A Play-by-Nova roleplay game.

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Where the Mountains Meet the Heavens Above

Posted on 20 Aug 2018 @ 8:23pm by Xiuling Brooke & Tabitha

Mission: I Don't Care, I'm Still Free

In the wake of their conversation the other day, Xiuling couldn't help but notice how worryingly familiar everyone and everything had become in the last few weeks. She knew the stallholders in the market by face, and a couple by name and most of them recognised her. As far as border settlements went, this one was a fairly pleasant community. Were she not worried about keeping on the move and her past not being able to follow her she thought she could be quite happy here. Tabitha certainly was, as far as Xiu could tell anyway, and she didn't want to upset her friend by insisting that they go somewhere.

The brace of conies across the shoulders was larger today, and she could sell them all in exchange for goods. Food, material, and the light pistol Xiuling was saving up for. It was, possibly, the cheapest thing on the market, but she needed something other than her bow and for what she'd need it for this was her best option. The seven platinum in her pocket felt good, hopefully she'd sell the rabbits at a good price too.

An hour or so later, rabbits gone, and ten platinum left over. She had enough money for the gun... but that would reduce their safety net should they have to make a move in a hurry or fix something. She'd bargained well, a thick blanket ready for when the nights turned colder, a new pair of boots for Tabitha, some cans of food they could keep for a while as emergency rations. She was smiling as she handed over her last couple of rabbits...

Then she saw him, haggling with a farmer over a basket of local fruit. It took her a moment, and it wasn't even like she'd seen him showing someone her picture, but she knew he would recognise her if he saw her. He was one of Nikolai's men, no one particularly important, but he'd been one of those who'd laughed as Nikolai had slapped her so hard he split her lip and nearly gave her whiplash, one who'd held her arms as Nikolai had punched her in the stomach... Yes he would recognise her, and report back... or try and take her himself.

It took everything she had not to draw her bow and shoot him where he stood. Instead, she managed to keep her smile on her face as she waved goodbye to the stallholder and headed for home, ducking and weaving though the small crowd to put as many bodies and as much space betwen her and Pieter Zin as possible.

Her footsteps were hurried as she ran up the stairs to their room, and she opened the door stepped inside and shut it agin without even looking to see where Tabitha was. She locked the door and leaned her forehead against it, forcing herself to breathe.

Tabitha sheathed the knife she had drawn even before the door to the room had been opened. Xiuling's footfalls on the stairs were quick, quick like they had never been before. She didn't even remember drawing the knife, it was instinct. A lot of what she did was still driven by instinct especially when presented with danger. She could tell something was wrong and aporoached slowly, frowning intensely with concern and query in equal measure.

Xiu was gasping for air, her nails digging into her palms, eyes tight shut as she tried to think, tried to come up with a plan.

"Go Neong Yung Duh" she muttered through gritted teeth.

Tabitha wanted to speak, she wanted so badly to ask what was going on, but she couldn't. Months of being battered and beaten if she made a single noise had crossed the wires in her brain like a junkie would cross a person for a fix of the good stuff. Even if that weren't the case, with her tongue in the mess it was in she didn't know what would happen and she wasn't in the mood to find out. The girl needed a professional head shrinker to unravel this mess but finding a shrink in this verse was like trying to find the lost city of Atlantis. People said it existed but no one ever gorram saw it. The teen was starting to panic. It was at this moment she realised how much she used Xiuling as a safety net and how much it knocked her out of kilter when Xiuling was out of sorts. She took another two steps forward and placed her hand gently on Xiuling's left shoulder, her palm resting over the archer's heart.

Xiuling stiffened as Tabitha's hand came to rest on her shoulder, and her head snapped to the left to look at the smaller girl. She relaxed a little, forcing herself to breathe.

"Sorry," she muttered, pushing away from the door, her mind still trying to work on a plan of some kind. If they wanted to stay here she couldn't just hide until Pieter took his sorry ass back to Ezra, she was effectively running a business and she couldn't just not turn up when she'd agreed shooting days with farmers. She dumped her bag on the small table and sat down on the chair, running her hand through her hair. "I just saw someone on market street, someone I wasn't expecting to see here..." She was desperately trying to keep it together, for Tabitha's sake if not her own. Those memories she'd forced into a little box in her head and had bolted the lid shut was starting to rattle...

Tabitha sat on the bed as Xiuling began to tell her what happened. She was wearing one of the shirts that Xiuling had brought back for her a couple of weeks before, now adjusted for her diminutive size. They were collared shirts, one brown and one blue, one red and one white. The first a browncoat sympathiser sort of shade with a sparse pale Chinese pattern depicting small flowers growing on a vine. The second was an off-white with lighter and darker blue and black cheques. The final two plain colours. She'd made them into something quite cute, long sleeve shirts that fitted her well but didn't show anything off, not that she had that much to show in the first place. With the offcuts she had made matching chokers, neatly hemmed and stitched with a button fastening and the word 'Tabitha' embroidered large so folks could see. Some days she wore the matching chokers, other days she swapped them over. It was all that work that had held up her embroidery of the bag which for now only had the outline of a butterfly in white.

"Who?" She mouthed at Xiuling after a moment, shrugging.

"Someone who works for the people who are looking for me," she said quietly. Not for the first time she wondered just how much she should tell Tabitha about what she was running from, and once again the ring on the chain around her neck felt heavy. She pursed her lips before pulling out the chain from inside her shirt and showed Tabitha the ring Sergei had presented her with publicly. It didn't mean a thing except a representation of her captivity.

"I got engaged to save my family. Only, the man who arranged it, the cousin of the man I was supposed to marry, went back on his word. He had my mother killed, and he took great pleasure in abusing me and then watching my fiancee parade me around like there was nothing wrong... The guy I saw... he was there, for all of it. I got out and I've been on the run ever since. The cousin, he promised me they'd never stop looking... and I don't know if they've gotten lucky coming here or it they tracked me... but..." she sighed, and looked Tabitha in the eye. "I'm sorry, Tabitha... I can't stay here any more..."

Tabitha's heart sank, but not for the reason most would have expected. She had no idea Xiuling had experienced abuse. To a farm girl like her Xiuling was the epitome of grace and education. It didn't even occur to her that she wasn't exactly where she wanted to be doing exactly what she wanted to do. There was a lot Tabitha hadn't thought about, she wasn't self-centred per se, just young. She had left civilised society at fourteen and despite looking after her younger siblings while her parents worked the farm and everything else she had been through she was no adult. Tabitha stood, walked over to Xiuling and wrapped her arms around her in a big hug. She couldn't say how she felt so she was slowly devising ways to express herself physically instead. Hugs was one of them and it was a universal language. After a short while she took a step back, pointed to Xiuling, then to herself and then upwards to the sky outside the window. The prospect of space scared her for sure but the prospect of Xiuling leaving her scared her more.

Xiuling was surprised by the hug, but by the expression on Tabitha's face maybe she shouldn't have been. This wasn't the first time they had hugged of course but... it was the first time Tabitha had initiated it with the intention of comforting her instead of the other way around. She squeezed her eyes shut and hugged her back, trying not to hold her too tight but she couldn't help it. What Tabitha did when she pulled away made Xiuling's eyes widen.

"Are you sure?"

Tabitha nodded with conviction and took out her little writing pad which by now was missing a few more pages, pages that had been filled with various messages, all kept to as few badly-penned words as possible. Writing done she showed it to Xiuling.

you sAvE mE, I sAvE you.

"Thank you," Xiuling smiled softly, her expression a little sad. "I'm sorry," she added, knowing how hard this would be for her. "We need to pack... and we need a plan..."

Tabitha didn't need telling twice. She started to pack her belongings into her bag, books first and cans of food surrounded by all of the other more deformable items, her clothes, sewing kit, cleaning supplies and the collection of foraged herbs she had acquired which, now dry from sitting on the windowsill, she crumbled into a screw-cap glass bottle she had found on the street and sanitised with boiling water. All stuffed inside and laboriously closed up she pointed to the boots Xiu had brought back questioningly.

Xiuling bundled the clothes she had into her large duffel bag, she packed away her bow and arrows, sheathed her assortment of knifes in various pockets and grabbed the beaten up leather jacket she'd grown to love recently. Packing didn't take them long, but then, that was the kind of trasient lifestyle Xiuling had become used to. She looked up in time to see Tabitha indicating the boots.

"They were for you, for winter, didn't want you losing a toe to frostbite..." she said with a shrug. Tabitha smiled her thanks and after pulling on the ratty woollen socks she wore at night time pulled on the boots too and pulled the laces tight. She made a sequence of symbols to Xiuling that amounted to you, me, space travel, please, see, bare feet, denied. This was her justification for taking a couple of minutes to lace up the boots properly. Xiuling had a good eye, they were pretty much bang on, no mean task for small feet. She did last visual sweep of the room, checked her knife was in place in the rear belt loops of her trousers and looked at Xiuling expectantly, waiting for her to give the okay to leave in the way young people usually did with adults.

Xiuling had half expected her not to want them, but apparently being in space meant she needed to wear boots. They seemed to fit pretty well too and Xiu was pleased she hadn't wasted the money.

"We need to think, we can't rush back out there," she said, starting to pace across the room. "Maybe we could just move to the next colony... or..." a firefly had landed out by one of the farms she shot for earlier that day. She walked over to the desk and pulled open the drawer, she opened the false bottom she'd made and checked the money they had.

What with it being spring, and the rabbits in the area fucking like... well... rabbits... she'd shot a lot more than she might have done at another time of year. She could buy the medium pistol she'd seen in the gun store, plus some ammo... and if they offered to pitch in as passengers on the ship they could get cheaper fare for their passage, maybe.

"We need to head for McLoughlan's farm, there's a ship there that should be leaving soon, and I need to buy that gun I've been saving for on the way. Did you cook anything today?" she asked, looking over her shoulder at Tabitha as she split the coinage down into smaller packages, the 50 platinum she would need for the gun and ammo, and a few smaller bags that she hid about her person.

Tabitha’s eyes went wide at the realisation that in her haste she had forgotten the pair’s foodstore. She clambered up the end of the bunk like a redheaded lemur without a tail and reached out to collect the old ammo box they used as a bread bin from a high shelf out of the reach of rats and mice. She had ‘acquired’ the box from the back of the gun store. It was unlikely anyone even noticed, let alone cared. Inside was a fresh loaf of bread wrapped in a tea towel and her yeast starter, secured in a Glass jar which she showed to Xiuling after she had climbed back down and wrestled with the catch. Breadmaking was another one of those skills that Tabitha hadn’t really announced but had simply started, rooting out the best flour available in the market. After all, with fat available from the rabbits and flour relatively cheap all it needed was time, effort and yeast and the first two the young girl had to spare.

"O.k. I'll grab the rest of our food while you pack that," she said, wrapping up the fruit and vegetables they had left over from the last meal they cooked. it wasn't a lot, but fresh food was enough to sway any stomach.

It didn't take them long but they were soon ready to leave. Xiuling took a deep breath and let her eyes sweep around the room giving it one last check. In some ways, she would be sad to leave it behind, this had been their safe haven for nigh on a month now... But it was high time they moved on.

"You ready?" she asked Tabitha, gesturing towards the door. Tabitha nodded. She looked determined.

"O.k. then, let's go..." She said, pushing the door open and heading out onto the landing. After a beat she held her hand out to Tabitha, wherever they ended up next, they would at least be there together...

Xiuling Brooke



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