3017 GSC, towards the end of the year, Winter.
Where Lukina conducts an ancient Agranorn ritual of commemorating the dead.
The half-elf knight's past several days of downtime had been spent doing things not related to training or patrols but connecting with the people around her. She knew that Gol was right, that she was burning too hot and it was likely that if she kept going as she had- her own fire would consume her until there nothing else left. Her life was full of choices. She had made many once she was able to that kept her on the same path behind her mother. Her motivations were different but she was still following the same bloody trail forward.
Her mother had found love at 27. She loved that human and made an effort to return to him when she was older, wiser, grown. But the plague had wiped out the Agranorn clan until all that was left was her mother, Beriadanwen and her grandfather, Theodas. Her mother continued cutting her bloody path onward, keeping to the clan trade as a mercenary but had claimed her mate in Makarios. The elven bloodline had been muddied and her mother did not care. Her grandfather understood but the elven elders of the city didn't.
Her mother abandoned the elven way much like she had discarded her elven name, Aleksasha became monogamous and bound to one man. There was some speculation that elves with their inability to conceive took lovers as they desired and any children that resulted were raised by the community. There was no real need for permanent bonds at least until after the plague in 2978 GSC. The species was on the brink of extinction. Something had to be done, things changed.
Lukina's birth was her mother's first return back to Liang after her marriage to Makarios and it was only long enough to abandon her. Aleksasha stayed long enough to birth her before she ran away in her grief. It was still an upsetting fact, that her mother was more consumed by the memory of her lost husband than the life of her only child.
Lukina hated her mother for it. She was never good enough. She was alive and needed a mother, but she got less attention than her green recruits. Of course, her mother's marriage to Aniseth had caused a rippling change. 22 years later, her mother wanted to finally tell her the truth. It hurt but she understood better, hated her mother a little less. It still hurt.
She found herself trying to understand if she could continue fighting an endless war alone. But she knew she couldn't. Trying to handle the burden and the pain of it had manifested in a self-destructive way. The burning desire to live kept her moving. There was so much darkness in her future but the world was full of light around her. She didn't have to be the only fire leading the way. She could accept the love of the people around her and stop being alone.
It was terrifying. More terrifying than facing down death over and over. More terrifying than the atrocities that the Xenos performed on survivors. The idea of giving her heart to have it shattered like her mother's had was worse than death. But here she was.
In love, in lust and surrounded by people that cared in some capacity. She was a stray cat that had been given a place to call home until she was ready to leave again. People that might miss her if she was gone. People that would kill to save her. People she had killed for and almost died for numerous times. Was it weakness or strength? She wasn't sure.
Her ears twitched at the rising sounds of morning. The rustling of sheets and wings. The chirping of birds outside and the muted bustle of people outside. Incense mingled with the scents of perfume and scented shampoo. She felt the warmth enveloping her. The room was warm and she was loosely covered by the blanket. Her evergreen eyes opened and gazed up at the light filtering through the gauzy curtains above her. Lukina had spent a light hearted and peaceful night with Gol but her waking thoughts were heavy. "Go-chan?"
The titular room owner stirred from where she had armored herself in blankets. A blanket didn't exist that would ever cover all of Gol; one wing or the other would always poke out, so she had a few. She had retired, otherwise, in her usual old ratty sleep clothing. Few knew Gol as Lukina knew Gol, and she knew the Hane well enough to see past the makeup and clothing and hot, swaying hips to the relatively normal and mundane woman beneath.
She was just a regular person. In Kowloon, that ranked somewhere on the rarity level of a unicorn, except that Lan Se province had a similar horse creature. So, Gol was rarer.
She cracked an eye, red like a carbuncle gem, and peered at Lukina. Then she smiled, stretched, turned. Left to her own devices, the woman would hibernate if she could, and she woke slowly.
Lukina returned her friend's smile. "I was thinking.. would you be up for helping me perform an elven ritual? I.. have been putting it off but it'll take a couple of days?" Her voice was soft and the question was unexpected, their conversations about religion had not actually extended to what Lukina actually practiced. She had only talked about the Gods, their departure and the persistent flames within people's souls. Gol was clearly religious herself, but spoke less than Lukina on the subject. She listened well. But she certainly had similar beliefs; she had a little shrine in her hallway.
Gol curled back up and shut her eyes. It didn't mean she had stopped listening. From her bundle she said, "Sure, Luki. When?"
"I wanted to reach the site at tasogare. It should only take a few minutes to get there by car but I will have to finish gathering materials.. I should be done with it in a few hours, if you are able to take the time... If you can't, I totally understand. It's kind of last minute but I want to do it while it's pressing on my mind," the half-elf offered apologetically.
Mentally, it seemed as though Gol calculated out her day, piece by piece. This manifested in a dreamy look that Lukina knew threatened to recede back into actual dreaming, but she managed, "Kay, Kiki."
"Great, I'll see to the arrangements in a little while then," Lukina replied softly and resettled into the pile of blankets beside Gol. Her leathery-winged friend automatically drew her in, cuddled close, and went back to sleep. Lukina had not detected a hint of jealousy in Gol, except for the time when she'd shown the Marshal her view of Wolf and the noble, heroic officer had nearly choked on her own envy, but Gol certainly liked having Lukina around.
It was too early in the morning, but Gol would remember. She always remembered.
She just wasn't always willing to be awake.
------- Little Shara Road
Creature’s religiousness seemed primarily reserved on the carnal. When he rose he immediately was thankful for being alive to feel the wind on his face and the sun on his back. In repayment for waking up, Creature then thanked his body by applying all manner of vices and pleasures Though it was very true that the Gartagens had a spiritualism of their own; Creature certainly did not abide by it. No, the curmudgeonly Gartagen never for an instant believed anybody should wait for a spiritual being to swoop down and come to save him. Prayer and penance would be better replaced with grabbing a tool and seeing it to an end.
However, Creature was fully aware that Lukina was religious, as he had heard her mutter prayer on occasion. Though he had his own thoughts on religion, he never condemned anybody for having a belief system that they chose to live by. He simply looked at them strangely or indifferently and went to what ever he was about to do and saw it done.
He had no clue where Lukina even was. So Creature took to doing what he enjoyed doing when it was not feeding his various hungers. He set out an irregular walk through out the city. Creature checked his PDA and scrolled for Lukina’s contact. He was leaving for a while, and wanted to tell pretty much his only friend on this world bye.
----------- Gol's Apartment
RING DING DING DIIIIIING! Lukina's phone rang.
Lukina winced and clicked her commslink on. "Moshi Moshi. Nan desu ka?"
"Uhhhh. Totes. Anyway, I'm gonna be leaving for like, a fucking while. I wanted to hang out before I go. So uh, if you would Totes be down for that, I would too." Creature said. "Arigato Lukina-Chan!"
"What do you mean a while? I have to go do some elf stuff that I've been putting off, did you want to tag along?" Lukina replied.
"Uhhh. Well That thing we spoke about like a while back. The whole what we are doing after we get out of the hospital shit? Yea. I'm handeling up on that." Creature said speaking over the comms. "Oh? Yea sure. I fucking like elf stuff!" Creature said sounding rather cheerful. :"Where do you want me to meet ya?"
"The Ayana stuff? Did you tell Sidhurra that you were leaving? Well, I guess, you can meet us at the Square in front of Gol's office? I have to reach the site at tasogare, so we should leave around 1800ish," she replied softly after a moment of consideration. "This is going to take me a couple of days, I've been putting it off for too long," the half-elf added.
"Oh. I'll have Mona tell Sidhurra she is in charge while I am gone. Well, I mean I'll help out. I was just gonna try to get some better gear or something, but I guess I can find Ayana with my beat to shit shit. Okay. I'll meet you outside!"
"Right, see you later then," Lukina closed the commslink and looked back to Gol curled up in the blanketed bundle beside her.
The carbuncle eyes were open and watching her. The phone had woke her, and she hadn't interrupted, but she had certainly listened. She hadn't been given a choice in the matter. Now, it looked as though Gol had something to say, but only in the crease at the edge of her mouth.
"I guess this means I should get up," Lukina sighed. "It sounds like things are starting to shift into place." She sat up and ran a hand through her messy hair. "They are going to rescue the Prime Minister." It took some prodding to annoy the detail out of the black beast, but, Bresal ultimately relented. Creature however, was none the wiser.
Gol remained recumbent. She let whatever it was that she was going to say at first pass, but she didn't close her eyes and return to sleep, either. Instead, she reached up, brushed a bit at Lukina's hair just as the half-elf had, and then sighed. The hand fell. She pulled a pillow in, instead.
But she couldn't hold her total silence for long; that last statement had done it for her. Gol didn't know what Lukina was talking about. It showed plainly in the way she held her eyes away.
"How you two get involved in all of this, all the time, I'll never get."
"Part of the job, working through my Lord for the Diadem," Lukina commented softly.
"You do not work for Lord Rochon." Gol had a way of saying facts as though they were questions which demanded further answers. It was the badge. Even naked and curled up in a fuzzy blanket, she never quite quit wearing it in her soul.
"I am Lord Isil Ithil's knight, I am allowed to assist Lord Rochon to keep the chaos from spilling into Lán sè Province and assist the Diadem in restoring order," the half-elf replied. "I do and don't work for Rochon. But the Lady Arleigh granted Rochon Lordship and I acted as the scribe. We are working towards her purposes."
Gol sat up. She rose slowly, tiredly, and with a rubbing motion over her eyes, and then she curled her legs in and put her hands on her long hooves. The hair stopped a little beneath her knees, and above those, Gol was smooth and soft and pale and as any other woman. Lukina alone knew that the hair was meant to go up further, and that Gol shaved almost as religiously as she practiced religion.
"It is complicated because there is no easy answer," Lukina sighed again.
Gol spoke simply. "There is the truth to a friend."
"I work for the good of Kowloon. We have been seeking out who is really behind the Black Army and looking for Prime Minister Ayana Morita. We have leads on where she is being held after 8 years of searching. My mother and I were among the forces that were cut-off by the Black out fighting the Hēisè," the half-elf replied thoughtfully after a moment to consider her response. Gol leaned slightly off the side of the bed and fished for a moment before coming up with a bottled water, which she unscrewed and sipped from.
She didn't quite stop looking at Lukina throughout the motion. It might have been cop's intuition, or perhaps Gol had figured out something about the way Lukina talked. Either seemed likely. The Bloodtree clan did not typically deal with police officers at length; most of their job was avoiding people like Gol. The two professions were entire worlds apart. She could fool a bunch of brigands and finagle her way into putting poison in people's food, and she could snipe and climb and probably run circles around Gol, although Gol was about as athletic as she had to be. But if life were a video game, Gol would have been the guard with the exclamation point over her head, coming to investigate the suspiciously moving crate while the edges of the screen went black and the words, "You're nicked, chum" flashed at the bottom.
Press reset. Start again.
Gol knew she was lying, or at least omitting the truth. She saw it in the Marshal's deep red eyes before, surprisingly, she looked away with a little shrug, letting it go. "Are you going with him, then?"
"No. I am not allowed to go," the half-elf fussed with her hair, it needed to be brushed. She had a lot to do still. "I have to attend to the affairs here between the provinces but I could help from here, like I did when Creature was arrested." Lukina's gaze was distant, distracted. "He plans on joining for the ritual before he goes. I have never performed this with an alien watching but, change is on the wind."
Lukina felt a cold press on her elbow as Gol touched her with the bottom of the bottle, offering it to her. She looked understanding. In fact, she looked as though she was worried, as Gol often was. If anyone in this place could, Gol had a good heart, and Lukina found it often went out to her.
"Fate is a river," Gol said. "You can see the shores, and a little ways ahead, but you still have to ride the current."
Lukina turned and accepted the water bottle with a small smile. "As diverting as the course may be," she added gently as her focus returned to Gol. Bright and evergreen, the distraction had faded again to appreciation. "Thank you. I will be around, a stray cat never really roams too far from home."
- - - - - That Evening. - - - - -
Gol hadn't taken the day off work; she had gone in after their discussion in the morning, leaving Lukina, the stray cat, to her roaming about, though the Marshal knew she wouldn't wander far. She didn't hurry home. Lukina had asked for a time much later in the day, almost at the point of the sun's setting, and Gol had put the ritual out of her mind until then.
She entered, hung her gun belt, and the top of her Marshal's long coat. It left only the tails, and the bustier that she wore in facsimile of the uniform.
"Tadaima," she called out, reaching up to untie her hair.
Lukina had gathered her materials in a large bag that she left slightly off the side from the door. She had settled at Gol's kitchen table with a mug of tea. "Okaeri." The half-elf was dressed in a long black dress that fell to her ankles under a short black jacket. Her BFR and Showstopper were absent.
"It's almost time to go, if you are still able to come along," Lukina commented softly.
"Sure, Kiki," Gol replied, putting her hands in her pockets and furling her wings around. She examined Lukina's dress and glanced back up to her eyes, searching them. "Are you planning on being out long? Is this a drinking ritual? Am I going to have to be naked for this?" Gol's eyes went back down to the Little Black Dress that Lukina was wearing.
"Yes, not really, no," Lukina replied with a small smile. "The ritual will take a couple of days. The start tonight has to be at twilight but beyond that, it doesn't matter. There is a part at the end where there is special sake. You can wear whatever you like, something warm, probably. I've been conditioned for cold weather so my wardrobe while questionable will be fine for my part of it."
"I'm going to bundle then," decided Gol, who didn't feel like playing with temperature in the cold in winter at night.
"Ok, I'll let Creature know to meet up with us soon then," Lukina finished her mug of tea and got up to wash it. She quickly washed out the mug and dried it, placing it into the cabinet with the other mugs. She queued up Creature's number and called him. "Creature, you ready to go with us on this elf thing?"
"Yes." was Creature's response to Lukina. "Where do you wanna meet?"
"Meet us in front of 213 E Beat St. Just dress warm, it'll be cold out." Lukina replied softly.
Creature was wearing his armor which, while rather silly to do so in a non-combat situation, worked as an effective environment suit. Time passed, and eventually the Gartagen was at the address Lukina had asked him to meet her at. She would find him, dancing on the sidewalk. He clearly had his PDA playing music, from the looks of his choreographed motions he was doing a line dance. Alone, to music nobody could hear. “Yeeea! Mother fucking Chitown City Shake!” He exclaimed as he halted, spread his legs and stuck his butt into the air and rapidly wiggled it.
Gol gave Lukina The Look of Incredulity.
Lukina raised an eyebrow as she adjusted the strap of the large bag against her shoulder. She met Gol's ruby gaze and shrugged. It was Creature, there was no explanation for most of the things that he did. Gol looked back to Creature, who seemed a little out of it because of his jamming out To mysterious alien music. She said, "Kiki, if I ever look like that, even drunk, you can smack me."
"I'll keep that in mind, he just does what he does. The faster we accept it the faster we can move forward from it," Lukina chuckled softly. "Did you want to drive or should I grab a car, Go-chan?"
Creature stopped shaking his butt, and was back on his feet, He began shuffling his feet in a criss-cross motion that saw him bounding around rhythmically. All in all as a dancer, he actually was decent, unfortunately the strangeness of Alliance music was not the best choice for the artistic expression of dance. He lifted his head and looked up seeing the worried expression on Gol's face. "Oh." He said suddenly appearing shy. "Uh, don't worry gurl. I'm not taking you out dancing for our fuckin date."
"Where are you taking me anyway?" Gol asked, immediately regretting it.
She hadn't actually mentioned that to Lukina. Oh, sure, they blathered on about sex and men and fucking, and women and they did bad sing-alongs together when drunk and, sweet Kōjin was it terrible and fun, but she hadn't actually mentioned this per se. It had nothing to do with their usual girl-talk. It hadn't actually come up.
Creature however did not regret asking Gol out on the date. In fact this had been the first time in years he had actually done such a thing, and thus was pulling out all the stops. “Uh, well. That would be a fucking spoilers!” He said looking at the shorter Hane woman who was most certainly not smiling.
He had asked her on the date for the typical reasons. He found her attractive, and interesting enough to desire to spend some social time with her. “But I will give a hint, we are going to be trying some of the fucking culture out here. New world, new home, may as well check it out.”
Lukina watched their exchange with the slightest ear twitch. Gol had not answered her question and she took that as a type of answer. "I'll go get the car. I'll be back," her voice was soft and reluctant as she interrupted their conversation for a moment and continued past them without giving them a further chance to repond. The half-elf disappeared around a corner before they could.
"Shit," said Gol, in a puff of chilly breath. She had resigned herself, but it showed in her voice that she had decided on something already to remedy the situation. The problem was that, for Creature, that solution didn't apparently involve either telling him what it was, or including him in it. Each to their own. "I hadn't told her yet."
Creature tensed. Lukina had moved off leaving Gol and Creature to speak. "I hadn't seen her since the hospital. Fuck...."
Creature shifted a look to Lukina. Those feelings he held for Lukina were stronger than ever. He knew she reciprocated him, yet understood that physical desire was not there. How could it be? He looked like he lost a fight with a meat grinder. Regardless, for Creature he recognized she had a right to be pissed. Even if it was over the fact neither he nor Gol had told her.
Creature cautiously approached Lukina. "Hey.... Lukes. I uhhh...."
Lukina was halfway to a large green truck with a clean black cover over the bed. She did not stop or turn to look at Creature. The truck's lights flashed on and the horn beeped. "Five minutes," she said simply to no one in particular.
Creature hesitated and slid into the back seat of the truck. He had his gauntlet on so he laced his organic fingers in between the powerful mechanical talons that were his prosthetic hand. Okay, she is okay with it.
'Are you sure she is? That familiar female voice in his head asked.
"Yea, why wouldn't I be sure? It's Lukina. She doesn't want any commitment."
"How would you feel if you were her?" The spectre responded.
".....She is going to try to kill me."
"Lukina. Are you going to try to kill me?"
The half-elf placed her large bag in the bed of the truck before she climbed into the cab of the truck. Her petite form settled on the driver's seat as she checked her mirrors and gauges before she drove it towards where Gol was waiting. "3 minutes," she commented softly.
Creature paused, then spoke. "Oh. so everything is okay. Fuck yea!" He said smiling brightly from under his head wrappings. "You want me to play some music while we drive?"
"What's another tree?" Was her short response as she held the steering wheel.
"What the fuck does that mean?" Creature remarked, not understanding what was going on.
"The Starfall didn't tell you? I'm actually surprised, her clan and mine have worked together for generations. They are the guardians of the living that enter our forest while the Agranorn are the guardians of the dead," Lukina replied softly, pausing a moment before continuing.
"My clan, the Agranorn, perform what is effectively a funeral ritual. We plant trees in remembrance for the dead- those that die by our hand, those that perish by other means and those that unintentionally die at our hands. There is more to it than that but it's 1 tree for every life lost." The truck came to a easy stop in front of Gol and waited for the Hane to hop in. The half-elf's voice was even and calm as it ever was, though there was something in her tone reminded Creature of when she had given Creature her plan to execute the Black King and his generals. Even the count down was reminiscent of that night. "I have not performed the ritual since I came to Piyapon. I am over due."
Trees. Trees on the Gartagen home world meant something very different to Creature than they did to Lukina. Than they did to Gartagens and Elves. The Tree species on Gartaga were there, but they were large massive things, and usually meant water. Or life. Those that grew in the desert regions were stubborn ancient things that fought for their existence and thrived in it. Their representation for the dead and death in elven Culture was minor testament to the difference of the cultural background of the two peoples. Gartagen trees ported to more welcoming climates usually prospered if the conditions were acceptable.
Creature considered none of this, and hearkened back to his childhood, when he and his buddies would walk to a local tree and drink from a nearby spring well every few days. “Oh Kamilla. Yea she has taken to telling me about her people and all of that shit.”
He paused. “She said ‘oh faithir, we should plant our trees soon.’ He paused once more looking out side of the truck window. “I dunno what faithir means, and I thought the tree thing was some kind of fucking metaphor.”
He found himself looking at Gol, who seemed cold in her scarf and her heavy layered jacket as she passed hsi window and clambered into the shotgun seat of the cab. She closed the door only after being certain that she was properly inside, looking for all the world like she usually did in the cold. No woman could pull off mildly distressed bat like Gol could.
She looked over the short distance to Lukina, and then forward to the road ahead of them. She huddled smaller in her coat, and her wings, and rubbed her gloved hands together as though that would help matters.
It didn't seem so much that Gol remained oblivious to the awkward tension, or to Lukina's expression, but she seemed to let Lukina be the one to talk first, if she wanted to.
For the comfort of the Hane and the Gartagen, the half-elf turned up the heater and set aside her short and thin looking jacket onto the seat between them. The black dress she wore left her shoulders bare and revealed a shoulder holster, holding her BFR under her left arm. "No," she continued as Gol settled in. Once the door was shut, she steered the truck out of the city towards the road leading towards Lan se province. "The trees are real trees, that have to be planted in a specific way in a specific ritual, in honor of those that had cleared the veil. It has to start at tasogare, twilight so their souls can cross between realms. I have to light the way."
The truck rumbled along the road for a while before it started hitting the ruts made by more industrious travelers who went out in the direction of the farmlands.
"When I'm dead," Gol stated, not quite warm enough to slack her tight self-bundling, "I'll be laid out on a cairn, for the carrion feeders. That's where my body will stay. I think I'll probably be the first one in my family to lay open beneath a sky. In Haneheim, we are entombed like that, deep in the dark, with our flame in front of us."
"We cremate the dead and scatter the ashes but we plant a tree for each life lost. I don't have ashes to scatter, so I have to settle for just the trees and hope to guide them forward," Lukina added softly.
The truck rolled on.
After several minutes of awkward silence the truck arrived at the plains that divided the Lorani province and the Lan se province. Lukina parked and looked at Gol and Creature. "Okay, it's almost time. I need to set the ritual area if you want to stay in the truck. I'll need help a little later on, if you want to stay warm."
Gol slid out of the truck, careful of her wings, and a little apprehensive about the state of the ground. It seemed to be frozen solid. She definitely trod upon some pretty dead grass. With her hands buried deeply in her coat, and her chin and face buried as deep in her scarf, she looked up at Lukina.
"Is it going to thaw the ground?" she asked.
"With a lit bit of magic and a whole lot of fire," Lukina replied with a smile. She looked up at the sky and the threat of the coming twilight, the sun was still up but the sky was streaking pink and purple hues. She moved with a swish of her skirt to the back of the truck and opened up the back and pulled out a large parcel.
The parcel came clear and she hefted it over her shoulder as she walked to what appeared to be the center fo the field. The ground was hard beneath her boots and the grass brittle and brown beneath a layer of frost. She opened the parcel and pulled a large metallic object from within.
It was a gold hued rectangle with movable bars that unfolded out into what looked like a large metal spider that was almost as tall as Lukina. "You might want to stand clear."
Creature simply bundled up the cloth around his blue head even tighter so that he could double wrap it to escape the cold. He managed to escape the oppressive temperature by pressurizing his own armor. He remained silent as he hastened out of the truck and climbed up on top of the vehicle's roof and sat on his haunches. Creature soon had a cigarette lit and was smoking away as Lukina spoke.
Lucid, and in a good mood, Creature let his apprehension over the earlier matter fade. Lukina was fine. He had tried to speak about it and was promptly ignored. Gol, too, had gone silent about the matter after a single look at Lukina. Everything must be fine. Either that, or it was a woman thing.
Probably a woman thing.
When the metallic machine was revealed, a taloned finger stabbed out and pointed at it. “What in the shit is that thing?”
"Elf magic," replied Gol, with the sort of tone usually held by someone appraising an insurance claim.
The Agranorn unfolded the metal object and set it down in the center of the grass. She circled the object once, moving clockwise as a low whistle escaped her lips. The object rose into the air and hovered a few feet above the ground before it began to spun in a ball of white light.
The light spread out and filled the field with warmth, the scents of spring wafted from the device and brushed against their exposed skin. A feel of reassurance brushed over them. When the light dimmed once more the snow and frost was gone, soft, lively green grass remained
"Go-chan, I need you to offer the fire Lord's prayer as I offer the prayer of the Sky Lord's. Creature, if you know a prayer of one of your Gods or another, please offer as we offer ours. If you don't know one, you can get by with song lyrics of something you feel is appropriate to celebrate life." Lukina pulled candles from her bag and offered them each one. The wicks burst into flame when they held the wax cylinders, through it gave off no heat, only light.
Gol paced over opposite of Lukina, examining the device as it hovered. She held her candle, turning it over a little to check that the fire wasn't actual fire, just a light. It was. It didn't seem to flicker or die. Not that she would have known what to do, had it done so. Her religion used actual fire, and actual water. "Sure," she said.