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0:39 AMChapter 1 [part 1]
1 Day of Beginning Pain
Cuilliok awoke in a groggy state, shortly followed by groans and cursing under his breath. Almost forgot about yesterday since it’s been a while, he thought, rolling onto his stomach where the injuries were few. He rubbed the cloths forming bandages that ran up and down his torso, a grim smile forming on his face. Nice of Nimue to think of me at least.
He removed his fingers from the wrappings and found small traces of pink covering his hands. He sighed, knowing he would have to move soon. Being a near immortal creature helps so he doesn’t die through his punishments while being half mortal has him bleed and grow very weak, which is why he has the bandages on.
He groaned once more as he felt his lacerations pulse and ache in irritation of being moved wrong. He managed to stand up, albeit shaky, the thoughts running through his head being ones of self-loathing and irritation. He managed to limp over to the indoor bathroom – a sure sign a Citizen was actually a Stranger, because these were only made in fear of harm coming upon them – where he immediately turned on the water and began the process of trying to take off his bandages before his bath but knowing the cloth would stick and pull on his skin instead of coming off of it. He grunted and grit his almost fang-like teeth but didn’t succeed.
After a few minutes of failing to remove the cloth and the water running, the water finally rose high enough. He stepped gingerly out of his undershorts and sank into the lukewarm water, sighing and feeling himself relax into his more dominant form of a merman. His normally tan skin becoming a bit muted like he was under the sea, his legs growing into the scaly appendage he has grown to love, and his dark hair turning wavier somehow. His sea green scales glistened as his tail stuck over the edge of the round bath they kept in the middle of the room and his mismatched brown and blue eyes watched the water drip and run slowly down the fin.
Watching for too long brought back bad memories –
Blood, pain, ripping sounds, evil laughter, howls of joy –
And he instead set out to carefully remove the cloths, made easier in his home element. After he managed to pry off the cloths (and creating new injuries) he washed himself to make sure they didn’t get infected. He quickly passed over his merman patterns made like tattoos on his torso because the things they stood for were shattered by the cuts and scars over them.
When his work was done, he simply leaned back and relaxed, gradually slipping under the still frothy water, gills working automatically. He closed his eyes and began the process of blocking out the –
Whips, stones, fire pokers, bottles full of acid –
Painful memories of the past years and ideas of what is to come. Then he heard the rumble of footsteps, the squeak of his door, and the presence of his sister. Oh great, he thought. My older sister playing mother again. Or coming in injured.
She walked in obviously scratched up and was doing poorly, but because she shows more characteristics of a dryad and that is her main scent, she usually does well this time of year. Her hazel eyes gazed at him sadly, the white constantly highlighted in her hair shining brightly today. He gave a small wave to her above the water since he was still somewhat submerged in the water and flicked his fin towards her so she got splashed with water.
She just stared at her brother under the water before sighing and walking over and gesturing for him to sit up so this wasn’t as weird for her. He sat up the best he could with a tail hanging over one side and stared at her confused, silently asking what was wrong.
She stared deep into his eyes and swept her brown hair back behind her right ear, the blond white strands peeking out here and there, showing her close genetics to a will o’ the wisp. Her very slender figure and slight frame made her desirable to those who favored faery types but refused to be even seen with her due to her heritage. The dryad Stranger opened her mouth and shut it again, turning away and instead grabbing a drying cloth and a stack of bandages for Cuilliok.
"Okay sister, what’s the matter?” the younger one questioned, his voice tinged with the vengeance promised by a Dearg Due, making the older shiver.
"We must go to the town immediately. Citizens have been smelling human. Pure human, brother. How would a fool like a mortal find our village and not yet have died I wonder?” Nimue spoke her thoughts aloud. Then glancing at her still immobile brother raising an eyebrow at her made her say, "The mortal is a human woman and could be a good match for a witch that practices black magic, though she doesn’t possess the gene.”
Dear Balor, my sister is going crazy. Should I bother going? He wondered, but found himself starting to pull himself up out of the refreshing but now pink water. Once he had himself lifted completely out of the water, he transformed into a human and stood, grabbing a drying cloth his sister still held in her hands.
Cuilliok turned slightly, raising an eyebrow at his sister as he continued drying and dressing, ignoring his pains for now. Nimue sighed slightly in equal parts annoyance and sadness. Now fully dressed and dried a few minutes later, He turned and openly stared at her, wondering what caused the quiet. He noticed her looking off to the side, most likely deep in thought.
In an attempt to break her reverie, he said, "Sister, could this change things? Does this foretell something bad?”
Snapping back to attention and fixing her hazel eyes on his blue and brown ones, she stared for a moment before turning and walking out of the room. "Perhaps,” was the simple response.
He had a split second of pause before he hurried after his sister. Soon they were out of the house, making sure it was locked and an enchantment – meant to only allow those of mortal descent within as a common safety for Strangers – was bright and unmarked before the pair went out on the forest trail that lead into the village.
Most Strangers were forced to live on the outskirts of the village or deep in the forest nearby where it is more dangerous, either because of other more threatening creatures or the chance a mortal will find and kill you, raising the alarm for all Citizens. The path the siblings travel by had trees of all sizes and kinds planted alongside it to give homage to their dryad family members, dead or living. The path was also well worn, showing the many generations and treks made back home and out to the village. On close inspections, one could see the small or large patches of darker earth, showing the blood lost by those who took the trail during Samhain. The pair traveled alongside one another, hiding in the depths of their cloaks hoping, no matter how fruitless it may be, to not be seen.
To their surprise, they managed to make it all the way to the main road in the village before anyone picked a fight with them. The only reason being that the entire village was crammed into the small area around a human girl who looked both frightened and curious – admirable for a mortal among Citizens and on their territory – who stood near the Great Fire of Hell.
The mortal stood near the fire, probably fearing the bright fire, although for us it is both common place and the name of the fire is only one meant of respect to Lord Balor. Everyone peered closely at the mortal, some more obviously sniffing her scent than others, but some still clawed and raked at the Strangers as they passed, the only ones who dared get closer to the mortal without having their killing urges or other weird tendencies take them over.
The din of the gathering increased as they grew closer to the mortal. The girl studied the pair as they approached, but she seemed resigned. Did she honestly think we of all people would kill her? Mortals have such foolish way, he thought to himself.
Finally the dryad and merman stood in front of the mortal, simply holding her gaze, waiting for her to speak first. After a few minutes, the girl finally spoke.
"I don’t understand why I am on a trial of some kind. I have done nothing wrong. I don’t even know how I arrived to this place. The last thing I remember is being by the pond near my home when a …” she began, then looked around. "A creature started swimming at me. I got to the surface and hopped onto land and ran without thinking. Hours later, I find myself here.”
This mortal is strange, Cuilliok thought to himself. She decides to say her story, and what is a court? Like a type of royal court or something else? And are there really humans that close by? But wait…
"You don’t look as if you’ve been swimming at all lately.” When he received a confused glance from the girl, he simply rolled his eyes and said, "I’m a merman, mostly, water is my element. I would sense the last time your body was submerged in water and I sense that has not been for at least a day.”
Murmurs of agreement rose from the crowd. Well that’s a first, he thought as he stared at the girl. She looked agitated now and instead looked toward the dryad studying the girl’s features.
"I already said what I know –”
"I understand,” interrupted Nimue. "But you seem to not realize that running for many hours and wet would result in some scratches. And any I see on you seem healed. You claim many hours; I believe it was many nights. Don’t be alarmed or get testy – we aren’t the most welcoming bunch – but we will need to test and see what you are.”
Many grumbled and complained fiercely about it but none spoke against it and ask to start a fight because it was the agreement between Citizens and Strangers to listen to mortals who have once or twice come through and decide their fate.
She stared back at the nymph and creature of sea a while longer before nodding very slowly. "Fine. But one condition. I will be tested only by the two of you. Is that okay?” she questioned, though her fierce stare and fiery hair blowing in the wind made it seem more a demand.
The siblings looked at one another in question. They didn’t know how to test well, but they had books hidden at home. Perhaps they would also learn more of this mortal and how she came to be here.
Cuilliok sighed. "Yes, fine, but our testing books are at home,” he stated as he turned to the crowd. "This matter will be decided on our home ground and the fate of this mortal will be passed on one way or another by tonight. I’m sure there will be objections to taking away your plaything, but it’s what we have chosen.”
Much more grumbling rose from the crowd and each sibling receded far into their cloaks once more, making sure each was on one side of the girl, but when they made it back out onto their trail, everyone was bloodied and scratched anyway.
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