pleased that I don't have to kill him, but there's still a weight that settles in the pit of my stomach at the lines etched around his eyes and the thinning of his hair. I fear that this will be the last time I see him, be it age or Richard that comes for him, I don't believe that he'll be here to receive the customary care package I always send after I've run somewhere new - always with his help to get me that extra distance.

I don't look back to make sure that Ljuba is following, the snapping of twigs behind me all the comfort I need to know that she's there as I lead the way down the road to a distant neighbor. I'm grateful for the silence Ljuba offers as I find us a vehicle in decent enough nick that it might have a working heater. Once I have, it's painfully easy to break in and get the tiny van up and running - and just like that, we're officially on the road.

****

The silence continues as we drive for hours, Ljuba's quiet contemplation of the dark landscape out her window giving way to the quiet breathing of sleep. I'm grateful for the chance to think, the lack of privacy and time to properly sleep paired with the events of the past twenty-four hours has left me drained and tense - and that's not even touching on the strain seeing Fergus had put on my weary mind.

I've never had a companion running beside me in times like this. Hell, I've never had company for more than a day for much the same reason: it's far too difficult to think and feel what's happening while keeping my guard up. It's exhausting. Which is why I practically sigh in relief when I hear Ljuba's even breathing, a tension I hadn't known I was carrying easing from my shoulders.

Glancing at her, I wave a hand in front of the aged stereo, my magic flipping through until it finds a station with enough reception to pick up the crackly tune of an old song. Keeping the volume down to a whisper, I nod to the beat as I relax back in my seat.

The next several hours pass much the same way, the quiet lull of the music managing to keep my mind off of the weight of memories and uncertainty, distracting me from my own form of grieving - for Marnin, for Richard, for those who'd fallen in my wake, for Fergus... hell, for the sanctuary I'd managed to create in my little loft. In all the years I'd been running, there are so few places like that where I'd felt well and truly safe and at home. I'm going to miss that...

****

When the horizon behind us starts to show signs of lightening, I finally find a place to pull off - first to fuel up, and then to find a discrete place to park for a little while. One good thing about a war: there is no shortage of abandoned buildings to hide an old beat up vehicle.

Ljuba is still out cold when I put the van into park and carefully climb into the back. I go about setting up a couple of beds for us - the beds far enough for us to keep our distance if it's wanted, but close enough to scoot in if it starts to get cold. After that, I wrap one of the blankets around myself and then set to work preparing the hotplate for breakfast.

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147 Re: Bright Lights on Fri Jan 27, 2017 3:42 pm

I'm teased awake by the smell of richly spiced meat, something that is a bit perplexing given we're still tucked in the van from earlier. Waking is less painful this time, and I know where I am as soon as my eyes open, despite the dimly lit contents of a gutted building being just outside the window. 

Stretching, I reach up to run a hand across my collar - out of habit at this point - and frown at it's absence. It's been so long since being without it, or it's predecessor, didn't feel entirely isolating. 

"Hmm," I hum as I twist around to see Lavellan working over a hotplate, the source of the smell still in the used and worn pan he holds. "How far'd we make it?" I ask as I slip out of the seat, the coat I'd used as a blanket pulled after me so I can wrap it back around me.

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148 Re: Bright Lights on Fri Jan 27, 2017 7:58 pm

“We’re at the edge of the neutral territories now,” I say past a strangled yawn as I stir at the
meat tiredly. “We’ll need to stop for supplies soon,” I add as I glance at the jar of salve sitting by
my bag - there’s barely a quarter of a jar left. “I figure we’ll travel north along the border, try to
avoid crossing into Chantry territory as much as possible. Supplies on the other side are scarce,
and require documentation and permission from the Chantry to buy, so it’s best we do all our
shopping here while we can.

“How’d you sleep?” I ask, finally glancing over at her disheveled appearance - at her lack of
mask or collar. I’m pretty sure I’m staring.

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149 Re: Bright Lights on Fri Jan 27, 2017 8:11 pm

"I don't know that I slept at all," I laugh weakly, coming to settle in on the opposite side of the van despite the cold. Once settled, I look back up to find Lavellan still look at me, a flush coming to my cheeks as I smile slightly. 

"Do I look that different..?"

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150 Re: Bright Lights on Fri Jan 27, 2017 8:19 pm

“Very,” I respond, catching myself as I continue to stare at her before offering a small smile.
“Fergus’s talents are more for disappearing than fixing, so there are still some scars, but you
look… nice. And you don’t sound like I had imagined.”

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