Dark Holes in the World
Muddied Heartwaters - Chaedi Bluebook Session 74
Chaedi’s ears prick at the sound of her own name. It’s not someone calling for her – not loud enough for that – but it’s not a secret – it’s not a whisper. Oh, it’s Bright’s voice.
“…she talked to me every day, even though I didn’t say anything. It must have been very… weird for her, but she smiled anyway. She always wants to help anyone she can…”
She smiles a bit to herself, but forces herself to stop listening. It’s rude, after all. Still, he’s right: it was weird for her. She’d have done it for anyone: she wanted to welcome people into the village, to play host, and Kerren expected her to anyway. Of course, in Bright’s case there had also been ulterior motives in the beginning. How could she not be interested in such a mysterious and romantic personage? She’d hoped something might come of all her attempts – and, of course, something had, though it wasn’t quite what she’d intended – but the entire process had taken so long that by the end of it she’d felt very differently about him. He wasn’t a mysterious, romantic stranger, in the end. He was scared, and hungry, and difficult even though he didn’t mean to be.
She’s glad she helped, and that it mattered to him. And – her stomach twists oddly – she’s strangely touched by the fondness with which he describes her desire to help others.
De Ban is saying something to her, and she draws her attention back to him, taking a second to get her bearings in the story he’s recounting. He tells her about an agent who crossed the front lines of a battle between two towns under dark of night for several days, delivering letters between two lovers so they could hatch a plan to end the fighting. She listens intently, drawn in by his story-telling, how he raises and lowers his voice, and moves slowly and then quickly, movements and tone matching the pace of the action. At the mention of a possible betrayal, however, she’s reminded to check the ring and she does so. Riii is safe. Her ears twitch again at another name.
“…Lo-Kag helped me learn that not everyone sees how beautiful she is, which doesn’t seem right to me, but… He said I should tell her. So I did! I… she cried, but I think it made her happy. So I’m happy…”
Her stomach twists again. She shouldn’t be listening in but… His words are coming a bit too easily, guided by drink and – because it strikes her abruptly that Bright would not refer to Lo-Kag by name if he was talking to him – a willing ear. She thinks about turning and signalling for him to stop talking, but he sounds…
He sounds happy, actually. And besides, surely interrupting a… love story – of sorts, she supposes – is a social blunder at this particular establishment. She tries to focus on De Ban again and only half manages it, Bright’s words lingering in her mind.
“…not everyone sees how beautiful she is, which doesn’t seem right to me…”
Her cheeks feel hot, and for a moment she’s self-conscious before she realizes that in this form the blinding sunlight seeping through the scars left by Sardona’s nails probably stops people from examining her cheeks too closely.
“… Lo-Kag… said I should tell her…”
She ponders, as she often does with Lo-Kag, two questions simultaneously. First: what in Hell? Second: is that a goliath thing or a Lo-Kag thing? They’re good distractions from her cheeks.
Riii is another good distraction, so she checks the ring. Hm, strange, not panic, but not quite Riii somehow. Determination, confidence, satisfaction, affection. Moreth.
Bright, blissfully unaware, has kept talking.
“… It’s good Melora made her into an angel, because she gives everyone hope and makes them feel light…”
Her stomach contorts again, and this time shoves aside all the noise of the bar – including, with some sadness, a new tale of romance which includes the tracking down of a man encountered over a year previously at a ball and who, unknowingly, had for all that time been driving to distraction a steward with whom he’d shared a dance and who could not forget about him – and sits with the feeling. It is not the feeling of reading a romance novel, or of listening to De Ban’s stories. It’s not embarrassment at Bright’s words, either, or guilt over not sharing his feelings. It’s happiness and melancholy wound together and squeezed.
“… It’s like being home, being with her. We can be there, with Melora, and just… be happy…”
It is a bit like being home. Tinderwood’s leaves don’t turn the beautiful colours of the leaves here and, despite their age, the trees of Tinderwood’s forest will never grow so large. Still, there was something so calm and familiar about the canopy, made even more familiar by Bright’s presence. She felt like herself from back then, like things were simple again.
A big fish muddies the heartwaters. Struggling with something big can make someone confused, or behave unlike themselves, or change, or… She doesn’t really have a Common word for it. It’s just muddied heartwaters.
The thing about Bright is that he clears her heartwaters. She can, of course, wrap last night’s wounds in the love of her gods, and in her own self-righteousness. Friendship, though, is a special kind of salve. Walking her to the mourning stone, and knowing to leave her there, was ointment on her heart. The thing about Bright right now isn’t that he loves her. It’s that he likes her, even when her heartwaters are muddied.
Riii steps back into the building and Chaedi’s stomach twists again, unhappy with the tension that comes with her. Still, she looks sad – she is sad, according to the ring – and Chaedi pushes through the discomfort and goes to her. Riii’s heartwaters must be muddied too, after all. They’re all going through a lot. It stings when Riii pushes back at first, but when an invitation is extended on second thought she gladly accepts it. She has plans for the night, but for now maybe they can find solace in one another and mend the bridge between them more firmly.
The spring is simple and small, which only serves to make it more relaxing. Riii has told her she’ll be busy for a while, and so Chaedi sinks silently into the water and lets the tension drain from her. There will be enough tears later tonight, once she starts the mourning in earnest, so she tries to put emotions to one side as she sorts through how she might tell her stories and keep her audience invested. She thinks back on all the romance novels she’s read, all the travelling plays, and how De Ban told her his stories, and tries to craft similar drama around Sigil and its inhabitants. As she thinks, she hears Riii making small sounds off to her right. She tries to ignore them – she’s eavesdropped enough for tonight – and mostly succeeds.
It’s not long before Riii stirs and looks over at her.
“… I do hope you’ve relaxed some, in this very… relaxing… hot spring.”
It’s a pointed enough hope to be nearly a command, so Chaedi takes it as one and sinks deeper into the water. It’s Riii’s way of caring. Riii wants to take care of her, and spend time with her. She feels the rift too. They’re working on this together.
“Oh, I have… What about you?” She tries not to push too hard. She would like to know what’s wrong, but perhaps Riii isn’t ready to tell her. She breathes in the steam from the water. She can accept if Riii doesn’t want to tell her. Everything is a lot right now, for both of them.
Riii’s expression is neutral. “I’m feeling better, and I’m about to start relaxing now. Thanks for waiting with me.” She ends it with a small smile, and Chaedi responds in kind, sliding closer to her now that they’re focused on each other.
“Oh well, good!” Maybe they’ll talk about it later.
“I’ve missed this. Just us. Can I braid your hair. After this.” Her voice is small, the sentence spoken haltingly. Chaedi tries to be encouraging, letting a bit of excitement enter her voice. Riii hasn’t braided her hair in a while, and no one else in the party does it. It’s something just for them.
“Yes, of course you can!” She touches Riii’s shoulder, trying to reassure her, to put the bad behind them. “I’m sorry about the other night. I know we see things differently, but I really wasn’t trying to keep secrets or run off all those times. I’m glad we’re doing this too.”
Riii next words come slowly again. It’s a strange, awkward thing to witness, like a bird with a broken wing trying to fly. “… I don’t even… it was like a blur, that night.” And now she’s taken off, and her words come all at once. “I don’t even know what happened. One minute we were… you were me. And I was you. And all this because of how well we know each other.” She laughs, but it’s not pleasant. She’s shaking.
Chaedi pulls her into a hug, trying to keep her own little laugh brighter. “It was kind of weird wasn’t it?”
There’s a pause, and Chaedi holds her, rubbing her back and scooping hot water over her shoulders. At last, Riii sniffles and clears her throat.
“Well, I’m sorry too. I knew where you were going to go. I don’t know why I got so mad about you running off. I mean, where else would you have gone.”
Chaedi lets herself laugh at this. “And there’s always the ring. But I understand the frustration. Even if you know where I’m going, sometimes it hurts not to be told. Sometimes I want to get things done, but I can always tell you, or at least leave a note.” It does hurt not to be told. She’s hurt Bright by not talking to him, and she fixed that. She can fix this with Riii.
Riii stays pressed against her, leaning on her, her arms hugging weakly back. “You didn’t want us to stop you, you said. I suppose I know a little about that.” Chaedi feels a burst of gratefulness for this empathetic impulse. She didn’t want to be stopped. “If dealing with your impulses is like that… well, I can’t imagine how you’ve dealt with mine for so long.”
Riii chuckles, but Chaedi wants to stay honest with her here. “I don’t want you to stop me. And I’ll be upset if I tell you and you do try. But… I’d like to be able to tell you and have you respect what I’m doing.”
“It isn’t… disrespect. Or at least, I hope that’s not how it comes across. Maybe a lack of understanding…” There’s something more there that she’s not saying, and Chaedi doesn’t push. Still, she thinks that was an idealistic description.
“I think sometimes we don’t understand each other, but I think sometimes we really do. I know you’re not trying to disrespect me, but I also know that we don’t always… feel the same way about everything. And sometimes that makes us clash.”
Riii shrugs. “I know. That’s not what I worry about.”
Chaedi waits for her to fill in the rest. Instead, Riii slowly pulls away. She doesn’t seem angry, just sad, and maybe something else… Chaedi lets her go, hands sliding up to her shoulders to keep contact until she’s too far away.
“Ok… Do you want to tell me what you worry about?” The distance feels more than physical. Chaedi forces herself to be patient. She did it for years with Bright. This should be nothing in comparison.
Another shrug, so Chaedi waits.
Finally, Riii starts up again. “Do you recall the day we first met?”
This catches her off guard, but she tries to follow along. “Which one? When I was a kid?”
“No, no. In Tinderwood.”
“Of course I do.”
Riii sighs and tilts her head back, closing her eyes as she thinks back on that day months ago. “How young we were. And naive. I was a snark and an insult away from setting literally anyone on fire. You were… unsure. Clumsy. But still determined. Bright was the most skittish thing I’d ever seen.”
Chaedi is ready to jump in here, amused by the descriptions, happy to agree with her. But Riii continues, abruptly looking back at Chaedi – no, looking past her.
“How much do you think you’ve changed, Chaedi?” The sudden change sends a jolt of annoyance through her, but she pushes it down.
She thinks on this. “Some. In some ways a lot. In some ways not very much, I hope.”
This doesn’t seem to satisfy Riii, so Chaedi continues, painfully aware that Riii is worried about this somehow, and that she might say the wrong thing. She works her way tentatively through her words, picking them carefully, trying to balance honesty and reassurance even though she doesn’t know quite what to reassure Riii about. She thinks, though, that she’s become too much for Riii – ironic, hypocritical, hurtful as that might be. Her heartwaters have been muddied too long for her, perhaps. Well, Riii isn’t known for her patience.
“Well. I used to hunt in Tinderwood. I don’t now because I view life in a very different way. That’s a big change and it’s meant I’ve made some big decisions. I’m an angel now. That’s a change. I always worshipped Melora but it’s different now, and even more different with Lolth. But in other ways…” She shrugs here, like eternity doesn’t stretch out before her, a path thinning until only one person can walk it. She shifts her gaze, staring first down at the water and then over at the plant life. “I care about a lot of the same things. I still… I want to be that girl from Tinderwood still, even if…” She does have to be honest here, doesn’t she? She brings her gaze back to Riii. “I don’t think I really can be anymore.”
Riii’s gaze is properly on her now. She looks exhausted and unsettled and she’s not bothering to hide it. “No, I suppose dying will do that to you…”
Chaedi nods, because that’s true too. “That and… several other things.” Her reflection on the water is bright in her peripheral vision. The scars on her lower body shine through the water. This is what she is now and it is very different. Perhaps she made the wrong decision in Sigil. Perhaps she should have kept her elven guise, and she and Riii could have pretended for longer.
She’s lost in thought and, though she’s looking in Riii’s direction, she only notices the water beginning to roil and spin when her reflection becomes distorted. Waves slosh over the side of the hot spring as its surface takes on the appearance of a stormy sea, the waters darkening… She doesn’t have time to worry before the light beneath her skin starts to spit and bubble, and she speaks, a terrible voice issuing from her mouth, one that contains all the crashing force of a tidal wave…
The choppy seas splash together once more – and then calm, the spring returning to normal, and Chaedi’s dangerous radiance returning to her normal level of angelic splendor. She feels herself again, though a rush of adrenaline surges through her, the retreating remains of Melora’s annoyance, falling back like waves on the beach. She can’t keep the emotions out of her expressions: annoyance, alarm, confusion. She’s happy to focus on the last one in order to keep the first at bay.
Riii stands, scoffing. “Lo-Kag definitely has the right idea. ‘Displeases’ me… indeed.” Then, she turns and gets out of the pool.
Chaedi stands as well. “Riii, wait.” This isn’t how this was supposed to go.
“I guess I better jump to do what your god asks of us, as a lowly minnow, attempting to ‘protect’ you from your sacrifices.”
She tries to hold the tears back, speaking softly. “… Riii, what are you talking about? I thought…” That things were getting better, that we were getting better, that we were working on this together and you wouldn’t walk away from me after I did everything I could to make you feel loved.
Riii takes a deep breath – calming herself, and calming Chaedi in turn as she tries. “… I’m sorry. Let’s just… let’s just say that I made the stupid mistake of shoving my fear and blame at your god, and that was the result of that ‘prayer’.”
Well, that answers one question. But she’s still not sure if Riii is staying or going after all that. “Ok… You’re… I know you’re not ok… We don’t have to talk about it, but I’m here for you, I…” She doesn’t know how to finish the sentence in a way that will make Riii stay.
Her efforts earn her another weak smile. “Thank you. I suppose I should enjoy that, while it lasts. Come, let’s have a drink.” She turns to leave.
What kind of cryptic fucking— Is this who I’m going to make queen? She doesn’t manage to keep all of the frustration out of her voice, not least because she’s not sure that she wants to. “What do you mean?”
Riii spins back to face her, her own anger freely showing. “I mean that the way things are going, I am going to lose you. I will either lose you to your god, as your humanity is further stripped away from you, or I will lose you to some circumstance I cannot protect you from, like some sacrifice that you think you must do for…” She spits. “…all of existence.”
Chaedi hangs onto the words, trying to ignoring the tone in favour of the fear of loss. They’re not so different. Riii’s scared too. “That was always a possibility Riii… And it’s less of one now, in a way.” She flutters her wings, drawing attention to them. Maybe Riii doesn’t need the disguise. Maybe – a sudden, panicked, giddy hope – there’s room on that path for two. “And… and… It’s not like you’ll be mortal anyways, right, if… if your plan works out?” Does she want Riii’s plan to work out? The trembling in her voice settles, forced into stillness by the equal weights of an eternal queen and an eternal friend. “I’m sure we’ll both change a lot, over the course of forever and…” Her voice softens further, but it doesn’t stop the tears this time. “And… that’ll be nice…”
Riii sobs, and puts her face in her hands. “It’s too much. She asks too much. I can’t.”
And then she turns once more, and walks away.