WRITING Moody's Random-Ass Writings

Discussion in 'SHOWCASING' started by The Mood is Write, Sep 9, 2016.

  1. In answer to Lurcolm's "The Fall of Balthazar"
    Spoiler
    The video feed cut in with a lone figure sitting on a chair. A standard unifier revolver was held so tightly in his right hand that his knuckles turned white and it trembled. The young man had no life in his eyes as he stared blankly into the camera. A faint, forced smile was eternally plastered on his face. His head almost twitched from all the minor movements he made. He seemed his expression changed to that of a cornered animal every now and then, full of panic and fear and hopelessness, before it returned to his broken expression of happiness.

    “H… Hello. Hello E-lizabeth” He started. It seemed like he couldn’t properly figure out how to phrase his words as he spoke it. Clear strain came across his face as he tried to form his sentences together in a coherent way. His faint smile always twitched down, but never actually became anything less than that vague, empty expression of happiness.

    “I-“ He swallowed loudly “I’ve come to tell you th-that I have been given… given insight. Th-the Unifiers. They… They showed me the way. The t-t-t” His head started to twitch violently for a full second, before he finally managed to blurt out “True way. The…” His lips clamped shut, but forced themselves open an instant later “Best way.” His eyes gained another expression, Fear and torment. It went away the instant after it happened, returning to the blank, dead brown eyes.

    In the steel chair he sat on, his left hand started silently tapping on the arm. The patterns could quickly recognised as Morse code. It kept repeating “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry…” Over and over again. Never stopping as he continued to talk.

    “Th... They, they knew, Elizabeth. That I was close to you and-and your.. your..” an expression of sheer exertion came over him, but quickly went away as he continued “your Lies. They… Taught me, Elizabeth. They taught me… taught me… taught… taught...” He seemed to lose himself for a moment, repeating that one words with an expression of resigned terror. He completely forgot about everything around him. He just repeated the word they used to refer to what they did to him.

    He only returned to his senses with a red hot steel rod that stabbed into his thigh. He made no effort to remove it as it sizzled his flesh. It smelled like long pork.

    “Theytaughtme!” he blurted out in one go, his eyes shooting wide with terror as he anticipated more punishment “They… They taught me the right way. I… I honestly hope you j-j-j-j-j” He twitched again, but recovered quick enough “join us. Make the Universe one” He hissed, pain reflecting in his eyes “Because… Because it’s the right thing. The just thing.” He stated “The… the Hunters” at the last word, he tensed up like a spring for a millisecond. That was the word they conditioned him to associate with pain. A lot of pain.

    Silently, unobserved, the steel rod slid out of his leg.

    “Are w-w-w-wrong.” He twitched again, straining to keep his words coherent.

    His smile quirked upwards for a moment before it fell down into his vague face “As… as a sign of my… my” his strained face came again, always for an instant “loyalty, I’m going to execute Ashley” he was told to give a happy smile. So he failed miserably in the attempt. It looked more like an open scream of anguish, never voicing out.

    All the while, his hand tapped on the steel chair “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry…”

    The camera turned to a bound girl. Steel restraints held her in place. A leather gag stopped her from screaming. She was very clearly defiant. Her muffled curses and pleas making a consistent hum as the man got up and casually walked to her. The movements he did were jerky. One moment going to erratic, one moment too sluggish.

    His free hand twitched visibly.

    “I’m sure y… you remember Ah-Ah-Ashley.” he stated to the red head. Tears streaked down her face as she kept screaming through the leather gag. The man seemed to have lost his ability to speak for a moment. His one eye twitched and he snarled in effort, but he finally managed to speak “You… You sent us together on our l-l-l-last mission. It’s y…y…” He strained again, eyes watering. His face was a cycling mixture of hate, pain, fear and sorrow “your fault. Your fault we got captured” He gave a small, furious nod that quickly turned into a repetitive twitch. His free hand grabbed his head to make it stop.

    “S…so I’m… I’m…. I’mteachingyou!” he screeched “Teaching you a… a... a lesson! You… you… you…” His bit his own lips to stop himself, but only made blood mix with the flying spittle as the word exploded out of his being “Bitch! You Bitch! BITCHBITCHBITCH!” He screeched suddenly, anger and hatred pouring out of his very being. It stopped just as quickly as it happened, though. Afterwards he seemed even less alive. Like all strength he had was in that single scream

    “I’m… I’m going to k-k-k-k-k-kill her. Because she refuses her offers” he hissed. He moved like a wooden puppet towards Ashley’s gag, undoing the mouth restraints and letting her scream. Letting her beg. They told him to do that. He had to. He had to. He had to.

    The girl turned to the camera first. Her eyes were full of fear and defiance “Don’t listen to him! He got fucked in the head, E!” She tried to defend. She would’ve said more, but the man grabbed her by her crimson red hair. He put the muzzle at the side of her skull so the camera could see the blood spatter perfectly. They would be pleased with that. He wouldn’t have to hurt so badly, later on.

    “Bal! Please! Balthazar! You don’t have to do this!” For a moment, he tensed. He tried, he tried to pull the trigger, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t. He couldn’t. He pressed harder into the trigger. Harder. Harder. He had to! He had to!

    He couldn’t look at the trigger. His eyes were stuck at the crying girl in front of him. She was hopeless, but scared. She didn’t want to die. She didn’t want to die. She didn’t want to die.

    “Balthazar! Listen to me! You don’t have to do this! Don’t do this to E! Come on, Bal! I know yo-“

    Bang.

    The silver round shot right into her brain. The bullet was designed to fragment after impact. Silver shrapnel would be scattered in her skull like a mixer went through it. Burning. Destroying the magic it held. Ending her. Just like they told him to. His expression of detached happiness came back. His smile turning almost real, but his brown eyes stood empty, they didn’t even blink as tears silently rolled down his cheeks. He held the gun like it was his line to life. A bit of blood dripped from his grip as his flesh tore open from the force in which he held the studded grip.

    “My name isn’t Balthazar. It’s Martin.”


    Cat and Canary

    Spoiler
    The recording played in the Council chamber off a projector Minos had installed. Crow sat in the Speaker's seat, and Elizabeth remained quiet as she stared from underneath her hood. It's supernatural shadow created an impenetrable black barrier that prevented any from seeing her face. All of the other Councilmen wore the same garment, though Crow and some others wore their hoods down.

    Crow's expression remained cold as the Unifier ended the video and came back onto the screen.

    "As usual, if you want him back, our price remains the same. Cease interference with us, and we release all of the Hunters currently among our ranks."

    The feed ended, and as Minos turned off the technology, Crow's eyelid twitched. "Councilman Ygvaine, Recorder of the Session, please note that Martin Balthazar and Ashley must have their records updated to reflect his defection and her demise. Please note Unifiers as the cause for both."

    The scratch of quill on paper came a moment later, and Crow looked around the quiet hall. "We need to train our Hunters to better resist the Unifiers' methods. I put forth the suggestion more training intensity, and encouraging trainers to acclimate grown trainees to pain."

    A few murmurs of seconded guaranteed an official vote the next time there was a meeting of all three shifts. Next came a discussion of the security of having a channel open for communications from the Unifiers, and how it seemed unwise. Reassurances from Minos settled the controversy—it was one-way only, and they had no way to track, or even know it was being viewed. A reminder that the Unifiers' bragging served to give them information placated the remaining objectors for the time being.

    "Is that everything?" Crow asked as he looked toward Ygvaine.

    "There are three mission briefings to give to their assigned Hunters and two reports that must be heard."

    "If none object, I move we see to those." A murmur of approval met him, and the Councilmen took their seats. All raised their hoods, and only once that was complete did the doors across from the Speaker's seat open.

    A pair of Hunters walked in, nervous and reeking of fear. The doors closed behind them, and their mission brief began.

    Elizabeth remained silent through it all. Not fully there, she stared forward from her seat until Crow called the meeting to an end. The others began to file out, and she rose to do the same as the last few others exited. Crow appeared in front of her, seemingly from nowhere, and she stopped before the man, watching as he lowered his hood.

    "Elizabeth," he greeted cooly as the door shut.

    "Yes, Eiji?"

    Crow stared at her, or rather the dark shadow under her hood. He reached toward her face, then pulled the hood down to reveal trails of black mascara down her face. His expression shifted to surprise as she simply stared at him, unflinching.

    She sighed, and with it, she began to tremble. "What?" she demanded.

    Crow's eyes roamed her face, filled with confusion. Then, after several moments, his brows furrowed, but he didn't glare at her. "He called you by name. She, as well. I can only assume..." he trailed off, then looked away.

    "Yes?"

    He cleared his throat into a fist, then took a deep breath and looked at her. "I'm sorry."

    Rather than object or wave it off as one might expect, she leaned toward him and gripped the front of her robes. Her forehead came to rest against his chest, and she began to sob, shoulders shaking violently.

    Crow stood stiff at her approach, but as she started to cry, his shoulders eased, and he rested a hand against her shoulder. He had no words for the woman who tormented him for as far back as he could remember, who now sobbed into his chest.

    A knock at the door to the chamber caught his ears, and he gently pushed Elizabeth upright, then pulled her hood back into place.

    "Cry as much as you need. Mourn all you need. Right now though, hold it together long enough to get to privacy. Should I make an excuse and haul you to my office?"

    Elizabeth reached up and wiped at her face. "No—" her voice caught. "No, but, Crow?"

    "Hn?"

    "Thank you."

    "I have no idea why you are thanking me. I was only here scolding you for spacing out." He snorted and crossed his arms, directing a glare at her that was only softened by a single wink before he turned on his heel and charged toward the door. He yanked it open. "What!?"

    "Ah!" a surprised Hunter shouted.

    "Well?"

    "I was sent to find Councilman Leauge. It's Councilmen Kels's request, sir!"

    Crow stared at the Hunter a moment, then snorted. "Fine. I was finished with her." He gave a dismissive wave as he walked out the door, and the Hunter moved out of his way hurriedly, then looked in.

    Elizabeth, silent and hooded, stared out, and the poor man jumped as the dark and hooded figure emerged from the dim chamber.

    "Kels, you say? I know the way to her office on my own. You are dismissed."

    If it was Kels, who slept through every meeting, it had to be important.
     
  2. Elizabeth's Threshold

    Spoiler

    "My name is Elizabeth Leauge."

    "Don't let her finish!"

    "Stop her!"

    "I can't move!"

    Wind whipped around as the black-clad Councilman continued her chant.

    "I have served the Council of Morning. I have served the Council of Day. I have served the Council of Night."

    "Someone—"

    Rapid currents whipped words from the mouths of the objectors as they struggled to remain standing.

    Hunters.

    Hunters trying to take on a Councilman.

    "I serve the Multiverse. By her will I yet breathe. By her will I commit myself. If my actions offend her, thus may I meet my fate."

    Winds came faster. Brock struggled to keep atop Rare as the bites of Stalkers refused to heal. He intended to keep the downed female protected. She was only unconscious—Elizabeth's blow was measured against the demon, but now things were beyond her conscious control.

    A burst of wind threw the massive Hunter, Toothe, from the rocky island and into the stormy, churning sea. Another gust sent Seela after him. The remaining eight Hunters struggled to keep their grip, though the slightest movements sent them into the water.

    Phil. Kael. Caen. Artemis. Ortega. Kyoko. Tybault. Beela.

    And then the only two that remained were Brock and Rare, close to the ground. Elizabeth's words continued to flow from her lips. Lightning struck around the island.

    "Multiverse. Great Spirit beyond all. Release me now from bonds of Council. I seek new contract!"

    Lightning flashed down and struck her, but her voice only grew, even as Brock groaned from impact and sound.

    "Allow me to judge the Council guilty of slaughter, that I may return that which they have dealt!"

    The rocky island began to darken as shadows rose from the sea and oozed toward Elizabeth. Voices like black oil poured into her mind.

    "Slaughter is their purpose, allowed for Her protection."

    "To accuse Her defenders, the weight must be heavy."

    "Show us your proof! PROOF!"

    Elizabeth reached into her robes and drew out a tiny bundle. She unwrapped it and stared into it as black overtook her eyes.

    "We see your proof. We deny you."

    Teeth grit. "What!? This goes against their agreement with her!"

    "Her will is given. Your fate comes for you as you run for it. She does not endorse your revenge."

    "This isn't revenge!" Elizabeth roared. "This is justice!"

    "Your heart says only four names. You may have four names in return... four names dear to others among the Councilmen."

    The blackness left her eyes, and bled back into the sea. Rain resumed, and Elizabeth glared down at her now-empty hand.

    "This... isn't fair," she whispered, voice catching. "It's not fair. I only wanted... Only wanted..."

    Lightning struck her once more, and her awareness spread. She saw ties between people. Each Councilman was tied to a variety of other people: agents, Hunters, other Councilmen, mortals, even the monsters they were supposed to send Hunters to destroy.

    All of them were as guilty as she was of seeking a way to lessen the isolation inherent in being a Councilman. She was merely the one who had an accident, kept it, and loved it—her sweet little Poppy, who died in her father's cooling arms.

    Elizabeth slowly felt her resolve waver as she looked at every bond the others held, and the inspections told her of their relationships. Even those she despised, she couldn't bring them the same pain she held. It was too big.

    "I'll go... a different way."

    The wind picked up again.

    "I will reform the laws of the Council, so none again must experience my pain."

    The wind grew wild.

    "This day, I vow to take action. This day, I embrace that changes must be made. This day, I act to protect not bodies, but hearts, though I may trod over some in seeking my goal, I will carry the burden of those sins. Does this please Her?"

    The whispered voices echoed through her mind.

    "She allows."

    Lightning struck Elizabeth again, shattering the protection of her robes. It surged through her and lit the area in blinding light.

    When the light faded, the white-haired Councilman laid on the ground. Her robes were partly burnt, revealing root-like scars across her body from the strike. The scars shone iridescent, with the colors of beryl just beneath the skin.

    The storm faded, but sky remained covered in grey clouds.

    Hunters helped each other back onto the rock, too late to stop her, and too churned and half-drowned from being tossed. Only Seela appeared unphased.

    She approached slowly.

    Elizabeth's eyes opened.

    "You didn't tell them about my baby." Elizabeth's words were quiet, but they halted Seela's dagger as the female came to realize the Councilman's reasons.

    "That's why I haven't seen her?"

    Elizabeth nodded.

    Seela's shoulders fell. She looked back toward the recovering other Hunters, then back at Elizabeth. Her partner would understand once she explained.

    The water-based Hunter lifted Elizabeth, then ran to the edge of the water. As they met the water, a bubble formed around Elizabeth's head, and Seela became fluid as she carried Elizabeth to an underwater cave, and then into it. Currents and scent guided her to a pocket of breathable air, and she rose, depositing Elizabeth on the dry floor within.

    "Some warning would have been," Elizabeth paused to breathe, "Appreciated." Still, her eyes showed her thanks where her mouth, trained by too long in Council politics, could not thank a Hunter.

    This was only the start. Elizabeth recovered in only a few days, and with Seela acting on her behalf, the Council warily welcomed her back into their fold when they returned. Seela said Elizabeth's attempt failed. Elizabeth said the Multiverse showed her that she had been in the wrong.

    Neither lied, but neither mentioned Elizabeth's plans, nor the blood they would regretfully spill.
     
  3. In answer to Lurcolm's "Third End"
    Spoiler
    Gaius Beridium was a proud man. He always made sure to make a good example, as the planetary governor of the world. He always made sure to appear fearless in the wake of horrors to inspire his people to protect this world from the Hunters and their ludicrous ideals.

    He had to work extremely hard to keep his stomach’s contents inside his body.

    Everywhere was death.

    Absolutely everywhere.

    Corpses of Unifiers lay littered across the battlefield with creatures the local troops called Drones. There was at least one state of death of every kind ever imagined on a battlefield. His troops, who had sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers, had to fight for every, damn, inch of ground ever since the shields came on. There were so many losses, that they had to request reinforcements from off world. Several times.

    The Enemy’s last stand was in a gorge, where he hoped to funnel Gaius’s superior numbers into a bottleneck to give his dwindling forces a fighting chance. There was a temple in there, where the monster himself made his stand. All was for naught in light of superior silver ordinance. His creatures, though powerful, suffered that fundamental weakness. His death was certain from the start, he just dragged it out as far as mortally possible.

    The stench of emptied bowels, rotting flesh and acid only grew stronger as he entered the gorge. The vast cliff faces were built, reinforced. The place looked like a fortress before the Unifiers attacked it. Now it was a smoldering ruin of chitin, bone, and wood. It was probably going to be inhabited and used as a base still, albeit far less effective than it was originally.

    Going down the steps, into the gorge, was a harrowing experience. Destroyed turrets, more corpses, claw marks and bullet holes, more corpses, sprung traps, even more corpses. His retinue followed silently behind him, those who had the stomach anyways. They approached the very centre of the gorge, where a vast temple was erected in dedication of himself.

    He called himself Arenzethir the Third.

    Gaius shook his head at the thought, moving to the dying form that used to be the leader of a six-year-long war’s Enemy side. His breath was shallow, wheezing. His large body broken awkwardly and filled with what Gaius assumed to be at least a quarter ton of silver. His eyes though, pure black, still stared quiet defiance at Gaius as he entered the halls of his narcissistic temple

    “So you’re the reason we lost so many good men and women?”

    Arenzethir laughed, shaking his head. His voice was deep, intimidating even as he had to stop every now and then for a wheezing breath “You… You’re monstersAll of you.” He shook his head “None of you are good.” He stated it with so much certainty, Gaius would’ve believed it if he wasn’t one himself

    “Oh really? At least we’re not stupid. What made you think that building an empire and attacking us here on this world, would enable you to disable the shields? It’s all the way in the capital.” He stated, nodding in approval as he remembered inspecting the controls himself. He had no feasible way to approach them the way he did. All of this was wasted. Nothing came of it.

    Arenzethir only gave a laugh “I suppose I…” wheeze, “Could tell you, then. I was…” wheeze, “The distraction.”

    Gaius blinked, looking at him with confusion “What the hell are you talking about?”

    “There was…” Wheeze “Three of us.”

    Gaius’s eyes stretched out of his skull with shock. Gods have mercy. If he was here, then where was the other two? He grabbed the creature by the throat, shaking him furiously “Where are they! Answer me!”

    Arenzethir the Third only laughed, as much as his failing strength could muster.

    Gaius took a deep breath, calming his nerves. He looked at Arenzethir with hatred as he spoke “Serve, or die.”

    Arenzethir smiled again, his wheezing. His big hand, his big right hand, had grabbed a stone from the mounds of rubble that was his former capitol.

    The last thing Gaius saw was the rock getting bigger.

    *******

    The planetary leader’s head caved in like a fresh loaf of bread. He fell to the ground, leaving the six soldiers to just stare in shock before they all turned in unison and opened fire.

    Honestly, Arenzethir couldn’t feel the pain anymore, what’s a single stab to a mess of wounds? Even if there were a lot of him, he just felt his brain go fuzzy. Somewhere far away, he could hear someone scream “Stop! Stop!”

    Arenzethir felt his vision blur as he tasted cold metal in his mouth

    He chose death.

    Bang

    Bang

    Bang

    *******

    The creature sitting in front of Elizabeth League was one of Arenzethir’s many drones he had on the HQ to serve his daily tasks. This one was different though. He liked to mark them by the colour of their heads, to tell them apart from each other. This one was a very strangely coloured—pink: never before seen.

    After Arenzethir’s death, they reverted to a state of animal existence, helping out in the HQ with minor things nobody really likes doing. They cleaned, carried things, did some grunt work here and there, but not even once did they seem disoriented by their death.

    The pink drone only appeared a month after his death was confirmed.

    It looked at Elizabeth, before giving a slight nod

    “Hello, Elizabeth.” Came a familiar, sad voice. Arenthezir had made the thing memorize his message, and voice it out in an exact replica of his own “I’m… I’m really sorry if you’re hearing this. It means I’m dead. For a month.” He gave a slight scoff. There was no typical showman arrogance in him as he spoke. He spoke honest and true, a side of him he almost never showed to anyone, and those he did only rarely.

    Arenthezir’s message gave a sigh “So when I made this message, it was when that Thessila girl died. It gave me a perspective on how I could die. What would I do to make sure that I can at least say goodbye?” He laughed slightly “Shame is, with this way I won’t feel that satisfaction of knowing that I made any issues with you right, etcetera, etcetera.” He gave another sigh, pink tears dropped out of the messenger’s eyes, burning its face just like Arenthezir’s tears burned his own.

    “I just… wanted to apologize. To you specifically. And… Well… do something incredibly selfish.” The drone reached into his pocket, taking a deep breath for courage “As you may know, your position of power makes love a rather…. complicated issue. Because of that, I never, ever dared to do this. You know what though? I’m dead. I’m beyond caring about stupid shit like that.”

    The drone pulled out a ring. It had an amber centre with two intertwining bands of different coloured chitin running its length. The drone put the thing down in front of her “So, I… I’ve loved you since the beginning. Since I was that stupid shit named Balthazar. I just didn’t know it, back then” A sob escaped the drone as he gently, fearfully pushed the ring a bit forward “After I came back… the idea just popped in my head. An actual fucking wedding ring.” He shook his head “I spent years making that thing, throwing it away if I as much as suspected it wouldn’t be perfect.” He shook his head again, scoffing slightly.

    “So, since a dead man can’t be punished, I figured I’d do this when I die.” He nodded “So, to make it official: Elizabeth League. I fucking love you.” He sobbed again “And with this ring, I make it official. I make it a tangible thing that’ll stay intact far longer than I will ever be. There’s an inscription on the inside, it says, “I will love you eternally”. You know why? Because that’s what I’m doing.” He gave a small, ridiculous laugh “I’m currently bashing the skulls in of the Reapers until they let me, at the very least, have an opportunity to be with you again. You know…” He trailed off “Not talking through a fucking ant.”

    He took a very deep, very forced breath. “The drones are just gonna keep the place tidy, they won’t do anything else I swear. I just… I just hope that you’ll be happy someday, Elizabeth.” His voice broke as he continued “With someone who gives a fuck about you.” He sob and sniffle as the scent of burning flesh came in clear “With someone who cares. With someone who actually managed to stay alive to hope to see that day, even though he knew it was a fucking stupid thing to hope for. A simple fucking impossibility.” He took a deep breath, breathing out as he took control of himself. A small sniff, a wipe of his face, and an adoring smile.

    “I love you, Elizabeth. Now and forever.”


    Antring

    Spoiler
    Elizabeth stared at the drone. A pink head? Tt entered her office, nodded, and greeted her.

    The woman jumped her desk and rushed to slam the door before she looked back at the drone. She walked back in front of it as it began to speak again.

    Dead for a month. It was confirmed. His partners didn't know his fate for certain when they reported in. She'd hoped that despite the odds, he'd just... show up one day. Text her phone and ask her to pick him up. Call her. Appear with a new name or something with some ridiculous reason again. Something.

    Instead... this.

    She remained calm as the creature continued with its message.

    Thessila's death made him realize his own mortality. Laughter, then tears that burned at him. She forgot for a moment it was a drone, and reached out to offer comfort, but stopped.

    She'd hear his whole message. No interruptions.

    Elizabeth stood before the thing and set a ring in front of her. Through the proxy, Martin, Balthazar, Arenzethir—whatever he wanted called now—proclaimed undying love for her.

    He declared it again and again, and each time, Elizabeth felt her shoulders fall.

    This really was the end of him, and he'd loved her.

    Yellow eyes closed, and she knelt to pick up the ring from the floor. Her hands shook, and she dropped it twice before she got a firm enough grip the place it on her desk before she could drop it again. Behind her, she knew Falren and Jerry were watching. Snot from held back tears kept her from scenting their reactions, but she could imagine them.

    Slowly, she forced herself to sit down behind her desk, and one hand wrapped around the ring.

    "Fen. Jer. Just... just so we're clear..."

    She didn't dare look back at them.

    "Just so we're clear, you two... aren't allowed to die... I don't think I can handle feeling this kind of... this kind of loss again."

    Speaking was a struggle. She felt like she couldn't breathe. She had to be strong, but Elizabeth wanted nothing more than to fall into her bed, cry, and be comforted. Unfortunately, her room was a long walk from here. She had a cot, certainly, but she wanted her own bed.

    She wanted to stay there for a week.

    Kels needed her to help with something tomorrow, and she had to help balance the budget for the craftsmen by midnight tonight. She'd also promised Rare that she'd get her out on a mission for a break from Crow. Then Poppy... Oh, she'd promised her daughter they'd all come together and watch a movie Poppy got them, and then play some board games.

    None of that included the rest of the files she had to update, the mission paperwork and assignments, and the shift-end meeting.

    The weight of duty weighed on her more heavily than it had in a long time.

    Martin's message... she'd have to come to terms with all of it later.

    A few slow, deep breaths. In. Out. In. Out.

    She dabbed her eyes and blew her nose, then stood. "Boys?" She looked back at the two finally. "I'll..." she trailed off, took another deep breath, then forced a smile she didn't feel. "I'll be fine."

    Her lie felt so heavy she wouldn't be able to move, but she carried that weight to the door as she pulled her hood up. "Falren, could you get me a mocha and some disgustingly sugary pastry from the kitchen? Jerry, if you could relay a message to Ygvaine for me, he's the current Speaker. Tell him that I'm going to take a few days off work starting tomorrow, and ask if he's willing to take on my jobs for that period. Can you remember that much? I'm going to write a note so you can remind yourself."

    She should have had Jerry get the donut and coffee and had Falren deliver the message, but Falren was better at picking what she'd like, and Ygvaine was patient enough to handle Jerry.

    Once her door was open, she returned to her desk and wrote the note for Jerry. "I'll be in here finishing up what I can. Tomorrow, I'd like to maybe find some sunny beach somewhere. I suddenly just..."

    Need a break? Need to escape? Don't want to think about how her attempt at protecting Martin by making him into her agent backfired spectacularly enough to get him killed?

    What if the same happened with Falren or Jerry?

    That thought froze her in the middle of writing.

    One death among her agents—among the people precious to her—was too many as it was.

    She loved him, too. She loved all three of her agents. She couldn't not.