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Tundra [center]This northern region of the land had been ice locked for years behind the Dragonspine Mountains. Recently a huge glacier has moved far enough through the mountains to create a pass. With this new trade route open it is now possible to visit this rugged and freezing place where only the strong survive. The winters last for months and months, and summer is not more than an early spring that lasts only a moon before giving way to the cold once again. [/center]

Cracks in the Ice [P]

Joined: October 1st, 2017, 10:31 pm

November 13th, 2017, 5:28 am #1

I'll just walk, I said. It will be fine, I said.

Not for the first time, Irena cursed herself as she dislodged her snow boot from yet another drift. The heavy things felt clumsy and awkward on her feet, her movements impossibly heavy compared to normal. She longed for the light footsteps of her toe shoes, which allowed her to feel every imperfection in the earth beneath her. Instead here she was, shuffling along an ice road, bumbling into every obstacle along the way. Like an idiot.

The road ahead began to wind along the edge of a ravine, and Irena nervously toed the inside edge, her steps close together. The locals of the village where she had last rested had assured her the roads would be clear and relatively safe, but she still found her heart quickening every time the path diverged from a straight line. Not that far from Striberg, now. A few hours. Maybe less. She could spend tonight somewhere warm. Somewhere populated. And most importantly, somewhere new.

The rustling of papers drew her attention, and she whipped around just in time to see several loose pages fluttering along the ground. Grimacing, she eyed the culprit at her side. Her shoulder bag had seen much better days lately, and now it was on it's last legs. The top flap had blown open in the wind, allowing some of its lighter contents to escape. She sighed and began to retrace her steps, pushing the sleeves up her heavy coat up to her elbows. The infernal thing was made for someone much taller, and the fabric hung down past her fingertips most of the time. She didn't want to damage the papers any further by pawing uselessly at them, even as her exposed forearms shivered from the cold.

Luckily, most of the pages were stuck in the ice along the road, only an outlier had strayed from the path. It was perched close to the edge of the ravine, and Irena paled slightly when she noticed it. It's fine. You're not some toddler learning to walk. You can keep your balance while sleepwalking. On a buoy. In a raging storm.

Carefully, she made her slow descent off the road. Taking small, decisive steps, she eventually reached the last paper and plucked it from the ground, triumphant. Gotcha! She smiled, turning her attention to her bag, completely unaware of the ice shifting under her boots. In an instant, one of her legs shot out from under her, the other twisting painfully as she crumpled to the ground. Her whole body started to slide downward towards the yawning mouth of the ravine. Desperately, she flung an arm up, fingers scrabbling for purchase. She was rewarded with the sharp crack of her index finger snapping as she clawed a hand through the ice.

Hissing, she dug her remaining fingers in tighter, the ice and rock grating against the exposed flesh of her forearm. Come on, come on. She prayed, and someone must have been listening. Slowly, painfully, she slid to a stop.
With a groan, she twisted her body and clutched at the ground with her free hand as well. Eventually she was able to make her way back up the incline to the road, where she collapsed onto her back. Weakly, she shifted her head to the side to eye the torn flesh of her right arm, blood already seeping into the fabric of her coat. Not to mention her ruined finger, which she gave up trying to flex after a moment. She sighed and turned towards the sky again, the sun filtering through her closed eyelids.

Well....damn it.

She would have laid there forever, lost in her own thoughts, but after a time she began to hear the slowly approaching crunch of footsteps. Ever alert, she sprang to her feet, left arm cradling it's injured twin. She squinted at the stranger, instantly wary.

"Afternoon. Can I help you with something?"
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Joined: November 12th, 2017, 2:53 am

November 13th, 2017, 6:21 am #2

The tundra was peaceful, and open, a while away from the academy, but worth it for the space. She didn't get to fly Lula here often- and with her condition, the pass was near impossible to walk- but Lula was a falcon, and falcons needed to fly. Her heavy coat, Academy provided, would keep the chill away, even if it bit at her cheeks. But it would take some time to get back to her family's home on the coast, and she wanted to be there for dinner. And, if she stayed out here past sundown she'd end up catching something, and Dimina didn't have time for that. She'd already had to miss a few days of school before the break. She slid a piece of meat between her fingers, and with a whistle and a quick motion, she called Lula home. When her falcon landed on her gloved fist and snatched the piece up, Dimina couldn't help but smile. There was always the risk that she wouldn't come, but Lula had stayed for seven years now. Hopefully, she'd never leave.

"Come on, Lula, let's go home," Dimina said, turning towards the path. It was a short walk to the main road, and after that it was only an hour or so to her village, shorter if she could find a traveling sled.

She turned on to the main road and wandered along for a while, Lula perched on her arm. It was, as always, a pleasant walk despite the cold, and the area was calm as the sea at dawn- and then she saw the girl.

"Afternoon. Can I help you with something?" the girl said.

She couldn't have been much older than Dimina, and she wasn't much taller either- they could have passed for sisters. But she looked exhausted, like she might fall over at any minute, and- oh. She was clutching her left arm, and her sleeve looked damp, and Dimina didn't think fingers were supposed to bend like that.

"No, can I help you?" Dimina replied, taking a tether from her satchel. She slipped it through the jesses on Lula and attached the other end to a low tree branch. "You're hurt. I'm a healer, and we haven't got into much Life magic yet because it's really hard and you have to learn all this anatomy first, but the point is, I can help." She approached the girl, trying to get a better look at her arm.
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Joined: October 1st, 2017, 10:31 pm

November 13th, 2017, 6:42 am #3

Irena shied back instinctively, then felt ridiculous for doing so. It was just a young girl. Irena was most likely the older of the two, but guessing age was one of her weak points. The stranger was smaller, and more frail than Irena was used to seeing a teenager look. She shook her head, scrunching her eyes closed. Stop looking at her like you're going to take her out. If you so much as bared your teeth at her, she'd probably run away screaming.

She opened her eyes again, meeting the other girl's gaze. "I'm fine." She said through gritted teeth. "Never better. I could probably run 10 miles like this." Her arm throbbed at her side, and she could already feel rivulets of blood running down her fingertips to drip onto the ice. She sighed, shoulder sagging. Oh, what the hell. Let the girl play doctor for a bit.

"I didn't mean that. Obviously." Her tone was dejected, her usual swagger blown away in the wind. Hesitantly, she stumbled towards the younger girl, carefully stretching her injured arm out. "If you could patch me up a bit...well, I'd be very grateful." She said softly, afraid of meeting the other girl's eyes after she'd been so rude to start with. You spend too much time with Marion, and not enough time remembering how a functional human being behaves.

Her eyes slid over to the falcon tied close by, watching them both. "That's a nice bird.." Her conversation was stilted, she was going to mess this up. "....did you catch it yourself?" Good job, Irena. Nailed it.
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Joined: November 12th, 2017, 2:53 am

November 13th, 2017, 10:37 am #4

"Oh, um, sort of," she said, taking the girl's arm. "I found Lula when she was just a chick, and she'd fallen out of the nest. She was most likely the runt, and I guess I related. So I brought her home, and we have this animal expert in the village, you know? And she helped me train her and raise her. It took three months just to make sure she wouldn't end up associating humans with food, because then they can get aggressive. I walked around with her whenever I wasn't sick, and when I was the expert or my parents took care of her. Families gave me mice to feed her, and I used those to train her. Eyeasses aren't afraid of humans and they tend to stick around, but I still had to teach her, and-"

Oh. She'd been rambling again. Her parents had told her not to do that when she'd written to them for help on making friends. And the girl was waiting for her, no less, and she looked so tired, barely on her feet. Dimina, embarrassed, returned to her examination and let the silence of the mountains fall over them.

The arm was . . . banged up. Cuts and scratches covered the length of her forearm, and when Dimina poked at her index finger as gently as possible, the look on the girl's face told her it was definitely broken. She pulled back, snatching her hand away. "Oops."

With one last glance at the injuries, Dimina told the girl, "I can fix most of the smaller injuries and stop the bleeding with a quick healing spell, but you've got one deep cut and a broken finger that I can't solve magically. Yet. I'm learning- I'll get it soon."

She paused for a moment, and then swallowed. The way the girl had reacted to her just offering to fix a few of her wounds probably meant she wasn't going to want to stay, but she needed help, and if Dimina could provide it . . . "If you come back to my house, I can help you treat it. And it looks like you could use some rest and a hot meal."
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Joined: October 1st, 2017, 10:31 pm

November 13th, 2017, 3:23 pm #5

Irena groaned internally at the news that the girl couldn't fix all her injuries right away, but then her ears perked up again at the mention of dinner. She couldn't remember the last time a meal had been personally prepared for her, without needing to toss a gold coin on a counter. She shifted her feet, back to clutching her arm now that the girl had released her, weighing her options.

"Yeah.." She started, trailing off. "I guess that would be fine...just don't do anything weird. No leeches or anything I do not consent to leeches."

She shrugged off her coat to allow the girl better access to her arm, bracing herself for something weird anyway. Magical healing was new to her, she was used to chugging a potion whenever she got banged up. There was one in her bag right now, in fact, but she didn't trust it would heal her wounds completely.

As the stranger bent over to take a closer look again, Irena busied herself taking notes on her savior. She was dressed well, very prepared for the weather. Her coat had an almost uniform quality, though. All business, no frills. She remembered the girls earlier words,We haven't gotten into life magic yet.

"If I was a betting person, I would say you are one of those Academy Mages that Striberg is crawling with." Irena drawled, carefully watching the girl for her reaction. "I figured they chained you all to your desks, no time for fun jaunts into the wilderness."

"Not that I'm not grateful you're out here wandering around." She added quickly. "Don't know how I would have limped on to the city on my own. This clearly isn't my finest moment, falling over my own two feet."

She watched the girl for a second longer, head cocked to the side. "What's your name, anyway?"
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Joined: November 12th, 2017, 2:53 am

November 14th, 2017, 4:44 am #6

"I'm Dimina," she said, barely paying attention. The thing about being new to healing magic was that it took more of her concentration and energy than Dimina would have liked. The learning curve was annoyingly steep. She tugged off her falconer's glove

She took the girl's arm in her right hand and gathered magic around her left, until the air around her hand grew warm and began to glow, pulsing softly with a faint light, almost like a heartbeat. She waited, focusing, charging it as much as she could, until finally she felt the spell reach its threshold. There was so much more she could do- Dimina could feel it- but this spell didn't have the capacity and she didn't have the knowledge. Carefully, slowly, she moved her hand up to the beginning of the wound and whispered, "Sane," vowels long and consonants soft. Then, she drew the light down the injuries, watching as skin and blood, flesh and bone, knit together beneath the spell.

When she reached the tips of the fingers, Dimina let the spell go. It might be able to alleviate some of the pain in that broken index, but outside from that she'd done all she could do. Taking a quick breath of the bracing cold air, she exhaled, shaking off the heady aura of magic and returning to her usual self. She tucked a loose strand of brown hair behind her ear, slid on her glove, and went over to release Lula, jabbering all the while.

"I'm so glad you're coming. My family will be so happy I've managed to make a friend, although these are, um, extenuating circumstances. But you need the food, and the rest, and we still have to set that finger and bandage your arm. I've got stuff at home to do that, and-" She thought for a moment. "Leeches shouldn't be necessary. There's no swelling or anything. A lot of people think leeches are disgusting, but they're actually quite useful, and a lot of smaller grafts use them. That's what the Academy's taught me anyway. You were right, you know, I am an Academy student. How'd you tell?"

She finished undoing the tether and tucked it in her bag, calling Lula to her wrist with a flick of the hand. Then, she turned towards the girl, and- wait. She didn't know the girl's name. Dimina was pretty sure you weren't supposed to take someone home without even knowing what to call them.

"Oh, and what's your name?"
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Joined: October 1st, 2017, 10:31 pm

November 15th, 2017, 12:22 am #7

As if transfixed, she watched Dimina at work. There was a strange tugging sensation on her skin as her wounds closed, and a warm energy that radiated from the girl's fingertips. Once the healer released her hold, Irena began to hesitantly turn her arm this way and that, attempting and failing to form her hand into a loose fist.

She was only half listening to Dimina's chatter while she tested her injuries, but she was brought back to reality as soon as the girl mentioned where they were going. Oh my god, she's taking me home to meet her family. Irena was ready to open her mouth and reject the offer when she registered another word Dimina had said. A friend. The younger girl positively beamed at her, reassuring her that leeches wouldn't be necessary.

She thinks I'm her friend. She thinks I'm just a normal traveler. Irena studied Dimina's face while she talked, searching for any signs of deception or falsehood. She found none. It was extremely unlikely that this was a plant to lure her out of hiding. Still, as bad of an idea it would be to get familiar with this stranger, Irena wasn't made of stone. It had been so long since anyone had looked at her as anything other than a nuisance or threat. A friend.

"-know, I am an Academy student. How'd you tell?"

"Hmm?" Irena answered, slow to realize she'd been asked a question. "Oh. Well, you just seem the type. An eager student, I mean." The duo began to slowly walk back down the road, Dimina slowing her stride to allow Irena to keep up. Her leg was painful, but she was fairly certain nothing was broken. It was just a bother.

She hesitated for a moment when Dimina asked for her name, weighing the pros and cons of trying to remember an alias for this whole visit. Eventually she decided in her current state, she couldn't afford the mental strain.

"...Irena." She stated, watching Dimina's face for any flcker of recognition, relieved when she saw none. "How long have you been a student? You seem like you have a pretty good idea of what you're doing."
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Joined: November 12th, 2017, 2:53 am

November 15th, 2017, 5:13 am #8

Dimina smiled. "Thank you. I try. I'm Dimina- but, wait, you already knew that." Whoops. She glanced down the ground and bit her lip.

But she had a name for the girl now. That had to be progress, right?

Irena, she thought, rolling it around her mind. It didn't betray any of her origins, but it was a pretty name. There was an Irene in her village, and maybe she could introduce them, if Irena was feeling up to it. She did seem a bit tired, but a night's rest should take care of that. With some luck, her parents might even be able to convince her to stay until her injuries looked at least a little better.

Meanwhile, to fill the silence, they had conversation. "I've been studying for about five years, but we only recently got into healing. You're actually the first person I've ever treated, aside from the occasional paper cut- it's a relief that worked. I've never heard of a healing spell gone wrong, but I imagine it'd be something like a badly-done graft. Those things are nasty- they tend to get infected, and then they rot, and it would be awful to just walk around with your flesh decaying-" Wait, was she doing that thing where she talked about things and then creeped people out? Oh, no, she probably was. "-um." Uncomfortable silence fell over them, and Dimina cringed internally. She hated silence.

As they wandered down the road, Dimina took care to keep her pace with the girl. She was more used to being the one people were slowing down for, but now she had a patient to worry about. And speaking of that . . .

Dimina tried to look at how Irena was walking, and nearly tripped over her own feet in return. Lula squawked, disgruntled at being disturbed, and she immediately apologized with all the deference due a queen of the skies.

"Here, Lula, let's have you fly off and follow. I'd like to keep checking Irena over, but I need both hands," she whispered.

Dimina sent Lula away with a flick, her call sounding across the sky. She grinned, before her thoughts returned to the girl. She couldn't see much, but it was worrying that the girl was slower than her. They'd have to check that at her village. Until then, however, there was forty-five minutes or so of walking to spend, and she couldn't exactly introduce a complete stranger to her parents.

"So, how did you end up here? What are you coming for?"
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Joined: October 1st, 2017, 10:31 pm

November 16th, 2017, 3:34 am #9

The first person she's ever treated. Fantastic.

Irena gave her injured arm a wary glance. It didn't look in danger of falling (or rotting) off anytime soon. The girl must have some skill, despite her young age. Five years of studying...Irena barely knew how to string a written sentence together five years ago, and here was Dimina, already on the road to learning how to knit bone and skin together again. She felt a momentary flare of jealousy at Dimina's happy fate, before remembering that the girl didn't look all together healthy. As Irena snuck sidelong glances at her traveling companion, she took note of her measured steps, the paper thin quality of her skin, and the delicateness of her features. Is she sick? She seemed healthy enough, wandering so far from civilization and content to talk Irena's ear off.

She grinned slightly as the girl had a whispered conversation with her bird, before releasing the creature to the skies. She had no doubt the bird was probably the usual audience to much of Dimina's chatter, whether willing or unwilling. The girl clearly had a kind heart. Had no one ever taught her not to take home strangers she found on the road? Given, Irena didn't look like the standard ruffian, even with her often disheveled appearance. This had caused many regrets for the people who had taken her as an easy mark over the years.

Dimina asked her another question, this time one that caused her a moment of panic. "What am I doing here?" She paused, stalling for time. Usually only city guards worried about her motives for visiting, and she was often less than polite with her answers.

"I'm visiting my cousin." She began, lies tumbling effortlessly from her lips. "She moved here from Balefire and set up a seamstress shop. I'm here to make sure she's well. The family I was travelling with decided to stay for a time in one of the villages we passed, and I didn't want to keep waiting." That part wasn't a lie, at least. It was easier to keep track if she mixed in a little truth along the way.

Eager to turn the conversation away from herself, she peppered Dimina with questions of her own.

"So we're going to see your family? What do your parents do? Do you live with them, or do you have to stay at the Academy?" Irena had learned over the last couple years that most people Dimina's age still lived with their mother and father, along with a likely flock of siblings.
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Joined: November 12th, 2017, 2:53 am

November 18th, 2017, 6:13 am #10

Dimina nearly sighed in relief. Most people stopped talking after she mentioned rot, but if this girl was responding, that had to be a good sign. But she remembered her parents’ advice: tone it down, Dimina- ask about the other person, Dimina- try to stay away from weird topics, alright, snowflake?

So she swallowed all the easy topics, the ones she could actually talk about, the ones that turned people off, and tried to pretend she actually knew how to act around people.

“I don’t live with them.” I wish, she thought, but explaining that would get way too far into stuff she’d rather forget about 90% of the time. Even if she couldn’t ever forget about it, because breathing was already getting harder, and she’d barely been walking for fifteen minutes, which was just not fair. Honestly, she hated her stupid broken alveoli. If she’d been walking with Lula, her falcon would have squawked until she eventually sat down just to placate her. But Lula was flying off somewhere, and she refused to deal with it now. She had someone to help, and she really didn’t want to lose her new friend. Dimina inhaled as best she could and hoped, irrationally, that it would go away. “I’m visiting, while we’re on break from the Academy, just like you. We can probably help you find your cousin, by the way. When we get back to the village, that is.”

Her answer was shorter than usual, and interspersed with breaths, but that was good, wasn’t it? She was trying not to dominate the conversation, and it meant she could focus on putting one foot in front of the other, plodding along- but, wait, she had to tell Irena about Kenneth.

“I’ve got a baby brother. At home. He’s two years old and he’s adorable. He’s . . . really loud, though. But we love him, and he’s healthy. You’ll like him.”

Dimina stopped talking after that, because conservation of air. It wasn’t fair, and it wasn’t usually this sudden either, and oh gosh, was she coming down with something again? She’d been so careful. But there was nothing she could do against her nonfunctional immune system. She just had to live with it. It was annoying, and infuriating, and she abhorred this stupid body that couldn’t work right, but there was nothing she could do. Congenital disorders can’t be healed. That was the first lesson she’d ever learned about healing- don’t try to heal what won’t ever be fixed, because it’ll kill you. So she’s stuck like this.

Her eyes didn’t leave the ground as they walked. Silence fell over them like rope around her throat; she couldn’t think of any more small talk questions to ask, and the bitter black part of her brain didn’t really want to. She just kept walking, until she started to lose track of how long they had been walking at all. On the upside, she didn’t have to slow down for Irena anymore- it was hard enough just keeping up.

Something felt like it was pushing her down, pushing her back, and it was getting harder to move her feet. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she registered that as being bad, but her brain didn’t feel right. Dimina’s eyes were still on the ground, but it was off, and she tried to blink back her suddenly blurry vision.

And then she realized. She knew what blurry vision meant, and she wanted to reach out to Irena, to warn her or something-

But then the world went black, and Dimina fell like a stone.
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