Rivek scratched his pencil against the bridge of his nose and immediately regretted his decision. The fracture still hurt from last week. He blinked the pain away, so he could stare at the blank paper in front of him. Language was never his strong suit, and he now only had one night left to finish a five-page essay. If he didn’t hand this in on time, he’d fail the class. That would mean being back on the street again. Not that the street was much of a problem. He had survived it before.
It was Bohren he worried about. Bohren would be devastated. At least, he would be at first. Then he would be disappointed in Rivek. Then, he would probably punch Rivek in the mouth.
He wrote his name on the paper when he felt a small someone trying to spin his chair around. He rolled his eyes. Although Perrin never actually spilled a cell culture or accidentally ingested harmful chemicals, Rivek still believed eight-year-old children did not belong in research labs.
“What’re you doing?” Perrin asked, clinging to the back of his seat.
“Working. What’re you doing?”
“I want you to tell me a story.”
“I don’t have time to tell you a story.”
“Tell me a story.”
Rivek sighed and turned the chair around. Maybe he could spare a few minutes to play babysitter. Perrin jumped off. “Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess.”
Perrin sat on the ground, crossing her legs, wearing the same look as dog begging for food.
“She had lots of wavy black hair and was filled with curiosity. One day, she decided it would be a good idea to walk into the woods.”
Perrin’s eyes went wide..
“What a good idea! Because in her walk, she came upon a cave. Then, she had another good idea. She would go into the cave and see what was inside.”
“Inside, she found a great, big bear. She had never seen a bear so big and so black! Even sitting down, its head touched the ceiling of the cave. She decided to bother the bear. What a good idea it would be to poke it in the back! So she did. And it turned around and….”
Perrin leaned so far forward she almost fell over.
“It ate her all up!”
Rivek growled, baring his teeth and raising his arms like claws. Perrin bit her lip and started wailing.
Willow shot him a glare from across the lab as the little girl ran towards her. He shrugged and went back to his paper. He erased his name and wrote it again.
“Vezmolar.” Annoyance. - 069/100 Themes.
Rivek is pretty much a jerk as a teenager. Perrin is me as a child. I was a lab baby. I used to ask my dad to draw me “flying unicorns” on his whiteboard, and I would make up stories for them. He kept a drawing I did in sixth grade, of Ginny Weasley, on the board for a decade. If it hasn’t been painted over, there is also a drawing of a stork on the wall and I wrote ‘DRACULA” by the stairs.
Oh my god, there’s a spelling mistake in the Alisan on this one. I misspelled a word in a language that I made up.
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Rivek Ailinar and Perrin Maeir belong to Grace Fong,
Rivek lay on his side to gather the wind that had been knocked out of him. The falling debris left scratches on his arms and shoulders, but otherwise he was fine. He wiped his eyes as the dust cleared. The roof had caved in, pouring a jagged ring of light onto the floor. He clawed through the rubble to his knees.
Kai knelt in the pool of brightness, brushing plaster from his emerald coat as he dug through the ruins. Mirab stood in shadow behind him, freeing her bow from a pile of shattered bricks. She turned toward the door when she caught the sound of footsteps in the stairwell below. “We have to move.”
“Wait.” Kai’s ruddy face flushed. He kept digging. “Rile is stuck.”
A hunk of stone had pinned the white-haired boy to the ground, crushing his legs. The large hole in his shirt revealed a bruise that would quickly grow to overtake his abdomen. Mirab and Rivek exchanged glances. Both knew how acid-blooded mage handled internal bleeding: with a sure and painful death.
Mirab motioned at Rivek to take out his knife. “We do this the Alisian way.”
Rivek threw his bow over his shoulder and took out his knife. Mirab took Kai’s head in her arms and pressed his face against her chest, so he wouldn’t have to witness Alisian mercy.
Tears streamed down Rile’s cheeks, and his chest heaved with every breath. Rivek placed the tip of the blade over the boy’s chest and bit his lip. His hand trembled. Hunting animals was one thing, and so was shooting a man from afar with a bow. Pushing his blade into a human heart felt so much more real.
The footsteps were closer now. Rivek could hear them at the other end of the hallway. Mirab glared at him and took out her own dagger. She let go of Kai to approach the dying boy. Rivek moved aside and sheathed his blade. Some hunter he was. Mirab took Rile’s hand and whispered in her low, maternal voice, “Are you in pain?”
Rile whined weakly.
“Then rest.” Mirab kissed the boy on the forehead and whispered the Lady’s Prayer into his ear. The boy closed his eyes. In one smooth motion, she slipped the dagger between his ribs and held it in place until he stopped moving. She stood, wiped the blade on her boot, and turned to Rivek. “We must move on.”
“Dolorum.” Pain. - 088/100 Themes.
Alisians have two major gods: the Lord governs life, and the Lady governs death. These tenets of duality lead them to treat human death as part of a natural cycle: you borrow life from the Lord, so you must pay it back to the Lady. By viewing life almost as a spiritual transaction, they treat death as something that should not be feared. It’s just business. This is part of why they are so good at the Black Trades, which include assassination and sellswording.
There are minor gods, but they are not relevant at the moment, and I don’t want to type too much.
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Rivek Ailinar, Mirab Ailinar, Kai Voluska, and Rile belong to Grace Fong,
The steel-tiled room only held one oil-burning lamp. It flickered as it swung back and forth through the muggy air above the operating table. Sorian narrowed his eyes and bit back a grin. He could not let the men surrounding him know how excited he was to finally achieve this goal. Such a rare test subject had been very difficult to obtain, but it was the only one strong enough to truly push the boundaries of his experiment. The personal emotional triumph was just a bonus.
The slim man on the table had finally begun to stir. The captive flexed his fingers, but they were bound securely above his head with leather straps. Blinking awake, he lashed out with his legs, but Bohren and Vendelain held them down. He yelled something, most likely profane, but it was muffled by the cotton in his mouth. Sorian had the foresight to gag him before he woke up. Rivek had the tendency to talk too much.
“Hello,” Sorian looked down at his prey as he slipped on a pair of leather gloves. They squeaked as he rubbed his fingers together. He took a needle from the other table at his side. He prepped it by tapping it with his finger, taking great care to ensure no air had mixed with the serum. “If you cooperate with me, this won’t hurt.”
As he leaned forward with the syringe, Rivek broke Vendelain’s hold and landed a swift kick, square on his jawline. Sorian howled. That would bruise in the morning. He retaliated by striking the rebellious prisoner across the face with his free hand. “Insolent beast!”
He panted, massaging his aching jaw, as he set down the needle. The experiment would have to wait until after he taught this dog its place. Rivek locked Sorian’s gaze with his golden eyes. The outlines of feathers began to appear on the dark-mage’s skin. Sorian was smarter than that. He knew better than to let his prey shift forms and fly away. He gripped Rivek’s ankle. “What must we do to bad animals? Well, first, we beat them.”
Rivek writhed against the bindings, twisting out of Bohren’s reach and freeing his other leg, but Sorian was ready this time. He knocked Rivek’s thigh down and punched him in the stomach. He doubled over with a groan. For good measure, Sorian hit him again. He grinned when heard the wind rush out of the other man’s lungs.
“Eventually, we must break them.”
He grabbed the bird-man’s face and slammed his head against the steel table. Rivek’s limbs dropped in a spasm, any previous fight drained from them.
“Finally, we brand them.” Sorian cut through the fabric of his shirt. He reached for a second knife Vendelain offered him. Originally meant for cauterizing wounds, the blade glowed white hot. He pressed it against Rivek’s panting chest..
No energy left to scream, Rivek twitched as the blade burned through his skin. He convulsed as it seared through sensitive nerve endings, rendering them permanently useless. His head fell backwards, eyes rolled back to their whites, and a line of saliva dripped from the edge of his mouth.
“Stop.” Bohren reached out and placed his hand over Sorian’s. He tried to pull his hand away, but Sorian’s grip was too strong.
“Are you challenging me?” Sorian knocked Bohren to his knees, causing him to crash into the operating table. Rivek, unconscious, did not stir. Sorian grabbed Bohren’s hair, and pressed the smoking knife against his exposed throat.
“Your Highness, I only want to remind you that you need this man alive.”
Sorian let the blade hover for one more second. He glanced at Vendelain, who nodded and motion for him to put the knife down. He growled and dropped it with a clatter, but not before throwing Bohren back against the floor. As the Brennan man climbed back to his feet, Sorian once again reached for the needle. He dug it into Rivek’s neck and released its contents into the unconscious man’s bloodstream..
“Exa to provokaro men.” Are You Challenging Me? - 074/100 Themes.
Normally, Rivek has the capability to fight back. However, in this case, he doesn’t, resulting in what is probably Sorian’s most sadistic scene in the entire story.
It’s heavily inspired by Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York when Bill the Butcher tortures Amsterdam in the theater. Such a good movie!
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Bohren Tabirian, Sorian Aljannsen, and Rivek Ailinar belong to Grace Fong,
Willow set her fork in her lap and balanced the plate on her knees. She leaned forward to inhale the steam wafting off the rosemary garlic chicken before stirring her peas into its bed of rice. She placed a spoonful in her mouth and smiled as the sweet pearls popped between her teeth. But as much as she hungered for food, she truly relished a moment’s peace away from the tournament with its high-collared diplomats and insincere small talk.
Her stomach growled, a reminder that she hadn’t actually eaten all day. She set the fork on the plate and tore the chicken’s leg off with her fingers.
“How ladylike of you.” Bohren appeared to the side, holding a bottle of beer in one hand and his own heaping smorgasboard in the other. A fruit tart teetered between the legs of an entire, stuffed hen. Its sides had been piled high with potatoes topped with crumbled cheese. An ear of corn floated in a puddle of mushrooms and gravy. The edible mountain was topped by a half-eaten beef sandwich.
He placed his plate on the grass and sat down next to her. Willow cringed as he finished the sandwich in three gulps.
“I don’t think you have the right to question Willow’s manners.” Rivek sat down to Willow’s other side. She noticed he didn’t have a plate. Instead, three bloody dormice hung from his fist.
“What are those?” she shrieked.
“Dinner.” Rivek laid the mice on his knee and reached over Willow’s lap to grab Bohren’s bottle. He took a swig and picked up one of corpses by its scruff. Willow cringed as he placed the skull between his teeth. It popped like a pea in his mouth, and he proceeded to suck the juice from its neck.
Bohren took his beer back. “I’m not sharing with you after that.”
Rivek shrugged and swallowed the body. The next mouse he ate whole, cracking the bones between his teeth. He played with the tail that dangled outside his lips.
Unwilling to watch this process a third time, Willow punched Rivek in the arm, launching the last mouse into the grass, “That’s disgusting!”
“Says the girl eating a bird,” Rivek winked before getting up to retrieve his dessert.
Willow whined as he dusted it off on his shirt hem and popped it in his mouth. She closed her eyes until she heard him slurp up its tail.
“Just wait,” Bohren laughed. “It gets better. In a few hours, he’ll vomit up its skeleton.”
“Vixea.” Food - 087/100 Themes.
As a Shifter, Rivek maintains shares certain physical traits between falcon and human forms. Some are useful, such as increased speed and enhanced eyesight. Some are drawbacks, such as a lighter skeleton and inability to build muscle. Others are just weird: like the ability to consume raw meat and cough up pellets later.
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Bohren Tabirian, Willowren Solan, and Rivek Ailinar belong to Grace Fong,
Bohren wiped his brow. The desert sun had finally started its slow descent beyond the horizon. Time to cool off. He lowered himself on the sandstone bricks and dipped his feet into the river water. Its curling eddies swept away the ache of standing in the blistering heat all day. When he first signed up for the King’s Guard, he thought he would take part in endless action and receive nationwide honor. It really meant standing around waiting rooms all day, listening to his employer go over bank rolls.
He wiggled his toes, teasing a catfish that had just woken to search for its breakfast. It swam away after realizing Bohren’s foot was twice it size. Living this far south meant the dark came swiftly, like throwing a glittering blanket over the world, but he found that he had no need for torches or mage-lights. The dry, cloudless air let the moon light his path, gifting him with a breathtaking view of the stars every night.
One star, though, seemed to be getting closer, larger as it approached him. He narrowed his eyes, wiping away the last bits of mirage heat. No, it was a woman, carrying a torch. She made her way to the center of one of the many wood footbridges that spanned the river and paused, her back turned towards him.
Bohren watched as she lowered her veiled face to look into the water. The warm light in her raised hand brought forth the red in her dress. The silk swirled around her knees, echoing the desert wind. The gold hem sparkled, resonating the stars above. She removed an emerald vial from her violet sash, sending a bright jingle through the copper coins sewn into it. With one hand, she uncorked it and dropped its contents over her arms.
The flame leaped from the torch to her sleeve, igniting the trail of oil and covering her chest in glittering flame.
Bohren jumped out of the water. His wet, bare feet stuck to the ground as he ran. Each step kicked up more sand that grated their. Every footfall, the flame grew larger, but she still held the torch high in her shaking hand.
He paused as he stood in front of her. The perfume of smoldering silk filled his nose. He met her eyes, two cool pools of pale green piercing the halo of fire around her.
He threw himself forward, cracking the bridge railing and hurtling them both into the water.
Bohren was never a particularly good swimmer. The women kicked as the flames died around them. He held on to her as she flailed, dodging her limbs as he tried to drive his through the water. By the time he had righted himself and dragged them both to shore, she had fainted with her head against his shoulder.
He lifted the veil, and a mass of smoldering hair fell into the water. A wig. It revealed an angelic but sickly face underneath. Her skin and hair, though delicate and porcelain, seemed as if their color had been boiled out by the sun until only their ashen husks remained. Holding her this close, he could feel her chest move as she breathed. There was a strange flat, heaviness to her body.
Bohren stifled a gasp. This was a man.
“Kaziz.” Trap. - 066/100 Themes.
I’ve been waiting so long to introduce this character! He’s originally from a different story I made up in high school, but I folded him into this once since I liked his concept so much.
Toriayne is the favorite wife of Belsamel, the Akhari emperor, much loved for her light hair and green eyes. However, ‘she’ is really a ‘he.’ In his youth, the penniless, naive, tailor’s unique design sensibilities got him and opportunity to dress a visiting foreign prince. They fell in love, and he went back to Belsamel’s home country as his wife. Every day, he spends hours using his tailoring and makeup artistry to maintain a female appearance. It seems to work until Belsamel begins to desire an heir - meaning a second wife - that can carry on his magical ability of fire generation. As the pressure increases, Tori starts to want a break-up. When he hears this, Belsamel increases his gaslighting, and Tori finds himself in a psychologically abusive relationship because, despite his appearance, he identifies strongly as a gay man with an occupational passion and talent in clothing design.
So I guess, pronoun-wise, you can refer to him as a ‘he’
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Toriayne and Bohren Tabirian belongs to Grace Fong,
Rivek grabbed the doorknob to keep from falling over as a wave that reeked of formaldehyde hit him in the face. His crutch clattered to the ground. He stooped slowly to pick it up again, holding the stitches in his abdomen. He was glad to be mobile again, but the hospital could only do so much after he’d been gored through the stomach by a half-bull, half-machine.
As Rivek crept under the threshold, he wasn’t sure if he’d entered a research lab or a butcher shop. Eamon had hacked the beast apart and, having run out of table room, he’d begun to hang some parts from the ceiling. Right now, he was elbow-deep in its intestines, cutting out individual organs and sorting them into trays. He waved Rivek out.
The bird-mage leaned on his crutch, “You’re not going to send me away after all the trouble it takes to get here.”
“You shouldn’t help me in your condition,” Eamon said. “You risk infection.”
“I haven’t had an infection since I was six,” Rivek said, tapping the scar under his right eye. “You said it yourself - my acid blood poses an ‘inhospitable environment’ to other lifeforms.”
Eamon brought a chair over to for him, leaving blood stains where he’d gripped it with his dirty gloves. Rivek sighed with relief as he lowered himself into the seat.
“See, you aren’t well yet.”
Rivek chose to ignore that statement and began picking through the carcass. He needed to know what had almost killed him, but this was proving to be difficult. Cleaning a rabbit was much easier because it didn’t require using your entire arm. Every time he reached inside, his face was engulfed by the scent of rot. Only a buzzard would enjoy that smell.
“What’s this?” Rivek brought forth the animal’s heart. Loaded with metal tubing, it weighed even more than the skull.
Eamon picked through the wiring and narrowed his eyes. “If you hadn’t killed it, it would have killed everyone. It’s a bomb.”
The body had to be disposed of. Sorian ran his hands along the axe handle. There was only one thing you could do to get rid of a corpse in the frigid north. Burn it. But before anything could be burnt, it had to be moved somewhere you could start a fire. He positioned his axe over its shoulder and removed its arm.
Vendelain watched, shaking his head. “Don’t you think this is a little extreme?”
“This is practical. If we do not relocate the body, then it will freeze over. Segmenting it is merely the most efficient means of transport.” Sorian dropped the ax down onto the dead man’s hip, severing the corpse’s thigh. One day, he hoped there would be a very different black-blood under his blade, preferably one who grew feathers. He leveled his axe at the body’s throat.
“I worry for you, sire.” Vendelain sighed. “This is growing into an obsession.”
“I would not classify my actions as ‘obsession,’ Vendelain. I simply accomplish the goals that I set.” Sorian raised the axe above his head and let it drop. The loosened head rolled sideways. He picked it up by the hair, letting the black blood drain onto the snow.
“Nonetheless, I still care, and I still worry.”
“Nemion.” Obsession. - 071/100 Themes.
Ha! Sadists don’t listen to voices of reason! It's anyone's guess who the body is.
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Sorian Aljannen and Vendelain Feyr belong to Grace Fong,
Willow never remembered blood smelling this bad before. The white walls of the emergency room threw it back into her face, doubling the odor. They stood in stark contrast to the gaping carcass before her. Wit every breath, its abdomen oozed black blood.
She had never seen this symptom described in any textbook. Only fiction came anywhere close. The fluid smelled sharp and radiated heat. Sweat beaded on her brow as she put her gloves on. At least she had this minor protection. The thought of touching the patient made her shiver.
Enos, the professor, motioned for her to continue. “Go on. This is a test, after all.”
Willow took a deep breath of foul air and spread the wound with a retractor. Swallowing, she dipped the forceps inside the body cavity. Her hands wavered, and her knuckles grazed the open tissue. She cringed as she felt the organs move around her knuckles in time with the patient’s breathing. “Abdomen has been punctured,” she muttered. “Resulting in intestinal injury.”
“Good,” the professor nodded. “This man was injured while working in a mine. A magical device for detecting noxious gas exploded in his presence. So what do we do?”
“Search for and remove debris.” She bit her lip and nudged the tissue with her tools, looking for shards of iron. A sliver appeared as she poked, and she lifted it out, dropping it into an alcohol solution. Two more appeared as she continued. She rescued the first, but when she reached for the second, it dissolved as she touched it with the tongs.
She scanned around once more for debris, but the cavity was empty. It seemed impossible for an explosive to leave so little shrapnel, but every search turned up clean. Maybe the patient had been lucky.
“Next, suture internal injury.” The professor nodded. Willow used her clean sleeve to wipe the damp hair from her eyes. She reminded herself of her brother’s advice: this is just like sewing. She took the needle with her forceps and slid it through the tissue. She looked down at her first successful stitch. Perhaps this would not be so bad. But as she watched, the thread dissolved in the liquid around it. She tried a second, and it melted again.
As she moved, the breathing tissue around her became more erratic. She threw her magic into it, forcing the tired cells to double. But her tendrils of energy faded as they pushed into the veins. Still, her fingers darted back and forth, suturing an organ within. But no magic could help. It would not close.
She almost didn’t feel the heart fail. Her work kept her too distracted to notice the flesh settle. When she finished the stitches, it no longer moved. Her own heart began to race, foiling her attempts to check the patient’s pulse points for a beat.
“I’m afraid you can’t do anything else.” Enos stood and put his hand on her shoulder. “What would you have done last?”
“Finally, repair external injury and dress the wound.”
Enos nodded, “ I cannot afford you full marks, but you will pass.”
She wiped off the forceps. Once cleaned, she noticed the steel tips of had begun to corrode. “What kind of gas does this? What mine did he work in?”
“The prison work-camp a few miles north of here.”
Prison? “How did he get there?”
“Running an illegal gambling ring. As doctors, we pledge to rescue the injured. Even the worst people.” He led her to the sink and turned on the tap for her. She threw the gloves. which now had holes worn in their fingertips, in the garbage. As the water ran down her shaking hands, he sighed, “There will be some people you cannot save.”
Professor Enos is a strange man, but without him, Willow and Rivek would not share the bond they have. Enos gives Willow an advanced opportunity to work with him in surgery, and forces Rivek to do lab cleaning to bring up his grades. However, he wants to teach more than science, and he has ulterior motives for all his actions.
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Enos Voltier and Willow Solan belong to Grace Fong,
Teachers punished those caught out of bed with thirty lashes across the shoulders, but Bohren would gladly risk corporeal pain to make this night one to remember. Or not remember. Still, no one would find them so deep in the King’s Woods. In First Year, Rivek had found this cabin through his way with birds. He claimed sparrows once came here to scavenge scraps from camping royalty, but the king eventually abandoned it for less rugged pursuits. The lock rusted off years ago, but there was no reason to go indoors. The moon filled the clearing with light, and the breeze filled the air with cicada song. Here, they were safe..
Bohren set his stolen quarry on the steps: a flask of whiskey, a phial of wine, and three bottles of beer in varying strengths. Rivek counted them and nodded in approval, “You’re getting better at this.”
“I learned from the best.”
Bohren knew his friend could have walked off with a lot more if he hadn’t been injured. He uncorked a bottle of wine and poured them each a glass. “Cheers.”
Eager to reach intoxication, they inhaled the first draft without exchanging words. Rivek smiled but kept one hand over his bruised rib, a reminder of the trial that awaited at noon. Bohren wondered whether the wound had finally scabbed enough that it didn’t need constant re-bandaging.
Rivek rubbed his free hand against his arms for warmth. Immediately, Bohren moved to put his arm around the shivering boy, but another item shift in his pocket. He removed the final bottle of stout from under his coat and set it on the steps.
“Looks like i taught you more than I thought,” Rivek reached for it neck and began undoing the seal with his knife. Already tipsy, he fumbled as he dug the blade into the wax. Even in the dim light, Bohren could see his friend’s cheeks flush.
“You don’t want that one.” Bohren laughed, switching it with a lighter ale. He poured an inch of whiskey into his own glass and swirled it around, letting the pungent alcohol fill his nostrils. The taste never appealed to him much. It made his mouth pucker. His favorite part of drinking was the fire that grew in his stomach like a punch to the abdomen. He downed it in one breath and smiled as the heat travel up his throat, “It’s the night before we die. Better make it a good one.”