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The Fuck..?

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1 The Fuck..? on Mon Aug 21, 2017 4:45 pm

The air is cool as a breeze drifts through the house through the open windows, the song of the remote grove of trees filling the background with the sound of owls, cicadas, crickets, and other insects. Despite the relief of the soft breeze rustling at the leaves outside the windows, I find myself unable to sleep, my eyes staring sightlessly into the dark where the ceiling ought to be. My skin is still sticky with the sweat from the hot and humid day, the smell of earth and grass still clinging to me after a long day’s work.

After tossing and turning a few more times, the sheets cloying at my body, I finally huff and sigh in defeat as I kick them off in frustration. Tossing my feet over the edge of the bed, I sit in silence for a long moment as I drag a hand through my hair. It’s greasy and tangled – and also sticky with sweat. Reaching out in the dark, my hand fumbles around for the nightstand before my knuckles hit across the edge of the wood roughly. Using the nightstand to orient myself, I manage an estimate of how many steps it is to get to the door to the bathroom before standing and shuffling in that direction.

A yawn threatens to throw me off as my shoulder collides with the doorframe, an annoyed, “Ouch!” grunting past the yawn as I reach up to rub at the offended limb. Grumbling to myself, I fumble around in search of the spigot to turn on the water in the tub. After plugging the tub and settling onto the toilet to wait for it to fill, I set to work lighting the stove situated under the large copper basin so that it has time to boil while the tub is filling. It’s a tedious chore that I had hoped to avoid in favor of sleep, but eventually, the waiting is over and I can carefully dump the boiling water into the tub to bring it to a more comfortable temperature.

As always, sinking into the tub is pleasant and worth the inconvenience of drawing the bath – a luxury I often forget in my haste to fall into bed at the end of the day. Despite my exhaustion, I take my time languishing in the tub, washing away the toils of the day and soaking tired muscles as I listen to the quiet rustling of the garden outside the window.

Back in the bedroom, I can hear the soft cadence of Winifred’s breathing, her sleep undisturbed despite my fussing and clumsiness. She’d hardly stirred except to accept the sheets I’d thrown off of me, her arms folding around them as she’d rolled onto her side and hugged the excess linens to her chest. I find myself smiling absently as I listen to her, the seconds stretching into minutes as I sink further into the steaming water.

I don’t know how much time has passed when I’m jarred back into the present. Disoriented, I sit up abruptly, my hand fumbling to grip the edge of the tub as I get my bearings again. The water in the tub has gone cold, I notice with a frown. I must have fallen asleep. My head is still clouded with sleep as I grope around for a towel and unsteadily make my way to my feet. It isn’t until I’m halfway out of the tub that I hear it again: a heavy, deliberate rustling. Freezing awkwardly with one foot out of the tub, my head cocks to the side as I listen more intently, a stark frown coming to my lips as I make out the source of the sound.

A trespasser. In the garden. Again. Scowling, I consider storming outside, skyclad and flushed with anger, just to tell them the plants are all poisoned and to fuck the fuck off with their bullshit. But the petty, vindictive side of me acts as the voice of reason and tells me not to rush out into the garden after the thief. Not after last time, I sigh to myself as my fingers wander over the remnants of a thick scar on the edge of my abdomen. Just leave the plants to defend themselves, I insist to myself as I finish drying off as quietly as I can. For now, it’s best just to go back to bed and make sure Winifred doesn’t get up and stumble on the burglar like last time, either.

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2 Re: The Fuck..? on Mon Aug 21, 2017 8:47 pm

~~~

The bag hanging from my side is bulging with hastily harvested plants, and to be entirely honest, I'm not positive what all it is I've grabbed as I hurry along the road home. It's still another hour or two until dawn, which gives me plenty time to make it inside, stash my bag, and get started on my morning routine before Aodhagan even gets out of bed.

My joints ache from all of the walking this new life requires, and I swear I can feel the imbued metals Lavellan had left in my bones creak the closer to home I get, a sensation that leaves a pit of discomfort and anxiety at the base of my spine. Just a few more hours, and Aodh will be at work, and I'll have the house to myself. I'll have the freedom to check out for a bit. 

I don't bother with lanterns as I make my way inside. I hate fidgeting with them given the near-constant tremor in my hands these days, and after one nearly exploded in my face, I've found a way to get around in the dark just fine. It helps the house is small enough that there's hardly a space where you can't feel either a wall or furniture in either direction, and my hands glide over the back of the heavily-worn sofa as I head into the kitchen. There's a small candle near the sink, with a makeshift lighter tucked into the windowsill. Even when I've wandered off with it in my hands, it always manages to find its way back to that spot, a saving grace I silently thank Aodh for as my fingers find it. 

Lighting the candle, a dim light fills the tiny room, and I fall into the familiar motions of sorting out what needs to be cooked for breakfast, what needs to be cleaned for the coming day, and finding the bottle of liquor I'd put in the pantry the night before. The same routine, the same morning, every day. Every day for nearly two years now. This boring, monotonous routine. 

The bite of alcohol barely even garnishes a flinch as I take a long swig, the bottle never leaving my hand as I begin putting together breakfast. Cooking is one of the few tasks that seems to relieve me of the slow passage of time, the dough coming together on the counter for the biscuits and the pile of potatoes and green onions sitting ready and chopped, just waiting for the eggs. The sun's nearly up, and I can hear the quiet stirrings of Aodh upstairs, giving me the cue to shove the biscuits into the heated stove  near the backdoor before mixing the vegetables in with some eggs to follow. 

I've probably been home a little over an hour, the bottle nearly empty in front of me on the table I'm sat at, when Aodhagan finally makes his way down the stairs and into sight. 

"Mornin, love," I smile up at him, tipping the bottle towards him. "Breakfast should be done soon."

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3 Re: The Fuck..? on Mon Aug 21, 2017 11:03 pm

“Mmm,” I smile as I rub my knuckles into a groggy eye. Seeing the offered bottle, I shake my head vaguely as I meander over to the stove to sniff at the pan.

“What are we having?” I ask unnecessarily as I take a moment to poke at the potatoes and eggs before moving on to the ‘ice box’ in the corner for a proper breakfast beverage.

“Ugh,” I complain as the smell of stale ice and semi-cooled food hits me. “We’re low on ice again.”

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4 Re: The Fuck..? on Mon Aug 21, 2017 11:14 pm

"Don't worry about it," I respond, sitting back in my chair, bottle in hand, to watch him. "I got some coin left over from last night, might get my hands on some frost weed today." I smile crookedly, quietly hoping one of the various plants I'd grabbed overnight did indeed turnout to be the frost weed I'd thought I'd seen in the dark garden.

"Speaking of coin," I continue, digging into my pocket, "Can you get some of that whiskey again on your way home? Damn shop was closed yesterday when I had a chance to get over there."

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5 Re: The Fuck..? on Tue Aug 22, 2017 1:43 am

"Sure," I nod as I pop a mushy blueberry into my mouth as I pour a glass of chilled tea into a small cup. "I'll swing by on my lunch break and grab a couple bottles."

Putting the tea back in the ice box, I take a sip from my cup before reaching into the cupboard to find my morning medication - or what passes for medication in this world, anyway. The herbal concoction is mostly made up of oils and dense, dried herbs cut into a thick sugary syrup, but even in the sugar it's still bitter and unpleasant as I force myself to suck the sickly substance off of the spoon before gulping down the tea to wash the bitterness from my tongue. In all honesty, the concoction almost isn't worth the chore of taking it twice a day as I've intentionally steered clear of the more potent pain killers that actually help with the nerve damage Zenovia had helped to diagnose. In truth, I spend many hours of my nights and quite a few from the day as well longing for the potent drugs and nullifying magic Zenovia had once provided me.

But in the current reality, with Zenovia gone and Ljuba not-so-secretly circling 'round and 'round the proverbial drain, I choose, instead, to lie. Two years of telling Ljuba that the less potent, horribly tasting serum works even better than the moppy we'd long since run out of; better even than the more virile magically imbued herbs that grow here in these strange lands. In reality, it barely takes the edge off. Barely makes the forced lack of limping bearable - though Ljuba still watches me from time to time before asking if I'm sure I don't want her to find me something better.

No, I'm fine, I'll smile through a barely contained grimace. No need to tell her that I won't be responsible for giving her further temptation. Silly as it is, given that she'll get her stuff one way or another anyway, I still feel a little better when I see her getting the shakes. Just knowing that she's out and she can't find anything in the house on my account, and knowing we'll never have to have that awkward, I stole your medication to get high, conversation...

"I'm going to get washed up," I say after capping the bottle of serum and slamming back another cup of tea before I wander over to plant a kiss on Ljuba's scarred cheek. "I think I'm going to head into work early to help Soja with the new shipment.

"Throw some food in a sack for me so I can eat it on the way?" I call back as I head for the stairs before hurrying upstairs to my own bathroom.

******

Just when I'm starting to believe that the day is never going to end, it's finally time to close up the shop and head home. Despite my endeavor to make it in early so I could help Soja with the shipment and not get stuck working with the customers by myself, that's still what happens. I'd like to think that I've come a long way over the past couple of years - and I'm sure I have! But trauma still has a funny way of sneaking up on me and rendering me a speechless lump in the face of - cringe - people.

Apparently, I managed the mixture of pain and irrational terror with poise, though, as Soja praises my hard work for the day, and I'm able to breathe a sigh of relief when we finally lock the doors without anyone having yelled at me over the quality of some exotic foodstuff that's been carted across the entire continent in the back of a horse-drawn cart. No, all-in-all it wasn't a bad day, though I can definitely feel it aching in the base of my spine as I lock up the back door after Soja has left.

I breathe a sigh of relief when I pull my headscarf off, my hand fluffing the wild mane of curls before I tuck the length of sweat soiled cloth into my bag and adjust it over my shoulder as I make my way down the alley toward home. It's getting harder and harder to hide the protrusions of bone and hardened keratin that tries to peek out through my hair, even with the convenience of being able to wear some modest form of head covering at work. Better than dripping your gross sweat all over the goods, Soja had shrugged when I'd asked. She knows perfectly well why I'd really asked, but she's never drawn attention to my abnormality. Something I'm grateful for, honestly. I don't really know how to explain to people that I don't know what I am. Though, people around here seem to have their own ideas about my race - which is not always a good thing.

It's because of that fact that I always find myself looking over my shoulder when I have to walk by myself. Not that there's a lot of trouble to be found in our little town most of the time. But what can I say? A lifetime of running and living fearfully has made me overly cautious. And sadly, the anxiety of what would happen if something bad did happen is never far from my mind... after all, the last time I'd felt threatened, I landed myself, Ljuba, Lavellan, Zenovia, the van, and a hundred yards worth of other buildings and vehicles - all cleanly ripped in half at the edge of my range - in an alien world where there are no damned vehicles.

I'd be devastated if something happened and I jumped again without Ljuba...

Sighing, my pace picks up even as I push the thought from my mind. By the time I make it home, my legs are shaking with the last vestiges of my pain meds wearing off. The dull ache at the base of my spine has progressed to a persistent tingling burn that radiates down my hips and thighs and up into my shoulders. Thinking Ljuba asleep, I make a point to come in through the dining room, my bag hitting the floor heavily as I drag my feet toward the kitchen to get my evening serum dose out of the way.

Still blinded from the setting sun, I make my way blindly through the dim kitchen, and nearly have a heart attack when I trip over something sprawled out across the walkway. My wrist is jarred roughly as I catch myself on the edge of the counter before whipping around in alarm, blinking rapidly as I try to adjust my eyes to see in the dark.

"What the fuck-?" I frown as I squint at the shadow I had tripped over. It isn't until I make out the delirious mumbling through the sound of my own heart beating against my ears that I realize what it is I've tripped over. Ljuba's legs.

"Ljuba..?" I ask anxiously, the smell of tainted vomit finally reaching my nose as I make out the shape of the trash can she's clinging to. Suddenly, my hands are shaking far worse as I hurry and fumble around on the counter in search of the lighter. Gone. Cursing, I knock things around until I find a lantern, my fingers snapping sharply nearly the wick as I try repeatedly to coordinate my magic enough to produce a dull spark.

The kerosene soaked twine takes instantly as I shake the phantom of heat from my fingers before scurrying over to Ljuba as the orange light falls across her sallow features. It doesn't take much more than a cursory examination to realize that something is different about her this time. There's a feverish look to her dilated pupils, and the remnants of blood still clings to her lips as she presses her cheek against the cool surface of the tin trash can. A glance at the mess in the can reveals the source of the blood, and a fumbled look at her white lips and gums confirms the heart sinking realization: she's bleeding internally.

"Ljuba, what did you do?!" I demand, my voice shrill with worry and anger and no small amount of fear. I have no idea how to fix this. And Ljuba is no help, either, her eyes remaining fixed on images only she can see as she continues to speak nonsensically to whatever ghosts haunt her.

I don't even notice my pain anymore as I get back to my feet to begin digging through her things in search of whatever she took. It isn't long before I find the bag of herbs stuffed in the 'secret' compartment of the trunk at the end of her bed. Rummaging through the bag, I find myself cursing angrily again. Of course they're not marked from any of the herbalists in town. Probably stolen then. Frowning, I try to think who she might have stolen them from. The odd assortment of plants leaves me at a loss, though. Most of the herbalists in town have no problem selling her whatever she needs - and she knows them well enough to know which plants to take if she wanted to steal from them.

My heart sinks as I begin to suspect where they might have come from. There are rumors even in the little shop where I work of the druid that lives outside of town who produces plants and herbs finer than the richest apothecaries in the big cities. Soja loves to tell tall tales about how her cook had fixed a feast for the entire capital with a single leaf from the druid's stock of kitchen herbs, and how it had been the finest thing the royal family had ever tasted; and that's how she lost him to those damned blue bloods. Of course, I know that the cook actually just stopped coming to work in favor of the drink. But there is still credibility to the rumors about the druid and his stupid plants all over the town's underbelly.

Checking once more on Ljuba, I stutter out an attempt at reassurance as I pull her away from the trash can and escort her to the parlor. I'm too worried to be embarrassed at the uncontrolled stuttering as I lie her down on her bed and prop her legs up while she carries on arguing with the shadows in her own tongue. Promising her I'll be back, I snatch up the bag of herbs and hurry out the door, the only knowledge I have on the druid being that they live to the East of town. And, if rumors are to be believed, their home is protected by the formidable wildlife. Because who doesn't love the idea of being eaten by fucking bears when there's killer plants to be had!

****

I walk for hours along the Eastern road, going so far as the next town before I'm forced to circle back, cursing all the way as I search more intently for the elusive druid's fucking house. The sun has long since dipped behind the trees, the dim light of twilight threatening to fade at any moment as I peer desperately into the woods on either side of the road. It's through sheer dumb luck that I hear the sound of muted laughter off in the shadows, drawing my eye to a path so narrow and overgrown with purple wildflowers and dogwood branches that I would have never seen it.

There's no small amount of anxiety sitting in my chest as I duck and grimace my way through the overgrown path, my eyes wide as I watch for bears or lions of fucking dragons or whatever else the druid might have guarding his house. Or her house? That laugh had definitely sounded feminine. My whole body practically sighs with relief when the darkness of the wooded path finally opens up to a large clearing that's set aglow in the soft light of glowing insects, both flying freely and captured inside thin glass orbs dangling from posts that are situated in strategic spots throughout the clearing.

I'm a little hesitant to step forward as I take in the quaint little cottage and the sprawling maze of gardens and low stone walls. The area has clearly been cultivated and kept meticulously by loving hands, but there's something natural and seamless in the way it transitions back into the deep woods surrounding the pretty little clearing. And, thankfully, there doesn't appear to be any bears or dragons in sight.

"Excuse m-me," I call meekly when I spot the woman that I'd heard laughing. She remains focused on the large wooden tub set in the middle of one of the walled areas, her arms full of vegetables as she picks through the crop growing inside the wooden tub. Tomatoes?

Frowning, I clutch the bag of herbs in my hand tightly as I force my shaking legs to carry me forward. Without the familiarity of Ljuba's presence or her worrying condition to preoccupy me, I become very self-conscious of the way my words stutter past my lips as I call out to the woman again. Nerves and anxiety launches me into a fevered explanation of what's happened, much of what I'm trying to say becoming lost in the impediment to my speech.

Still, the woman doesn't look up from her garden. My heart is racing now as I frown at her back, my mind rushing over all the possibilities of what could be wrong with this scenario. What if she's the wildlife that protects this place? What if I get closer and she turns into a bear and eats me? Druids can do that, can't they? Glancing down at the bag of stolen plants, I frown sharply, my body tensing resolutely as I look back up at the woman and take those last few steps to reach out so I can tap her arm lightly.

"Excuse me?"

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