[[Dasha meets the other scion of House Bordren. Minor edits for flow, and additional writing at the end.]]
“…Goodbye. Good luck with your… cabinet or whatever.”
Relieved, Dasha watches Sarabdal go- and only lets her shoulders sag when he is well out of sight, guard guttering a moment like a candle in the wind. It doesn’t last long before force of habit reasserts itself- shoulders back, spine straightening.
But she holds her arm oddly still, as if it isn’t quite right beyond the finger… and keeps the pain to herself.
Dasha waits several minutes for it to pass,. Maybe meditation would help. It does sometimes…
A silent figure watches from above. Her eyes locked on what the prisoner was going to do next. She eyed the jammed figure with brilliant viridian orbs. Shrouded from view but she slowly descended from her perch and walked towards the cell. Brown and red leather adorning a fit and athletic form. The green eyes covered by round black sunglasses. Dagger and long blade dancing with each step in their scabbards. A rifle slung across her back. Her steps were silent as she moved.
Dasha stiffened at the approach of a stranger. There’s a little head tilt of curiosity in addition to the animal wariness about her as she gets a better look.
….She’s a hunter, Dasha thought to herself immediately. Where did she come from? I didn’t hear her approach… though I haven’t been listening.
Stupid, careless. Just because the commander was their leader didn’t mean she was out of danger….
Her lips twist and firm a little at the gun though. A hunter with poor taste, I guess.
Green met darker green, as Dasha watched her approach, both of them silent.
There in the cell, she seems unassuming on the outside… but the approaching figure would note the strong shoulders and arms of an archer, the calluses of a swordswoman on her hands, the hints of scars on where pale skin showed, running under her shirt and vanishing. She’s wearing no armor, just simple clothing, but there’s something about how Dasha shifts in place…
….She could be exceptionally dangerous.
She wasn’t now, seemingly, at least. Not confined, magic locked away, weaponless. But she was tall and strong and as keen eyed and watching as the woman who approached.
The woman paced the entire perimeter of the barrier column, silently slipping those sunglasses off before they vanished from her hands to… somewhere. Her footsteps silent the entire time. A few times around she would step and then be about ten steps from where she was, little wisps of darkness in the air from where she was.
Hints of those shadows remained in her eyes for a moment before the green shone back through. Her fingers danced a throwing knife between them idly, not threatening, as her eyes held no malice. Curiosity. She brushed some of that red hair out of her face, features possibly looking oddly familiar to Dasha. She finally completed her circuit, unslung her rifle and laid it down on one of the steps behind her, then sat on it and crossed her legs and sat like someone else the hunter was familiar with.
“Still the Flame.”
Her eyes blazed a little at those words, staring straight at Dasha’s eyes.
Dasha’s hackles rose silently as she paced around her. There was a brief, irrational urge to slam against the glassy magical walls, make her jump somehow- but she resisted. That was immature, and she wouldn’t be the one who blinked first in this confrontation.
The woman took off her sunglasses.
….Was she familiar? There was something about that chin and nose. Odd. Dasha watched her back, as quiet and intense as the woman outside the walls, chasing that thread in her mind.
When she put her hands on the rifle, Dasha tensed, awareness ratcheting up ten notches. But no- she takes it off and sets it on the stairs behind her. Then she… sat?
Sat. Cross legged.
What is she-?
“Still the Flame,” The stranger said.
”Try to hold your breath as long as you can, and control your breathing to take as long as you can to release it. You will feel your heartbeat slow. Picture a flame in your mind, and try to still it. That’s it. Deep breaths. Extend your mind. The more you still the flame…. the more you extend your senses.” The Commander smiled at her, there, in his command tent, sitting on the dirt floor across from her.
“What the fuck-“
Dasha jerks back, standing to do so- a recoil like she’s been burned. She’s so startled that internal thoughts become external when she blurts the words.
How did she-? Did- did the Commander teach her too?
Who is she?
And how did she know he taught ME? And if she didn’t, how could she guess?
She stayed in place, calm as possible. Almost like she was expecting that response.
“We learned it together… something we used all our lives growing up. Part of both of our training as the Scions of House Bordren.” She smiled softly, some of it even reached her eyes.
“My name is Rynn. Rynn Bordren, younger sibling of Riathan. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Dasha. Officially.”
Dasha stared. Nothing could have prepared her for that particular response. S- Sister? Sister?!? What the- what the fuck. What the fuck! He never said… and what does she MEAN, officially?
The anger at that, and possibly being spied on, is overshadowed by shock. Five years. Five years and he never… why didn’t he tell her??
Maybe he couldn’t, something terrible in her said, and she shied away from it. No. No. Not possible.
(Which meant he WAS a liar after all. Or was she just not… that important, to know? That hurt, no helping it.)
And yet- why? She could have helped. Dasha looks her over again, closer, and now it’s unmistakable, the familial resemblance. So too were the marks of her skill. Gun or no gun, those same skills -and if she was half the fighter her brother was, she’d be good- would have made her very valuable. Did the king not want her? Did he not know?
Dasha resembled a startled owl or cat almost uncannily as she eyed the woman. The utterly unguarded moment of surprise passes as her walls slam back into place.
She doesn’t sit back down, or come closer. Instead, she says nothing for a long moment.
“…He never mentioned you.” She tried to keep it as neutral as possible, but there is suspicion there.
Rynn smiled and nodded, splaying her hands out to either side. “I asked him about that, when he regained his memories.” She rotated her neck to one side then the other, working out a few cracks from being stuck up in her perch for so long.
“He has a feeling the King blocked out memories of myself and others he was close to. Things that might link back to memories of his real life. Before he was taken. Things that might spur his true power, what would have let him break free of the King’s hold.”
She paused and looked at her. “Like stilling the flame.”
“….The King didn’t block the flame,” she said, after another long silence. Dasha doesn’t sit back down. But… he didn’t like it…
She shook it off. No. No.
“Still,” Rynn said. “He didn’t want links to his old life.”
She shivered for a moment and fought off a sad look.
“He made my big brother forget me. He made him forget his friends.”
She took an even deeper breath.
“But I’m glad he had you there to watch his back. Big dumb idiot that he is.”
Of all the things Dasha was expecting… gratitude wasn’t one of them.
“….Um,” she says, blinking. She genuinely doesn’t seem to know how to respond. Dasha looks around again, still confused, like she suspects some sort of… weird trick. But there isn’t one, and Rynn… doesn’t seem to be lying…
“…. You’re…. Welcome…?” She says, because she really doesn’t know what else to say, and deflates just a little. “He- he didn’t really need me for that. It was a… a team effort anyways.”
Rynn shook her head, still in the seated meditation position. “Don’t lie. He told me about his time there. He told me about all of it. That shitbag King may have taken him from us, from me. But you kept him alive. You and the other Hands.”
Rynn looked around a bit sheepishly. “I’m a bit protective of him. He’s too kind. I know that’s a flaw for some. I see it as both a flaw and his greatest strength. I feel like you and I might agree about that.”
Dasha stiffens at the words “shitbag king”, a scowl flickering across her face- but she can’t help the little agreeing noise that the comments about the Commander draws out of her, as confused as she is.
“…He’s not soft,” she said. Ever loyal, Dasha. “But he is… gentle.”
Maybe she’s lying. About being his sister, something in her said. But… the meditation. The face. That was too much to fake.
“…The King isn’t- he must have had a reason,” the hunter adds. “Even if I don’t know what. I don’t have to. He’s the King.”
Rynn scoffed softly at the last bit, idly grabbing at a pendant hanging from her neck.
“His reason seemed pretty clear to me, perfect little soldier to lead his armies, not think. Not have time to think about all the things in his head that didn’t make sense. About the holes in his memory. About the skills that didn’t come to him like they should.”
She smiled after that little bit and nodded. “You describe him well.”
She drew her knees up and wrapped her arms around them.
“Five years, I suppose you would. And for me panicking for a couple weeks. Little did I know I wasn’t worried ENOUGH.” She let out a sigh, and then an annoyed grumble.
“He makes it SO DIFFICULT, doesn’t he? Rush a charging horde to defend helpless innocents, but not a single thought for if he’ll survive it.”
“You’re wrong. The Commander is a brilliant strategist and tactician. The King knew that. Combined with his innate leadership qualities, he is exactly what we needed. He did a lot of thinking,” Dasha said.
The way he didn’t answer me when I asked where he learned the meditation, way back then… No. NO. He HAS to be lying. Rynn may mean well helping him do it but he… he has to be.
She listened, silently, after that; and when Rynn showed no sign of leaving, she sat spelt back down, though not any closer.
“…Running in greatsword out, yelling.” She nodded.
That, however, wasn’t true- Riathan didn’t favor the greatsword and attacked without petty insults, though he would rally his men and shout orders to be heard over the din. It was a test.
Rynn coughed at that. “Yeah he has one, but he barely uses it. Stuffed up in a corner of his office. He did for a bit, but he felt he couldn’t afford the loss of the shield. He can’t protect enough people with the greatsword. And no, Mantra’s are not the same as yelling.”
She stood up then and drew her sword and curled up her free arm like she was holding a shield, which she did not clearly have, and perfectly matched his stance.
“He was actually a little stubborn about it when fought alongside the Pact in the Maguuma Campaign. Started favoring the long bow like the other Dragon Hunters. But it didn’t stick for him. Then when we moved onto Elona, he met the Firebrands. Picked back his shield, used an axe for a bit. But went back to the sword. How Father taught us.”
She moved into forms, swinging the blade in long, swooping arcs, then curled and thrust out, planting her feet in one moment and flying through the air in the other. Forms Dasha had seen for five years on the battlefield, then she flipped out her dagger and soared through the air, twisting and spinning with blade and dagger nipping around her in a whirlwind of steel, landing on the balls of both feet before going flat, and quickly sheathing both blades.
“Father made adjustments to my training.” She gave a chuckle and wink.
And the soldier’s eye can’t deny it: those are his moves, as natural as he did it, and only his sister would be able to do those like that.
(Something in her quivered. She sat on it. Not here. Not now. No. Later. Later. With ruthless ease of practice pushing strong emotion away until there was time to deal with it, she locked it in a glass box. She will not break here, now, in public, in front of a Bordren- just like she would not grieve the fallen until after a battle.)
The pain in her arm ramped up several notches. Dasha flinched, but only just, and shifted a little so the shirt fabric isn’t touching her skin so much. The psychosomatic fire inches up past her elbow, an old enemy.
“…I was lying. He used the bow a little, -he’s not bad at all- and mostly sword and shield,” she admitted; she didn’t seem very sorry about it. “Said they were the most versatile.” She favors the dagger, though, huh. Might be just a little faster than him. Bendy too.
Natural talent. Both of them had it, it seemed.
Rynn smiled and sat back down. “It was a valid test. And I’m glad you have such a sharp mind to put it that way.”
Her eyes shift as she sees the wince. “You’re hurt. They treated your injuries when you got here… What’d you do?”
Walls, slamming back upwards. Dasha looked away.
“It’s old. I’m fine.” Not like there was anything new about it. Her finger was still fucked up, of course, jammed and swollen…
But that wasn’t on the same arm.
There’s got to be some explanation. Maybe the king knows something I don’t. He’s the king, after all. Isn’t that his job?
Maybe he told the commander not to tell me? But why?
The pain came in waves, throbbing, lessening a little as she thought to herself, but still potent.
“….He told you everything about it?”
Rynn stopped and sighed, nodding. Less worried of some missed injury and more understanding. “I’ll see if he has some of the Salve still. Or get him to find you more. For now though… maybe you should spend some time Stilling the Flame.”
She paused then added. “And yes. The night he remembered all of it he found me and told me. He had to say it. Someone else had to know.”
…Dasha blinked rapidly.
He told her that much? About her? And the salve? That’s… not tactical information. Unless he was trying to use it against her, but as far as weaknesses went it was inconsistent. The old pain from those burns came and went with no pattern that she could find…
“…That’s- I- it.” Her arm throbbed. Insistent, distracting. “If he doesn’t- it’s fine. I’m used to it. It comes and goes.”
It had been worse lately. A lot worse. But there was no need to trouble anyone about it. She was lucky she could still USE the arm, and she knew it.
Rynn shook her head. “I’m saying that because I’m worried about you. That’s not very comfortable and you’re not in there to be tortured.”
“….” There’s a blink, then an odd twist of her lips that would be a fleeting smile in another time.
“Gentle. Must be a family trait. It’s fine… but I’ll use it if he finds it. Otherwise, if you’re half as stubborn as he is, I’ll never have peace.”
Is that a joke?
Rynn actually looked caught off guard and then actually laughs.
“You’re in terrible luck around us then. Pretty sure stubborn is the family trait.”
“….Were you watching me?” She says, after a moment, with the typical Dasha bluntness.
Rynn nods. Her smile fading a bit into an almost rueful grin.
“I was. Sorry about that. I know your life is kind of fully on display right now. But I had to see what you were like after Ria told me about those five years. See what you were like in person.”
Dasha looks a little puzzled at the apology. “I would have done the same. I’m a dangerous prisoner. I’m almost… glad… there is a sense of caution outside the Commander. The turrets are a good touch. I’ll have problems with those.”
There’s another of those weird pauses. She opens her mouth- closes it, visibly changes the subject. Dasha looked at Rynn seriously.
…Her arm, her hand, is… trembling. The pain inches up like a red hot cheese grater to her shoulder. Dasha moves her hands behind her back, professionally, so she can clench them without it giving herself away.
“…I want… privacy for a little while, though.”
Rynn nods. “Well as for that. I understand. And will leave you to it.” Rynn walked off after picking up her rifle. About fifteen minutes later she return with a jar of salve. Larger than the one Riathan had given her before. And …. newer. Rynn also tapped a display panel near the barrier column and the whole thing turned a bit more solid. Some windows here and there. But allowed more privacy. Rynn flipped off the guard about to say something. “Commanders orders. Deal.”
It was… a long, long, fifteen minutes.
Dasha spent most of it, finally out from under watching eyes, doubled in pain, shivering spasmodically now that she didn’t have to keep up appearances. Half of her kept an ear out for footsteps. The other focused on her breathing. That’s as far as she got, no image of flame; but it helped a little.
She was paler, and a little sweaty, when Rynn returned. Dasha’s eyebrows flew up as Rynn casually flipped off a guard -well, THAT was one difference between the two siblings- and turned some of the invisible wall eggshell white, with windows set here and there.
“….Thank you,” she made herself say.
Rynn smiled a genuine smile and nodded. “Your welcome. I hope the salve helps.” And with that she disappears again off to wherever she deemed should be her next stop.
Dasha gets up, moved to the wall casually, and sits, so she’s out of sight. She’s breaking.
It feels like being burned all over again. She’s never been so grateful for walls, the magical barrier of her cell turned eggshell white now, large “windows” aside. It was almost stupid, reckless (gentle, kind) of Rynn to give her what she asked, but she could feel the cracks in her widening as they spoke, and she would not break in front of people. She refused, she would not show weakness to them; it was unthinkable. She was a Hand of the King and they were the enemy, even if the Commander sided with them for now.
But the walls meant she could curl up against one, out of eyeshot unless someone came to the window and looked directly down. It meant she could lay there and feel the tremors of her soul as fire ate at her side and arm.
The salve was a small comfort. It helped, when nothing else did. But somehow, this time, it wasn’t enough. The soothing cool tingle was an afterthought to agony, and she grit her teeth hard enough to make them creak. Dasha shook with the pain, breathing hard and heavy, trying to last.
It wasn’t this bad before. Why is it so bad now? It’s been hard with all the memories coming, but this-
She locked her jaw on a whimper (she was the Hand of the King, she did NOT whimper) and curled tighter into a fetal position.
Worse than the pain, her own doubts plagued her. Pain was an old, almost comforting enemy, even here, even now- it meant she was alive after all. But doubts…
…And it seemed like the more she thought about it, the worse the pain was.
A sister. A sister- with green eyes, and the Bordren chin and nose, and the same damn gentleness as the Commander. The same way with words. Why would the king make him forget his family? She wondered. He had never mentioned her to Dasha, and he would have, he should have, not only because they could have used her skills!!
But who was the liar?
It has to be the Commander. Doesn’t it? It can’t be the king. It… it can’t.
It literally could not be.
Panic came with the pain, now, as she forced her mind away a second time.
I’m not a monster. I’m not a monster. I’m protecting humanity by serving the king, trying to undo this future. I’m not a monster. I’m not a monster, she thought desperately. I’m not a monster because it’s not true. I’ve killed but it’s for a Purpose. I’ve done what I had to do I can survive. I’m a soldier in a terrible war and I have to see it end so we can find peace. I’m protecting Maya and Izzy-… or I was.
No. No. No. no no nononono no. The Commander- even if he’s lying- he said I could come. I’ll help. I’ll convince the King and save Maya and ask him why he never mentioned Rynn. He must have a reason. He’s always had a reason.
I’m not a monster. It will be ok. It will be ok. I’m not disloyal for examining things logically, I-
She hissed, then coughed, as the smell of ash and burning flesh flooded her nose, in concerto with the fire. Dasha closed her eyes and didn’t dare open them. Somehow she felt like she would see the dismembered corpses and flaming ruins of her village if she did.
No war between the races since had been so hard, so bitter, so full of atrocities. The very earth seemed to ooze blood from all the killing. Charr butchered and ate her people. Wearing a charr skin as an accessory, like boots or cloak, became a fashion statement in the noble circles she skated at the castle. And at the end… desperation, famine, disease, the grim inexorable settling of hopelessness into their hearts, knowing what would come.
Dasha almost felt Biter curled against her chest, limp forever, and locked her jaw on the urge to scream.
Out of sight behind the mercifully granted wall, as silently as she could, Dasha trembled as the nightmares both memory and current- intruded into her waking world… and broke her apart again.