Ren Object thread
part i
part ii
parts iii & iv


If she could have helped it, the Duchess would never have gone back under the waves again. It was boring and cold and dark, and her magic with air was not as well developed as her other powers. Every so often, it faltered so she couldn’t breathe, or it left just enough of a bubble to breathe but the icy salt water against her face still made her freeze up in panic at the perceived drowning. Of course, she could swim, but it was hardly a preferred pastime. Besides, there had been more than one sighting of vicious creatures living and lurking under the waves, waiting for some unsuspecting lunch to swim past. Still, the sooner she could get out of the ocean, the sooner she could dry off and the better off she’d be.

She descended further, the blue cast over everything she could see growing steadily darker. Propelled by jets of air from her feet, which rose in rivers of bubbles back toward the surface and the small rowboat she’d left behind with a trusted ally, she raced toward the shimmer of the castle’s protection. How that book worm could study Shaman’s current geography, could talk to everyone around him, and not realize that the Castle was under the sea and protected was hard for the Duchess to fathom. Sailors on the king’s ships frequented the markets and told stories to the merchants, those dwelling in the castle came to the Peaks for fresh air and sunlight often enough. Perhaps he had assumed that the life under water was some myth or legend that the survivors had created to cope with their grief. Perhaps he underestimated just how abundant and powerful magic really was in this world.

Whatever the reason, the Duchess was glad that he had been confused. It provided a bit of safety in case he realized that she intended to retrieve the ring by any means necessary. She wasn’t sure he was capable of making that leap, especially given her display, but it never hurt to be careful.

The bubble around her face faltered for a moment, and the Duchess leaned back to stop the propulsion from the jets of air before she could focus enough to stop them completely. Her eyes were burning from the salt, and she needed to focus on nothing but the air magic if she was ever going to make it to the man who had her ring. Fixing the air goggles and mask with some difficulty, she chanced another burning look toward the bubbled Castle for her heading. Aligning herself carefully, she shut her eyes again, and concentrated as much magic toward her feet as she could. She adjusted her weight and feet as she felt currents push her one way or the other off her course, until she felt gravity pull her head and hair back toward the seafloor. The bubble was breached.

Inertia continued to birth her into the haven of the castle’s grounds, and the Duchess tumbled to the grass as soon as her feet had cleared the barrier. Eyes still shut tight, and soaked with the sea, she was cold and blinded and found her feet by her other senses alone. She exhaled a long, slow sigh and shivered. The tickle of sound that found her ears then was hope for the return of her sight and taste in her mouth. She followed it closely, amplifying it magically when she questioned which direction to turn. More than once she stumbled, and the voices that interrupted the beautiful sound told her she was being regarded by others on the grounds, but she was not, nor would she be the last, to burst through the bubble looking freshly drowned.

Finally, the cool wet on her toes, although uncomfortable, was met with relief. She’d arrived at the edge of the lake. Knees found their way to the ground, and the Duchess plunged her head into the fresh water, washing the burn from her eyes and returning her vision. Although her eyes were red, when the Duchess looked around, she could see the people actively avoiding eye contact with her. She could also see the path to the Castle and the guards at the entrance.

Having been in the dungeons before, there was a chance that the guards would know her face. There was also a chance they were new, or wouldn’t remember her. It had been long ago when she’d been released by a guard to find him something to bring prestige. He certainly wouldn’t have shared the details of her appearance with the guardsmen. Corpses rarely spoke a word. She would have to try her luck. If all failed, a diversion could be created to get her into the walls.

The salt was beginning to harden her clothes as they dried, but Duchess pushed through the resistance as she strode toward the entrance. Unhidden weapons were left on the surface. To anyone who didn’t know better, she could easily pass for a scout or bounty hunter working in the Peaks. In fact, when her purpose was called into question by the more senior of the two guards, it was this angle she grabbed onto.

“Need to talk to someone about the reward money for catching…” she squinted at the guard, sizing him up. “Well, that’s classified, actually. I just need to talk to someone about increasing it. They want him caught, they want me.” Though the guard seemed suspicious of this story, sizing up the woman claiming to catch the worst criminals in the kingdom, he thought better of voicing his concerns. No doubt run-ins with some of the slighter-built pirates had convinced him that bulk was only one aspect of a person’s skill. Without looking back, she strode into the Castle and ducked through the first corridor.

She wandered the corridors of the Castle, looking for the areas where the refugees from the flood were staying. In her bedraggled state, when she asked one of the women carrying firewood, the worker assumed she was new to Shaman and seeking shelter. With a nod, the Duchess was pointed in the direction of the housing areas, and continued on her way. All told it was about 15 minutes of walking, and a few interviews with those living in the Castle before someone knew the man fitting the Duchess’s (and thus Vasily’s) description. Another two minutes put her in front of the man’s door, ready to knock.

As soon as her fist met the wood, she could hear the person inside shuffling about and grumbling to himself about visitors and kids bugging him. She expected a sour old man she’d have to coerce or worse to get the ring. The door swung open and at first, that was exactly the face the Duchess saw, but after a moment, it softened as if in recognition, and then there were tears.

Alarmed by this sudden emotion and uncertain why the crying old man was making way to embrace her, the Duchess stepped away. It didn’t deter the man.

“Cassia, is it really you? After all these years you are still alive? And you found me?”

The Duchess bristled at the name, but the words were enough to bring context to the man’s face and voice. She knew exactly who the man was, why he had purchased the ring, why he recognized her. What she didn’t know, and would not attempt to understand, is why a father would leave it up to his bereaved daughter to find him decades after their separation.

“I…” she began, but she trailed off as the man pulled her into the small apartment.

It was cluttered and covered in grime. Object, broken and old, littered the floor and twisted the walk way. Dirty dishes were piled on a desk, and a tattered gray (though a faint pattern suggested there once had been many colors to it) blanket was draped over the sofa. A pillow at one end named it the bed. The Duchess took all of this in, as well as the window through which a ray of light shone as a spotlight on the dust in the air and a stain on the stone floor. All the while, the old man continued to mutter as though she was listening.

“You do look so much like her, you know, Cass. So beautiful and elegant.” The Duchess noticed him staring at her and frowned silently. “And brave. Your mother died bravely, and you, you went on and lived! You survived that war and now you’re here.” Her father hugged her again. Every memory of her father, even the one she had only recently dreamed of, he had been nothing like this sniveling whelp. He’d been a strong leader, had taken charge and demanded respect from everyone. Demanded obedience from his daughter. Of course, he had been gentle enough, but it had been a firm hand when necessary. This shell was unrecognizable and yet dared to wear the black and silver ring that had been her mother’s.

The disgust must have shown on her face, for his fell, and he turned away. With a wave of his hand, he beckoned the Duchess to follow him through the mess and to an alcove in the back room. It was a shrine. Pictures of her mother, looking nearly identical to the Duchess’s reflection, stared back at her. Among the objects on the table, one caught the Duchess’s eye more than the rest. She couldn’t look away from it. Though it had only been worn on exceptionally special occasions, her mother had worn a gold circlet around her head, with willow wood woven around it. Now, the gold had tarnished to black with a few glimmering spots whispering its secret worth. The wood was all but rotten. For all that this seemed a treasured place, spiders had made it home, and webs ran across the entire shrine. The entire center of the circlet was crisscrossed with the silk strands, and dead leaves and petals had collected in its trap. It had been part of the fairytale her parents’ had lived once, but that dream had flowed through, and this reality was what was caught.

She knew it for what it was. Her ren. The Duchess knew she needed to get the blonde woman back if she wanted to grow. What Aura was now would make the summons easy. The Duchess stroked the tarnished ring delicately, reverently, before taking hold of it and turning to her father, who seemed to be beaming with pride. He didn’t know her at all anymore. He had no idea of what she was capable, of what she was planning.

The knife had been hidden within her sleeve, but found its way to freedom as the woman approached the man now. Whether she acted the part of joyous daughter or not hardly mattered. The man would take any chance to accept affection from the daughter he had believed dead. The Duchess stepped closer and with one arm, embraced her father. With the other, she drove the knife under his ribs from below the sternum. There was enough compassion left in the Duchess to let sleep fold over the old man as he bled out. Dreams of joining his wife hid any pain from the wound. Most importantly, it left the Duchess with no one to judge her for pulling the ring from the man’s little finger and sliding it onto her own ring finger. She stood and watched the man, blood pooling, listened for the death rattle that would signal the end, and waited for the Reaper to appear once more.

image by K putt at flickr.com


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