Members of the Militia of the Kingdom of Rhoneweald find themselves at the heart of unrest, intrigue, and a healthy leavening of undead!

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Ten years later...
It was time to go. Clip could feel it, down in the bones beneath her reshaped flesh, a subtle unease that lent extra meaning to every stray glance and measured the hairsbreadth of time between casual and too long. Parent, years ago, had taught the awareness of the true self, of the survival instincts honed over generations of hiding. One ignored them at one's peril, and Clip was unfond of peril these days.
The thought of parents was enough, even, to send shock waves of memory through her emotions, waking the still-fresh horror and fear anew. Ten years already. She forced down the unwanted recollection. I should be over it. But that wasn't really true, was it? Not when every now and then Clip, unprompted, took out the night's events and rolled them around like a piece of fine fabric that needed periodic airing. The scent of blood and sweat and fury filled the air, then, as fresh as it had been ten years ago, and memory ruled.

When it had passed, she was drained, clammy with sweat and panting for breath, but at least this time the reshaping had held - the hands were human, still, veined and leathery with age; the features craggy and weathered. And that's why, isn't it? That's why I have to take it out and put myself through this over and over. Why I can't just let it heal and move on. A short, harsh little laugh escaped her lips, then, a crone's laugh. I'm getting better at this. Even when I'm not thinking about the voice, it's getting better. One hand tucked back a wiry strand of gray hair thoughtfully, looking around the room. And this time was longer. I've been here six months, almost; six months without being caught. Even now I can't be sure anyone suspects...
But there was that feeling, and Clip knew better than to ignore it. At least - not if one wanted to live. She looked around the cabin, mentally cataloguing the things in it. A few gold necklaces and bracelets could go with her; the book of ballads and epics; a few days' worth of food. Everything else would stay behind, as always. Nothing more than would fit in a backpack - and not a particularly heavy one at that. She could get started now, while they were out at the fields for the harvesting, and go through the forest to the cache. There were papers, there; a change of clothing. Now to cover my disappearance...

Twenty minutes later, the cast-iron stove was nearly red-hot with the quantity of wood stuffed into it, and making dangerous noises. Clip was stretching out a lean, lanky form with a shock of bright red hair and tightening the straps of the backpack over his new shoulders; he peeked out the window for possible observers before opening it and sauntering out. Behind him, the door to the stove swung silently open, coals spilling out of it onto the cabin's wooden floor. He made it to the forest's edge and into the shadows before pausing just long enough to settle his hair to a dirty brown; running one hair through the short mop with a wry little smile. Glancing over one shoulder to see the hint of smoke darkening the cabin's windows, Clip headed into the forest to his cache of supplies. Maybe I'm doing it wrong. Maybe I should stop settling down...
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Vignette: Dreams
The dream, as always, was of exuberant flight. The sky was brighter than any she had ever seen with open eyes, the air cleaner and finer. She danced on wind currents unseen yet sensed, soaring and swooping for the pure joy of it. For some reason there was never a sense of loss on waking from these sunlit flights. Yearning, perhaps, but the dreams always left her feeling buoyed up, as if she had but to take a step onto the air to fly in truth. Maybe it wasn’t yearning she felt, but hope.

Helene’s eyes opened to the rafters of her tiny attic room. Cool dawn light spilled in through a small window, along with a chill breeze; she peered out. Fog now, in from the river, and likely rain later; she closed the shutters against the possibility. Perhaps it would rain, true, but it might rain out before the evening, so they could enjoy a clear night.

Good morning, Sunny. Sunny did not speak in words unless needed, but she felt a warm response, like an echo of the dream, an inborn patch of sunlight to fend off the dampness of the day. She grinned back and dressed quickly, work clothes today. There was the militia celebration tonight, but for now there were chores to tend to and then some pieces in progress at the forge. She must remember not to get lost in her work, or she’d be late. She smoothed out the old patchwork quilt on her bed and headed down. Breakfast was already in the making, the usual friendly clamor of her family rising up to meet her as she descended.
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Tags: Sunny , Vignette
Light fingers played over the lute's strings, a muted hum rising that was more palpable than audible, but Mortein's head turned anyway at the sound. Reflexively, Clip brought the palm of one hand down across the strings, sensing the disappearance of the vibration as the master relaxed again. Not soon enough. Mortein's bulk shifted in a series of slow tides of fat, his eyes narrowing.
"Boy." Clip braced, the rumble of the bardic master's voice serving as a more-than-adequate warning of his mood. "This is not the Kingdom of the Axe, and I do not teach little girls who want to play at making pretty music. Bardic music is a man's art; if you want to succeed, you must learn discipline." The flow reversed, rolls gliding in silent sequence to align Mortein precisely once again with the heavy tome. "Back to the beginning. With no music, this time. With discipline."
Clip exhaled, mentally returning to the first stanza of the epic, retracing the words with precise intonation, trying to fend off the stultifying boredom. You don't know anything about discipline. Hands clenched, moving to the wood of the lute, satisfying the need for tactile stimulation in the face of tediously rote repetition.

The sun was low in the sky when Mortein was finally satisfied, the streets a latticework of deep shadows and amber light. The lute in its case lay comfortably across Clip's back, the memory of the strings' soft hum a silent urging. Home. Home and you can play the epics as they were meant to be played. The thought was all-consuming after the hours of lifeless repetition of meter and scansion, but not quite enough to suppress Clip's awareness of the oddly empty streets. It was late, but not dark. There should have been travelers on the road, shopkeepers still closing up, children taking advantage of the wide slant-lit alleys. The town was silent, shuttered.
A lifetime of caution sprang to the forefront of Clip's mind, banishing thoughts of epics and replacing them with a sudden, focusing intensity. One hand moved to the strap of the lute case, freeing the hilt of a slender blade without drawing it. Clip glanced around, and seeing no-one at all, turned off down the alleyway, crossing the empty greensward into the surrounding forests.
The track was overgrown with brush and thick with brambles, difficult to see in the gloom of the wood, but it was familiar enough. It circled the town within the concealing depths of the forest, coming out a scant hundred yards from the back of the house. Even before the well was visible through the brush, Clip could hear the rumble of unintelligible menace from the house, see the too-bright torchlight casting stark shadows. Did they get out? There was no-one at the meeting point.

A familiar voice cried out from the other side of the house, a sound of sudden pain, abruptly cut off. Clip oriented on the sound, blood freezing in slowly growing terror. Parent. The slender blade whispered into one hand, as comfortable as the lute-strings, its sheath and the lute case set carefully on the ground beneath a bush with a pang of too-familiar loss. Goodbye. There wasn't going to be room for it now. Clip shifted through the trees until the mob and their torches were in view, searching the faces for a hint of sympathy and finding none. All eyes were directed on the two huddled figures in the middle of the mob, a trickle of slow blood from the mouth of one of them.
Faris Smith stepped forward from the circle, looking down at Clip's parents with disgust. "Vipers in our midst. We trusted you. Bought our bread from you. What poisons have you been feeding our children?" The answer was inaudible outside the rim of torchlight, but Faris snarled in response. "Lies, even now." The mob snarled in response to his words, and the blacksmith reached for the iron-headed hammer at his belt, hefting it with ease. "What do we do with vipers?"
"Kill them!" The words were a roar of hatred, and the hammer rose and fell before the echoes had faded from the forest. The sound of contact seared itself into Clip's mind, solid and final, merged with an animal noise of pain. And then, like a pack of dogs thrown a piece of meat, the crowd surged forward and closed in, almost blocking out the sight. There was no such mercy for sound or scent or the stark dawning comprehension of fear. I'm next.

Minutes or hours later, his hammer glistening darkly with blood, Faris quieted the mob, pacing back and forth. "We've removed one threat, but vipers spawn. There is still evil in this town." That had their attention, and Clip braced once again. "Find the boy. Bring him here. He can't be allowed to live." There was a faint murmuring, and briefly a flicker of hope, but it was swallowed by the smith's growl. "Will you wait until he finds your daughters?" With that, the mob turned to fan out toward the town, some heading for the forest. No time. Nothing left here. How many times did we escape this before? Terror threatened to freeze any hope of motion, but the years of discipline won out, and Clip took a deep breath, eyes tracing out the familiar features of one of the searchers heading back to town.
Amelia Farmer. Wife of Julian. It would have to do. A slow exhalation, a flexing of the will, just so, reaching into the currents of potential that limned the body, a sensation as if simultaneously traveling very fast and holding quite still, and it was over. Clip stood a moment longer, completing the mental checklists, adjusting to her new shape, regaining equilibrium. There was nothing pleasant about the change, the sudden alterations of flesh and organs, the flood of new signals traveling up to her brain as nerves were repurposed. Everything was different, and for a moment she was newly-formed, naked and vulnerable in her ill-fitting boy's garb.
Moving carefully at first until the swing of hips and breasts became second-nature, she slipped into the woods. Their cache was a quarter-mile or so away, and she'd need to find a place to hide in to spend the night before it got much darker. Concentrating on the path ahead of her, she dodged the bobbing torches and the voices of searchers until they grew faint and dim behind, reviewing the instructions in her mind. Left at the bent oak, and north along the water's edge. To the climbing rock...

The cache was still there. Clip fumbled with the lock on the box, almost automatically shifting form to touch pressure points in the recessed corners, latches no human hands could manipulate clicking open. There was a knapsack with fresh clothing inside, and provisions carefully tinned for a journey, enough for all three of them. There was a short-bladed knife and a crossbow, a quiver of bolts nestled beside a leather wallet that Clip knew held identity documents, a map, and the detritus of human existence. And there was a pouch of coins. Enough to get three travelers down the road a good ways, and settle them in a rented room for a month. It never took longer than that to set up a home.
Except this time, there's only me. Reality swept over Clip; the knapsack clutched tightly in inhuman hands, vision blurring suddenly. It was an effort, almost beyond the making, to sling the quiver and take up the weapons, tuck the wallet into the knapsack, find a pocket for the coin pouch. This place was safe for belongings, but not for sleeping. For that, Clip would have to go further yet - so grief would have to wait.
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