Kiora

Swashbuckler; a swordcleric and rogue

Description:

Age: Looks 22

Date of Birth: Sometime in the spring

Hair: Slightly past the shoulder; red and curly; partially covered by a purple bandanna

Eyes: Hazel (Perceptive people see that she is wearing contacts)

Race: Human, seems the equivalent of Mediterranean

Height: 5’8"

Weight: 132lbs

Sex: Female

Clothing: Leather armor over a white tunic with gold flower designs paired with sashes, skirts, and sleeves in varying colors

Kiora typically has her sword in hand if possible, and if not she sheathes it into her brightly colored and patterned scabbard. She carries a crossbow over her back, the bolts in a small quiver. She has a letter-bag at her side attached to her belt. The contents have not been shared as of yet.

Bio:

Some Music Themes:

(Proper credit where credit is due)

Hector, Kiora’s Father: ♫"Hurt" by Johnny Cash♫
Mother:
Kiora:
Rolf:
Mick:
Romas:
Chris:
Reverend Sephirus: One-Winged Angel – just kidding =P

Backstory

Use “ctrl + f” if you want to search for a specific scene, using the Scene Navigation contents as the literal search keywords.

Whenever you see a phrase surrounded by music notes, such as ♫Song♫, you can click the link and it will send you to a page where music will play to match the scene. You can open the link in a new page and read as it plays. When you see /end ♫ you may stop the music as the story transitions.

(Sometimes I’ll just link to songs that inspired me to write the section instead. Those will be denoted with ♫[Inspiration] Song♫ and don’t correspond to any /end’s.)

Scene Navigation:

Intro
Scene 1: Worldviews
Scene 2: The Shack
Scene 3: The Family Share
Scene 4: Out of Control
Scene 5: Reverend Sephirus
Scene 6: Window Shopping
Scene 7: Mirroring
Scene 8: Romas’ Boutique
Scene 9: Igrim
Scene 10: Keeping Warm
Scene 11: Who are You
Scene 12: The Present
Scene 13: Bedridden

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Intro

“Why did you choose to study here?” the Grandmaster inquired. Kiora always felt uncomfortable around Deva, but much more so around the Grandmaster. “You seem more intent on…roguish pursuits than noble ones.”

Kiora did not look the Grandmaster directly in the eyes. She trailed her finger along the edge of her rapier as she always had. “I’m trying to unlearn the rogue inside of me, Grandmaster. I realize the way of shadows and lies is unjust and unsuitable. I think it is my will to turn away from the…the selfish life, self-serving life, that still needs work. It’s my weakness.”

“If you truly wish to overcome a lifestyle you do not find desirable, you must not only strengthen the will to be good but embody it. When you study Chris look for his embodiment and learn to wield your own.

“I do not wish to catch you again doing a misdeed under any circumstance. You are always welcome to learn our discipline, to better yourself, so long as you are applying yourself.”

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Scene 1: Worldviews

♫The Courtyard♫

Kiora watched as Chris practiced blowing back enemies using his sword and the discipline of a swordcleric. He was entirely focused; fluid, but powerful, exact in every movement. The rapier would arc gracefully as it sliced through the burlap and straw, and then divine force would radiate from his body outward, pushing back the other targets encircling him.

It was a pleasant spring afternoon in the temple courtyard where Chris meditated after his practices. Kiora sat cross-legged several feet away from him, attempting to imitate his posture and sense of calm. She couldn’t ignore the sound of bees buzzing in the garden behind them. There was a freshness in the air that only comes after a spring shower. The life in these moments becomes so hard to dismiss for Kiora. Most of her life was not spent in silence with nature; hardly any of it was even silent before now. To constantly keep up with—

“Kiora.”

She peeked open one eye at Chris and faltered upon seeing him staring straight at her a foot away, still sitting down. She opened the other eye and turned herself to faced him.

“We don’t talk much,” he said.

“Well, no,” Kiora replied awkwardly.

“I sensed you were lost in thought, more than usual. Are you not able to meditate today?”

“No, no, I can. I’m sorry.”

“Are you sure?”

“Oh, well, yeah, of course I’m sure.” She stared at the single lock of dark brown hair next to his ear, like she always did in every interaction with him.

“I’m going to help you today,” he stated.

“Huh?”

He grabbed ahold of her shoulders and corrected them to stop her slouching. “You need to allow your force to flow throughout your body or else you will distribute it unevenly. An uneven force makes it difficult to concentrate and perform actions synchronously. A lot of it has to do with your breathing, too.”

Chris moved his holding from her shoulders to her head, correcting it too, and he focused directly onto Kiora’s eyes. She struggled to maintain eye contact, and this lasted for several seconds without any sound or movement.

“The small details of a person can tell you so much. You do not blink naturally; you are used to high-stress situations and automatically blink as if there is an emergency in every moment you must be prepared for. You are not calm and relaxed. You may have been slouching but your back and neck muscles are tense.”

Kiora was baffled.

“I can tell that to you, this world and even my own are very different from yours. Even though you are here and hoping to get comfortable in a new life, the old still bears weight and meaning. I know that the weight can be lifted and the meaning refined while still remaining true. You are not the first to be in need and to be able to transform. We are all people—no matter what race or class, no matter what others may say when following their ideology. We share much with our spirit and soul constitution.”

/end ♫

Kiora went from baffled to concerned, and as Chris let go she stared down at a crack in the stone tile.

“You don’t entirely believe me.”

“Well…I don’t know. It’s hard to imagine that this—world is separate from the rest at all. And I think everyone has their own personal…ideology to satisfy themselves. Maybe there is no correct one.” Kiora wasn’t sure what to say anymore, and afraid of what she shared already.

“So then a self-serving lifestyle is justified to you?” Chris posed seriously. “Just as much as an altruistic one?”

“I don’t know…”

“I believe the circumstances of birth, as well as environment, determine the things that people will justify and believe throughout life. If someone grows up born to a noble family and learns the sciences and culture of sophistication, they will be more likely to see the world differently than one born on the streets with no one to learn from but thieves and the corrupt. And it is very likely to seem impossible to believe in the other perspective regardless if it is right or not.

“But people can change their environment and try to make decisions in those moments when life slips through the filter of the mind without any alteration. In those moments an experience can be written on a blank slate provided by our foundational constitution and influence the way we see things. This is true for all of us.

“Kiora, look up, away from the ground. Look at me and please, listen and care as much as you can for what I’m saying next.”

Kiora felt her heart sink almost ominously, and she followed his words. Chris looked the most controlled and nearly out of control he had ever been for a very long time. Kiora was extremely nervous and frightened.

“That is why we must subject ourselves to change. We can’t stay in our singular, self-centered worlds and be able to know for certain that we are living right. We have to keep working from and upon our foundation, the one everyone is born into this world having access to once we get past the filters. We can draw new paths between the experiences that are as objective as possible. I am certain this is true.

“You may not be able to believe me, but I have tried to write on my slate and experience things that challenge me to view the world as it really is naturally for us. Do I see racism, classicism, prejudices and discrimination in the world? Yes, they do exist, and I see them—but they are not the truth.”

Chris closed his eyes briefly and took a deep breath. “Believe it or not, it is easier to acquire that knowledge and insight, than to be able to then apply it to a world which continues to operate through lenses.”

Kiora was quiet. Then she had something to say which surprised herself. “I guess you have to keep applying in new ways for new experiences too, until you figure it out.”

Chris was slightly confused and then smiled. Kiora had never seen him smile before. “But you know how varied ideologies are, huh?” he said. And then he laughed. Kiora found herself with the beginnings of a smile crossing her face, too, but still too nervous to show it. She felt the stone was no longer cold beneath her. Perhaps she was feeling too warm now.

“I’m glad you listened to me, Kiora. I wanted to help you directly, since copying me did not seem to be working today. I hope you didn’t mind me discussing such things like this.”

“No, it was very…helpful. We should…have more discussions in the future. So you can explain what you mean. Especially with the filters.”

“If you’d like we could continue. The rest of the afternoon I was going to meditate anyway.”

“Uh, not now, actually,” Kiora answered hesitantly. She was extremely flustered now. “I’m feeling a bit sick all of a sudden. I think I’ll go home for now.”

Chris’ face fell. “Will you be all right?”

“Yes, I just need some rest I think, and I still have something I need to do. But Chris, thank you for talking to me. Even though you don’t really know me, I appreciate what you have to say and your concern. I think I will be back again soon.”

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Scene 2: The Shack

[WARNING: This is the most violent scene in my backstory so far and has bad language in it. The majority of the story is not like this, but this scene has the most action so I chose it.]

Home was not much of a house for Kiora. Home was an old, decrepit shack shared with four others. It sat weary and ignorable in the slums of the coast, near the warehouses holding shipments. There was one small room for cooking and relaxing in the shack as well as two tiny bedrooms. The doors were all splintered and crooked.

Currently Rolf, one of the house mates, was sitting on the pocked couch drinking some stale ale half asleep.

“Where have you been?” Rolf gurgled at Kiora as she lifted the door up and locked it into place. “It’s, like…eleven, or something. We already made dinner.”

The dinner he referred to was the rest of the ale, some old bread, and burnt, roast fish. Most of it was gone anyway, left out on the table as a sign for Kiora to have her share. Of course it also meant that the table would have to be cleaned by her. “You would have cooked the fish better than us…’s too bad you weren’t here.”

“You could learn, you know,” Kiora replied tersely. “We live next to the coast; it should be a basic skill for everyone.”

Rolf rolled his eyes about halfway and gave up. He took another swig of the ale from his mug and grimaced. “You’re just so much better, aren’t you, Kiora?” he said mockingly.

She ignored him. “Are Sam and Mick asleep?”

Rolf grinned toothily. “The city is asleep.”

Kiora knew what he meant and grew angry. She stored all the leftovers in what way she could to maintain sanitation and keep it preserved. Cleaning the table with a wet rag, she tried to ignore her thoughts. Rolf stared at her lazily with furrowed brow.

“You think you can just ignore us and…do whatever, huh?” Rolf sputtered. “You think you’re above stealing and street fighting now, huh? Kiora, the great and pure street rat! You think you’re gonna get a real job and live the good life? You’re just like us—you’re just like us, you tramp, you bitch, so stop being all high and mighty!” Kiora glared at him. “Oh, and don’t keep telling me to be respectful or whatever. I’m sick of it—we’re sick of it, especially Mick who’s got to really put up with your shit.”

“Maybe you should get more drunk and tell me more about how awful I am, I think it’ll really make a difference.”

Rolf lurched to his feet and balled his hands into fists.

“I know what you fucking want—you want me to just get so drunk I pass out, and then you get the whole damn room all to yourself. Don’t think I don’t know your games. That isn’t gonna happen tonight. Mick and Sam aren’t here, it’s just you and me, bitch.”

“I’m not scared by you, Rolf—you’re afraid of Mick, and what he’ll do to you when he hears about this.”

“I’m not afraid of you either.” He stumbled toward Kiora and grabbed her by the neck of her shirt. Kiora stood calm while Rolf shuddered.

“That’s the ale, and you really shouldn’t drink so much—it’s bad for you.”

He growled. “That isn’t going to WORK!”

With a yank he tried to mash his face into hers, but she elbowed him in the nose and slipped away. Rolf covered his face with both hands as blood dribbled down his neck. He howled and tears sprang into his eyes. Suddenly, that howling turned into god-awful laughter. “Oh Kiora, that’s the rogue in you I like!” His hands fell, showing a bloody, greedy grin.

“Rolf, if you keep trying you’re going to end up on that couch in worse shape than a simple hangover. Try to think instead.”

“I don’t really care!”

He went for another clutch at her torso and found himself falling over as he grasped at the empty air where Kiora once was. Then a hard heel jabbed him in the back and knocked him prone, digging in his spine.

“Perhaps the floor is where you belong,” Kiora muttered darkly. Rolf coughed and gasped. He tried to get up, but Kiora pushed him back down. The alcohol was inhibiting Rolf far too much now. He began to retch. Kiora withdrew her heel and returned to her cleaning.

“You made me sick,” Rolf spat. He continued to empty himself on the floor. The smell was repugnant.

“I just defended myself.”

“Bitch.”

Rolf lay slumped against the wall, eyes closed. Kiora stood over him expressionless. “You need to get to the couch.” She bent down and draped one of his arms over her shoulders. Rolf weakly aided himself in standing hunched over as Kiora guided him to his resting place. He lied down and Kiora propped him up properly. The smell still lingered but Kiora removed the source of it. Before retiring to the bedroom she scanned the room and looked at Rolf a last time. Everything was as fine as could be managed, and Rolf seemed cared enough, his bloody nose cleaned up by her rag.

Kiora jammed the bedroom door and immediately fell onto the musty bed. She began crying uncontrollably as she curled up in the tattered sheets. Everything began to ache. Everything bottled up inside eeked out in fits.

“I don’t want to be this, I don’t want to be this,” she repeated, not hearing herself.

Every time Kiora was in the room alone, she emerged slightly different.

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Scene 3: The Family Share

[End of disturbed scene]

“You cut your hair again.”

Kiora shut the door to the bedroom as best she could. Mick was sitting in the one wooden chair still intact, and both Sam and Rolf were present, standing around the table. Mick looked another year older, while Sam seemed the opposite, beaming with her cruel smirk.

“You committed a crime again,” Kiora countered.

Sam leaned onto the table, which shifted a bit with its eroding legs. “You and Rolf missed out. Mick and I snuck onto that galleon at the port. It was loaded. Hopefully whatever you two did last night was just as great as our bounty.” She made a knowing wink, and Rolf rolled his eyes.

“We’ll be able to afford more for the next month or so,” Mick explained. “We just need to see the fence today. Kiora, I was hoping you would come with us this time.”

Kiora glanced away at the hole in the roof, like she always did.

“You should make her,” Rolf insisted.

“Rolf—Sam. Kiora and I need a talk. Wait for me outside.”

The two scoffed and slammed the door behind themselves.

“Kiora, I don’t know what you’re doing, but it’s making things harder than they already are. You agreed to join us and understood what it meant to live this kind of life.”

“So did my father,” she replied harshly.

Mick sighed. “Look, for the time I was with your father I cared a great deal about him. He was an honest man. He had dreams which I lacked and god be damned if he didn’t have the determination to match it, too. But Hector didn’t impose anything on anyone or make bad value judgments about those he worked with. That’s respect.”

Kiora glowered and slanted her eyes at Mick. “He only worked with you because he had too, he didn’t agree with it at all. He hated doing this!”

“I can’t know everything about Hector, but I do know that when he passed on you had nowhere to go but the slave trade or us, and you chose us. I chose you, too, Kiora; as Hector’s once-close friend, I do care about you.”

Kiora stared up at the hole again and closed her eyes.

“Rolf told me about last night. He owes you an apology, but I want you to realize what I have been trying to get at. We care about you—you are a part of our crew, and you always will be. And I know you care, too. If you really wanted to move on to a new and better life without us, you would have left a long time ago.”

Kiora did not stop staring at the hole, and the tears stayed welled-up in the corners of her eyes.

“Kiora, I want you to have an extra share of gold.”

“What…? Why?”

“I still don’t know what it is you are doing with your time away from us, and I understand you keeping it a secret. But I will support you regardless, so I hope the gold will afford you more opportunity. You don’t have to come with us today; I have it ready for you.”

Mick set a pouch filled with coin on the table. Kiora blinked away the tears and watched Mick leave the shack, joining the others on their way to the fence within the city. She checked the contents of the bag and found a little note inside with the gold. She unfolded it and read it.

“This was all saved for you. Good luck.”

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Scene 4: Out of Control

“More control, Kiora,” Chris instructed.

Kiora bit her lip and swung again. She missed the target area on the dummy by over a foot, slicing off what would have been an ear.

“I think we need to take a break, Kiora.”

“No, it’s fine. I can have control.”

She swung again and missed by ten inches, carving a ghastly frown through the burlap head.

“Kiora, you need to stop.”

“I will stop when I am perfect!”

She sliced the head clean off, and it tumbled through the wild grass, leaving a trail of straw. A breeze picked up the finer pieces and scattered them to the air.

“That’s enough!”

“Hyyaa—!”

The rapier arched through the air in a wild flurry as it left Kiora’s hand. It landed flat some feet to her right, finally at rest. Kiora stared at her hand, then to Chris, who had his sword brandished and his divine aura pulsating. She felt a sickening lurch in her stomach and her eyes widened. The scene in front of her lingered in her mind—his perfectly rigid stance and cold eyes as the sword was pointed at her completely parallel to the ground. He was of impeccable form and beauty.

“That was not discipline, that was rage,” he intoned reprimandingly. “If you wish to learn this art you must control yourself. You cannot let anything but a good will be embodied at all times, especially in combat.”

Kiora’s hand was shaking, and she clenched it.

“I’m sorry,” she choked.

She fell to her knees and bowed her head down, hand clenched still and the other stuck clawed at the grass. Her body was shuddering and she shut her eyes tightly, wishing everything away. The sobs were suppressed and suffocating. Life was so tranquil in the field and warm in the sun, when just beyond the sacred grounds were the dank and harried lives of the people she knew—the life she only knew.

“Therapy doesn’t work if the person doesn’t want it.”

Chris knelt down next to Kiora. Neither said or did anything for some time. The world spun peacefully for about five minutes, until Chris broke the silence between them. His voice was soft and slightly indifferent.

“Kiora, I think you need to stop your studies and seek out counselling. I don’t say that to be mean. I can try to teach you the discipline, but I don’t think I’m qualified to resolve any psychological problems. I can only be supportive here for this purpose. I’m afraid I may have overstepped my boundaries yesterday.”

“That wasn’t the same, and I don’t have any psychological problems,” Kiora answered quietly. “I’m just tired and frustrated.”

“I won’t tell the Grandmaster about this, Kiora. She would have to refuse you entry to the temple and any assistance, at least until you could prove you were ready.”

“I am ready.”

Chris didn’t press further, but wanted to make one more point. “Well, if you ever do have something bothering you or something you just want to share, the priests in the temple are always there for you. They help people all the time just by lending an ear.”

“Why can’t you listen to me?”

“Because I feel compelled to take action when I hear injustice.”

Neither said anything again for a moment as they thought. Kiora wiped her tears away and calmed herself down. A cloud passed overhead, blocking the sun. The shadow felt oppressive on her but familiar. The wind blew once more, stronger, fraying the bits of straw from the dummy. Likely a storm was beginning to brew. It seemed to be gathering from the coast.

“I’m returning to the temple,” Chris announced. He looked over at Kiora, concerned, but unable to address her. Then he turned to leave and headed east.

“Chris,” Kiora called after him. “I just want to know that you will always let me watch and learn from you, and won’t give up on me.”

He glanced back at her and replied seriously:

“I would never give up on your progress.”

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Scene 5: Reverend Sephirus

Kiora felt nervous and self-conscious inside the temple itself. There were many strange artifacts on pedestals in the niches of the room and people sat in pews totally silent. Candles were lit all around to provide light in the absence of sunlight, giving the cold, stone temple a warm glow.

A man in deeply-colored orange robes was flipping through the pages of a tome on a podium. Kiora noticed the unusual dexterity in his hands and fingers. She wondered if it was natural talent or due to some bionic implant; the man looked wealthy enough to afford such a luxury. Unconsciously Kiora had already approached the man before she realized she was going to speak to him. The man’s eyes flickered up and his gaze leveled with her. His irises were a very pure brown, but the rest of his face showed the sag that comes from old age.

“Good afternoon,” he greeted, quietly and soothingly. “I don’t believe I have met you before. I am Reverend Sephirus. What is your name?”

“My name is Kiora. I am not actually a student of the guild yet, but I’m learning the basics from Chris.”

“Oh, really? That is wonderful. Chris is a very good student and mentor in the arts. How do you find the discipline?”

“It’s very…empowering, and beautiful. But, Chris said I should talk with someone from the temple before I start practicing again.”

“Ah, I see. That is why you are here. Well, let’s not talk here among open eyes and ears. Join me in the confessional.”

Kiora had never participated in a confession, so she followed the Reverend to a curious-looking booth. He gestured Kiora to enter one side while he slipped into the other. Both drew the purple curtains over the openings and sat on the small benches inside. Kiora thought the wood was unusually hard and uncomfortable. She stared into the tiny rectangular slit in the wall before her and found the Reverend looking back at her. She could tell he was wearing some sort of lenses in his eyes.

“What is it that you needed to talk about?”

“Chris thinks that I need counselling, after I had a problem with keeping myself under control during practice today. Chris won’t listen to me now though, so…”

“What sort of thing caused you to lose control?”

“I’m not really sure. I just felt…angry, and frustrated as I kept missing the dummy.”

“Anger?”

“I…had a small argument the other night with a friend, so maybe I was still bothered by it.”

His eyes seemed to light up. “Well that doesn’t sound too complicated. I’m surprised Chris would refer a student to me for counselling for such a small thing. I take it the conflict won’t be much of an issue, and you’ll be better able to control yourself in the future?”

“Oh, yes, of course. So, do you think I should be fine once I get over it? I can take my lessons again? I promise it won’t take more than tonight.”

“I’m sure you can do so if that is the case.”

“Thank you, Reverend.” Kiora was going to leave but she had one more question. “If I need someone to talk to again, will you be there to listen? And will you let Chris know I’m fine?”

“Of course.”

“Thank you again.”

Kiora departed the temple and the guild grounds, starting on her long way home. There was already a light sprinkle developing, and she did not wish to catch a cold, or worse. Leaving so early today, she could get home around eight or nine instead of eleven. The thought of spending time in the shopping district of the city appealed to her however, even if she were wet and cold. She let her desire get the better of her today.

While the Reverend was skimming through his tome again, Chris entered the temple, half an hour after Kiora had left. He would not usually be here, but today was different, and he was curious if Kiora had taken his advice.

“She did, Chris,” Reverend Sephirus confirmed, setting a red ribbon between the pages and closing the book. He motioned for himself and Chris to head to the confessional to talk more privately. They continued talking quietly. “She told me she is not an official student but is learning under your tutelage. What has the Grandmaster been saying?”

Chris made sure the curtain was safely fastened. “Recently, she instructed me to not involve myself with Kiora’s life outside the guild more so than necessary. In other words, I can only teach her our discipline and hope that it helps her. That’s why I sent her to you, Reverend Sephirus. I hope you do not mind my doing so, it’s all I could think of to help her now. Otherwise I would have disobeyed the Grandmaster by helping her myself.”

“You must be well aware of the girl’s stubbornness and disillusionment, then. She told me her anger was due to an insignificant argument with a friend—but my eyes knew better than that. Chris, this is not a simple matter. She is hiding from something—perhaps many things and she is afraid to open up fully to anyone. We cannot improve her state unless she consciously chooses to be free and seeks real help.”

“I’m worried she may never do that. I’m worried she will be forbidden from coming here anymore. The Grandmaster will not want any student to misuse the ways of the swordclerics for any reason. I just…”

The Reverend raised an eyebrow. “What is it?”

“I felt I had made progress with her yesterday. I shared my perspective of the world, trying to make her feel comfortable in sharing hers, or at least more comfortable around me, so she wouldn’t have to just copy me listlessly. She listened—she even gave me an idea of how she saw things. But now, I’m not allowed to pursue that.” Chris clenched his teeth, but not visibly so. “I don’t believe the Grandmaster’s ways are appropriate, if our mission is to help and teach those who need it and desire it.”

“Chris, I don’t need to remind you, but you should be careful.”

“I know.

“Reverend Sephirus, I need you to be there for Kiora—listen and try to find out what is wrong. I need you to tell me anything that you learn. Please.”

The Reverend smiled. “I already promised her that.”

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Scene 6: Window Shopping

♫Wet Streets♫

Kiora would hide the majority of her hair within her bandanna whenever she went into the city, and put on her grey knit poncho. Not too many people paid attention to her, but she wanted to be a little safe with her identity, and try not to offend anyone either with her readily apparent poverty. Most individuals that were out walking the streets were human and very few Deva. Vehicles kicked up small sprays of oily water as they strolled down the boulevards. Kiora turned down a specific avenue, where there were several clothing shops she liked to visit. Every colorful outfit attracted her eye, especially those with intricate patterns or material combinations. The portion of Mick’s gift she carried in her small pouch could afford something if she really wanted it. She still wasn’t sure what do with the gold, however. Often she pondered over paying the fees to become a real student at the guild; but then she would think about home and the miserable life there that could be improved at least in little ways. Sometimes even the thought of getting the resources to secure a job drifted into her mind.

Kiora shook her head. A passerby human female noticed but didn’t say anything.

Not a real job, never a real job. She wished she could. She never went to any school or worked at anything besides taking care of the shack or being a lowly thief and criminal; and she was done with that past.

After a half hour of window shopping, Kiora decided that it was time to go home. Her clothes were nearly soaked and the cold was seeping in through her leather boots and holy socks. The once sprinkle was now a proper downpour, and people were trudging about in raincoats and boots. Kiora viewed herself in a puddle on the sidewalk. The image was dark but she could make herself out. What she saw in the reflection was at first just her normal self, drenched with clinging clothes. Then she saw an ugly, large street rat as her silhouette. She angrily stepped in the puddle.

Suddenly she heard a squeak and scuffling in the alleyway to her left. She glanced over as a real rat scurried out and across the street. Kiora sighed, and then looked at the large window of the store that was next to the alleyway. In the display there was an antique long sword sheathed in a scabbard, dangling from a weapons rack; but next to it was a mannequin dressed with an elegant green and gold military overcoat. It had perfect proportions, lines, buttons, and cuffs, and Kiora was enthralled with its beauty. The memory of Chris leveling his rapier at Kiora suddenly flashed in her mind.

The store bell rang once, then twice.

/end ♫

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Scene 7: Mirroring

“What is that?” Sam queried.

“I needed a new coat,” Kiora responded, hurrying to the bedroom. Rolf and Sam watched her curiously from the couch.

“I guess if that’s how you want to spend it that’s your choice. Rolf and I have a much better idea.”

“I’ll hear it in a minute.”

Kiora closed the door behind herself. Before hiding the coat away, she unfurled it from its bundled shape and held it up. It was immaculate in its condition, though slightly damp now despite her attempt to protect it from the rain. Kiora wondered just how old the overcoat was. She brought it close and smelled the fabric. The scent was indescribable but certainly aged, and not at all unpleasant—in fact Kiora quite liked it.

The coat was rather heavy on her shoulders, and the tails touched the floor. Kiora clearly couldn’t wear it herself, so there would be no point in reconsidering her decision and keeping it for herself. From under the bed, she pulled out a medium-sized mirror and propped it up against the wall.

There was not a street rat in the mirror, but simply a disheveled-looking girl in a uniform. Kiora held up her imaginary rapier and slowly pointed it at herself. She began to start seeing what she wanted to see. Her shoulders straightened, feet spread apart in parallel, eyes focused. She stared deep into her own pupils…

Pounding at the door nearly startled Kiora. Quickly but carefully she folded the coat and put everything away.

“Are you joining us today?” Sam asked impatiently.

Kiora opened the door and shut it behind herself.

“What did you have in mind?” Kiora inquired in turn.

“To celebrate we were going to Romas’s. We’re just waiting for Mick. You remember Romas’s, don’t you?” Her eyes smiled coolly.

Kiora did. She felt uneasy at the thought of going there after so long, and after swearing off her roguish activities. She didn’t want to go. The mirror in the bedroom came to mind.

“Kiora, you need to loosen up,” Rolf said. “And this isn’t going to tarnish you or some crap. We all just want to have fun and enjoy ourselves.”

Rolf sparked something inside Kiora. The memory of Mick’s conversation from earlier this morning surfaced. Kiora gazed at these two people and thought about how long she had been in their company. Then something else seemed to slip through. Chris’ voice distantly repeated in her mind, about the filters and experiences in life.

“Okay,” Kiora agreed simply. Rolf blinked blankly at her. “But I’m not going to get rowdy like the rest of you. There better be a card game or I’ll get bored.” Sam laughed, but Rolf was still confused. Kiora managed a small but pleasant smile.

The three of them sat down on the couch and waited for Mick, Sam talking excitedly and Rolf slowly growing warmer to the situation. He would laugh and jab Kiora playfully every once in a while when she said something. When Mick arrived, he was surprised to find everyone in good spirits and hanging out together. Sam hopped up, ready to go out into the night life. Rolf joined, and then extended his hand out to Kiora. She almost hesitated, but pushed herself to take hold. Rolf grinned, launching her up surprisingly fast and forcefully while laughing. Kiora stumbled but Rolf still clasped her hand tight and righted her.

Mick was visibly pleased, with his old charming smile shedding those added years he bore.

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Scene 8: Romas’ Boutique

♫[Inspiration] 20% Cooler♫

It had not let up, the rain. But the four of them didn’t much care. It was a great night out with the wind wailing and the lights ablaze in the streets and no one around to disturb them.

The neon sign flickered outside the building they were all rushing toward, spelling out bits and pieces of its namesake: “Romas’ Boutique.” It wasn’t anywhere near the other boutiques of the city, and it didn’t see a lot of business. Most folks living near the city limits cared more about practicality than fashion. Kiora, Rolf, and Sam paused under the canopy while Mick went into the adjoining backstreet. Kiora peered into the darkness of the store and saw many of the same clothes in the same place they were first displayed.

Mick returned shortly and motioned everyone to follow. The four hurried into the alley and over to a section of the building’s wall. Mick knocked on it in a specific rhythm, then backed away as the wall slowly swung open in a door shape, grating along the ground quite a bit; but the roar of the rain and wind masked it quite well. When it was fully ajar, they could see a very tall, broad-shouldered man smiling merrily at them, his immense hand on the metal handle of the wall. He wore tidy brown trousers with suspenders, and a darker brown vest over his collared white shirt. He waved them in, and heaved the stone door shut. Inside it was very dimly lit by the ember ends of cigarettes.

Here, the four of them had a name.

“Uncover those lamps, gentlemen,” the large man announced. “We have our old friends the Black Gulls with us.”

Lights grew from inside oil lamps placed on the several tables, illuminating the little hole-in-the-wall that was Romas’ secret bar. Three different groups of humans were sitting at the tables, staring at the Black Gulls. Kiora recognized two of the groups—Golden Glow and Toxic Ring. The other four making up the last group were unfamiliar, hiding under purple cloak and hood.

“Mick, it has been such a long time,” the man began, leading the Black Gulls to the empty table. The others looked interested in them, except the strangers. “I worried you had forgotten little old me.”

“Romas, I don’t forget about my friends,” Mick replied. “Especially not someone with such a big heart as you.”

“You’re too kind,” Romas laughed. He looked down at Kiora, who sat down on one of the stools. “You look different every time I see you, Kiora—but always so pretty.” Kiora smiled up at him. She recalled the times when Romas made her wear his handmade dresses around the boutique, and then realized her poncho was a gift he gave her more than five years ago.

“So, what would everyone like from Romas today?” he implored. “The selection is all the same, but I do have something new. I call it the ‘pomegranitini.’”

Sam’s eyes lit up. “That’s a drink for me!”

“I thought so,” Romas said with a chuckle. “What about you, Rolf?”

“I’d like your hardest apple cider.”

“Ah, Rolf is finally one of the big men,” Romas teased. “Finally outgrew your hot chocolate days, Rolfie?”

Rolf was visibly miffed. Sam giggled. Even Kiora grinned a little. Rolf retorted, “Don’t ever call me that, I’m not some dumbass kid. And make that cider as hard as you can!” Sam burst out with a loud, throaty laugh. “Shut up, Sam, you and your stupid pomegranwhatever.”

Romas was ready for Kiora’s order. She seemed a little reluctant. “I just…want a hot chocolate, actually,” she said half-heartedly. A strange expression fell on Rolf’s face. It lingered there for only a moment until he rolled his eyes.

“Romas, make it hard for her, too.”

“I don’t really—” Kiora started.

“Kiora, you’ve never had a drink in your whole stinkin’ life, one night won’t kill you. You have to give it a try.”

Kiora sighed. She found the warm spark of clarity in her mind and caught it. “Okay, a hot chocolate with some vodka—but not a lot.”

“As you wish,” Romas complied.

“And just your homebrew beer, Romas,” Mick said. “I’ve been missing it.”

Romas beamed. “Wonderful! I’ll make them quicker than you can say ‘Jock Robin!’ Make yourselves comfortable!” Romas strode to the bar and started on the drinks, blissfully whistling to himself.

“Where have you been?” said a gruff voice. It came from the Golden Glow group, and the owner of the voice cocked his head, glinting at Mick.

“Cooped up too long,” Mick replied. “How’s the old man?”

“Fit as a fiddle that he is. He’s pleased with our work. We might be leaving here pretty soon, actually. This may be our last seeing you, you know.” The gold tooth in his mouth reflected a flickering flame from an oil lamp. “We were hoping to see some action here as a last hoorah. Olive and I are gonna start a little poker. Would you like in?”

“You’re on,” Rolf answered for Mick. He grabbed Kiora’s hand. “Here’s the card game you wanted—let’s beat ‘em and have some fun.”

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

Scene 9: Igrim

The oil burned through the increasingly darker and louder night as hand after hand was played on the sticky, joined tables in the bar. Smiles leapt from face to face as others gasped and howled in dismay, soon to be drowned in liquor and brought back to vigorous life. Piles of gold passed back and forth, growing and shrinking. Rolf leaned in over Kiora’s shoulder, staring at her cards. “That, go with that, definitely,” he’d say, poking the cards. Kiora would protest but he’d just laugh. She wasn’t so bad at this game on her own, but there were other games she was far better at.

The hot chocolate hardly had the taste of alcohol, and Kiora began to forget she was drinking any at all. Romas supplied her with a third mug without having been asked but she drank it anyway. Her mood was beginning to shift and unconsciously she was acting like her old self. Thunder boomed outside; thunderous shouts boomed inside. Kiora had just won another hand and collected the massive pile of gold and assorted trinkets. “No one’s gonna beat Kiora now!” Rolf exclaimed, patting her on the back and taking a mighty gulp of his cider.

“All right, you’ve won it,” Olive, leader of the Toxic Ring, announced. “You earned it even with that cheerleader of yours. He seemed too drunk to give good advice anyway.” She winked at them.

Everyone disbanded the game and started up new conversations. Mick and Romas were busy catching up and seemed the most sober out of everyone. That is, excluding the four strangers, still off by themselves, unmoving and silent. All they had done was shake their heads at the offer of company and play. Kiora was curious of them. They wouldn’t be here unless they knew Romas, and were criminals just like everyone else here; otherwise they wouldn’t have been let in. But for them to be so alienated would have to mean they were either very new or very rude. Friendliness was a sort of rule in Romas’ bar.

Rolf was already at their table before Kiora was cognizant of herself staring at them. Quickly she stumbled after Rolf.

“Hey,” Rolf said, placing his hand on the table. “What’s up?”

They didn’t respond. Kiora stepped up next to Rolf, and in the strange, quiet atmosphere of their presence she became grudgingly aware of her inebriated state. “Sorry,” she said. “We didn’t want to bother you, but I don’t think we’ve met before. My name is Kiora.”

Still, nothing. “They’re the bothersome ones,” Rolf growled, withdrawing his hand and clenching it into a sloppy fist. “You’re s’posed to be friendly around here, you weirdos.”

Some attention was being paid at the awkward situation developing on the other side of the bar, between the strangers and two Black Gulls. Romas perked up in the middle of one of Mick’s stories.

“It’s fine, we’ll just leave you alone,” Kiora reasoned. She tugged on Rolf’s shirt sleeve but he didn’t budge. “Rolf, we don’t need to—”

“Like hell, they should be the ones leaving, not us.”

The head of one of the figures lifted up a bit.

“What do you need, some stupid magic words? How about ‘please?’ Yeah?”

“That’s about enough,” Romas intoned, grabbing Rolf by the shoulders. Romas could easily pop Rolf’s arms with his massive paws. Rolf jumped a little, alarmed by the sudden weight on him. “You’re being awfully rude to my guests. I don’t want to leave you waiting outside in the storm, Rolf.”

Rolf opted to stare angrily at the strangers, ignoring Romas. The figure that had lifted his head earlier slowly turned to face Rolf. His skin was a dark brown and his eyes a gold-ish color.

“I have a proposition,” the stranger said, his voice richly but disturbingly deep. Everyone was now curious, their eyes fixed on the encounter. “Let this Kiora play a game with me. If she wins, you and your companions stay and we leave. If I win, you leave, and we stay.”

“What game?” Kiora asked.

“It is called Igrim, where I come from.”

“I am not familiar with it.”

“I will teach you, if you agree to the proposition.”

Even though Kiora didn’t believe that Rolf or herself and the others would be thrown out if she refused, she knew this interaction mattered. And it was only a game, a friendly game if things progressed well enough. She just hoped she won, so she wouldn’t be the one responsible for ruining the night’s fun. The man must have chosen her over Rolf because she won the poker tournament, Kiora thought to herself.

“I agree.”

“Good. Sit across from me.”

The cloaked figure in the seat opposite of the man rose and stood up against the wall. Kiora took the open spot and waited as everyone gathered around the table. The man took out a deck of rather interesting playing cards. They were as wide as his palms and as tall as his hand height. Symbols adorned the backs of each one in what looked like silver leaf; they stood out against the deep purple of the background. The symbols were not at all familiar to Kiora, but the one in the center that was always the same she would remember. It was a seven-sided star within a circle.

“There are no kings, queens, jacks, or twos,” he explained, removing said cards from the deck, “nor is the ace of spades used. Aces are the most powerful, followed by tens, then nines, and so on. We are each dealt six cards in pairs of three. Each round we play one card. Whoever leads determines the suit of power for that round, and if the next person has a card of that suit, they must play it, otherwise throw off any card. Whoever wins the round leads the next.”

Kiora was familiar with a game very similar to this, one that she grew up playing. Often her father, Mick, Romas, and she would challenge each other to the game. Kiora hadn’t played the game since her father died. She felt her head throb painfully. The alcohol was messing with her, she thought.

“Winning a round earns no points. The last round decides who wins and who loses.”

This was different from that old game she played. Her strategy used to be to win every round that she could, since winning a majority of rounds in a single hand was how one earned points. Now she wasn’t sure what strategy to use.

“We will play to one point.”

“That’s not fair,” Rolf remarked.

“I think she can trust her instincts,” the man stated.

He cut the deck after shuffling, and dealt each of them two pairs of three cards. Kiora could keep face, but she cringed on the inside. A ten of diamonds; a nine of spades; an eight of hearts; a five of spades; a three of clubs; and a three of hearts. It wasn’t exactly the best hand.

“I will allow you to lead the first round. You have two minutes to play your card.”

Kiora didn’t see any watch or hourglass anywhere, but she assumed he was serious. She wanted to bleed him out of a strong card, but she didn’t know what to do after that. Giving him the lead would certainly put herself at a disadvantage. The man knew the game well and would be able to draw her out in his favor. Kiora closed her eyes. Sometimes chance is the best way to begin. She shuffled her cards in her hand and then at random selected one. The man frowned. She placed it in the middle of the table, revealing it: the ten of diamonds, her strongest card. Kiora waited to see the man’s reaction, but the man’s frown had disappeared. He played his card—the ace of diamonds, trumping her. Rolf groaned.

“I will now lead.”

The eight of spades stared up at Kiora. Her choice of card was now limited to only the nine or five of spades, but she was clueless as to which one to pick over the other. Kiora fell back on her old instinctual play style and trumped his eight of spades with her nine. The man looked knowingly at her. She said nothing, planning her next move.

After a minute of contemplation, Kiora placed her card. The man almost smiled. There were some confused murmurings around the table. Kiora had played her three of hearts. Rolf looked on heatedly, drinking his cider, having been let off by Romas for the meantime. He might as well finish it before they were going to be kicked out over a stupid game with some creep. The man responded with an ace of hearts, trumping her again. Three rounds remained.

“You have done well so far.”

“Thank you,” Kiora replied. “I wouldn’t mind playing this again once we’re finished, if you don’t mind.”

“This is not a game of friendship.”

Kiora wouldn’t try any further to alleviate the tension. This was purely a contractual arrangement to resolve present and future encounters.

“You may have done well, but you will lose. And you will leave with your petulant friend.”

That irked Kiora.

“We’ll see about that.”

The man lightly set his six of clubs down. Kiora had to play her lowly three of clubs, and the man kept the lead. Next he played a ten of spades, which Kiora lost to with her five of spades. Suddenly the game was down to the final round, and Kiora was not so confident in herself. The man grinned slightly as he played his nine of clubs. Kiora’s eight of hearts counted for nothing. Rolf downed his mug and burped rudely, smacking it down on the table.

Unflinchingly, the man said, “The game is over. You lose.”

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

Scene 10: Keeping Warm

Everyone was silent on the way home, even Sam, who would usually be rambling on when drunk. After swearing at the strangers Rolf didn’t feel much like talking either. Mick looked older again, but Kiora wasn’t sure if it necessarily had to do with the debacle; the one that she felt guilty about. The black clouds in their minds started to match those of the sky, and the terrible weather was deafening with its surging gales and thunder. Kiora was beginning to worry if things were going to get any worse.

Sam grew tired of sticking with the group and began sprinting ahead. Her boots splashed through the river that was the street. Mick picked up his pace, too. Kiora and Rolf lagged behind. Kiora’s teeth were chattering and her body ached from the cold. Perhaps she should have worn the coat anyway…

A warmth spread through her as Kiora looked over at Rolf, who clasped his arm around her. He was trying to keep her warm by rubbing her arms and holding her close. “Thank you,” Kiora said, hoping he heard her over the wind. He didn’t make any indication of acknowledgement, just kept his face in a permanent half-scowl. There was a flash of lightning ahead of them, and three seconds later the thunder hit their ears.

She was miserable. Everyone was miserable. They could have been back at Romas’, spending the night in warmth that neither the outside nor the shack could offer, in the company of others who similarly shared their way of life. Instead she lost a game to someone who never even shared their name and never wished to share the same space again.

It was only a few hours before the sun would be up when everyone was together in the shack. Mick and Sam were already retired to their room. Rolf let go of Kiora as she secured the door from the outside elements. Water was spilling in through the hole in the roof, collecting in a bucket Mick left out. It was already a quarter of the way full. Kiora dumped the contents outside and then replaced it, laying some rags around the general area.

Rolf was already resting on the couch, or pretending to at least. Kiora rocked him. His eyes flashed in annoyance. “You can have the room tonight,” Kiora said.

He scoffed. “This is where I belong, isn’t it?”

Kiora remembered saying something similar last night, and another layer of guilt settled upon her. She shook her head at him, insisting. Rolf rolled his eyes and turned his back to her. He pretended to ignore Kiora, but gave up when she refused to leave him alone. Angrily he got up and went into the bedroom. Kiora took his spot and closed her eyes, hugging herself tightly. She was exhausted and still cold, but sleep would visit eventually, she knew. Tomorrow Kiora would go back to the guild again, but she wouldn’t stay long. She had to—

Something heavy and warm was draped over her. For a second time, Kiora found Rolf there, standing over her, the overcoat she had hidden in the bedroom covering her body. Her bewildered eyes met his. She couldn’t make out the thoughts swirling about in his head. Whatever was on his mind, he chose not to share it, and dragged himself back into the bedroom.

Kiora didn’t cry. She didn’t think or worry. She simply fell into a deep sleep.

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

Scene 11: Who are You

The weather had calmed down substantially in the late morning. Luckily the shack wasn’t flooded much at all, just a small puddle near the over-filled bucket and by the front door. Small droplets still fell from the sky and everything was a dull grey overcast. Kiora stretched, the coat sliding between her and the old couch. Her clothes were still quite damp but she didn’t care. A proper rain jacket could be bought cheaply on the way to the guild. There was a laundromat nearby as well. Yes, she thought, she’ll do laundry for everyone, to make up for last night.

Sam and Mick were gone. Kiora assumed Rolf had left too, but she found the bedroom door locked. Rolf’s voice traveled through the small cracks in the wood. “What is it?”

“I’m going to the laundromat today,” she answered. She already had Mick’s and Sam’s clothes in a sack. The door jerked open, and Rolf slumped back onto the mattress. Luckily he was already in his lounging clothes. Kiora gathered up the soaking shirts, pants, and socks scattered about and tossed them into the sack. She had finished, but lingered in the room, gazing over the walls, floor, and ceiling. Rolf sensed she hadn’t left and sat up. His black hair was especially scraggly and his blue eyes unfocused. He rubbed his forehead as he looked at her. Unlike Rolf, Kiora hadn’t experienced much of a hangover.

“I’m sorry I ruined the fun last night,” Kiora apologized. She stared at the foot of the bed frame. She wasn’t sure about continuing or ending the interaction.

“Not your fault, dummy,” he replied groggily. “Not everything’s about you and your feelings of achievement, or whatever.” He paused, blinking slowly. “You’re different. You’re always trying to be different every damn day in this lame life. I don’t get it. Who the hell is Kiora?”

♫Who are You?♫

The question struck her, but the memory of the words fell apart in her consciousness—their meaning had no content. Kiora stood there, bag in hand, staring at a floorboard. She focused on the pattern of the grain in the wood and counted the distinct lines. Rolf was unaware of the blankness of her expression with his inhibited perception.

“Whatever. Least I know who the hell I am.”

She recovered her senses enough to leave the room and close the door. In a daze she strode to the sofa. The overcoat was rumpled up between the cushion and backing. She froze. In a sudden flurry she extracted the coat and folded it as straight as she could, then delicately laid it on the rest of the clothes in her bag.

Rolf returned to his slumber, trying to sleep off the headache and problems. Kiora simply walked away.

/end ♫

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Scene 12: The Present

Chris was meditating in the courtyard, following his normal routine. His practice went by nearly effortlessly and without distraction. Neither the rain nor any element could upset his concentration. The glow of his inner divinity and calm emanated outside his body in the form of stable wavelengths; it had been some time since Chris was able to manifest his force so strongly and clear.

Breaking through his composure arose the memory of disarming Kiora of her rapier. The wavelength fluctuated and then dispersed as Chris ended his meditation.

The difference was that Kiora was not present today.

It would do no good to continue his meditation without resolving his mind. He began his own form of introspection and self-therapy, identifying causes of his internal conflict and trying to consider the whole of the situation. It was clearly related to Kiora. She had been triggering past memories and worldviews he studied some time ago; she had tested his self-control and dedication to mastering the way of the swordclerics. Except that the guild’s way is not the only way, he thought to himself. He tried to dispel the rising anger and frustration, and to divert to his philosophy.

That’s when Kiora stepped into the courtyard.

Chris could instantly perceive a difference in her demeanor. As usual it was a mix of conflicting emotions, but they were not all negative. Kiora stood straighter and seemed more confident, her hands behind her back. She was wearing a new rain jacket as well.

“I’m sorry, am I disturbing you?” she inquired.

“No,” he answered. “Are you here to meditate?”

“I’m busy today, actually. I would have been here earlier otherwise. I promise tomorrow I will be here on time and ready.” She paused after remembering the event from yesterday. “I made a lot of progress with my friend last night; we apologized and played some poker together, like old times.” Chris wasn’t as sensitive to truth-telling as Reverend Sephirus, but he felt certain Kiora was genuine, even if it did not answer to the other issues surrounding her life. “I hope you will let me try practicing my control again.” Chris wished he knew what else was happening with her, but he could settle for this. The Grandmaster would have to as well if Chris was questioned.

“We will begin again,” he promised. Kiora smiled, relieved. She descended from the balcony down the stairs and strode over to Chris. A present was in her arms, which she had been hiding previously behind herself. Chris had a puzzled look on his face.

“I found something when shopping yesterday,” Kiora began. “I figured that, for helping me as my mentor, I could thank you with something special.” Kiora felt her fever flushing her face again. This wasn’t a good time to start developing something, she told herself.

Chris lifted the present from her outstretched arms. He led her back to the balcony where they could get some shelter from the shower. He studied the wrapped package, noting the choice of multicolored, patterned paper and the graceful bow. Whatever was inside seemed somewhat heavy. Curious, he removed the wrapping without tearing it, revealing a very simple cardboard box. He pushed back the flaps. Slowly with rapt attention they watched as he set the box down and lifted the contents up before him. The overcoat had been run through a dryer lightly to remove its dampness and wrinkles, and so Chris stared at it in all its glory.

“Kiora…” Chris trailed. “You didn’t…”

This was quality unlike any he had seen, an antique going back many years, before fashion had been subjected to industrialization. Whoever created this was master of his art, every detail in place within its grand design. This had to have belonged to some very powerful and wealthy military officer in its previous life.

Chris, still quite clearly astounded, handed it to Kiora. Her face fell as she grabbed ahold of it, but then realized that Chris was removing his own coat. He set it aside on the railing, and Kiora handed back the overcoat. She watched eagerly as his arms slid into the sleeves and he adjusted the collar. A numbness began to spread from her fingers and toes and she felt sick and hot.

Chris buttoned the last bit, and looked directly at Kiora.

It was perfect.

“Kiora, this is—”

He stopped mid-sentence after realizing what was wrong. He caught Kiora before she collapsed on the stone brick. Her forehead was burning and she was barely conscious. Kiora kept staring at Chris, gaping with words that wouldn’t free themselves. Chris was trying to communicate with her but she was no longer in control of her sensory faculties. Whiteness creeped around her vision, closing in on Chris in blotches akin to paint splattering on a canvas.

Everything turned white.

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Scene 13: Bedridden

Kiora awoke to the sound of a door closing somewhere in her vicinity. Though she was only beginning to become aware of the world, she did not feel this place was her home. Everything was unfamiliar, and she began to feel anxious. She sat up, alarmed at the aching in her joints and neck. Kiora put a hand to her forehead and groaned. She had definitely come down with something.

The bed was quite a bit bigger than the one from home, and the sheets and comforter were light and fluffy. The room was large enough for the bed, as well as a dresser, bookshelf, and desk with chair. It was not an immediately hostile environment, but still unfamiliar, and Kiora did not like being constrained here. Ignoring her aches, she slid her legs out from under the blankets and made to stand. Instead, she ended up tripping over herself when her stomach suddenly lurched. Hot, slimy chunks flooded her throat and mouth. She held it in, her cheeks bulging. She managed to crawl over to a garbage bin and proceeded to purge herself. The upheavals made her back weak with pain. This was hardly a condition in which to enact an escape. Kiora spat out the rest in her mouth and shuddered. There were unpleasant chills now travelling through her. She sat back and drew in her legs to her chest, rocking to and fro. She had to calm herself.

After some time, Kiora made an attempt to stand. Her will overrode her debilitating condition, for now. She cautiously held down the latch of the door to the room and pushed it open, just a sliver. All she saw was the wall of what she assumed was a hallway. She opened it further. There was a door at the end of the corridor and sconces on the walls, keeping everything lit. At last, the style provided some degree of familiarity. She may be in the guild house, Kiora realized. It occurred to her that the last thing she remembered was Chris putting on his new coat at the courtyard. She hoped he had just taken her to a safe room to rest and had left for a good reason. Would he return?

Kiora stepped into the hall, noting several other doors that may possibly be bedrooms of guild members. There was no other exit but the one at the end that she already identified. Quietly she snuck up to it, just now realizing her boots were missing from her feet. Kiora couldn’t recall if they were in the room or not; but she pressed on anyway.

The latch of this door appeared significantly noisier. Kiora tried to imagine the best way to lift it, where and when and how much pressure to use. With the simulation locked in her mind, she attempted to replicate it.

Unfortunately, it had its own lock in place. Kiora lifted and made little progress. She sighed and let go. Kiora had the dexterity to attempt to pick the lock, but nothing with which to do it. The lockpicks she used to have on hand were at home, out of her roguish grasp.

Her will weakened, and Kiora felt herself hunch over. Dejected, she walked back to the room, closing the door. Before going to the bed, she took the time to scan more of the area’s contents. She started with the top of the dresser. There was a wooden carving of a very long dragon displayed. It wasn’t depicted with any sort of power or ferocity—it evoked charm and grace.

She turned her attention over to the bookshelf next. There were books packed on every shelf, but neatly and orderly. Many were reference books and school books in varying subjects, as well as treatises and original works from philosophers and theologians. Kiora couldn’t understand the titles and regretted her non-academic upbringing. She was happy to find a book that had something to do with the guild, indicating that she was likely in safe company after all.

The desk was mostly bare, with the expected ink, quill, and parchment. Kiora reflected on the fact that the guild often rejected using technology for any aspect of duty or even daily living. She was perfectly comfortable with that, too. Yet she often wondered what it would be like living in a world that demanded sleek and efficient precision using such well-designed machines.

Her body decided it had had enough with the snooping. Kiora trudged over to the bed and settled herself in. Though the treatment was much better than what she expected most her life, she was uncomfortable and lost. She stopped thinking, trying not to make herself even sicker than she already was.

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Kiora

Voyage Auburn_Evans