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the earth laughs in flowers

Someone had told him once that the dunes liked to sing.

But they have never sung for him.

Today they look like restless giants behind him, whispering about the flower-clad child they once nearly devoured. He wonders if they still want to consume him now, all these years later; he thinks they must. He can feel it in the way they shift around him like hungry wolves, the pack circling the rabbit. Always moving, always changing, always ready to drag him down to the depths of them and take back the life that was stolen from them that night.

Already he can taste the sand, and each breath of it  makes his lungs ache like they have only ever been an hourglass slowly filling up. It makes something in him start to tremble — from dread, or from anticipation, or from the blood-deep instinct to rise, rise, rise and bare his teeth. He can’t tell the difference between his courage and his fear anymore; he supposes that is what it took to learn how to be brave in the middle of a war.

But Ipomoea is not the helpless prey. Not anymore.

And the flowers on his brow will not wilt so easily.

Inside the blood-stone walls, he can (almost) forget the way the sun feels like the great eye of Solis bearing down upon him. Inside the Colosseum there is only the glory and the gore of the fighters, and the blood-drunk frenzy of the crowd. Their cheers drown out his thoughts, their cries suffocate the wind of the desert whistling like songs through the canyon walls, and when the gates swing open with a crash, it sounds to him like death knocking a little too keenly at the door.

From the darkness on either end of the arena steps a soldier, one clad only in leather greaves, the other bearing a strip of metal down his face in the crude semblance of a helmet. They circle each other like hungry dogs, like they have forgotten how to be anything but monsters hiding in slack-ribbed bodies. Ipomoea can feel the crowd leaning in around them, pressing him forward, daring him to watch and oh, how like carrion crows and vultures they seem to him now, with their sharp eyes and their sharper teeth, and Ipomoea does not know which of the dogs is hungrier, the crowd or the fighters.

He wonders which of them will die today. He wonders if it will be worth it.

He wonders if he will ever be able to look on a gladiator fight and feel anything but contempt for the so-called sport rising like bile in the back of his throat. Or if he will ever hear the calls for blood and not feel the broken bits of him forming into that beast just below his skin in response, so close to the surface that he can hear it beginning to pant. The crowd presses in and oh, Ipomoea can feel himself pressing in beside them, and in the war-drum beat of his blood he finds all the truth he will ever need.

Ipomoea knows there is no glory here, there no glory to be found in their deaths. He has seen death, has known death, and death — death is no better or worse than the primordial dance the two warriors begin.

He tightens his grip on his wooden dagger, feeling it grow thorns and vines and blood-red petals, and again he wonders which of them will die today.

@anyone !
”here am i!“

Played by Offline Syndicate [PM] Posts: 171 — Threads: 33
Signos: 65
Vagabond Soldier
Male [He/his/him] // 9 [Year 496 Fall] // 18 hh // Hth: 10 — Atk: 10 — Exp: 32 // Active Magic: War Embodiment // Secondary Magic: N/A // Bonded: Damascus (Tartarosian Dragon)

like fishhooks; an old kind of hunger

Violence is the only poetry Vercingtorix knows.

He watches as it is written upon the sands of the arena in arcane splatters of blood. It is the oldest language in all the worlds, no matter how civilised. It is the only thing he can trust to admire.

Violence is the only honesty Vercingtorix knows. The only truth; fundamental; primordial. The soldiers that circle one another in the pit are no different than the wolves that have encircled the deer for eons; the serpent the bird; the lion the buffalo. There are similarities, Torix thinks, to men; but the difference is these soldiers do not fight to reenact some ancient dance between predator and prey, life and death, the beginning and the end. 


Men do it to feel like God. 

Yet, Torix scorns them; there is no nobility in fighting for a crowd, for appearances. The only fight that matters is consequential. 

No one gives a shit if you’re gutted in an alley, or a competition you signed up for.



He sneers, and might have left the tournament altogether, except something catches his eye.

It is not the man, at first, who for Novus standards appear quite ordinary. 

It is the gravity with which he holds the dagger, beneath the surface of the crowd. First, it looks like a toy; wooden; slight. Then it transforms; it grows vines and thorns, and petals the colour of the carnage blooming flower-like below. 

(He only sees because his entire life has been this

his entire life, yes, 

searching for weapons, for blades, for death-makers beneath the surface of the crowd, the throng, the herd).

Torix smiles.

It is not a kind smile.

(It never is.)

He parts the crowd easily. He looks like he belongs in the arena, not the audience. He almost looks Solterran.

He is not, and this is evident in the way he smells of everything but Solterran. Brine, and sodden wood, upturned dirt, copper. His walk is not a saunter but direct, intentional. 

Torix says, “Are you here to fight?” and gestures at the magic blade. He distrusts it; the petals; the thorns. It is unlike anything he has ever seen. Yet, it fascinates him. Yet, there is a part of him that wishes to touch it, to understand. 

(Oh, Vercingtorix, you learned long ago you will never understand anything outside you own world.

Below them, the men engage in a tangle of grit, rage, blood. The dance is inelegant, to him. The dance is all posture and plume; two birds of paradise with nothing save their vanity.

Torix’s disapproval is clear in his expression. 

But so, too, is the way it makes his blood sing. 


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the earth laughs in flowers

He does not recognize this part of him, the way his pulse chimes frantically in his ears and his heart pounds against his ribs. He is leaning in with the crowd, hating them for their frenzy and yet how can he be so disgusted, when he is there alongside them? When he is holding his own breath, waiting, watching, until his lungs start to ache from it? The warriors are circling each other and for a moment Ipomoea feels as though they are circling not each other —

But him.

He does not remember when he became a man that knew the song of blood better than one played by a violin. He does not remember inviting the darkness in when he learned how to be brave that night beside the lake, he never imagined he would need his dagger for more than a single monster (just this once, he had told himself, had he not told himself that?) He had not known then that it was in his blood, that “just this once” would awaken a part of him that he had not even known to exist. Even now that beast is blinking slowly awake, snarling just below his skin, coiling like a snake around his heart before it begins to squeeze.

The two warriors (he has to fight himself to call them such) circling each other in the ring were not like him, and oh, how he hates them for it. Perhaps if they were wolves, or bears, or lions he might have loved them; perhaps if one of them was a unicorn with the same bone-deep hunger he has come to love, he might have understood. Perhaps if they had a rage that ran as deep as his, that burned as hot as his, perhaps if their roots had grown in the same poisoned soil as his —

But no.

Overhead he can hear the carrion crows begin their calls.

Outside he can hear the desert whispering.

Come home, he imagines it saying. This is who you have always been.

A part of him still wants to deny it, even as his heart beats faster and the thorns twist themselves into knots in response. Something in him is aching and begging him to turn back, to run back to his forest, run through his forest, to follow the twisted deer-trails until he remembers that he has only ever been a part of the earth, and not this mortal thing that seeks to consume it like all the others. But it is hard to remember here where everything is either dead or dying.

He does not see the man at first, the only one to part the crowd instead of lean in amongst them like another lamb following the flock. It is only when he is there beside him, grinning his humorless grin that he becomes more than a faceless man standing in the crowd, becomes something for him to notice.

Ipomoea wonders if he is like him, if he is full of the same contradictions.

"Would you escort me back to the pits if I were?" He does not say that the fighters belong down on the sand, not here in the crowd; he does not say his rage was reserved for monsters, not a false sense of glory. But oh it’s there in his eyes, it’s written in the hard edge of his jaw when he sets his teeth together, it’s meaning is unfurling like the roses on his dagger that keep blooming, that dig their thorns into his own skin.

"Or would you offer a fight here, instead?"

All around them the crowd grows wild as one of the fighters collapses into the red-stained earth. But Ipomoea is not watching as he falls, is not cheering along with all those blood-drunk cries, is not listening as they name a victor and announce the next fight. He is watching only the stranger’s eyes, as if testing his reaction, as if daring him to look away from him.

And he wonders to himself — if this is how the crowd reacts for the conclusion of the first fight —

how would they react to the finale?

@anyone !
”here am i!“

Played by Offline Syndicate [PM] Posts: 171 — Threads: 33
Signos: 65
Vagabond Soldier
Male [He/his/him] // 9 [Year 496 Fall] // 18 hh // Hth: 10 — Atk: 10 — Exp: 32 // Active Magic: War Embodiment // Secondary Magic: N/A // Bonded: Damascus (Tartarosian Dragon)

like fishhooks; an old kind of hunger

Would you escort me back to the pits if I were? Or would you offer me a fight here, instead? 

Unhinged is not quite the word. It takes Vercingtorix longer than he would like to recognise the expression in the appaloosa’s eyes. They are alight with a fire he has felt on more than one occasion; anger, wrath, fury. A cardinal sin. 

The line of the stallion’s jaw turns hard and that tension settles all the way to his eyes. They’d be beautiful, otherwise, Torix thinks. This way, they are gnarled up, twisted in the way of vines strangling the life from their host. Vercingtorix does not divert his gaze, however. He only raises his brows and listens, in the background, to the screaming crowd. 

(He knows, of course, one of the gladiators is gutted out on the sand. He can smell the blood and excretions of fear, a sick mockery of a real battlefield, of real war. Why, he wonders, do men feel the need to play at dangerous games? The whole of life’s suffering is not enough without the pitted competition, without the striving for self-made, self-governed wars? This is all the Colosseum is, he thinks: a small man’s war.) 

“Is that what you would like?” He asks, at last. Torix’s voice is uncharacteristically soft. He knows, better than most, the contesting parts of the inner Soul; the way a man’s own inner conflict can rip him apart. The magic dagger is something beautiful, and violent, and terrifying in Ipomoea’s grasp. 

“Or is that what you need?” There is nothing threatening in the way he speaks, the way his turquoise eyes measures Ipomoea’s. He is not there to fight, only to watch, only to learn. 

And he cannot help but wonder what is unfolding before his eyes, right now. What kind of personal, moral dilemma. He remembers the first time he was blooded—the first time he had stepped onto the black beach to fight against the Khashran—he had come away forever marked, forever changed. Bondike had grounded him, then. Bondike had always grounded him.

But that grounding was gone.

And he wonders, now, what was left without it.

The memory of blood, Torix thinks.

The memory of fear, and pain, and loss, and chaos.

What a pleasure, he thinks, it must be to play at war instead of sell your soul to it. He is furious, too; and for the first time it enters his eyes as he appraises the pits beyond Ipomoea’s shoulder. 

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the earth laughs in flowers

The sun grows hotter, the air heavier beneath all the tension of their beating hearts, and the silence stretches taut and perilous between them. And there is only enough time, it seems, for him to feel like one of those carrion crows circling high above them. Or maybe there is time enough to feel like the sand, drinking in the blood of the fallen gladiator and pretending to not care which one of them was destined to water it. Or time enough to feel like the sun, laughing down at them all because it knows already —

it doesn’t matter which warrior dies. It doesn’t matter which goes on to fight another battle, the next battle, endless battles pretending to be wars because one day, one day —

Oh, one day, the victor too, will die.

Ipomoea knows it as well as the sun.

But he is not thinking of the crows, or the sand, or the sun when he steps closer to Vercingtorix. He is not listening to the crowd roaring or the sand dunes singing, but he is counting each thrum of the other stallion’s pulse at his throat, and he is tallying every scar betraying him for who — for what — he is. And his own heart both trembles and roars at the way his blood and magic burns in response.

When he blinks he can see the blood spiderwebbing across the backs of his eyelids, can see again the warrior falling with the blood twirling like ribbons from his throat. When he swallows he can taste it at the back of his throat. And when he opens his eyes it’s still there, written in promises across Vercingtorix’s skin.

“No,” he says even as the sands are raked and the next warrior steps from darkness to light. “But maybe it is what Solterra wants, or needs, or dreams of.” What he does not say is, maybe it was what I was destined for.

Maybe, he thinks, it was why Solis spared him.

His magic is still singing softly of blood, but not for the blood in the arena. No — Ipomoea did not need their bravado and false sense of glory. There would be no satisfaction in winning a matched fight.

For the first time he smiles, as he studies the crowd pressing in like jackals around them — but there is nothing soft or kind in his eyes. It is all thorns and spines and promises of violence.

Today, Ipomoea is not listening to the desert.

Today he is the desert.

When he speaks, his voice is almost lost beneath the roaring of the crowd. “And what do you need? I do not think you will find it here in the stands.” I know, I know, oh I know—

And if Vercingtorix has any bits of sand or crows or sun in him, Ipomoea’s is whispering back in kind.

@Vercingtorix !
”here am i!“

Played by Offline Syndicate [PM] Posts: 171 — Threads: 33
Signos: 65
Vagabond Soldier
Male [He/his/him] // 9 [Year 496 Fall] // 18 hh // Hth: 10 — Atk: 10 — Exp: 32 // Active Magic: War Embodiment // Secondary Magic: N/A // Bonded: Damascus (Tartarosian Dragon)

like fishhooks; an old kind of hunger
When this encounter first began, I did not think to recognize any of myself in the stranger, with wings that flutter so delicately at his ankles. I recognized only the restlessness; the sense of disbelonging. No. But maybe it is what Solterra wants, or needs, or dreams of, he answers, and in his answer there is something deeper, something unspoken that I am not privy to understanding. I do not look away; not when Ipomoea turns to me with an attention as bright as Solis’s own. 

I recognize the look of someone analyzing my scars; taking stock of them, as one might read the covers of old books. They tell you nothing, I want to say, but the words are choked like so much dust in the air. They do not tell you the truth of me. 

For some reason, I cannot look at the sands now; I do not want to witness the turmoil below, the violence wrought for entertainment and entertainment alone. It seems barbaric even to me, and—

He smiles, revealing something of himself he had not before. There is an edge; what I had mistook for tension might, instead, be violence. The kind of violence that rests quietly beneath the surface; unspoken of. 

And what do you need? I do not think you will find it here in the stands. 

It is more complicated, than that.

“It is not in the sands, either.” My tone is thick; I glance away, to the crowd of carrion-feasters, the crowd that thirsts and bays for the blood of others. Not like this, I think. Not like this. 

There is no nobility in this conflict; no honor in this death. I turn to look at him again, with harder eyes, with less softness. “Why come to a place that may want, or need, or dream of your blood spilt out on the sand?” I cannot help the question that rises, unbidden, to my lips. But it seems unfair to ask such as deep truth, without offering one of my own: 

“This is a small man’s way of understanding war,” I state. “Of understanding suffering, at the expense of—of decency.” The gawkish bystanders remind me too much of children—perhaps even myself, at the academy. When I had first seen a battlefield, a true battlefield, it had been as a boy. And we had been so naive, back then; so eager to witness what our father’s went to war for. Most do not think of how seawater can churn pinkish-gray with enough blood; or the smell of salt and flesh; or the precise sound a guidon flag makes, snapping in the wind, where the staff had broken off into the sand. 

No, I think. I will not find what I need anywhere else again. My war was already won and—with it over, what is left? 


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the earth laughs in flowers

This is why the songs of heroes and victors lie dead on their lips, why their worship fell on dead ears, why they descended again and again into the madness of the sands and the blood they spilled like prayers out upon it. Ipomoea can feel it — the empty, barely-beating hearts in all of their chests, the spaces they could not fill quickly enough with their opponents' blood. The hollow spaces between their lungs. The ache of their bellies that refuses to be sated, that never relents, that never gives them a moment to rest without looking for the next best thing to fill it with —

— he knows.

He knows because he feels it, too, as he leans over the railing and watches the next two fighters begin to circle one another. He knows it because the desert lives in his chest now, or perhaps it always has and he is only now learning to recognize its miles and miles of dunes as yet another mouth full of teeth and begging to swallow all the still-soft chambers of his heart.

Even now he can feel it, every blood soaked grain of sand chasing down the last of the flower petals lain against his ribs, the sand in his soul calling him to come home, come home, come back home.

But where they are empty and desperate to fill every last ache with a skin-deep rage, he is full. So terribly, painfully full that it is spilling out of him, all that sorrow and wrath and the traces of war that bleed out now from the scars lining his sides. All of it carving holes in his lungs, in his bones, in his veins, and even with it falling from all those holes he still can't find the end of it. Not in the forest, or the desert, or his gardens — not in this grave yard where the heroes are already dead and no one, not a single fighter or spectator has the courage to open their eyes and see it.

And he hopes, oh how he hopes they will feel every bit of his rage when he lays his teeth at their throats and screams, look. This is what war is.

lt is not boys barely come of age killing each other for sport.

The flowers and trees in his heart start to sway like a forest caught in the wrath of a thunderstorm, snarling and trembling in his chest with something that remembers the feeling of being so close to death. He will dream of them tonight, of sharp-edged flowers and statues holdings bouquets of poppies instead of swords. But he is not thinking of any garden except a garden of bones now when he hears the sand below them start to sing.

And he wonders what it makes of him, that there is both a gentleness and a sharpness in his smile when he steps closer. That there are both petals and grains of sand glittering in his eyes, his teeth, his mane. Maybe that is why he looks at him like he has forgotten what it feels like to be anything but a contradiction, as if heroes could liberate without destroying in the process.

"Because their hunger is not the only thing that matters in this world." Ipomoea pulls away because he is still bleeding, and all those holes are only looking for something sharp like Torix's horns to rip themselves out on. But as the magic rises in his veins and the dunes outside begin to sing, he whispers to that bottomless pit of rage and sorrow and broken things, not yet.

Not yet. But soon.

For the first time, Ipomoea does not feel like all this softness the desert could not consume was a good thing. “Enjoy the tournament,” he tells the horned man with memories of war in his eyes, even when he knows that he won't. And if there is a moment where he thinks to ask for this stranger's name, it is as fleeting as the shadow of a carrion crow passing in front of the sun overhead. It is a reminder, or a promise, or both, that there will always be another war after this one. Either way it makes Ipomoea turn away from the ring as the pool of blood is raked clean again and again and the cheers turn to singing.

And he follows the song into the desert — always to the desert.

@Vercingtorix !
”here am i!“

Played by Offline Syndicate [PM] Posts: 171 — Threads: 33
Signos: 65
Vagabond Soldier
Male [He/his/him] // 9 [Year 496 Fall] // 18 hh // Hth: 10 — Atk: 10 — Exp: 32 // Active Magic: War Embodiment // Secondary Magic: N/A // Bonded: Damascus (Tartarosian Dragon)

like fishhooks; an old kind of hunger

There is nothing that captivates the minds of men more than blood. 

Certainly, one might argue that love or joy or passion all triumph over violence. Perhaps, some might even claim peace is the true key to prosperity.

That is not what I am saying, however. 

What I am saying is this: 

The crowd around is jubilant not on love, or joy, or passion. They are brimming with ecstasy over blood. They, for a moment, are elevated to the station of heroes and villains, gods and angels, monsters and beasts. It is blood and blood alone that allows one to become something other, to arise above themselves and the limitations of who they are.

The only songs I know are of war.

The only poems I understand speak of blood.

And that, I think, is what I recognize on Ipomoea’s face. 

Love has a limit. Joy a summit that cannot be reached beyond. Hate, even, plateaus.

Violence doesn’t. War doesn’t. Blood doesn’t. The rage is limitless; the lust for more cannot be sated until it is all gone, and even then, the necessity lingers. It is why war changes mean. It is why they come back different.

I have seen many meet it. I have seen how it warps boys into what they would like to call “men” but, truly, it is something less refined. Because their hunger is not the only thing that matters in this world. 

But, it is true, I have never seen any like this man with wings on his ankles and an expression caught between the violence of the stands and the disgust of a protestor. 

Perhaps, if he stayed longer, I might have disagreed. Perhaps, if I had caught his name, I might have felt the urge to contradict him. But I don’t. I only measure him with a long stare, memorizing the lines of his face, the context of our meeting. Does he mean to say that one must rebel against such hunger? That they must stand firm despite the threat of it, despite the way it would be easier to cower from something so vast, so devastating?

Has he not yet learned that everything, eventually, succumbs to hunger? Wolves and fawns; lions and lambs; men and monsters. The whole world, I think, might succumb to one man’s hunger, if only it were insatiable enough. Nevertheless, I watch him go with thinly veiled curiosity, until he is out of sight and I am alone watching the blood spilt onto the sands. 


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