In-betweener, written toward the end of the RP, at another point where the options were 'write a story' or 'RP it by yourself.' If you've played Grandia II, you might recognize the cute, furry animal as a carro. Because I wanted to. There is no excuse.

The Three-Day Morning Ride

It was Genoa's considered opinion that it was far too early in the morning to even be awake, let alone sneaking hurriedly out to the stables to saddle her horse, but for an hour or two of peace, she was willing to sacrifice a little sleep. Fever apparently did not share her inclinations, making his opinion clear when he attempted -- twice -- to pin her against the stall with his rump. She swore at him, but only when she had threatened to borrow him for one of her assignments did he step away, looking as disgruntled as any horse can look.

She had settled her gear into place and was about to mount when a violent snort sounded at the back of the stable. She whirled in time to see the stablehand who'd greeted them the first day they'd arrived sit up slowly, brushing straw off his clothes.

"Good morning, miss," he said agreeably. "Not leavin' us already, are you?"

"Toby," she said a little blankly, then shook her head. "Of course not. I just -- need a ride. Clear my head." She frowned at him. "Don't you have a room?"

The man grinned broadly at her. "Of course, miss! Just forgot to go to bed last night."

Genoa gave him a long look. "Horses make better company than people, I suppose?"

He rubbed his nose, looking faintly amused. "They certainly don't tell you which way to wear your shirt --" He yawned expressively, turning to look out the stable door. "Better go face the missus, though. Have a nice ride, miss."

She nodded slowly, then clucked quickly to Fever and started out into the main yard, turning her gaze once to the house. A small rush of anxiety touched her, and she kicked the horse into a hurried trot.

In a way, it reminded her of her several-days-long trips away from her family's estate and her father -- the need to escape and breathe a little bit -- but this time saw the addition of an unfamiliar guilt. She pushed it aside, a faint scowl crossing her features. At the very least, she could honestly say she wasn't trying to get away from Devan. It was most everybody else who was bothering her.

Though Roland didn't seem too bad. Edwin was difficult to read. Everyone else -- the youngest son aside -- had been treating her like she had a severe strain of leprosy. She was beginning to find it annoying. The youngest -- Nicolai -- her brief encounter with him was puzzling and unusual, and she had yet to tell Devan they'd even spoken.

She mulled it over, debating whether she should or needed to.

"So you're the one gonna marry my brother?"

He had startled her in the hall on the way back to her room (the confines of which she had become all too familiar with), and she had spun reflexively, managing to keep from reaching for her sword -- if only because her arms were full of books.

"Apparently," she responded, turning to go on her way.

He followed her, wary, stopping again when they reached her door. "Why?"

She turned in surprise to see a scowl -- almost petulant -- on his admittedly moody features. "I don't suppose 'because I love him' is a good enough excuse for you? It certainly isn't for anyone else." She pushed her door open, and he followed her in, uninvited, and watched her while she set her books down.

"It's a very long story, and it's fairly melodramatic," she said finally, turning to him. "Do you really want to hear it?"

The scowl deepened for a split second. "No."

"Good. Because I really don't want to tell you."

He stared at her.

She arched an eyebrow. "Does that bother you? You just said you didn't want to hear it."

He stirred finally, spluttering over a couple of attempts before bursting out with "But -- why -- I mean -- HIM?" He flailed his hands once, unable to convey the depths of his frustration. "He's so -- so --"

Then, to his apparent dismay and embarrassment, she began to laugh. Before he managed to snap out a response, she spoke again. "Not so very long ago, I felt very much the same way."


She shrugged. "Things changed. It's all in that story you don't want to hear."

At this, he sneered -- the expression (she decided) made him fairly unpleasant to look at. "Yeah, big changes for you with that dragon -- gonna be a hero? Or is it -- what -- to make up to people? You think they're gonna forgive you just like that?"

"It's my studied opinion that folk shouldn't speak so loudly about things they know nothing about." She had been unable to keep a chilly sting from her voice. Judging from his expression, however, he hadn't been impressed. "Weren't you taught, when you were young, to clean up the messes you make?"

He bristled slightly, and she decided not to aggravate him further by laughing again. "So why -- you don't make any sense!" he accused. "And neither does he!"

Genoa paused, giving him a measuring stare and sitting down on the edge of her bed. She rather wished he would leave. "I suggest you take your issues with Devan to him instead of bothering me," she said finally. "If you're angry with me because he is not, I assure you there are a number of people more than willing to take up that slack."

He had stared at her for several minutes without answering, then uttered a noise of deep disgust and fled, slamming the door. She was given to wonder if he had actually wanted answers to his questions and been unable to frame them in a way that wasn't either incoherent or rude. She was also given to wonder if her answers to his questions had been entirely honest.

It was true that her desire to defeat Jajara was very real, but her reasons were quite a bit more personal than even "cleaning up her mess". She could hear him even now, stirring at the very edges of her consciousness as her thoughts drifted slowly toward him. He was always with her, sometimes more forcefully than others, a small fact of life among so many others -- and one that she had thus far neglected to tell Devan about. He was with her until one or the other of them died -- which was more than enough motivation for her to deal with him herself.

She smiled ruefully, noting vaguely that her horse's unhurried footsteps had taken them under the shade of the trees. Two years ago, her goals had been simple -- and very different. Her motive of vengeance was stolen in part by the dragon himself and eventually carried out and completed in the Arena's stadium. Or had it simply been replaced by another target? It certainly didn't feel the same. The anger that had fueled her studies in necromancy and prompted her to summon the dragon was no longer present, only a sort of determination -- and resignation.

Genoa took a deep breath and stretched, leaning back slightly in the saddle and banishing all thoughts of work, destiny, and woe. When she opened her eyes again, she could see bright sky through the trees, and she frowned suddenly, pulling Fever to a halt. "We're late, horse."

Fever flicked an ear back toward her, apparently unconcerned, and she looked around her in puzzlement. "Where.. in heaven's name are we?" The forest surrounded her on all sides -- if she hadn't stopped the horse without turning him, she'd have no idea which direction she'd come from. Her mind worked rapidly. She couldn't remember him making very many turns as they'd traveled, so she turned him and started back the way they'd come at a rapid trot. Fever was not terribly pleased. She ignored him.

After an hour or two of fruitless circling, she wished she hadn't. "Hell, Fever, where did you take us?!" she demanded, but the horse didn't even acknowledge her this time, instead reaching down to shove his nose into a small patch of grass. She swore at him.

She dug her heels once into his side, spitefully pulling him away from the grass, and turned him again to try a new direction, when the sun, filtered already by the thick trees, grew dim, and a low rumble of thunder shook the air. She swore again, and this time the horse had nothing to do with it. He had, in fact, lifted his head at the sound and was waiting impatiently for her command.

"Agreed," she muttered, and nudged him into a trot.

At a loss for any other plan of action and unable to make any sense of where she was headed, she settled for plowing on forward, reasoning that she'd come out of the forest somewhere. She hadn't gone far, though, before the clouds broke open, sending cascades of water down through the trees. Fever slowed of his own accord as the rain pelted down, but before long travel became too treacherous on horseback, and she dropped down to lead him, pressing grimly through the wet and cold. Once or twice she tried her small light spell, but even it had difficulty penetrating the weather, and she eventually abandoned it.

She had no idea how long she had been walking when she found the place, stumbling in the dark over a knee-high wall of broken stone. A curse preceded her sudden descent into the mud, and a grunt followed it as she slowly levered herself upright. From behind her, she barely heard a skeptical whicker from her horse and shot him a dark look. She limped slowly forward, summoning up the light spell again. Fever followed her silently, head bowed against the weather, until he bumped against her from behind.

Genoa ignored him, however, completely absorbed in what the minimal light of her globe was showing her. In the midst of the forest, completely hidden from outside view, stood the rotting, empty shell of a city -- or at least part of a city. She wondered vaguely if Devan knew about it and whether he would have thought to mention it to her. Probably not. She gave a low sigh. It would at least make a better place to weather the storm.

She reached around to take Fever by the reins and led him farther in, attempting to force the light to go a little brighter, though it didn't help much. Eventually, her searching led her to the remains of a small building that had held together better than most of the rest over the years; bits of its roof remained intact, though battered by the rain, but this was less important than the fact that several trees had fallen nearby, forming a rough lean-to.

Fever whinnied irritably when she tugged him into it, but he didn't struggle long, flinching only slightly when a fire roared up in the middle of the snow -- one of the most convenient spells she'd ever learned. Genoa sighed, removing her saddle from the horse's back and sitting on it wearily, stretching her hands out to the blaze briefly (itself unaffected by pouring rain and windy conditions) before huddling back in her sopping cloak.

"Ugh," she remarked to no one in particular, then settled down to wait out the storm.

She had hoped, initially, that the weather would pass in a matter of hours and give her a chance to find her way back, but as the thin light faded from the sky, she realized that the day had already passed, and she was left with only her fire to see her through the night. Her thoughts, irritable and gloomy, had passed on into a sort of numb blankness as she hovered between sleep and wakefulness, listening to the falling rain and the movements of her horse.

Fever had found a very small and soggy patch of grass and was eating it in relative contentement when the attack came, swift and violent. Genoa, stiff with sitting still, was slow to react when the horse screamed, spinning in time to see only that he was thrashing, and a mottled feline was clinging to his back with hungry, angry determination. She swore and worked her fingers quickly back to take hold of her sword, ripping it loose and then swatting the flat of the blade at the wildcat, unable to think of another method that would get its attention without mauling her horse.

The cat was momentarily unable to decide whether it was more indignant, angry, or hungry, but another buck from Fever dislodged it, and it sprang down, skittering to another corner of the shelter. Genoa watched it grimly, willing to let it flee, but not for a moment willing to turn her back on it. Rather to her surprise, the cat uttered a low snarl and sprang at her, and only seasoned reflexes saved her from having it attach itself to her with teeth and claws. She slid aside, almost skidding in the wet, and spun, chopping the sword at the angry animal. It had apparently been expecting this less than she, moving almost not at all before the sword sheared it nearly in two.

Fever whinnied irritably, and Genoa gave him a cross look. "At least now I have something to eat, you ungrateful beast." She resheathed her sword, grimacing at the mess, then stalked over to check on her horse, who (aside from a few small scratches) appeared to be perfectly all right. Genoa glanced back at the remains of the cat and frowned slightly.

"What on earth did he think he was jumping on?" she asked Fever, but the horse was already rooting around in search of grass again. She gave him a faintly annoyed look and walked over to tend to her kill.

The skinning and dressing was made easier than the last time she could recall having to do so by virtue of the fact that she kept a knife on her belt now for any such occasion. It was still, however, smelly and messy work, particularly with the animal as badly mutilated as it was, and by the end of it she was cranky, filthy, and and almost glad that the rain would wash half of it off her. She took what meat she could and took the remains outside of the broken-down building, putting them somewhere she prayed would remain downwind of her, then returned to cook herself a tough, stringy meal.

The rest of the night passed in peace, as far as Genoa could tell. She was unsure whether she'd slept, but when day broke, still cloaked in heavy gray, the world around her was coated in ice, and by afternoon it had begun to snow. The white world pressed in around her, and she forced the fire warmer when even Fever drew closer to her for warmth and comfort.

Even this, though, did not help her fend off the heavy tide of sleep that swept in around her, and when she opened her eyes again it was inside a dream.

Sometimes I'm really not sure what to do with you, my dear Daughter Rivermarch. She was dimly aware of a hand stroking her hair, her head pillowed against something warm, but she could see nothing. I couldn't kill you then, and now I have to wait. Eternity makes some beings patient, but I am not.

She said nothing, continuing to gaze into the blackness -- sometimes if she kept at it long enough the dark lifted slightly, not that she particularly wanted to see what was hidden in those shadows. His hand -- flesh or bone she couldn't readily tell -- continued to stroke her hair in gentle contrast to the increasing ire of his words.

But even alive and bound and binding me you my have some use -- do you not wish to live? A life by my side could be one of endless richness and power -- but, ah, you are not interested in power, not in wealth. How, then, can I persuade you?

The hand stilled, fingers tangling through her hair and suddenly drawing tight into a fist. She was vaguely aware of that pain, but he released her almost immediately, smoothing the tangled locks down as if in apology. Not force or pain can conquer you, a lifetime of this has made you immune, but you are not incorruptible, I know this. Your spirit is not particularly noble.

Her mouth moved, almost framing the thought that sprang to the surface, but she had also learned in the time he'd visited to still even the lips of whatever dreaming mannequin he mind rested in. His hand stilled again.

I have tried so many things, Daughter, and you cannot be moved. If I isolate you from the world and all things, perhaps you will come to me then?

She almost stirred at this, but around her the dream was lifting -- light and warmth pulling her to the surface and the waking world.

She came awake with a jerk, white all around her, settled on her horse, her clothing, and the walls of the empty city. What puzzled her, however, was the small bundle of warmth in her lap, curled under her cloak and inside the circle of her arms. When she stirred, it lifted its head, uncurling a large, bushy tail, and made a small "chu" noise, batting curiously at her face.

Genoa tossed her head, showering snow down on them both, and reached one cold hand up to tweak its ear. "If you want to borrow my lap, you'll have to be a little more polite than that."

It squeaked at her, grabbing at her hand with its paws, then nuzzled up through her fingers, rubbing its head and back along them all the way down its spine. Then it turned three times in her lap -- so quickly it almost seemed to spin -- and flopped down again, sticking its head back under its tail. She gave it a look of weary resignation.

"Sleep well, then."