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 Post subject: Virtues [Story][Public]
PostPosted: Mon Aug 04, 2014 4:10 pm 
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Virtues
by Tevish Szat
Status: Public :diamond:


I. Charity


Lourima Viiran looked up towards the sky. On all sides, towers rose tall, straining towards the heavens. A light, warm rain began to fall from the lead-grey heavens, stinking faintly of impurities and stinging ever so slightly of acid. Lourima smoothed down her stringy red hair, scrubbed some of the dirt from her face, then put her head down and walked on.



The place was very strange. She did not know its name, but all big cities were alike to her. They were places to put up a hood if she had one and stay away from dark alleys if she could avoid it. It was not that folks in the towns wouldn’t cheat you or abuse you, but there were so many more people in the city that it seemed inevitable.



Lourima was confident though. However big the city was, she knew how to spot a trap, and claim the bait without ending up a victim. At the very thought of it, darkness thrummed in her veins waiting to be unleashed, and her hand crept to her belt where hung a plain but very sharp dagger. Lourima Viiran could protect herself from the cruelness of the world.



Lourima wandered the lanes, watching the leaves of trees entwined with masonry wilt in the nasty rain, when a hand caught her shoulder. Lourima whirled, ready to fight, but was greeted by the kindly-looking face of an older woman



“You poor dear!” the woman said, “Come in out of the rain! I have a place for anyone.”



Lourima frowned as the woman motioned to a doorway, behind which was light. She weighed the danger against the reward, and clutched the hidden dagger at the hilt. Grudgingly, she went inside, making sure the woman was the first through the doorway. Lourima was not about to turn her back on anyone else.



Inside was cozy enough, with several chairs, a couple tables, a few beds, a small brick fireplace, some cupboards, and little else. There was no one else there.



“What is this place?” Lourima asked.



“A waystation,” the woman replied, “For those of us in tune with the Worldsoul, though I for one keep the door open for anyone. Here, let me get you something.”



The woman went to what must have been the pantry and emerged with a small loaf of bread and a pint of some drink, and handed them to Lourima. Lourima, for her part, eyed the food and drink dubiously. She picked up the bread and dipped an end into the drink, then broke off the sodden piece and offered it silently to her host.



“Thank you,” the woman said, and with only faint hesitation accepted it and ate it herself. The food and drink, then, was probably not poisoned. Lourima weighed the risk against the rumblings of her stomach, and ate, lightly at first, herself.



“What’s your name, young miss?” Lourima’s host asked.



“You first.” She replied.



“Ah,” the woman said, “I am part of the Worldsoul, but I am called Kitra.”



“Well, I’m Lourima.”



“You know, Lourima,” Kitra said, “You shouldn’t be on the streets on your own. There’s always a loving home to go to, if you need one.”



“Ha!” Lourima barked. Leaving home was the best and easiest thing she had ever done.



“I mean with the Selesnya.” Kitra said, “Have you ever considered joining the Chorus?”



Lourima shook her head.



“It’s alright. Most people don’t think about it. Devotion to the Guild is not something we take lightly, but it is fulfilling. The Selesnya is family. More than family. It is yourself. But I’m rambling, let’s take a look at you.”



Kitra produced a brush and muttered something about a tangled mess. Lourima insisted she be allowed to see the brush, and finding it to be quite normal, allowed the older woman to apply it to her hair. Thereafter, Kitra brought out simple but fresh clothes, and prattled on about the Selesnya, and made up a bed. Lourima inspected the clothes as carefully as she had everything else, looking for where the catch was in such charity, and listened halfheartedly to the prattling without really hearing, but when the bed was offered, Lourima knew what was going on.



Carefully, she walked towards Kitra and the bed. She passed behind the older woman, and as she did, stabbed her in the back.



Kitra crumpled up and fell to the floor. She gasped out a single word: “Why?”



Lourima could fill in the rest, what no one ever said but people like her always thought. Why would you kill me when you’d only seen me give you charity? You could not know I would slit your throat in the night and take your few possessions. I set my web so carefully…



“Because,” Lourima replied with absolute certainty as she slit the woman’s throat to speed her death and searched her pockets for money or useful things, “You would have done the same to me.”




II. Kindness


Lourima Viiran pressed her form flat against the alley wall, hoping to avoid detection from the street. The law in this place had not taken lightly her killing of that wicked Selesnya woman. She had hoped that they would be incompetent, unwilling to pursue the case, but instead the armored men with their red-and-white fist emblem had hounded her footsteps. How they caught her trail, she could not guess, and many times she considered leaving the great city rather than continuing to attempt to evade their patrols.



Still, Lourima did not like going through the howling dark too often, and she was confident she could do it if they caught up with her. The soldier stomped past. Lourima looked the other way, deeper into the alley, only to find herself face to face with a leveled blade.



“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” the boy – for boy he was, no more than a year or two Lourima’s senior – hissed, steely eyes staring straight at her. “You want to drag the Boros on my head too?”



The police, Lourima guessed, were ‘Boros’. She slowly backed away, towards the end of the alley, but dared not back up too far, lest she step out into the street, into sight. The boy did not advance any closer, but kept his gaze locked upon her. Lourima met it with her own intensity, as she tried to judge what he meant to do.



She could kill him, she realized, but she was already facing enough problems for that. If it came to be necessary, she would, but for the moment she considered it a lesser option. He had held the knife to her for some time before she had noticed, so he probably did not mean to kill straight away, or he would have done so.



“You’re not on their side, then.” Lourima replied, “Put the knife away.”



“Why should I?” the boy asked. His voice quivered slightly, and Lourima thought for a brief moment that he might not mean to use the blade at all. But that could just be lulling her into a false sense of security.



“Because,” she said, “If you don’t I’ll scream, and then it will be both our heads.”



The boy sheathed his knife and folded his arms, affording Lourima a good look at him. He was taller than her, and… strapping, a part of her thought. She shifted her weight from side to side, brushing her legs against one another, and tried to put certain thoughts out of mind.



“If you want to hide here,” the boy said, harshly but not too harshly, “You’ll have to follow my rules. Otherwise you can find your own damn bolt hole.



And that, Lourima thought, would suit her just fine. He was dangerous, and she would do very well to be somewhere else very quickly, even if it meant ducking back out into the street. And there was another thing – what she wanted, and what she felt she wanted were for at once at odds, and she shifted oddly again and bit her lip and tried to see reason through and failed.



“What are your terms?” she asked



“You don’t tell another soul about what I’ll show you, you don’t look at anything that’s not in plain sight, and if you want to stay long enough to sleep, not just wait for those knuckleheads to leave, you pay for the privilege.”



Lourima remembered the purse she had taken from the lady on the street, the one who had tried to lure her to her death and who she had killed in return, and nodded agreement. Even if he demanded the whole purse, and he probably would, it was easier to get more money than to get another head.



The boy lead Lourima to the back of the alley. He reached into a mass of boards that seemed to lean against the wall and pulled, and instead of the boards falling away they, and some of the wall, swung out. The door was very cleverly hidden, no doubt to prevent these Boros from finding it. For a moment, they stood there, and then Lourima spoke.



“You first.” She said. The boy stepped into the frame, but kept one hand on the door, no doubt to ensure it closed. Lourima remembered that if she stepped in, so close, he might be able to draw his dagger and employ it before she could do the same, or melt his bones to black and noxious ooze, or escape into the howling dark, but that mad part of her that had accepted the offer and terms in the first place thrilled at the prospect. She approached, and stepped through the frame, and the boy swung the door closed.



At first, Lourima could not see very well in the darkness, but breathed heavily and felt the warmth of breath nearby, smelled below the musty but not unpleasant odor of a well-lived and not uncleanly place, and more immediately a faint hint of sweat that was not her own. Both she and the boy stood still for a moment, and slowly Lourima’s eyes, and she guessed his, began to adjust to the indoors.



It was not, it seemed, totally dark. There was a pale luminosity, slightly off-white to the violet, that issued from deeper in the secret space. As the contours of the steps came into view, the boy removed his hand from the door and proceeded down them into the cloying shadows of what Lourima guessed to be the main room, at which point he lit up an oil lamp which was there, and its flame drowned out that strange violet-white light and gave form and color to the place Lourima had so foolishly entered



The walls and ceiling and floor were all of masonry, no natural stone to be found, but it had something of a dug out character, suggesting that the workmanship of the structure was of far greater antiquity than its habitation. There was a fire pit marked out by cinder blocks, beneath the remains of what might have been a sort of chimney, a hole in the ceiling disappearing off into pipework of the higher spire. Next to it were several low benches, and one slightly higher, room for three or four or more if they did not mind being crowded to sit and talk and eat, and a place to prepare meals or to set things down that was not the floor. On one wall, there was a writing desk, and it was covered with many papers, while on another side there was a lumpy mass of blankets Lourima took to be a bed, and despite its lack of frame a large and comfortable one at that.



There was an end table next to the bottom of the steps, and the lamp that was lit was on that, and in the lamplight Lourima herself descended.



Despite the fire-pit, despite the lamplight, the place sung with darkness – familiar, comforting power, the very memory of which could fuel her spellcraft. There was other power too, but it did not resonate with Lourima, and she only dimly noticed it.



Lourima took some coins from her pocket, and held them out in one hand to the boy. She was tired, having spent more than a day on her feet, more or less, and if she was going to enter the place at all, she was determined to sleep.



The boy stepped close and looked at the coins.



“Fair enough,” he said. He took a couple from her hand, and then glanced at the last, “I guess I could get you some food too.” He grumbled, somewhat distracted. He reached for the last coin, folded it into his hand, and then in something of a daze left his closed fist in her palm for just a moment before withdrawing it. Lourima, for her part, felt almost faint and cursed the part of her that was the cause of her predicament.



They broke between them a loaf of bread, and shared water from a clay jug that at least smelled cleaner than had the rain in the city, and traded names and spoke quietly some about the injustice of reality and when time came to bed down Lourima looked longingly at the blankets and pillows upon the floor. No doubt, it was her host’s bed, but Lourima longed to lay upon it. It was no doubt soft and no doubt warm, and had she not paid for the privilege of resting here? Coin was the one thing some people respected and honored, though many would also be driven mad by it.



And even beyond that, the mad part of her that put her in the dark little space to begin with told her that she would not mind if her habitation did not displace her host. She thought of warmth, imagining things as she had never felt, but for once she was able to push away the madness as an imagined hand rounded her shoulder and found the mass of hideous scar that was her back.



That, she could not, would not endure, and her reticence to reveal her mangled condition let her hang on to her wisdom against the voice that issued forth from the primal parts of her mind. Therefore, she took from the bed a sheet and a pillow, and laid herself down at the opposite corner, back against the wall and hand at her hip where she would be most likely to be roused if any soul approached her and most able to react when it happened.



Lourima awoke to a great and thunderous sounding at the door.



“Give yourself up!” a gruff voice outside the place called, “We know you’re in there, Dimir scum!”



Terror brought Lourima’s mind to wakeness and focus instantly, and it seemed that her host felt the same, for he shot up straight and faced the door with his dagger in his hand.



“Damn it all.” Her host said, “No way out of this one.”



“What do they mean, Dimir?” Lourima asked



“They mean me.” He hissed, “I’m with the House. No idea how they found me but… this is bad. There’s bound to be a squad – ten men – out there. I’d be lucky to take two.”



“There’s no other entrance?”



“Not unless you can fly up a chimney.”



Lourima’s host laughed, “And I thought you were going to get me killed.”



Lourima closed her eyes. The howling dark called – there could be no doubt about that now, but there was something she could do.



“When they break in here,” she began, “What will they do?”



“Probably clap us in irons,” he replied, “And take us up to their sky prisons. I’ll starve to death before I sell out the Guild, though.”



A miserable end. No less than she expected, remembering as she did crow’s cages on so many other worlds than this, not the least of which was her own, and nasty oubliettes where people were forgotten.



“I can escape this place.” Lourima said, “But I can’t take you with me. If you want, though, I will do you a kindness before I go.”



The banging at the door intensified.



“Whatever you’re going to do,” the young man of House Dimir said, “Do it fast.”



Lourima walked over to him, and lay a hand upon his shoulder. Magic filled her, the fetor of the marshlands, the cloying shadows of the underground lair filling her to the brim, leaking from her in a noisome, ichorous blackness only she could see. She pulled herself close, indulging the madness she hated to see in herself, and let the shadows flow out of her. In an instant, a shriveled husk, cold and lifeless, fell away from her, and shattered into a strew of bones and desiccated flesh on the floor.



The hum of life and magic filled Lourima, and she felt the howling dark grow close on her mind. Stealing a life, she reflected, made it almost hard not to Planeswalk. But that wasn’t why she had done it. As she melted away from Ravnica, leaving the Boros only a husk they would attribute to moroii, she knew that she had done the boy a kindness, and regretted nothing of what she had done.




III. Kinship


Lourima grinned savagely as she approached the last of the brigands who had tried to waylay her. They had come at her from the hovel as she passed, with swords and knives, their resolution plain for anyone to see. Were Lourima a normal girl, they likely would have pinned her to the ground, and cut her clothes from her, and taken all she owned and then her life. But Lourima Viiran was a Planeswalker, and in her heart was the endless blackness of the Howling Dark, the memories of days on the short, brown grasses of the peat bog, of seeking refuge on the dry spots between the still waters from monsters like those she faced.



Thus, it was the brigands who died, highwaymen who would live only in Lourima’s memory, their shades to some day do her a good turn as their bones moldered on the roadside near the house they had no doubt despoiled before she passed by the dilapidated porch she now surmounted in pursuit of the final man, who crawled away from her and blathered through tears some pointless thing Lourima could not understand.



He was pathetic. At least some people had subtlety in their parasitism. Tendrils of shadow reached from Lourima’s outstretched hand, and wrapped around him, and moments later his flesh sloughed off the ivory bones in a reeking mass of fetid oil.



Lourima stood still a moment, taking in the heady experience of having a life more than her own. It would pass, she knew, and quicker if she answered the call of the Howling Dark beyond, but she was not just yet ready to do that, for no doubt some treasures would remain in the house those rough men had emerged from. Furniture was splintered here and there, and the pantry was in total disarray, but it seemed the bandits had not trod so heavily deeper in. In one corner, there was a man’s body, lying in a crimson pool, and in another was the body of a woman, who had been more thoroughly abused and mangled. Lourima took in the sight and reflected that, indeed, the bandits could not have come to this place less recently than the night before, and had likely assailed it in the morning, for it was somewhat passed noon on a grey winter’s day that Lourima had passed by and been attacked.



There was still food left in the pantry that would travel, and Lourima took some loaves of bread and strips of salted meat and put them in her pack, hoping that she would find a well somewhere near to the house for water. After that, she checked over the bodies of the dead, both the ones she had killed and the two those had killed before, and found a few small but valuable possessions she might barter away for her needs later on.



Afterwards, Lourima went upstairs, to rooms the bandits had not yet despoiled, hoping to find more profit from her entrance. After all, there were none who lived here who would miss it. In one of the rooms, as she searched quietly about the antique bed, she heard a scuffling from a trunk. This she examined carefully – it was a small space, and Lourima doubted that she could fit herself inside. Certainly, no one who could threaten her could surprise her from it. She paced to one side of the chest, and then the other, and finally knelt in front of it, where the latch had fallen down across where the lock would go. Deftly, she flipped up the latch and lifted the lid, expecting to discover some unfortunate cat who had become trapped within.



Instead, there was inside the chest a small child – no more than six years old, cowering beneath a formerly folded sheet. At first, Lourima started, but she remembered herself at that age, too young to really understand the world’s cruelties, too naïve to be able to make her own way by becoming one of them.



“The bandits are dead.” Lourima said, “But when I leave, you will be alone here. Do you understand?”



The girl sat up, and climbed out of the box. She was probably on the upper end of what Lourima had guessed – six or so – and passing fair. It was a shame that she would probably die, but that was the way of the world, and Lourima saw no reason to not permit her whatever slim chance she had.



Lourima continued her careful searching of the house. There were many keepsakes and trinkets, but those were not of interest to her. Their value was sentimental, and she would leave them with their owners. She took a few coins, and a blouse and bodice that might be small enough to fit her, and a couple pieces of jewelry that were pretty and could at least pass for something other than paste and brass. Out back she found the well, and drew from it a clean water to slake her thirst and fill the skins she carried.



All the while, she noticed, the little girl followed her.



In the late evening, Lourima set out on the road, for she would sooner sleep in an open field beneath the gibbous moon than in that house so attended by death. Even then, the little girl followed, though she could not really keep Lourima’s pace and fell steadily behind until Lourima herself bedded down, at which point the girl caught up in good time and sat across from Lourima.



Lourima ignored the little girl, thinking that it was well enough she had left that place behind, for she had a better chance of making a life for herself upon the road than in that ruined house.



The next morning, when Lourima awoke, so had the girl, and the child waited patiently, staring at Lourima with no words upon her tongue. This bothered Lourima for a moment but she soon came to ignore it. She took one of the loaves, and some of the salted meat, and with half the loaf and the meat broke her fast. At the end, she had a handful of fat and the end crust of bread, which did not appeal to her. Normally, Lourima would eat them as the crust and fat were plenty good for her and her life did not permit her to waste what she had, but some stirring of thought gave her a pause. She looked at the little girl, and then at the remnants of her meal.



I have had quite a windfall, Lourima thought, I do not need to put up with crusts and fat. And so she took those bits and set them on the grass, towards the little girl, and paid them no further mind.



That day, Lourima took a slow pace. She had nowhere she needed to be, she told herself, and nowhere she needed to be away from, and the faint wind off the moors reminded her of the few pleasant memories she had of home, not the ones that left her back scarred from harsh and undeserved punishments. All the while, the little girl from the farmhouse was able to keep good pace, and did so quite freely.



When evening came, Lourima found a hollow out of sight from the pale road and sat herself down and took more meat and bread from her pack. She broke off quite a chunk from the end of the loaf, and trimmed away much fat and a little good meat with it that she could not be bothered to save, and let the little girl have at those things that Lourima did not want for herself. Better the unfortunate child profit from Lourima’s waste than some bird or beast of the fields.



The next day Lourima stripped the whole crust off her half a loaf as well as breaking off the end, and laid a few pieces of meat that she deemed to be overdone upon it as well as a the fat, and to any outsider it would have looked for all the world like she was deliberately sharing what she had with the blonde and blue-eyed child who dogged so closely at her heels when she walked, but never spoke.



That day, they passed into a forest of tall, black pines that grew close on every side and darkened the sky until it might have been night within, even upon the road. Here the child kept close pace, and grasped Lourima’s left hand with both of hers, for no doubt she feared whatever might lurk between the shadows of such a misty, haunted woodland. Lourima did not pull her hand away, because she did not need it, and because she saw no harm in the girl whose presence had become familiar, though she did not attempt to share so much as a single word since her discovery in the house.



When night truly came in the woods, Lourima thought about pushing on, in case some harsh men like those who had ransacked the house lived within and might attack her as she slept. But when she saw the tiredness of her tiny hanger-on she realized that she was herself quite exhausted, and it would be better to swiftly find some sheltered nook than attempt to press forward into the unknown of the darkness. So she set camp for herself and only herself, and discarded the crust and end and fat and some overdone pieces the looks of which, by the faint light of the gibbous moon that filtered through the trees, she did not think she liked. These things the little girl took once more.



When morning came and the thick mist hung over the land, Lourima took the last loaf from her pack and broke it, and stripped the crust from it, and laid the fat and other bits she did not favor upon it, then stared at the meal in her hands very carefully. There was not a lot left, she realized, and she was wasting quite a lot. She put that out of mind, and hoped that she would make town soon, where she could sell the other things she had taken and provision herself for longer wanderings. Part of her knew she was telling herself lies, but the rest accepted them and believed them wholly.



After midday, Lourima reached the crest of a hill at the end of the forest. Down on the slopes below, stretching out towards a blue-grey sea painted here and there with the white crests of waves was small town huddling together against the wide world, the roofs of its houses like the hulls of capsized ships. The road lead down into it, and presumably there ended. Unless Lourima found some compelling reason to stay, she did not see why she would continue on this plane, for she had reached a journey’s end, and all places were more or less alike to her save in the newness of some and the sameness of others.



“Listen to me,” she said to the little girl, “Before tonight I will go to a place where you will not be able to follow me, even if you hold my hand. You must stand on your own feet, though the people down below will do their best to knock you from them.”



Lourima sighed, and began shuffling through her pack as she walked and spoke.



“Beware,” she said, “Of the people who would give you something for nothing. You are small and there are those who might treat you well momentarily for that, but you will grow, and as you grow only those who want you in their power will give you things without telling you the price.”



Lourima lifted a small thing from her pack, a bone cameo whose carven face, though crude, had something of a resemblance to the girl who silently trailed her so, perhaps carved in image of her mover whose face was too ruined for Lourima to make out. She held the thing out.



“This will be worthless to me.” Lourima said, “I have silver and gold to sell, and it will not be worth the trip to other markets.”



The little girl cutched the cameo and held it to her breast. Lourima took a deep breath.



“Just because the world will be cruel to you, does not mean you cannot make a living. Look how many folks already do. They do it by being cruel to each other, and you must be hard if you want to live. I know you probably do not understand this advice, but someday you will, and I hope when sorrow visits you, you remember that you must be stronger than it, and cleverer, and know how to fight and when to hide.”



Lourima shook her head.



“You must learn the rest on your own.”



And they walked into town, and as the boat-roofed houses and shops loomed on either side, the little girl tugged on Lourima’s skirt, and Lourima stopped and looked back at her.



“I’m going now.” The girl said in a halting voice. “Thank you.”



And the girl pranced off, down into an alley where other children were playing, and introduced herself with naïve cheer and words that Lourima could not hear, and together all the little ones disappeared around a corner.



Lourima stood there for quite a while, staring down the alley where the beneficiary of her lies had skipped merrily away, wondering absently how anyone in the girl’s position could smile, and wondering whatever she had done in days of silently ignoring the child to earn her thanks.



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