From NorCon MUSH
RL Date: 4 August, 2016
Who: Alida, Ilicaeth
Involves: Southern Area
Type: Vignette
What: A tiger never changes its stripes...
Where: A bar on the Southern Continent
When: Day 19, Month 6, Turn 41 (Interval 10)
Weather: Temperate, sunny.

Icon alida surprise.png Icon alida ilicaeth battlecry.jpg

Her 'work' at Broad Leaves Hold done, 'Lydia' the Trader departed on foot - as always - making certain she wasn't being followed (a few times, she had been), picking her way along the path through the jungle in caution until she emerged into the grasslands, which faded out when she finally reached Ilicaeth, a good pair of hours away.

With thoughts of the hold and its leaders keen on her mind, the bluerider directed her lifemate up and not into Between - not in her preoccupied state - but into a long-distance mode of flight from on high, which allowed Alida time to parse not only the hold, but other things weighing on her active mind. Ilicaeth was quite happy to soar on the still-warm winter air of the South, letting the currents take his weight, make wingbeats only an occasional occurance. As the world far below passed by at a relatively easy pace, the blonde found herself reflecting on the outlet - the pure positive joy and pleasure - that her music brought her, and of the direction and perhaps strange fulfillment in helping others that dragonhealing brought her.

Her, the former Guard. Her, the warrior. Her, the bitter, angry, lonely being who had never truly belonged to any group...forging her own way. Likely none of this would be possible without the partnership of her blue dragon, without the unflagging backing he gave without hesitation, without his full acceptance of what and who she was. Ilicaeth didn't take any shit, though, and knew when to push, to question, to back off, and to even snap in anger or cuddle in love. They were well and truly matched, a well-oiled piece of smith's machinery with the occasional creaks and grindings that required tuning, now and then. They were grounded, realistic. They WORKED.

Hours later, such thoughts ran through the woman's mind as she kicked back in a small bar not terribly far from some cothold that grew hops and malt, the locally brewed beer not swill, for once, but touched with pleasant touches of honey and a higher concentration of malt. She made an inner note to remember this place, see if they'd want their product added to her 'chain' of places that offered delicious goods of varying qualities. This stuff was quite pleasant, but couldn't equal the quality that a Brewer or Vintner could put out... thus excellent for people who didn't have deep purses, but wanted something of better quality.

Anytime she was South on business, 'Lydia' made certain to take different (usually longer) routes to return to a hidden Ilicaeth, just as she did now, the blue lazing up on a small plateau, spread out so that he blended decently with the grey rock while presenting little profile, especially with the sun in one's eyes. The walk back to him along the sward of tall grasses was pleasant in a way she'd only recently begun to appreciate, Rukbat's warmth kind instead of baking or swampy-humid. Peaceful, just as the rhythm of her strides were, as the calls of wild avians were.

They were on her like lightning, Alida surprised from her appreciation of nature and her own thoughts by the determined faces of one man and two scrappy women bursting from the tall grasses, presenting long knives at her, along with a dark train of words. "Give up yer purse, and you'll not have ta regret the lack of a grave." The pair of women grinned wickedly at their 'mouthpiece,' the man sounding and looking more dangerous than they did. Looks could be deceptive.

Ten minutes' easy flight away, Ilicaeth's head jerked up from his doze, faceted eyes roiling yellow and orange, his muzzle lifting in one place to flash a snarl. Trouble...*surprising* trouble. Without a thought, he was hurling himself skyward, not bothering with too much altitude...wanting only speed. What he *really* wanted was to Between to Alida and insert his 'influence' (all 4 tons of it) into the situation...but the surprise and hesitation in his partner's mind - so foreign and disconcerting - threw the blue enough off-kilter mentally that he found himself suddenly doubting the brilliance of his tactic of pop in from higher above, swoop down, and bellow and flail about in the air. It was just too damned random, too dangerous while the thugs were so close to Alida. His decision took all of 5 seconds, which gained him about 50 feet of height, and much more forward distance. Despite being square and craggy, he was still a blue - still a fighter jet compared to his much bulkier brown, bronze, gold brethren - and broad wings snapped at the air as 'caeth kicked in the afterburners. At his current pace - 5 minutes away - too much could happen. Damn circumstance!

Alida couldn't help the pugnacious, wary look that spread over her features as she assessed the robbers. They looked like they'd been at this for a good while - experienced - like they were used to getting what they wanted. Used to killing when they didn't. Bad news. She didn't dare reach for her own open, nor hidden blades, not when the thieves were so close. Clear green eyes narrowed, darkened as the 'ex' Guard considered possibilities, weighed options, and communicated with her dragon.

« Stall 'em as long as you can... » came the baritone gravel and grit of Ilicaeth's mindvoice, the blue directing his rider away from her preferred form of instant action/retaliation. For once, his sage advice worked, Alida remaining still (though readied in subtle fashion), an expression of false partial-resignation moving over her features as the bandits smirked.

"Come now, trader," came the oily chortle of the somewhat older woman. "Is your life worth the marks in your purse? You can always earn more...and likely never encounter us again." The younger woman smirked, added in, "Only if she's smart enough to hand over the money and never show that pretty, dumb face here ever again." The man only nodded, waved his wherry skinner a little at the bluerider so it flashed in the sunlight. It was a fear-inducing tactic that didn't work on the Guard, though she let her stubborn features betray more false reaction with a faint startle.

« Don't let 'em get to ya... » Came the hard, cool answer of Ilicaeth's reaction to his rider's internal, growing anger at her situation, and especially the insult from the younger woman...who she suddenly itched to beat to a pulp. As soon as Alida recognized that she'd used the same tactics on others to provoke a reaction/fight, the blonde simmered down some. Still, she wanted to split the other's lip and hear her whine.

"How about I give you half of what I have, and half later?" 'Lydia' temporized. "You can find me easy, since I gotta come back here, anyway. I need money for travel and expenses..." It sounded almost convincing, except for the chill spark of defiance behind the bluerider's green eyes.

"How about you give us all of it, and we won't beat you senseless for insulting us?" added the tall, wiry man with the unpleasant smile. "We have mouths, families to feed." The lie sounded as saccharine to his own ears as it did to Alida's.

"She obviously don't wanna give up any of it, so why waste anymore time, and part 'er from her life and take it without a sharding argument?" sneered 'older woman,' her big knife making ugly little carving patterns in the air before her towards the dragonrider.

Both male and younger woman glanced significantly at their partner, a moue of sudden caution touching their faces. "Too many deaths brings nosey Guards. We got enough of those already." The man was at least somewhat prudent, though the older woman continued trying to scare Alida. "Not for a couple Turns. One dead body, left in the right circumstances, wouldn't attract much attention at all ta' us." This one was the one to beware...the one with not much anxiety at all about killing. And she was apparently somewhat smart, as well. So very dangerous, this situation, these people.

It was the distraction of the quick argument between the man and the older woman - snapping some at one another about killing - that became Alida's opportunity for escape. It was a risky move, but staying here much longer was ever worse, and so a pretend swoon towards the younger woman brought uncertain reaction from all involved...except Alida. This was old hat to her...though she'd not used the tactic in many Turns. It was too 'weak' for her tastes...but time and circumstance dictated nothing else.

She slid just past the grasping arms of the younger female bandit, rolled to the ground, came up like an uncoiling spring...and ran. Alida: the person who prided herself on confrontation, weaponry, ability in many a fight...was fleeing for her money and her life. Into the tall grasses nearby she sprinted, while the three thieves angrily cussed and followed at their top speeds. Two were taller than her, and it sounded like at least one was faster, but the bluie dared not look behind her. Unwilling to let them box her in or overwhelm her, Alida zigged and zagged at random, confusing her would-be captors with a mixture of the occasional sneak tactic mixed with sudden bursts of speed. It helped that avians and small creatures erupted from grassy cover, startling all of them.

Knives now in both hands - one smaller for faster and more precise blows, the other a pig-gutter favored by the Guards - the bluerider knew she couldn't keep ahead of them, beyond them for long. She was a long-distance runner with some small ability for a few bursts of speed to factor in, and the latter were nearly used up. Ilicaeth was only another minute and a half away, but there just wasn't enough time, even via dragon wings..and Ilicaeth growled his displeasure, his concern. They both knew what might have to be done, and it bothered them both for varying reasons....but reality was a harsh mistress.

Disguised by a flurry of ground dwelling avians exploding from cover ahead of her, Alida skidded to a stop, hit the ground, and waited with gasping breaths she tried to control the loudness of. The man was the one who nearly ran her over in his haste to follow what he thought was her passing track, and instead found a flurry of tangling, tripping legs sending him to his face in the grass with a loud "Oof!" as he tried to roll away. A wordless throb of thought from Ilicaeth determined Alida's next moves, though they were by their very nature more dangerous than her usual tactics. A small tussel had her quickly punching the man in the groin a pair of times, even as he cuffed her a sound one upside her head...enough to make her wits spin for a few moments. Instantly, he was down and ineffectual, whimpering softly, curled up into a tight ball on the ground. A well-placed punch to the back of his neck, in just the perfect spot, left him unconscious.

Already, the two female bandits were moving towards their position, hearing the scuffle, one returning from a farther position, the other circling in quickly from the right. Again there was the waiting of the bluerider - as much behind the unconscious body of the man as was possible - and her explosive launch outward as the younger woman semi-cautiously entered the beaten-down grass. Alida went for her legs, knocking them out from under her, though - for her surprise move - 'Lydia' received a shallow slice of the other's knife across her lightly-clad ribs...the feeling of being wounded surprising enough after so many Turns without such making her gasp. Sensing she had scored better than she had, the bandit rolled about on the ground, looking to kick out and hopefully knock down the rising 'trader' once again to her level...only to be met by another kick from the bluerider...connecting with the other woman's jaw. Goodnight. It was a purely lucky move, but Alida took whatever positives she was given with decent grace. After all, she now wore a long, bloody slice on her torso to 'compensate.'

Unable, unwilling to press one hand to her wound to staunch the blood seeping from it, the double-knife wielding 'rider found herself running away again from the site of two take-downs...only to plow nearly headfirst into the older woman, her features a mask of anger and greed. After many flashes of knives and desperate evasions, both women now wore their wounds in a flurry of nicks, shallow and short slices, and also the stab the thief took to one of her thighs, dangerously near the femoral artery. Blood was everywhere, making the ground slick, the grasses sheened with it... and it was their combined spill of their lives that caused Alida to slip sideways, fall to the ground. She saw it written clear in the other's narrowed brown eyes, in the flash of her raised skinning knife as 'Lydia' tried to parry from her awkward position: this was likely death coming.

Not 20 feet above both distracted combatants, a bellowing roar thundered through the air, scaring up all the wildlife about them, and startling both women as well...allowing Alida to partially capture the downward stroke of the fist with the blade in it aimed at her heart. It was almost good enough...but the downward pressure and momentum made the bluie's grabbing hand slip...

Slamming to the ground in a four-legged, very ungraceful, and tooth-clattering 'landing,' Ilicaeth shrieked like a banshee as he swung his neck and head down and over the scene below him like a greyish-blue scythe. Or sledgehammer.

The end of his muzzle connected partially with the bandit's upper body, the dull snap of her spine echoing in the suddenly still grassland, her blow merely gouging down the shoulder of her quarry, instead of piercing Alida's heart. Still, it hurt, made the bluerider call out in both surprise (for her lifemate's rescue) and her own increased pain. But she was *alive*, and that was all that mattered. Her and Ilicaeth.

Snarling momentarily at the bandit - still alive upon her back, but paralyzed - the blue dragon stepped over her, gently nuzzled his bloody rider. Up Alida finally hauled herself with the last dregs of her adrenaline, his ichor-dotted muzzle lifting up carefully, as well.

« You're...! »

« Fine. Just a scratch. » Ilicaeth rumbled firmly. A scratch from a knife that was as a mosquito to him, though it stung like a papercut. With more concern and less dry humor, « *You're gonna need a Healer, and I ain't takin' you Between with yer head in a jumble. » Snort.

« Faranth damn it... » was all Alida got out before the pain in her shoulder made her wince heavily. She allowed her blue to make the call to Ierne Weyr - the closest one to their current position - and within two minutes, a pair of dragons, brown and blue, emerged above not far away, coming to the 'Reachians' aid. Before their arrival, Alida staggered the couple of paces over to the very slowly dying bandit, the look of fear and hatred in her eyes all for the bluerider.

"Fuckin'....'rider..." was gurgle-gasped, a bit of blood frothing from the downed woman's nose and mouth.

"You chose the wrong person ta fuck with." Bloodied as she was, Alida still couldn't stop herself from saying it with hard pride.Next noted with quiet, falsely casual intensity, "You know yer dyin'." She could still be as cold as a 'Reaches winter, when called for, no pity in the bluie's voice. "Gonna be a long time in it...maybe ten, fifteen minutes."

"Bitch!" Oh, the hatred and fear in the bandit's tone! The fear dominated, though. She was dying, and at the mercy of an enemy she'd nearly killed. Nearby Ilicaeth bared a few teeth at the pest that had tried to murder his lifemate, and then rumbled softly to Alida.

A moment's pause to look waveringly at her lifemate presaged the blonde's stare down at the woman whom her dragon had bested in his extremity of need. A thought or two passed across the 'rider's mind, finally had her murmuring not unkindly, "I c'n give it to ya." Beat. "Mercy."

"Yer...not a Trader... *cough* not just ... a rider..." the dying thief coughed out, her lips bloodying even more with the effort. A feeble spit of that blood at Alida only gobbed it onto the bushwhacker's chest, a low groan let out. After some long moments staring at the inside of her eyelids, the woman finally looked up again at the bluie, spat out bleakly, "Yeah. To the Red Star with both uv' you." Bloody teeth showed in her rictus grin.

Unvoiced, Ilicaeth's thoughts swept away any anger Alida might've experienced from the insult: the bandit was as good as dead, was having everything she ever had or would ever have taken away from her...no small 'experience.' Alida could afford to be merciful.

Yes...she could, when Ilicaeth put it that way. Ultimately, all Alida offered the bandit was a stiff nod as she wobblingly knelt down, hefted her smaller blade in left hand. With a swift and certain, surgically precise jab with her keen knife between ribs, the ex-Guard punctured the already expiring woman's heart. A shocked gasp from the downed woman was followed by the final exhalation of her breath, her face gone peaceful in the end, eyes closing.

As they waited for the Ierneans to arrive - as Alida wiped her blade off on the grass and stowed it waveringy back into its sheathe, the muzzy-headed blonde clung to her blue's muzzle - to his mind - for support and focus...and mused. Tigers...wildcats couldn't change their stripes. Whatever she was now, though...it was tempered by the lessons of a decade, and the intercession of her lifemate.

They were ALIVE.

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