(DS Roleplay / Trader Space - Petrograd, Ashanti Rim World, 12 Systems out from Galan)
Part Thirty One of Teir -
Live Test –Part Seven -
Petrograd, Ashanti Rim World
November 5th, 2287 (11.5.2287.2)
Mid-morning, it was raining as the twelve stood in the walled enclosure of the garden behind the clinic as they laid to rest the ashes of T'e Lir, a silver worked urn with flowers wrapped in a crown about the top. Each woman in turn holding the urn for a few moments and closing their eyes or not, with a few words or a silent prayer then passing it on in slow procession to the next.
Nadera held the silver worked cup in her hands, it was small and held nothing really except the gown that T'e Lir had requested she be buried in.
T'e Lir herself could not afford to be buried where anyone could see, or find. She had been incinerated earlier until not even ashes remained.
But the burial was ceremonial, and emotional and traditional. It was where her friends said goodbye and said their silent last thoughts in private remembering their friend.
Out of a dark sky and it felt appropriate.
Nadera opened her eyes and passed the cup to Sere, who took it and closed her eyes.
But what could she say? The woman had been difficult, the training exhausting, her drive relentless... though Sere did recall that on her second visit to the clinic that T'e Lir had taken her back to the examination room and sat her in a small hardback scuffed metal framed chair and folded her hands in her lap and gave a small smile while Sere had explained what she wanted.
It was true she already knew, had known even as Sere had come into the clinic on her first day, but words dress thought and fill it out and cause links to other things that simply reading thoughts never produced. And so she had brought Sere into the examination room and sat her down and asked her. The girl's eyes had been furtive, not completely trusting yet, and still uncertain if this was the course that she should take. Her hate was strong, as was her guilt. But either emotion was rarely a viable base to make life changing decisions.
You had to be very careful of the decisions that were made from those two emotions.
After Sere had finished T'e Lir had risen and folded her arms behind her back and walked the length of the room, stopped and stared out the wooden frame of the window to the thin sunshine that fell in the late afternoon over the buildings beyond. She had paced back and forth lost in thought. Finally she turned around and looked at Sere across the small examination room, she had smiled slowly again.
“...It will take more than you think it will... but yes, I can help you with that.”
“How much will it cost?” Sere had asked, her voice low, almost a whisper, as if afraid to hear the answer.
T'e Lir had laughed then and came across the small space and leaned down and took Sere's hands in her's.
“It will cost everything... but not money.” She had said.
She had looked long into Sere's eyes then as if looking for an answer to some unspoken question.
“How much do you want this?”
Sere's mouth had come down in a frown immediately, her eyes glazing over as the image of the White World under fire of the Black fleet came to her mind.
“...I want this...” she had said then, her voice a hard whisper as if speaking more to herself than to T'e Lir.
“Enough to... die for it?” T'e Lir had asked.
“Yes.” came Sere's immediate response.
But did she really know what she was saying when she had said that?
Sere felt the small weight of the urn in her hands and knew that wanting something and knowing what it cost were two quite different things. If she had known then what she knew now, would she still do it?
Would she still say yes?
She wasn't sure.
Inside she still felt the hopeless anger and rage against the Vaa' Saar. Still felt the unbound grief at the loss of her world and family. It was true the whole of the Unity was her family, but those especially in the Convent on Galan had been her family and friends, loved ones. Other girls that were like sisters to her, and the older Sisters that had been like mothers.
She would still say yes.
She looked at the gleam of the silver cup in her hands and thought of T'e Lir then... the woman had said she would help her get her revenge.
For that alone the woman had been a blessing.
Sere opened her eyes then and turned, the rain falling down out of the overcast sky and passed the cup to Madra, the girl took it reverently and holding it close, closed her eyes.
Pris came to the back of the clinic and stood in the thin wooden framed doorway that let down onto the pale green of the garden.
“Someone is here...” she said in a strained voice, and the sisters turned as one, Nessa lowering the silver urn into a small depression in the cut grass and soil and filling it in slowly, her hand pushing the brown dirt into the small hole and filling it in, patting it down with a reluctant hand. Tears welled at the corners of her eyes.
Nadera moved close and put a hand to her shoulder as Nessa kneeled, bent, patting the soft grass and dirt slowly with her long fingers stained with the brown soil, the rain still fell in a drizzling mist wetting hair and clothes. Nessa's hair hung in limp strands down her back and against her cheeks.
Nadera said nothing, but just stood behind her, hand resting gently on her shoulder. They had all lost a good friend today. Death was common, on any world, but especially with the guard. Not just the momentary deaths, but the final deaths... when the one who had gone, would no longer be coming back. It impressed in their minds how fleeting was this breath, this vision that looked at the world but so soon closed and was black. Empty.
The others moved across to the old weathered stone steps that led into the back of the clinic and Madra took Pris by the shoulder's and hugged her as the group retreated to the world of the living again, to see what needed attending to and who needed help.
Sere stood on the grass at the foot of the steps and waited, half turned watching as Nessa slowly rose and hugged Nadera, then the woman wiped at the tears against her cheeks and the two women walked back slow across the garden to join the others who had disappeared into the weathered building.
'All of us'... Sere thought, 'all of us come this way eventually. Yet there was still grace in them as they moved through their short days toward that eventuality.
When Nessa and Nadera reached her, she eased an arm through Nessa's arm and gave a small smile to reassure her.
Life was worth living...
Worth the pain and the tears...
Even, and perhaps especially when it was so very, very short.
The women held each other as they climbed the worn steps into the weathered building...
Their footsteps soft and lost in the sighing wind through barren tree branches...
As Pris led the group back into the rooms of the clinic, down the thin stained old walls and halls to the lobby groups of the twelve broke off and entered their rooms where each function and necessary work waited, always waited... there was no shortage of pain in the world that needed mending, leaving only Nadera and Pris and Sere to enter the lobby to confront the tall and thin robed and bearded man that waited.
Sunlight began its ascent, rising out of a still early and overcast clouded sky.
“Sisters,” said the Herder, pulling back his wet, brown robed hood and smiling slowly.
Nadera nodded and reached out a hand and patted the man's clasped hands that he held before him.
“Ahhh Simon, thank you for coming”
The thin man smiled and looked into Nadera's white eyes.
“It is my pleasure my lady, how can I be of service?”
Nadera gave a small smile and led the man to the inner door that led back to the kitchen and the inner rooms.
“We will be sending something to the Distant Stars in the next few days, it will be alright to send an acolyte to accompany the shipment? We can pay you.” She said as they walked down the old hallway to the kitchen, steam rising already from the cooking stoves at the end of a wide and low wall beyond the doorway that let onto the small room.
The thin man gave a small chuckle at her words.
“Your shipment is most welcome, but there is no need of any payment, you have paid us on many occasions with your healing and payment is hardly necessary. As for the attending acolyte, it will be our honor for us to bring her where you send her.”
“A coffee then and a moment to sit and talk as friends?”
The man smiled and nodded.
“How many pallets then?”
Nadera went to the counter behind the low wall and took two cups from the cotton cloth spread over one small square area where they were drying and filled them from the pitcher set onto a worn and tarnished hot plate.
“You will have something to eat, yes?”
“Sister...” he shook his head, but Nadera pulled two bread rolls from the warming bin anyway.
“Come sit with me Simon and talk, we have lost one of our own and she will be returning to her family which now resides in the Distant Stars. You know of Ahn Lin?”
The tall man seated himself and took the pro-offered cup and sat for a moment staring into the steaming cup. It was a luxury many Herdsmen did not see many times in a year. Yet the Sisters always greeted his arrivals, of need, or when they called him, with treats and talk and it eased in him the alieness of this Ashanti world.
He bent his head and pursed his lips, closed his eyes, offering a silent prayer for their lost. He opened his eyes and shook his head slow.
“I am sorry for your loss Sister...” he said slowly and then went on.
“I know of the name of the one you named, but not the woman herself. It is said she greets all when they come to Daros and is as gracious as you Sisters have been to us. I have only been to that world once, but her attendants treated us as if we were Kings. But moving live animals into the Distant Stars is not ordinarily done, the cost is too prohibitive. Yet it is a wonder to see Yeet and N'hel grazing on those open plains. It reminds me of Faule-Home.”
He smiled again at the memory the Sister had recalled to his mind.
“This young acolyte that will accompany the lost?” He asked.
“Pris,” Nadera nodded toward the young girl seated at the other table that was happily drinking her steaming mug of hot milk.
“Chocolate.” Nadera said and gave a small smile.
The man smiled broadly and gave a chuckle looking at the young girl happily drinking, the dark milk staining her lips and the childish rapture in her eyes.
Nadera gave a small laugh in agreement.
“How should you like to do this then?” He asked slowly, watching Nadera's eye's above her cup which she held close to her lips.
“We do not want 'others” to know, of course...” She said.
He nodded and drank the glorious coffee from his own cup in small sips, a luxury indeed.
“Of course... I understand.”
“Again.” Nadera said and Sere sprinted off the line drawn in marker across the stone floor at one end of the room across from the silent and dark programming block. Pushing hard as she raced across the stone floor, pushing her boots hard into the surface and lifting her next step as she ran for the wall across the other side of the room as fast as she could move. The adrenalin raced through her, the injectors now no longer necessary. The tissue of her cells had deformed, and now she merely needed to think and it poured into her system.
Time seemed to compress in slow motion as she moved, her reflexes sped to 4 times their normal speed. As she ran she reached behind her and pulled a blade from the sleeve at her shoulder and threw it forward toward the wall where it struck and quivered as she ran.
And then she was leaping, her foot striking the wall as she moved, striking next to the first blade, then her second step next to the second blade, another step and her right foot came down next to the third blade and then another step, and another, and another...
Gravity began to pull at her, but it was a ghost touch that barely grasped the back of her hair that hung down in a black wave behind her.
Fingers of weight clutching at her.
She stepped to quickly for them, beyond them.
And then weight grasped her in its fingers and she started to fall back, but groaning she leaned forward into the failing threads of momentum... down... towards her feet and the wall... and reached out a hand and touched the ceiling, then let gravity take her as she came back in a slow arching roll backwards, reaching back and pulling a blade from the sleeve at her shoulder as her feet struck the floor on her toes and she eased herself down onto her heels, drawn blade in front of her.
Nadera smiled when Sere turned to her, and took her own blade and pulled back the open collar of her blouse exposing her bare shoulder and ran the blade in a line along her collar bone.
“I am marked...” she said and smiled and turned to the door away from Sere still standing and hardly breathing hard at all on the other side of the room.
“I am your live test, Sere, come and catch me...”
Nadera crossed through the doorway then and was gone, the door slid closed behind her.
Sere moved slowly, crossed her legs and lowered herself in a slow movement that ended when she touched the stone floor her legs folded under her and slid the blade back into its sleeve and lowered her head and closed her eyes.
There was no double laying bloodied before her this time, and no grief at her own death. She breathed evenly and felt the breath moving in her and out of her and folded her hands into her lap and waited.
All things move...
All things move toward their own ends... she remembered.
Toward where we point them...
And where they eventually point us....
To where they bring us... and where both they and us... eventually... end...
Night had fallen before she rose slowly from the floor and crossed the room to the door and then up to the upper rooms. At the top of the stairs a thin line of wire stretched across the lower part of the door. Gleaming only in the small light that entered from the hallway above.
Sere stopped and looked up against the top of the doorway to another thin line stretched across the wooden frame.
Close by, Nadera perhaps waited. Or had laid her traps and then left, only to check them later to see if they had snared her prey.
Perhaps she would die tonight... or perhaps many times... tonight... or tomorrow...
It did not matter.
Two days hence she would die as well.
Even if she did not learn anything at all...
“Thank you T'e Lir...” she whispered and lowered her head beneath the wire above and stepped above the wire below.
As she stepped through she felt the tile of the stained floor under her boot depress. She raised her head slowly as the wall next to her exploded in a flash of white light and splintering wood and plaster and flame.
She was going to close her eyes...
She was going to close her eyes... but she never had time... as the light and the flame wrapped around her.
The room was dark when she arose from the floor and watched the door where Nadera had left some hours before. She moved across the floor in an easy gait, her footsteps falling in a regular rhythm against the stone floor, but before she reached it a thousand blades fell out of the walls and ceiling of the room, falling... raining... raining in the garden on an overcast morning... that she remembered.She closed her eyes and waited...
Before the blades struck her and the darkness behind her eyes folded down in blood and pain... but it was only a temporary pain... she reminded herself... as the dark folded down and took her.
The room was dark, when she arose, slow, tipping her head back and staring at the ceiling, but nothing moved, or fell...
She smiled and crossed to the doorway and the rooms above the stone floor room. The programming block silent and dark behind her as she went up the dark stairs.
She didn't hear it, but only felt it... as the blade went into her side, just under her ribs... up and in... she turned her face and felt Nadera's breath on her face and she wanted to smile...
Old friend... old friend... you are quite clever... old...
She wanted to smile, but she only put out her hands as if she might to a beloved sister and put her arms around Nadera's shoulders as the darkness folded down.
The room was dark when she arose, rising slowly to her feet and standing in the middle of the dark stone floored room.
She didn't look up, or even beyond the doorway that led away to the rooms above.
How many times...?
Her footsteps fell softly against the stone floor.
It didn't matter...
How many times had she died? Here and in the rooms above? How many times had Nadera died waiting for her? Each of them closing their eyes as the days moved around them and each moved in the way that was ordained for them.
The room was dark when she stood, rising up and standing unmoving in the center of the floor. She neither looked up or to either side as she crossed the room, feeling the stone under her feet in soft reverberations against the soles of her boots.
At the doorway, she did not hesitate, but opened it onto a lit stairwell that ascended to the rooms above.
She moved at a steady pace, slow and even. Her hands at her sides neither near her blades or the gun that rested in the holster against her right thigh.
At the top of the stairs she heard voices and stepped across the doorway neither looking for wires and ran her hand along the wall to her right with her bare hand, fingers brushing against the smooth plaster and wood that had replaced the broken wall.
Down along the long stained hallway to the room at the end of the hallway where she stepped through and saw Nadera surrounded by a group of red arm-banded youths with her back to the door.
As she stepped through the thin wooden door frame she reached back and pulled a blade from the sleeve at her shoulder. Nadera turned then and her eyes went wide. The red arm-banded youths stepped forward at the sight of her blade pulling their own.
Sere stepped up to Nadera as she felt the first blade go into her back, another into her shoulder, another sliding just under her ribs into her chest. She staggered, but pushed close to Nadera and reached out with her free hand and ripped back the blouse of the girl who had stepped back from her.
The girls skin was uncut... unmarked.
Sere felt the other blades come into her as she stood there and looked at Nadera and she smiled, blood spilling over her lips as she stared at the unmarked skin of Nadera's shoulder.
“You... are --” she said, but stopped. She faltered and felt her body sag as she fell to the floor on her knees, her head lolling forward so that she could no longer see the girl.
“... v...e...ry--” she said as blood spilled over her lips and against the white front of her suit.
“... c...le..v--...” she said as she fell over on her side, the bright lit room suddenly dimming down into darkness... the light... the light...
The hallway was bright lit, the light harsh on the stained floor as she stepped into the room and Nadera turned with her eyes wide and Sere exploded in a blur of movement close to the girl as the blades of the red arm-banded youths pierced her skin. She pressed her face close to the girl's and smiled as she felt her body begin to falter.
“Tell her...next time...” she said and turned away as the young men moved in closer, then in a blur pushing through them and crashing through the window, feeling the wood of the frame snap and her arm go numb at the same time in a burst of shattering glass and splintered wood, out through the window... only two stories up from the walkway that led into the clinic.
Only two floors... she thought as she fell, only two floors...
She struck the ground hard on her side and felt her ribs break as she rolled over onto her back, her vision spinning, but the darkness did not come down.
She smiled at the thought.
Then coughed and spit up blood as she heard the yelling inside the building of the youths exiting the room. She rolled over onto her side and then onto her face hearing the voices grow louder, closer as she shakily stood and felt the cold air on her face, her hands, as the door to the clinic opened and the cluster of boys burst through onto the stairs and sidewalk.
She turned and pulled two blades at her shoulder and waited, her legs trembling... she closed her eyes and felt the first brush by her as his arm flashed forward...
She reached out her blade and cut his wrist almost slowly, ducking as a second and third blade came in close to her, nearly losing her balance, she crouched and spun kicking out and landing a boot squarely into the stomach of one of them. The boy fell back and went down, his blade skittering across the stone sidewalk. But two more were close in just as quickly. She stood up then and slammed a fist against the chest of one of them, pushing him back and off his feet, as she felt a blade go into her back. Her hand moved in a blur and she reached back getting a tangle of hair in her fist and she dropped forward pulling the boy behind her with her and over her shoulder into the two others in front. The three fell in a tumble head over heels as she released him and then dropped to her heels and spinning again blade reaching out and cutting, she felt her balance give and she fell over on her side as two of the youths stepped in close and thrust their blades in under her ribs. The three that had been cut screamed as they jumped back, but then grunting their pain they moved back in toward her. She pushed her hands down hard against the stone ground and put a foot underneath her as the five came in against her, dropping her blades she spread her arms out and then exploded in a swirl of motion, as she kicked up off the ground in a slow somersault over the heads of the men.
She landed on her feet, but staggered, pulling her gun she stepped up to the closest as they moved in against her and pressed the barrel to the closest's forehead.
She spat blood as they stopped.
“Move away or you die...” She swayed on her feet and the three on her left looked for a moment as if to rush, but she didn't move the gun away from the one standing in front of her.
“Better to leave alive... yes...?” She spat blood again, but then looked back into the eyes of the one in front of her. His jaw drawn down into a sneer as if it didn't matter.
But it did.
He had a whole life ahead, however bloodied it might be... still there were years ahead of him.
She dropped her gun then to her side and looked him in the eyes, his gray-blue eyes looking unblinkingly back.
She coughed and spat blood again and leaned over, pushing her hands against her knees for support and felt a wrack of shakes go through her. Gritting her teeth she straightened and looked back into the boys face. His eyes were still hard, but the sneer was gone. He raised a hand then, slow and turned away, the others trailing him holding cuts and broken bones.
But no one had died.
She hadn't killed any of them.
She leaned over and spit blood again and began shaking, holding onto her knees as the tremors jerked through her.
When she straightened again, the street was empty, silent. The light from the third floor window was still lit, but there were no more voices, no more yelling oaths or challenges. Just the cold air and the thin light.
She stumbled back toward the door of the clinic and went through the lobby into the hallway behind it, turning to the right and down instead of up... down into the training room.
She had an idea, if she could live long enough to pull it off.
The room was dark except for the dim light of the programming block that glowed a blinking blue in the thin air. When the blinking stopped she moved her fingers over the keypads in the top and then stepped back as a light illuminated the end of the room for a sudden blinding moment. The double that appeared there pulled a blade from the sleeve at her back as she ran forward across the stone floor as fast as she could.
Sere stepped back across the floor and disappeared through the door as the double crossed the center of the room.
As Sere came to the top of the stairs she screamed and pulled a blade from the sleeve at her back, hearing the doorway into the training room below and behind her open.
She screamed “Nadera!!!” and threw the blade as hard as she could down the length of the hallway, then fell to her left, and up the staircase that led up to the higher floors. Pushing through the dark, feeling her muscles fail momentarily, she gritted her teeth and pushed harder sprinting up, behind her she heard the double stop in the hallway and then come onto the stairs, she pushed through the door at the top of the landing and into the room across the hall into another stairwell, but she bent as a pain went through her and fell into the wall and down onto her knees, she gasped as she hit the wall and the wind was knocked out of her and her vision blurred.
She pushed a hand against the stained wall and pushed up, stumbling to her feet upward in the darkness...
The steps behind her following...
Sere fell again... halfway up, her knees coming down hard onto the wooden steps and cutting her knees and hands as she fell forward. She lay there for a moment, struggling to catch her breath.
Slowly she moved on hands and knees up the staircase in staggering start and stop pushes, finally reaching the last stair and stumbling through the doorway at the top of the second landing.
Below her she heard the doubles footsteps sure and quick on the floor, stopping for only a moment to catch the sound of Sere's own stumbling footfalls on the staircase above her.
Sere burst through another door and across another hallway to the adjacent staircase and up, her breathing coming in hard gasps as she moved, she spat blood but kept moving, her feet faltering, she staggered and fell against the walls... sliding... then jerked herself away from the wall and upward...
She was halfway up to the next floor when the door below her burst open and the double came up the stairs at a dead run.
Sere turned... agonizingly slow pulling the gun from her holster as the double slammed into her and knocked the gun away and the both of them were knocked against the stairs and began to slip back down, stumbling and rolling down the steps to the landing below.
Sere kicked out with her boot as she felt the other's blade go into her stomach, pushing the other girl up and back off of her and through the open doorway, out onto the hallway floor, the girl scrambled up as Sere rolled over onto her knees and stood up and staggered up the stairs.
The girl behind her came through the doorway into the stairwell at a dead run, slamming into the wall and then staggering back onto the steps.
Sere stumbled up and reached down and picked up her gun from the stair where it had fallen and tried to turn as the girl slammed into her again. They struggled on the staircase, the girl's hands flashing in quick punches that knocked Sere's head back and pounded into her bleeding chest.
The girl pulled Sere in close and slammed her knee into her stomach and Sere fell forward pushing the gun into the other girl's stomach and pulling the trigger. The girl was knocked back as Sere fell against the stairs, clawing with her hands against the walls in an attempt not to fall. At the bottom of the steps the girl rolled over onto her knees and slowly rose.
Sere turned and scrambled stumbling up the last few stairs into the hallway above.
Behind her the staggering footfalls of the girl followed.
When she reached the top and staggered through the door she heard a sound, not from behind her, but ahead. She pushed herself the two feet to the next doorway to her right and fell through as Nadera stepped out of the room at the end of the hall and the girl came through the doorway from the stairwell.
The girl stumbled to a stop,
"Wait...!!" she yelled, putting out her hand, as Nadera raised the gun and pulled the trigger, again and again and again as she walked forward. The girl fell to her knees, blood pouring from the wounds in her chest and stomach, she stared at the blood as if unbelieving and then her eyes rolled back and she fell forward and lay still.
Nadera came down the hallway at a slow walk and stood over the body of the girl. She slid the gun back into the holster at her thigh slowly and shook her head.
“Sere... Sere...” She whispered.
And then she felt--
Her head snapped up and turned--
Sere stepped from the doorway behind her and pushed the blade to the hilt into Nadera's back between the shoulder blades. The woman stiffened as the blade slid in.
Sere slowly turned her around and ripped back the top of Nadera's suit. A red line of blood lay against the girl's collar bone.
Nadera twisted at the blade in her back and reached down for her gun as Sere brought up her hand and held Nadera at the shoulder, keeping her from falling, waiting...
“Pull... your gun...” Sere coughed and turned her head to the side and spat blood.
Nadera's arm shook as she tried to move it, her body jerking against the blade still in her back. She closed her hand around the grip and slowly pulled it from the holster and tried to raise it.
She blinked her eyes.
Sere reached down and took Nadera's hand and moved the gun up to her own chest and tried to smile through her blood stained lips.
“Pull the … trigger, N...adera...” she whispered in a gasping breath.
The girl spasmed for a moment, her eyes widening and she opened her mouth to say something.
Sere reached across from holding the gun and slid her finger against Nadera's and over the trigger.
Nadera's head started to fall back when Sere pulled the trigger.
There was a sharp shattering report for a moment and then they both fell, the light darkening in the bright lit hallway.