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Jun 28, 2022 6:14 PM
sophie hatter in velgarth selfthread (because i love her)
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Sufya has been having the dreams since she can remember.

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There is a boy, one who suffers. He is treated poorly by those around him; his father thinks him worthless, his mother thinks him a vanity, a toy to show off to her maidservants and occasional visitors. He finds solace in his music.

He dresses like a princeling, but his soul, the thing she sees inside him, wears rags; it is a faceless dummy, wearing only the paltry scraps of feelings that he knows how to feel.

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There is another boy. Perhaps he is a man, but he looks so young.

Or perhaps he is a monster.

He smiles habitually, and sometimes it distracts from the blood on his hands. He flirts remorselessly, and when he grows tired of his prey he drops them. He throws tantrums, he kills with a word or a thought, and he plots, relentlessly.

He dresses just as well as the other boy, but his soul... it is an ugly thing. Blackened with blood. Malformed. It wears spiderwebs. They look like the feeling-clothes of anyone else, but at a breeze they fall away and replace themselves.

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Sufya has no bloody idea what to do about any of this.

When she was young, the dreams felt like the kind of thing that just happened - an imaginary friend in her mind, and a recurring nightmare. She'd read of such things, and it made sense to her. It felt real, but she knew that was the kind of thing children said, that their dreams felt real, and she didn't think herself so exceptional as to be the one child who was right about it.

Then Father died, and she stopped being a child, and the dreams didn't stop coming.

And she started seeing the mannequins in real life. That was the first sign, really, that something was wrong. You weren't supposed to look at people and see things half-in-half-out of them. She thought at first that it was stress driving her mad, and she was ready for her mind to shatter, to start seeing other things, but... it didn't happen. Mannequins. That was all. Mannequins that told her things about who someone was, with clothes that told her how they were feeling.

And the dreams.

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A few years after Mr. Milin's death, the boy in the dream is sent away from his home. He isn't happy about it, but he's been having dreams of his own - dreams of ice, that he draws around himself like a cloak. To keep his heart safe and hidden, to freeze away anyone who would hurt him.

He's sent to Haven, to stay with his aunt Savil. He meets a boy.

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...oh! How nice for him. Sufya will just be here, in Rethwellan, working in a hat shop and losing her mind.

For reasons unrelated to the hat shop. The shop is fine.

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He falls in love.

Deeply in love.

His soul - the mannequin - is different now. It wears the same silks as its master, and when she looks at it she almost-sees another one, embracing it, holding it up. It's beautiful, and sort of alarming at the same time.

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You can say that again.

Sufya would feel uncomfortable with the sort of voyeurism of all this, if she really believed on a conscious level that the boy existed. She doesn't. Really, the most parsimonious explanation is still that she's going mad.

But - she wonders, sometimes.

Haven is almost 500 miles away. A different world. One she'll probably never see.

She could send a letter. Pay a merchant caravan, hope it got there in the next six months. To Herald-Mage Savil Ashkevron, if you actually exist. Does your nephew also exist? Is he really in love with your protégé? They make a very nice pair. Are you aware that, if I'm not just insane, there's a terrifying bloodmage north of your border who wants you all dead?

...probably not.

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Things go well, for a little while.

A very little while.

Then, Staven Frelennye, the brother of his love, is assassinated, and everything goes to -

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"SHIT!"

She wakes up in the middle of the night. She's not imagining the pain in her chest. She's half packed before she knows what's going on, before she even knows she's awake.

What is she doing?

     "What are you doing, Sufya?" asks Faina, her stepmother, who's been nothing but good to her since her father died. Poking her head through the door to the backroom where Sufya sleeps, candle in hand.

"I -"

She looks down at the bag she's been packing in the dark. It's very... efficient. (She's always kept her head in a crisis.) Travel rations - bread, cheese, apples. A sewing kit. All the money she's saved away - mostly coppers, a good handful of silver. She was grabbing a waterskin when she stopped.

"I had. A dream. Something terrible..."

     "It must have been," Faina says, shaking her head. "I heard you shouting when you woke up. I don't think I've ever heard you swear before. Listen, why don't you get back into bed? You can put your things back in place tomorrow."

"...yes, Faina," she says. And she crawls back to her bed, and when Faina's gone back to sleep she gets back to packing. Quieter, this time.

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This is insane.

Objectively, it is insane, to have a dream of something terrible, and then uproot your entire life because of it. She should - if not ignore it, then at least be sensible about it.

Instead, she's wearing a heavy traveler's pack and hammering at the doors of the Temple of Astera an hour before sunrise.

     The monk who opens the door does not look happy. "What in the world are you doing here at this hour, miss?"

Sufya is not in the business of caring about if monks are happy. "I need to know if there is a Herald-Mage of Valdemar named Savil Ashkevron. Do you have record-books of that kind of thing? And - and if she's real, I need a map from here to Haven."

Sufya waits, tapping her foot, until the monk gets back holding a map and says that yes, Savil Ashkevron is the First Mage of Valdemar, born to minor nobility, it's actually rather interesting how she came to her position -

"Thanks." She hands over a silver coin for the map, then turns and runs through the sleepy streets of Marinsvalley, her pack slamming against her hip with every step, until she gets to the staging post, where she exchanges a few coppers for an ugly nag, one the postman says "'ll get you to Tinbraga in two days, if'n ye treat her right."

She promises to treat her right. It seems like the thing to do.

And then she's on her way to Tinbraga. From Tinbraga, she'll get a good horse, one that can take her past Cervinbrad - when she gets to the mountains, swap again, for something that can take her through Menmellith to Lisle in a week or so. Once she's in Lisle she'll be on Karse's end of the South Trade Road, and she's heard it's a good steady road with plenty of posts. Maybe she'll get to Haven before Sovvan.

She doesn't know why, but she wants to get there before Sovvan.

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Sufya has ridden a horse before. Faina even took her to Petras once. A week's journey, going at a moderate clip. It took them eight days, because Faina always preferred stopping in a town to a staging post, even if the post was only a few miles farther along.

Sufya is under no such limitation. She travels at a pace that the horse can maintain, because it will help no one if the poor beast drops dead. It is, technically, a pace she can also maintain.

This is because, short of dying in her sleep, there is nothing that will keep her from getting back in the saddle.

She doesn't look very healthy, when she bothers to look in the mirror at the staging-post or inn that she's stopped in latest. She eats, somewhat mechanically. Drinks, water and wine and occasionally ale if the taverns don't have water or wine she can trust. Sleeps.

Dreams.

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Vanyel helps his lover as best he can. They're both tired. Tylendel is furious - Vanyel is just miserable. But he swears vengeance anyway. For Tylendel's sake.

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Can this fucking horse go any faster.

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Fortunately, the half-baked plot of vengeance goes nowhere. Vanyel tells Savil, who tells Felicity, the Queen's Own, and it's nipped in the bud - and plans are made to Gate to the Frelennye Holdings.

Tylendel isn't ready. Vanyel isn't ready. But what else are they going to do?

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THEY COULD WAIT FOR HER

(Sufya has just hit the mountain range which inconveniently decided to place itself in the middle of her route. Riding a horse through the mountains is not fun. At least it's early Autumn rather than late.)

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For a few days, it goes well.

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She rides - she's in Karse - taking the Trade Road, burning through her savings like it couldn't matter less, which it couldn't, not compared to the horseflesh she can rent with those coins - she's actually never been in so much pain, her ass feels like it's been flayed and her thighs are screaming -

She reaches Horn on the day of the Harvest fest. Rents an inn room, collapses into bed, ignoring the songs she can hear out the window. She's crossed the border. Just has to get to Haven before - before -

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And, well, we know how this part of the story goes.

Vanyel, kidnapped. Tylendel, riding to the rescue.

Gala slaughtered. The Gate.

Fire, from horizon to horizon.

PAIN.

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no

She jolts awake. She's still fully dressed. She stumbles out into the hall - down the stairs - where is she going? It's too late.

It's too late for her to do anything.

She can't see the flames on the horizon; for one thing they're hundreds of miles away, for another thing it must have happened hours ago. The Final Strike.

It's a beautiful night. Sovvan often is. Cool - not icy, just crisp. There's a mist in the air, and she can smell candle-smoke.

...she hears something. Hoofbeats. At first she thinks it's just echoing from her weeks of travel, but - no. No, there's a horse riding in - at full gallop, at this time of night?

She wonders how she could possibly care.

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The hoofbeats don't slow down as they approach.

When they reach her, the creature skids to a halt, his ribs heaving, his hide soaking wet. His eyes, pinprick-focused but - wrong - human - widen.

Sufya has never experienced Mindspeech before. The voice of a young man penetrates her mind, calm only because Mindspeech doesn't allow you to pant between words, or to stammer with nerves. :Sufya Milin, I Choose you:

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"I..."

She stares into the Companion's eyes. Because that's what he must be, of course. A Companion.

"How could I be... I'm not Valdemaran."

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:That doesn't actually matter very much. Or - it doesn't matter to you, at least. You - I Saw a bit of you, on the way over - you don't care where you are, if you're doing good. You won't go back to Rethwellan if you can help more people here. Which you can:

His breath is slowing down a bit from where it was. He noses her hand, gently.

:I'm Astirian. By the way:

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Absently, she strokes his muzzle. "...I've heard that Companions are... fast. That you could get me to Haven - not tomorrow..." (not yesterday, not a week ago) "...but soon."

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She feels him sort of - telepathically wince. :I could. I can. I will. But - first, you need a Healer:

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"I don't think I've got enough money to pay for a good Healer. And a bad one will just give me a poultice I can't ride on and tell me to rest."

That's what the last one did, at least.

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