Fault, Blame, Forgiveness

Title: Fault, Blame, Forgiveness
Time Period: January 26, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: Jain receives medical attention in Dornie and Forge discovers a secret.

Reports from the expedition came in well before the patient. Before he even crossed her threshold, carried by two other militia men, Aislinn Rowntree knew that she had Jain MacCruimein's life in her hands. Pale skin, shimmering with perspiration, looked almost ethereal when he was deposited into her care. His clothing is soaked, tartan in tatters, rawhide leggings ruined, claymore and shield dropped unceremoniously and slid into a corner. Everyone knew that he wasn't expected to live.

That was over an hour ago.

The only thing that's changed is the man's life pooling all over her clean floor.

Coiled on the chest of the man, an asp, long body writhing as she gains a better hold. Whenever Aislinn tries to raw near the serpent rears back, mouth open to bear fangs dripping with poison. A warning of do not touch. Traa-dy-Liooar's tongue flickers near her mage's face, the scent of his blood intoxicating. She knows that his life hangs in the balance but she doesn't care. That much is obvious to both Aislinn and Hush.

Aislinn is, if nothing else, true to her word; when she swore to Jain that she would tell no one about his gift or the familiar that comes with it, she intended to keep her promise, and in this instance that involved sending everyone else out of the room so the soldier's companions did not ask after the serpent coiled upon his breast. She wields a straw broom in her small, bloodless hands for what little good it will do.

Even if she manages to sweep the asp off her patient's chest and onto the floor, Traa-dy-Liooar can always change her shape into something larger and angrier, which has Hush more worried than it does Aislinn. He stands on all fours, a winter ermine with his back arched and teeth flashing, ready to intervene and take the snake by the head in his jaws before the snake can catch Aislinn's ankle in hers.

"Please," the healer is saying, her voice gone high and taut. "He'll die."

The immediate answer is a hiss and a strike toward the healer. The familiar misses, on purpose, not near enough to actually reach Aislinn but she does come close enough to feel the wind of the broom. Traa-dy-Liooar has been fighting for longer than the physician or her ermine have been alive, at least a year or so. Her thick form winds around itself, undulating over the man's body. She's not a constrictor or she might squeeze the last breath out of him herself.

Tell the witch that I would rather see my love dead than have her hands touch him.

The serpent twists its head at the neck until one solitary golden eye faces Hush while the other keeps a careful eye on Aislinn. To emphasize her point, she keeps her head down low against her own body, spitting. He belongs to me.

Your love murdered our daughter, Hush snaps back, dancing into the space between Aislinn and the asp, much softer and silkier than his adversary but no less sinuous and definitely no less quick. He is the last one my lady would want!

And although Hush's lady isn't privy to the words exchanged between familiars, her magic allows her to sense Traa-dy-Liooar's sweltering anger, and this is almost more indimidating than the form she's chosen to communicate her point. The ermine snaps into motion again an instant later and lunges at the asp, poised to hurl her onto the apothecary's wooden floor and go tumbling in a twist of scales and snow-coloured fur.

Not his fault, blame your woman's chosen brother.

She's not used to the length of her selected form. While Traa-dy-Liooar does dodge Hush's initial attack, it's only by a head and neck. Her body slides off of Jain's chest as she wrestles her muscles around the ermine and tries to gain advantage. It comes in the form of a bite. Sinking her fangs into the soft fur, Jain's familiar empties out the whole of her poison sacks, whatever is left after spitting at Aislinn.

They land in the corner, the snake badly bruised in both body and ego, poised over the ermine to make a killing blow.

With the weight of the snake off his chest, Jain is able to take a gurgling breath which pauses the snake, open mouthed over Hush. In a puff of dust the snake is gone, replaced by an animal no less terrifying. A large spider, something not common to the region aside from folklore and rumor, pulls at the fur of the ermine. Broken legs near the back indicate how much she is wounded.

Tell her I will save you if she saves him. If he dies, you die.

Aislinn barks out a scream that goes unheard by the soldiers standing guard at the bottom of the stairs outside. The broom clatters hard to the floor and she crushes both her hands to her mouth to keep from making any more noise than the muffled wail she howls into her fingers. If Hush conveys Traa-dy-Liooar's message to her, then the other familiar does not see it; the ermine's eyelids flutter as he curls backwards and withers, reaching for Aislinn with his front paws, toes splayed and trembling.

Tears flood Aislinn's vision, but she's on her knees regardless and doing as Traa-dy-Liooar instructs.

Jain MacCruimein lives. For the time being.

While Aislinn begins to work on the man, the spider cocoons the ermine, intent on hiding her own handiwork of healing. Which is, nothing at all. Only Traa-dy-Liooar knows exactly how much poison has been put into Hush's system. Enough to paralyze, enough to scare both of them, enough to give her a winning advantage over the woman who could kill her property. Once the ermine is covered completely, the spider disappears and giving way for a black leech to slink between the silken threads, leaving a small trail of its own blood.

She really only wants a little taste.

On the table, Jain convulses, writhing not only from injury but an internal pain brought on by his familiar. He coughs, spitting a fistful of clotted blood from his lips. It slithers down the side of his cheek and into his hair. Green eyes open, catching the watery blue ones over him and he lifts a feeble hand. "Sarah… Sarah you've come back? I thought— I killed you."

"I'm not her," Aislinn says, but without the strength to keep her voice from fraying. It hovers barely above a whisper and shudders when she speaks— or tries to. She takes Jain's hand in tear-streaked fingers smeared with his blood and presses it back to his chest.

Neither does she volunteer her name. What she tells him instead is: "Be still. You're very hurt."

"No, Sarah, I'm sorry… I'm so sorry… she made me… I was broken." Words come between grunts of pain that turn to a outcry of agony when he's done. Floating ribs that were never meant to actually float stick through his skin at odd angles. He's much too far gone to feel that particular set of pains. Taking a deep breath, his grip on the woman's hand strengthens and he pulls her closer. "I heard you screaming in the fire.. you died. Am I dead then? Is it all over?"

Across the room, the cocooned lump has stopped squirming. The black spot underneath the silk, gorged, finally lays still.

The hearing of felines is more finely attuned than the average militia guardsman's. Pelt ruffed against the wind sheering across frozen roofing, Forge swivels his ears and then his head, still for the series of seconds it takes to come to a mutual agreement.

A minute later, a cricket flags black through the boots of the men posted downstairs. The cricket becomes a rat. The rat, upon hauling itself up however many stairs and flat beneath the crack of the door, becomes a cat.

Half behind Aislinn, wiry whiskers shifted round a slow work of tongue past chops at the scent of blood, Forge whisks his tail uncertainly to one side before taking the first cautious step into peering flatly around her.

Aislinn's mouth opens and closes, but she's unable to summon whatever words her throat is desperately trying to draw up from her core. Her eyes squeeze shut and she steadies herself with a thin, hitching breath. Putting Jain's words out of her head is harder when the slowness of her familiar's heartbeat tugs at her attention; she has to stop and scrub the sleeve of her dress across her face before she opens her eyes again, jaw set, and wills her hands to be steady.

She makes the same effort where her breathing is concerned but is markedly less successful. Her shoulders buckle and jump, body quaking with sobs she keeps clamped behind lips pressed into a hard line.

Jain probably deserves some sort of response. It isn't out of spite that Aislinn refuses to give him one. Only when she's finished binding his chest does she turn her head to look at the cat that isn't a just cat.

She bleats a word that sounds like help.

Traa-dy-Liooar is not afraid to kill to get what she wants. Like familiar, like mage, apparently. Once the binding is done, Jain's hand comes up and he grabs blindly for Aislinn's throat. Catching her shirt, he wrings it, trying to fight her, either off or closer. The trembling in his arm makes it hard to determine. A small bead of moisture forms at the corner of one eye and he grits his teeth stubbornly.

"Tell me, tell me you forgive me." It's a demand made in a stronger voice, delirium. Where she's getting weaker with the uncertainty of Hush's status among the living, he's pushed past his threshold. Addled in the mind more than the body, he's unaware of the fate that's befallen the leech in the corner.

The cat (that isn't just) looks Aislinn up and down as Jain reaches to clutch at her, orange eyes not-quite friendly. Help, she says. Where's the fire?

It isn't until his eyes tick down after a daub of silky white that he prowls further into the room, where that daub resolves itself into a kind of giant… cocoon and the source of certain smells becomes apparent. A touch of nose to blood and paw to thickly bound ermine sees the latter rocked over onto its side.

In the same beat he extends his claws to hook into the outermost layer, Forge achieves a look of fascinated horror that a normal cat would be hard-pressed to mimic.

"No," Aislinn moans, speaking either for Sarah or herself, or maybe for the both of them. She's still against Jain, her cardigan bunched in the weave of his fingers, and her own hands clutching feeble at the wrist that holds her now that she has no other use for them.

You don't forgive a man for killing your child, even if he was acting on someone else's orders. Not when you know he enjoyed it.

Hush strains to breathe through his bindings and slivers open one eye to tilt a bleary look up at Forge. He is beyond saying anything at all.

The leech is stuck fast to the ermine's throat, unmoving and limp. It's grown as fat as a large man's thumb on the blood of the ermine before succumbing to wounds of its own, wounds that trickle in thin pink ribbons on white fur.

Jain releases the woman, using the last of his strength to get the ghost away from him. The one that he thinks she is. "Then I'll see you burning in the depths of hell with me." Rolling to his side, he tries to put a leg to the floor to go after her. It buckles at the knee and he falters, not swift enough to catch himself before a fall.

Nice day, Forge greets once he's gotten an idea of how extensive the binding is, talons sunk into a tug that's accompanied by a twist and pull of glossy white fangs. A double-take marks his recognition of the leech once he's rolled the parcelled familiar over again to better secure his grip.

Marking it as the culprit is really just a process of elimination.

Traa's current post is, also — slightly incriminating.

So Forge's fangs go into her, next. Polite enough to limit bite force short of a fatal clamp, he plies her away like a spent bandaid and pins her to the floor beneath hooked claws. A flinch, bristle and glance for the ruckus behind him stalls progress for a few seconds more before he's back to fraying giant tarantula silk without benefit of opposable thumbs.

Up and on her feet, Aislinn staggers backwards and away from Jain until she collides with the table, pitching heavy glass bottles that are too dense to break on impact. In groping for something to hold onto, she tips over a chair and ends up anchoring herself to the table instead. The full extent of the damage is marginal, and she grabs a fistful of her dress to keep from tripping on it as she shifts her focus to where Forge is peeling her familiar out of the spider's webbing.

She gets down on her knees to assist Forge. Her hands have what his paws lack. "Thank you," she's crying, "thank you, thank you—"

While the man lays on the floor limp and unmoving, the leech twitches, but only slightly. It stretches its fat body out, attempting to reach the man on the floor. I'll ki—. Then, as though salt has been poured on it, she shrinks up into a fat ball under the cat's paw. Too weak to change her own form.

The ermine's heart rate is faint but steady, it seems Traa-dy-Liooar didn't do as much damage as she might have led others to believe.

A few rough passes of Forge's tongue rake blood pink fur back from ermine nose and neck once Aislinn's taken over at the bindings. Automatic and practical. A touch impersonal, even, grooming turned meticulously down onto one of his own affected paws before he stoops to take Traa-dy-Liooar's corpus up in his teeth again.

Sticky leech flesh is held without particular care for threats (or nastiness) as the big cat winds his way to a seat on Jain's middle, tail bound thick around his paws. Scarring across his neck and flank mark him as distinct. Also familiar.

Shall I kill her? he asks. Blink twice for no; don't move or say anything at all for yes.

Hush's eye hoods shut again as Aislinn finally finishes freeing him and holds him tight to her chest. Being able to feel his heart beating through his ribs affirms that he'll live, and while he doesn't open his eye to blink again, he must have some way of letting Aislinn know his desires because she answers for him by rising to her feet and picking up one of the fallen bottles from the floor with the hand that isn't cradling Hush.

A quick glance at the label tells her that the leech will be able to survive in its contents. She pops the cork and crouches in front of the cat. "Here."

There is a long moment (doubtless especially long for Traa) wherein Forge looks at the bottle and then at Aislinn without moving. Jasper orange eyes appropriate for his namesake mark distance and intent with a chilly kind of intelligence; a pulse of muscular movement at his jaw clamps firm enough to dribble blood down the soft white of his chin. It patters out a feeble pattern against Jain's trousers. Ermine blood.

Lest we forget.

When no change in heart is immediately forthcoming, he leans forward to deposit blood slug to bottle lip, a hefty paw lifted to bat her blankly in the rest of the way when she gums at the top.

The cork slides back into place with a wet sound. For now, Aislinn deposits Jain's familiar on the seat of a chair not overturned and bends to press a snuffly kiss to the top of Forge's head between his ears.

"You can't tell anyone," she murmurs thickly against his fur. "I made a promise. Please let it be yours too."

Forge's ears flatten and his skull tucks down against the ruff of his neck in anticipation of smooches. There's a hint of a twitch at the blunt end of his tail, displeasure subdued with great effort. She is upset. He is soft. And warm.

Somewhere in the midst of her request, his tongue sneaks out to tab blood cooling sticky around his muzzle in past his teeth. Of course, he agrees. Snitches get stitches. Also, vomiting knowledge of this event would make for some unfortunate implications vis a vis he and his.