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 Campfire Tales

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Peter Dunnage

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Posts : 16
Total Experience Points : 13
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OOC: milksteak
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PostSubject: Campfire Tales   Wed Feb 13, 2013 4:23 pm

"Almost...almost...."

A tiny ribbon of smoke began billowing from the sticks Peter was furiously rubbing into one another. He had been at this for a good thirty or so minutes now and after having broken about ten different sets of twigs, cursing up a storm, and declaring he gave up right before he set to trying again, he was finally finding success. Though he had built a fire manually multiple times in Terra, after he had been deposited in the middle of nowhere to recover from illness, it was never easy for him. It required a lot of patience and consistency, neither of which he was very good with. Creating a fire with his powers alone was out of the question. It was different when he made fire sculptures or puppets - those were not to make contact with anything flammable and for some reason, creating flame with the purpose of molding it came a lot easier to him than creating it for a practical reason not involving mass murder and destruction. He could not light a candle without destroying a house. He could not warm a tea kettle without destroying the entire thing and sending its shrapnel across the room.

A small spark appeared and Peter immediately bent down, removed his hat, and fanned delicately at the fledgling flame, whooping as it grew. The sun was threatening to set at this point, just barely hovering over the horizon. They had set down to camp about an hour ago and Pete had declared very confidently that he would be able to handle fire if Iris could handle dinner. Apparently, she knew how to cook. He had never known how to do anything more than spear a fish on a stick and roast it over a fire. He was glad he'd picked her up, though she was still a bit more uptight than he would have liked in a traveling companion.

After she had sped off, leaving him in the middle of the dance floor, he had taken his bruised toes to another lady and then another, trading partners all night. Iris' sudden disappearance bothered him for only a moment before drink and music had swept away the rest of his curiosity. When he had finally collapsed into bed, the sun was only an hour or so from rising. He had awoken only a few hours later with a minimal hangover that had been easily cured by more of that thick, hearty soup and ale. They had collected a goodly amount of coin that day and the next before setting off again to the next town on the island.

Thus far, Peter was impressed with her, but her discomfort with being so intimately aligned with him in the public eye was obvious, if only to him. She would improve with practice, he was sure, but he had decided that for the next town, they would be putting on a play that didn't require much in the way of touching. In fact, the whole plot of it demanded that they never make physical contact until the end. He had not shared all the details with her yet, but he was rather proud of his little story. They would have to rehearse it soon. He had given her a very cursory rundown of the story before they had gone to a seamstress to have her dress for the performance made. There had been many compromises in its making. He wanted it to have a plunging, scandalous neckline - she had opted for something more modest. He had suggested silk - she had decided on the much cheaper cotton with lace accents. Really, the only place where Peter had gotten his way was in its color: the vibrant, dark blue with white lace panels on the bodice and the front of the skirt to mimic the ocean and sea foam. The skirt and sleeves both flowed beautifully when she had tried it on. The color scheme might have been a bit too obvious, but Peter saw nothing wrong with that - he was not a man of veiled meanings or symbolism.

The fire, which had been set in the middle of a circle of rocks, was now lively, if not a bit small. In its leaps, he could see its potential. It would grow. He settled himself onto a large stone he had pulled from the beach and dug into the sand.

"So, Iris!" He exclaimed, pulling his eyes away from the fire. "What's for dinner?"

He pulled a wineskin from his side and took a sip of watered down red. It was nice to be out of civilization. Peter much preferred it. In towns and villages, he could never shake the sensation of being watched. Though he had grown used to it, the relief of being away from large amounts of people, watchers, and the harm he could potentially do to both was palpable. He had not yet completely made up his mind about Iris. The most he could say about her was that she was a good girl and reasonably nice, if not a bit cold. Still, it was a change of pace to be able to speak to someone rather being reduced to making conversation with himself, his meals, or various creatures. In the town, they had not had the chance to talk about much besides business and so, she was essentially a stranger to him. For all he knew, she could have been one of his watchers. He could not decide whether or not that would have been particularly bad.
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Iris Ravelli

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PostSubject: Re: Campfire Tales   Tue Feb 19, 2013 7:32 pm

Iris hadn't experienced a restful night of sleep since her final evening at home, and even that had been interrupted in the interest of departing early enough to avoid discovery. On that first night at the inn, her body and mind had been so taxed by the day's preceding events that Iris fell asleep not long after settling into bed. But she was only granted a few brief hours of rest before she found herself inexplicably snapped awake and staring at the ceiling. Iris attempted to relax enough to drift off again, but it was to no avail.

The most she would get out of the remaining hours of daylight were brief, fitful snatches of sleep interspersed with moments of exasperation and failed attempts at making her surroundings more suitable. Iris tried altering her position in bed, readjusting her pillows and bedding, and she even rose from bed multiple times to pace the room before returning to it. At one point the previously considered idea of a mug of warm milk seemed particularly tempting, but Iris didn't want to risk seeing Peter again so soon. Normally she slept very soundly and arose just before dawn, but now she would be lucky if she could fall asleep again before that time.

Her borrowed bed had seemed so inviting when she had first retired to her room, but now it seemed woefully inadequate. It was too soft in certain places, too lumpy in others. The blanket scratched at her skin, but she was assaulted by a sudden draft of cold air whenever she bunched it down at the foot of the bed. And it certainly didn't help to hear the sounds of merrymaking continuing late into the night. Iris never had such irksome problems when sleeping in her own bed.

Oh, if only it had been feasible to have simply packed it up and brought it with her... and had her mother been able to find sleep in the precious hours that Iris herself had wasted? She was plagued by such thoughts until she could hear the sound of the inn's other inhabitants stirring outside her door. Never one to stay in bed once the sun had begun its ascent into the sky, Iris crawled out of bed and tried to perform her usual morning routine in an effort to maintain some semblance of normalcy, though it was getting harder and harder for her to ignore that she was in a place that was not at all like home.

Iris was practically lethargic when in the tub that morning despite her best efforts to fight off her persistent sense of fatigue. When she finally emerged to face the day, the sight that greeted her was greatly dissimilar to the one she had left behind. There was no trace of the boisterous activity that characterized the night. Fewer faces appeared at the tables, and those who were present seemed even worse off than Iris. She could not say whether the pitiful looking people who sat before her were sleep deprived or just too hungover to function. There was an uncomfortable throbbing in her own head that could have been the result of either one of those factors, but she didn't care much to think beyond that.

The more she reflected on how she conducted herself on that previous day, the more ashamed she felt. She certainly wouldn't be drinking so indulgently again in the near future. And the thought of her very public outburst left her stomach feeling unsettled, even after ordering herself breakfast. Iris did not intend to rescind her previous decision to trust in fate and make more of an effort to enjoy life, but that did not mean she had to forsake all dignity and self-respect in search of some greater existence. The task of reconciling her new dreams and desires with the values and knowledge she had held for the entirety of her life seemed insurmountable to Iris.

But as she had taken care to remind herself previously, the transition would take time. Patience would be the key, and she would have to trust that balance and clarity would eventually be achieved in time. Dancing, while admittedly somewhat amusing, had been a mistake. So had her loss of control over her emotions back in the market, and her decision to drink more ale than she could handle. The best thing she could do in the interest of personal development would be to view each misstep as a learning experience.

Each loss and triumph she endured simply brought her closer to her elusive goal of figuring out who she was meant to be in this new life she was beginning. Shame was a fairly understandable reaction considering all that had occurred in the span of a single day, but she wasn't going to let a few regrets prevent her from seeing her arrangement with Peter through. There was no turning back now; despite all her doubt and inner conflict, Iris abhorred the thought of returning home a quitter and failure above all else. She owed it to herself to try making it all work.

The next two days passed without incident as Iris did her best to remain on her best behavior as she sorted through all the confusion and frustration that had arisen in her over the choices she had made on her first day away from home. It was frustrating for her to feel so unable to define who she was or how she was even supposed to act anymore that she mainly spent their remaining time at the inn being introspective.

Unsurprisingly, by the time they set off for a new destination, she had not made much progress in making sense of her identity. Perhaps it was not a mystery that could be unraveled and deciphered within the mind; maybe the truth of her future would be better sought in action rather than thought. Or maybe she just needed a restful night of sleep. Her continued difficulties with rest had made thinking and reasoning very difficult, and her ability to sort through inner conflicts had certainly not been enhanced.

Iris did not feel that Peter needed to know of her troubles or the reasons behind them, so she just had to hope that he did not notice anything was amiss. He didn't strike her as being particularly perceptive anyway. Most of the discussions they had up to that point had revolved around business, which was just fine with her. Apparently Peter already had another scheme brewing, though he was being frustratingly sparse on the details. Iris made an attempt to assert her place in the partnership by taking charge with the props.

He seemed to find it acceptable to keep her in the dark on the specifics of their next show, but she wouldn't allow him control where she could help it. Peter's frivolous spending had already caught her attention on that first night, and it seemed that such fiscal irresponsibility was a recurring issue with him. One of them would have to be in charge of managing their expenses and ensuring that their funds were distributed wisely, and Iris, by her own estimation, was the only worthy candidate for the job.

Peter fought very hard to get her in something both horribly immodest and expensive, but it soon became clear that Iris would not let either option come to pass. The end result of their visit to the seamstress was still attractive enough, despite it not being as glamorous or ostentatious as Peter would have preferred. In fact, Iris had quite liked how it looked when she had tried it on, but she did her best to remain impassive at the time.

Once they finally found a place to camp for the night, they began to divide up the labor. He assured her that their fire would be taken care of if she managed dinner, which she thought was unfair considering the advantage of his element, but she disliked the idea of him putting together a meal too much to contest anything. Iris went off on her own for a time to gather a few things she thought they would need, but by the time she had returned, a fire still had not been lit.

She stood back and watched his progress with a bemused expression. Was he fooling with her, or was he truly having trouble? How could a man who had conjured up such magnificent and imaginative flame puppets encounter difficulties creating one simple fire? Clearly she could not claim to be an expert on how a fire elemental's powers worked, but something wasn't adding up. "Excuse me for saying so, Peter, but you control fire... so why is it that you seem unable to... light one?" Iris presented this question as if Peter using his powers to start the fire instead of attempting it manually was the simplest solution imaginable.

Her confusion was amplified when he finally managed to get a tiny flame going manually and seemed positively overjoyed about it. Iris approached him as he sat by the fire and she frowned before speaking. "Fish, of course," she replied, gesturing to what she had brought back with her. Such was life in Unda - fish, fish, and more fish. But it wasn't tiresome if you knew how to liven things up, and Iris had cooked plenty of fish in her lifetime.

Other alternatives did exist, but seafood would always be a staple. "Oh, and soup." She rummaged through what she had purchased and began sorting the items she would need for each dish. "Without fish," she added with a slight smile, referencing the soup. Iris went utterly silent as she methodically prepared all the ingredients. The nice thing about cooking was that it had always allowed her to focus in on the task and distance herself from reality for a while. Her technique and concentration in the kitchen were some of the only things her mother hardly ever found fault with. By the time she had finished with her preparations, Peter's sad little fire had increased in size.

Soon enough some fish and lentil soup were cooking over it. She wasn't sure how it would all turn out seeing as she wasn't accustomed to cooking in such conditions, but she had no choice but to make do with what was available. Once Iris was certain that the food could be left alone for a time, she followed Peter's example and pulled a large stone over to the fire and sat beside him, taking care to leave a generous amount of space between them. They sat in silence for a time as she became entranced by the way the flames crackled and flickered before them.

It probably would have been a good time to initiate some conversation since she had let him do most of the work up until that point, but it took some time before a question she was genuinely interested in asking came to mind. "Do you always live like this? Travelling from place to place so aimlessly?" While the experience was still new and interesting to her, she had to wonder if never settling down in one location for very long eventually lost its magic. At the very least, she imagined it had to be lonely sometimes.


Last edited by Iris Ravelli on Fri Mar 08, 2013 6:16 pm; edited 3 times in total
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Peter Dunnage

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PostSubject: Re: Campfire Tales   Sun Feb 24, 2013 5:42 am

When she brought up the topic of his being unable to start a fire using his innate abilities, he had ignored her for a minute or two, feigning intense concentration. He might have even laid it on a bit too thickly. Peter had been so accustomed to traveling alone that he had forgotten little things like maybe being more discreet about his inability to do anything less than create an explosion when it came to applying raw fire to flammable objects. He used the extra time to concoct a suitable lie. Luckily, he was very good at performing under pressure.

"I'm not very good at doing much more than show fires. They look pretty, but they don't catch very well and they're weak."

He had played with the idea of letting her believe that he was of a high classification, but lower than what was true - Master or Grand Master, maybe. It wouldn't have been that much of a stretch, as he had been both of those once. He could not remember being a citizen or an apprentice - or rather, having such titles attached to him. The systemic progress of children was not well tracked...not unless they happened to burn down their own homes and two other buildings in the process. That was not a story he would be telling her.

In letting her believe him being only slightly less than he was instead of much less, however, he might have attracted more attention to his prowess than desired. She might ask too many questions that he would have to find too many answers to. In Ignis and Terra, people past Consular were treated with a reverence that made him uncomfortable, especially in his young age. He was used to being treated as a child, or as a weapon, or as a tool - not with respect.

These thoughts churned over and over in his mind as he stared deeply into the fire, smile falling away into the crackles and pops of the twigs. He realized she had spoken again, but it took him longer than it should have to process what she had said. Fish. They were having fish for dinner. And soup. Oh yes. He had asked about that, hadn't he? His smile sprung back, albeit more eager than he had intended.

"A meal fit for a king!"

In his years, he had never learned much in the way of culinary artistry. It hadn't been necessary. In the brothel, he ate the same food the whores ate and at that age, he had been much too young to be fiddling around with knives, except when cutting purse strings. In the care of the Ignese government, his meals had been taken care of for him. When traveling alone in Terra, he had scavenged mostly and what he did not scavenge, he charred until he was fairly sure that whatever protein he was consuming had been cooked enough to not make him ill. Somehow, he was sure that Iris' incarnation of fish and soup would far exceed anything he could concoct. The smells certainly indicated that she knew what she was doing.

"Do you always live like this? Travelling from place to place so aimlessly?"

"Nowadays. I think it's nice, not having a particular place to be or a particular time frame to get there." He answered easily. Peter went on because he could, because it was easy, and because his earlier lack of discretion had spooked him. "I didn't always live this way. Back in Ignis, I was apart of a traveling troupe of circus performers. You would think they would be pretty free-spirited folk, but the ringmaster ran us like a slave driver."

He reached beside him to his battered old coat and rifled around through the pockets until he found his pouch of tobacco and his pipe. It was a remnant of his days in Terra, given to him by one of his old squad mates. By now, it was scuffed and the mouthpiece worn, but he had never thought to procure a new one. The tobacco was new, recently purchased in fact. He had indulged himself, as he was wont to do when he had any amount of coin. The tobacconist had assured him it was a fine blend of Seran and Undan leaf, with the addition of Seran vanilla for flavor and scent. Forgetting himself again, he reached into the fire and took hold of a lit twig to light the bowl after he packed it. Only after it was lit did he remember himself and quickly snub the twig out, hoping desperately that Iris did not notice as he puffed busily away at the pipe, peering over the bowl at her. As an additional diversion, when he exhaled, he quickly crafted the resulting cloud of smoke into a bounding deer. His distraction dissipated it rather quickly, much to his dismay. Maybe traveling with a companion was more trouble than he realized.

In cities, it was not difficult for him to be secretive. Never once in the city did he forget himself, as there was always that tickling feeling at the back of his neck telling him he was being watched or followed. In the secluded wilds, he was supposed to be free. One slip up had led to the next and now he felt unnerved by this intimacy, her invited intrusion into his safe haven. Peter forcibly reminded himself that this would be worth it in the end. Money. He needed money and he needed to save it so he could get himself away from the Undan government's grubby, needy paws.
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Iris Ravelli

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PostSubject: Re: Campfire Tales   Mon Mar 11, 2013 4:14 am

"Oh, well that makes sense," she said softly, doing her best to conceal the true depths of her disappointment. Based on what she had seen of his powers thus far, Iris had grown comfortable with the idea that Peter was of a classification that greatly surpassed whatever indiscernible level of power she could be said to possess. That thought was a major aspect of what had made her particularly excited about the prospect of their upcoming training sessions. She had assumed he was a Consular at the very least, if not something beyond that - the lines between the classifications had never been very clear to her - but based on his response to her earlier inquiry, his abilities appeared to be more limited than she had anticipated; still impressive when it came to putting on performances of course, but limited all the same.

What made it all feel worse was the fact that Iris couldn't deny that it was her own fault for letting her assumptions and expectations get the best of her. It wasn't as if Peter deliberately misled her - they had never really discussed the extent of his powers until that moment, but that sense of deflation that came along with this new information persisted all the same. She was still grateful to have someone to practice with, but it would take her time to adjust to reality. Really, only her own overactive imagination could be held at fault. Iris had allowed herself to get so caught up in the fantasy of having a powerful teacher that she never took the time to acknowledge that she still didn't have all the facts about the enigmatic man she was travelling with.

Iris then found herself wondering whether Peter found her question about his powers to be silly or childish. She hardly knew anything about her own capabilities, so why had she been foolish enough to think it was worth asking Peter anything about his? For all she knew, maybe it was all common knowledge. Perhaps everyone else in the world knew exactly how powers and classifications worked and she was the only simpleton left who did not possess that insight. Why hadn't she tried harder to find a book on the subject? Her mother would have never approved of her reading something that she believed would encourage Iris to implement her powers for tasks other than general housework, but her father probably would have made an effort to smuggle something in if she had asked.

Why hadn't she asked? If she had, then maybe things would have turned out differently. Iris wouldn't feel the need to ask such basic questions about the fundamental aspects of their world, and she wouldn't be left feeling so empty and at a loss for what to say. If she had known better, then maybe she wouldn't have expected so much from him initially. Sometimes she got so wrapped up in the notion that her books had taught her much of what was worth knowing, that it was always a blow when she was forced to realize just how much about life and its inner workings was beyond her limited comprehension. This line of thought was never pleasant for Iris, and now all she felt like doing was curling up and falling asleep instead of letting it continue.

The growing fire certainly wasn't doing much to help her fight that desire either. Sure, most of it could be attributed to the embarrassment she felt over having to concede to her own lack of understanding of relatively simple subjects, but warmth had always been soothing to her. Whether it came from a fire, a blanket, or just natural sunshine, it always seemed to do the trick in lulling her to sleep.

The heat radiating off the flames combined with her existing fatigue that was the result of her disrupted sleeping pattern made the perfect recipe for sleep. She began to rub at her eyes absentmindedly. Now that the thought of rest had entered her mind, it was hard to ignore how much her body needed it. Though with her luck, she would probably feel wide awake the moment she decided to settle down. Luckily the promise of a good meal was enough to keep her fighting to maintain consciousness. A pleasant aroma was already wafting through the air, and the end result was not something Iris was intent on missing.

No matter what she said or did, it felt as though she could never get their conversations to go exactly as she wanted - at least when she was the initiator, There was always that nagging feeling of having to hold something back, or of missing an opportunity to say something more profound or interesting. At least food wouldn't let her down. Iris couldn't even identify why she cared so much, and that just made matters more frustrating.

It wasn't as if she desired his respect or approval - after all, considering all the trouble he had caused for her, it would make more sense for Peter to be the one working hard to make a good impression. In truth, it wasn't really about Peter at all. Anyone could have been in his place at that moment, and she still would have felt inadequate in comparison.

All Iris really wanted was confirmation that she could live and communicate like any normal person. She wanted to know what it was like to talk with another person and not have to wonder if her words were appropriate, or if she was getting her facts right, or if they even enjoyed talking to her. Apparently there some sort of mystical secret to forming connections that she wasn't privy to. There was only so much one could learn in the pages of a book, after all.

Things were different when it came to her family. They had been in her life from the beginning, with the relationships between them being established and solidified at the start. She understood them in a way that defied explanation and felt no pressure with anyone in the household aside from her mother. But introduce a new person into the equation and Iris was reduced to a socially inept mess.

Over-thinking and over-analyzing things appeared to be her specialty, and an extremely difficult habit to shake. In all likelihood, while she was trying to determine whether or not her question had exposed her inexperience, Peter was probably busy thinking about food, women, or money. Maybe all three at once. Yet even entertaining that possibility and admitting the needlessness of her worrying couldn't stop her from torturing herself like she invariably did in such situations.

Iris didn't immediately realize that Peter had answered her second question. Her mind was still swirling with doubt and her eyelids had begun to feel heavy. She had been staring into the fire the entire time, and when his words finally registered, she blinked rapidly before turning to look at him. Iris had the strange sense that this was the first meaningful fact she had learned about him so far. Nothing tainted by lies, money, or flirtation.

It was a moment among a very small collection others she had experienced recently where his apparent sincerity surprised her. But those moments also tended to be tarnished very quickly by something inappropriate or crude he would do or say right after. His addition of 'nowadays' managed to pique the curiosity she had worked to suppress. As much as Iris adored fiction and fantastical scenarios, there was something particularly special about hearing a true story being told by a person who had actually experienced its events. So what was his story? What had he been doing before 'nowadays'?

Part of her wanted to be bold and ask him outright, but that urge was overwhelmed by the separate part of her that served as a reminder that she would likely find a way to make things awkward or uncomfortable the moment the words left her mouth. Also, she was wary because she didn't want Peter to see her asking questions about his life as an invitation to pry into hers. Iris had narrowly avoided such an incident in the inn when he had asked about her family, and thankfully he had opted not to press the subject, but she was concerned that dancing around the topic so obviously again would just lead to suspicion on his part.

She often looked down on him for his apparently compulsive need to lie and charm his way through various situations, but when she thought about it, she had quite a few facts and secrets about her own life that she didn't intend to divulge to him. The only difference in their situations was that when it came down to it, she wouldn't be willing to hurt others in the interest of preserving herself. At least she sincerely hoped she wouldn't.

Just when she had finally resolved to ignore the questions she had considered posing, Peter took it upon himself to elaborate on what part of his life had been like before they met. A circus? She wasn't familiar with the term. Iris thought back to see if she could grasp onto any sort of association with the word from her books or from any discussions she could recall from home, but nothing was springing to mind. Then that familiar feeling descended on her again: the dreadful sense that she had failed somehow.

Along with it came that familiar pressure to speak and say something that adequately continued the flow of the conversation as opposed to derailing and disrupting it. But nothing came. Iris supposed that she was expected to ask him more questions or possibly share her own anecdotes that related to the subject, but how could she contribute anything to a topic she knew absolutely nothing about? It didn't help that she was loath to admit to him that she didn't understand. Admitting her own failings and ridiculous insecurities within the confines of her own mind was one thing, but owning up to them and expressing them aloud to a person she barely knew was an entirely separate matter.

As the silence she had created continued without interruption, Iris began to grow more unnerved. She shifted her position on the rock and began to draw patterns in the sand with her shoe. This wasn't the greatest approach for a person who desired more than anything to diffuse an uncomfortable situation, but it wasn't easy for Iris to decide how to be proactive.

Additionally, her mind was fogged by fatigue on top of everything else. Eventually she determined the best way to salvage the situation was to admit her lack of knowledge in a more roundabout way. "Peter," she paused to think over her phrasing, "would you be willing to tell me more about what the circus was like?" That seemed like a firm solution to her problem. Hopefully he would elaborate without putting her through the shame of acknowledging her own limits.

While she waited for him to answer, Iris distracted herself by watching their dinner as it continued to cook over the fire. It still had some time left to go before it would be ready to serve, but she didn't want to risk overcooking any of it; that would be utterly unacceptable. Lucky for Peter, Iris’ attention had been placed on the state of their meal, and so she narrowly avoided catching his slip up.

By the time she returned her gaze to him, his pipe had already been lit. Iris immediately wrinkled her nose in disgust. Of course he would be a smoker. How could she expect anything else? The little deer he conjured up from the smoke only earned him a halfhearted smile, but once it dissipated, Iris returned to staring Peter and his filthy habit down disapprovingly.
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Peter Dunnage

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PostSubject: Re: Campfire Tales   Sat Mar 16, 2013 6:07 am

Had Peter known her feelings on the matter of his power - or perceived lack thereof - he might have changed his tune, though whatever he said to alter her perception of him would have clashed with his determination to remain as low-key as possible. Though he had been free of the influence of Odelia and the arms of the Ignese military for a bit now, the desire never to disappoint still resonated strongly within him, especially when it came to women. He was not entirely aware of this aspect of his persona, but it was there, burrowed deeply into his psyche. Peter had dodged an arrow in being unable to read her mind and he had no idea. Had he been a more emotionally perceptive man, he might have noted her tone, but he did not.

While she over thought and mulled over her shortcomings, Peter contemplated his own while he chewed idly on the mouthpiece of his pipe, eyes trained on the fire. It wasn't the first time he had attributed his talent to circus work. When he had first stepped out into the world on his own, he had spun tales out of necessity. Now, he lied constantly and incessantly, sometimes about important things, sometimes about things as mundane as what he had eaten the day before. It was a knee-jerk reaction, with words leaving his mouth before he could consider whether or not there was a purpose behind them. He didn't know whether to call himself a liar or simply a story teller, but these days, he didn't call himself much of anything other than Peter Dunnage, the Blessed.

Though his classification was easily the most notable thing about him, he tried his hardest not to let his power define him, though everyone else did. He failed, often and miserably. His image of himself depended heavily on the circumstances. When drinking, telling stories, catching tadpoles, or in the arms of a woman, he identified as a man, and a young one at that. When wandering through towns, taking sharp turns through alleys to relieve himself from his watchers, or hiding his face from the occasional Terran passing by, he was all too aware of what he was capable of. At these times, he was no longer a human, but a vessel, his body a cage with a weak lock and rusted bars hiding away something terrible.

Questions of how to socialize had only come to him when he had first escaped, but he was a natural charmer and had never been starved of company growing up - only in his final years in captivity had he felt the oppression of solitude. His questions were more along the lines of how to exist around civilians, how to make it through another day without causing some sort of catastrophe. He crafted intricate relationships with people without their realization or even his own. Through his stories and his smiles, he carved his way into their imaginations and their wallets, creating a one-sided intimacy that fulfilled only his most basic needs of human interaction. He was lonely in a quiet, subtle way that gnawed at him nonetheless.

"Peter, would you be willing to tell me more about what the circus was like?"

There was an uncertainty to her voice that he did not understand or stop to consider. Iris was reserved and overly proper - she might have thought it rude to ask him a personal question, or something similar.

Peter didn't even think for a moment that Unda might be without circuses or that she might not know what one was. He hadn't ever seen one during his travels throughout the islands, but that might have been because he stayed to smaller settlements while circuses naturally tended toward bustling cities. It was for the better - a circus would have stolen his business. In Ignis, there were plenty, usually staffed by Valetudiens. As a child, he and his hooligan friends had stole into a few, catching a few snippets of the show here and there before being ejected. They all fantasized about joining - one of them had, apparently, and he hadn't heard from him since.

"Uh, sure. Yes." He replied, poking unnecessarily at the fire with his stick. "I ran away from home when I was seventeen. My father wanted me to apprentice with a cook, but I wasn't having any of that. There was a circus traveling through, and as you know, circuses are always willing to take runaways. Cheap labor."

As he spoke, he fell into the usual cadence of his story-telling, albeit with a lot less grandeur. The key to a good lie - or a good story - was to believe it. Whatever he was telling her, he was sure it was true for someone somewhere. He took a drag from his pipe and when he exhaled, the smoke cloud coalesced into the trademark peaks and folds of a circus tent, sans color, naturally.

"I worked with the animals. Not in the fun way. I mostly shoveled their shit around. Elephant dung gets really heavy." The smoke became an elephant lifting its trunk and stamping the ground. In truth, he had never seen an elephant in Ignis, though he had heard rumors of circus attractions having them, though they all turned out to be false. The first elephant he had seen had been in Terra. The elephant then thinned and stretched into a slender, shapely woman with a sword and a man beside her. "One day, the sword swallower left. She decided she liked swallowing one particular fellow's sword a little too much and they ran off together to start a family together."

The figures dissipated. He took another inhale before continuing.

"They were left with a ten minute slot they needed filled and only five minutes to fill it. They asked around if anyone had any sort of talent, and I...well, you know what I can do. Back then, it wasn't anywhere near what I can do now, but it was enough. I don't even remember the story I told. Something to do with knights - " He created a vague outline of a man in armor. " - a princess, probably. The stuff that sells. It was a hit. I became a full-time performer, which meant better lodgings and higher pay, but.... Things were better shoveling shit."

He wondered for a moment whether or not he should elaborate on this imaginary period in his life, but decided against it. It would have been too close to reality and he was not sure whether or not he was comfortable reliving even remotely the events that had led to the death of his brothel family.

"Anyway, I was only with them for about three years before I was drafted. I didn't like the hours and lack of creative freedom."

Peter shrugged with a half-smile around his pipe.

"It was all a long time ago. I'm an old man, now. Is the food ready yet, by any chance? I'm hungry as a stray."

He pushed himself onto his knees, raising his head to peer over the pot. The soup looked the same as it had an hour ago, except maybe...browner? Thicker? He wasn't a culinary genius.

"How'd you learn to cook, anyway? Can all Undan woman cook? Can they cook well? Maybe it's 'bout time I settle these weary old bones, if that's the case...."


Last edited by Peter Dunnage on Mon Mar 18, 2013 5:37 am; edited 1 time in total
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Iris Ravelli

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PostSubject: Re: Campfire Tales   Sun Mar 17, 2013 3:26 am

Just as she had been hoping, Peter did not seem to be taking the time to notice or consider that anything might be amiss. Was Iris a better liar than she had ever given herself credit for? As she had previously acknowledged, everyone had their own secrets they kept hidden away in the interest of remaining protected from hostile or unfamiliar entities on the outside. Could a lie told by omission still be characterized as a lie?

True, she would never be as skilled as Peter when it came to fabricating some grand tale on the spot - Iris required more time to improvise a blatant verbal deception, and she hadn't mastered the art of making a hastily conjured lie sound wholly convincing, but she supposed she was as adept as anyone when it came to concealing an untruth behind her eyes and through avoidance. Occasionally she would unconsciously expose herself through body language, but her words were the factor that truly worked in opposition with her desire to keep her true emotions concealed.

There were times when she had been able to look her mother straight in the eye while she was berating her for one insignificant mistake or another and still be able appear completely unaffected while in reality a storm had been raging inside her. But the second she opened her mouth and spoke, she would be compromised. Her tone would betray her and expose agitation, sadness, or disappointment, and Iris' mother would then proceed to chastise her for her impropriety and irreverence. Time and practice had taught Iris that when she was uncomfortable or otherwise uncertain about how to navigate a situation, it was best for her to say as little as possible.

That was why she had endeavored to reveal as little to Peter as possible whenever he said anything that made her uncomfortable or confused. She allowed herself to make an exception for the moments where he had seriously violated boundaries and respectful custom, but even then she wasn't left feeling much better about expressing herself. Each time Iris managed to stray from that pledge of reticence and restraint, something unfortunate seemed to occur. Like when she made a fool of herself in front of the crowd on that first day, or when she permitted herself to indulge in drink and lost sight of her values and some of her inhibition. Even today her carelessness with her speech had landed her in a less than ideal spot.

Of course, most of this particular day's complications only existed within her mind, but that didn't make them any less real or inconvenient for her. In a way, the fact that her various insecurities were just eating away at her internally made things worse. There was no hope for release in such a predicament. Iris couldn't put her feelings into words, and even if she could, she didn't know or trust Peter enough to risk shaming herself by admitting that she was not as worldly or knowledgeable as he seemed to be.

Iris felt like a fraud, and yet she did nothing to stop herself from making the same mistakes she always did. When he began going into more detail about his time in the circus, he referenced various things she was apparently supposed to possess some degree of familiarity with. But instead of humbly admitting to her ignorance as a more reasonable or self-assured person might have done, she simply nodded, smiled, and grimaced at appropriate intervals as if she knew exactly what he was talking about and what it all meant.

Up until that point, Iris felt as though she had wasted a despicable amount of her precious time living to please and appease her difficult and overbearing mother - all in the interest of maintaining harmony and order within the household and their contentious relationship. In her experience, when it came to her mother at least, honesty only served to earn her insufferable judgment and criticism, and that was not something she was prepared to face from Peter.

Even where her father was concerned, the person she loved and admired above all else in the world, Iris often felt there was much of her life she had to keep hidden from him. While she tried to keep her mother happy so that her own life could be more bearable, Iris did her best to keep her father in good spirits because she genuinely couldn't bear to burden him or cause him pain. She knew he felt guilty for not being present as often as he would have liked throughout the years, and there were many times that Iris was given the distinct impression that he believed had failed in his duties as a husband and father.

To her, nothing could be further from the truth. It was he who had first instilled in her a love of stories and adventure, and it was his encouragement of her and her imagination that gave Iris the strength to rise from bed each morning and face the day; he gave her hope that she might one day have a future of her own. All she had ever wanted to do was be more like him, and that is why she felt it was her responsibility to protect him and shield him from just how bad things could get when he and Vincent were gone.

Iris' mother was often on her best behavior when they were around, anyway. Not that she had anyone fooled of course, they all knew what she was like and how hard she was on Iris, but no one but Iris herself understood the true extent of it. The minute they left, Mariana's negative characteristics would be amplified: her unpredictable moods, her rigidity, irritability, overprotectiveness and dissatisfaction, along with those familiar fits of melancholy where she was near unreachable. No one knew the woman grief had transformed her into like Iris did. So it was no surprise that she was so skilled at folding up inside herself as long as she didn't say a word.
Though it would be inaccurate to say she was utterly spineless. Iris had always had a touch of defiance about her, but it typically had to remain dormant at home.

That willfulness had come through quite a few times already since her departure. Possibly one of the reasons Iris had been feeling so at odds with who she was at home and whoever she wanted to be in her new life was that all of these long hidden aspects of herself were finally coming to the surface, and she wasn't quite sure how to handle any of it. She already knew that the key to her salvation was some kind of balance, but so far she seemed to regress any time she managed to make any strides.

Iris had no problem putting Peter in his place when he crossed a line or attempted to assert his will upon her when she was not interested, but then when it came to something as trivial as polite conversation, she would herself utterly impotent and without that same conviction and boldness. In her heart she knew she didn't want to be the same submissive and meek character she had always played, but it was growing more and more difficult to determine what was an act and what was a true component of her identity.

She had vowed that she would no longer let her life and choices be determined by the desires of others, and that was still something she believed, but then why was she so inconsistent in her application of that conviction? If Peter had directly challenged her or called her out as inferior or inexperienced, Iris would have probably felt indignant enough to fight back outright, even if his claims possessed some merit of truth and foundation, but now that she was faced with a situation where she was the only participant aware of her shortcomings and history, she was left feeling like a weak and directionless little child again.

Why was it so easy for one little incident to unravel her so completely? In a more secure setting, she was able to acknowledge that her transition into a true adult and her own identity would take time and require patience. Now? Those thoughts only seemed hollow and meaningless, comforting enough in the moment, but not truly helpful when it came to actually discerning how to solve her confidence issues. It was easy to become irate and unreasonable when she believed someone was trying to dominate or control her or question her authority, but she was at a loss with how to conduct herself in what was meant to be a nonthreatening situation.

No matter what she chose to say or do, the teachings and words of her mother would inevitably find her again and overwhelm her with guilt and shame when there ought to have been none. Ideally, she shouldn't have had to feel ashamed for being herself or occasionally sounding silly or ignorant or improper like anyone else, but what could she do when such doubt and self-regulation were so ingrained in her now? When Peter made a brief comment about running away from home at fifteen, Iris couldn't help but wonder once again what his upbringing had been like. Apparently they were both runaways, which was probably one of the only things they would ever be likely to have in common, but that shared event didn't bring her much comfort.

Peter had escaped the expectations of a controlling parent at such a young age, while it had taken her about five additional years of life to slip out into the night like a coward. And what did she have to show for any of it? Iris was only a few days into what she had hoped would be a promising new start, but she was already falling apart. Her inconsistency regarding what she desired certainly wasn't doing her any favors thus far. Had Peter ever experienced a similar struggle with the concept of identity and independence, or had the ways of a solitary, self-reliant life always been second nature to him? Was it natural for one in such a situation to feel as though one's own nature and purpose were completely unknowable? As much as she wanted to know and potentially find solace in the fact that he too had experienced the pain of feeling so lost, alone, and indecisive, she couldn't bring herself to express any of it. So she continued to suffer in silence while she looked completely collected on the outside.

His continued smoking of the wretched pipe didn't help her feel more at ease either. Without even realizing, Iris had leaned back on the rock at an awkward position so that there was less risk of her inhaling it or getting the smell of it on her clean clothes. Her tolerance level was being tested so severely that she was seriously considering requesting that he put it out (despite her decision to commit to saying as little as possible to avoid any questions or further embarrassment), when Peter suddenly began creating smoke creatures again. The deer hadn't been so amusing earlier, but she saw the merit in his antics this time now that they had a purpose as visual aids. Iris found that it was much easier to follow along with his story now that she was provided with images to associate with certain foreign terms he used, so she was willing to grudgingly accept his smoking for the time being as long as it helped maintain the pretense of comprehension that was protecting her ego.

Iris' favorite image was that of the elephant, something she had read about, but never had the fortune of seeing with her own eyes. There was something wonderful about having something more substantial to picture now. Without her even realizing or permitting it, Iris was becoming drawn into the intoxicating world of Peter's stories yet again. In those few moments, her countless problems melted away as smoothly as his smoke creations dissolved and formed in the air, That was the effect a good tale always had on her; she couldn't help but become enraptured. Plus, in a way, with the addition of the smoke pictures to guide her along, Iris felt as though she were actually taking away some new things as Peter shared fragments of his colorful past with her. She couldn't imagine how she looked to him now, as she looked up in awe as he effortlessly molded his creations, but for the first time all evening, she didn't really care.

Now her reactions of surprise, delight, and even disapproval were effortless and unrehearsed; she was his captive audience member yet again. Iris felt particularly scandalized at the coarse, offhand mention of the sword swallower's less than savory use of her talents outside of her profession. As naive or clueless as she could often be in regards to such things due to a combination of inexperience, discomfort, and disinterest, the innuendo behind that particular reference was not lost on her.

His lack of restraint caught her so off guard that her hand automatically flew up to cover her gaping mouth. Iris felt a sudden rush of warmth rise in her face. Of course, his lack of refinement wasn't exactly the only reason she felt so abashed. That story had brought to mind a particular memory that resurfaced from time to time. Though her father was typically her main purveyor of reading materials, there had been occasions where she had been feeling daring enough to dip into her own savings and smuggle in a little something for herself from the marketplace. On one particular afternoon, Iris wasn't feeling in the mood for any particular story, so she chose one novel indiscriminately and hid it on her person before returning home.

Iris began reading through it late that same night, and initial impressions told her that it was just going to be some innocuous romance novel. Oh how wrong she had been about that. The initially endearing if not sappy love story soon turned unexpectedly racy, and the lack of shame and restraint in how the details were presented made it unlike anything Iris had ever read on the subject before. She typically loathed abandoning a book once she had begun, and it was that persistence that kept her reading until the end.

Of course there were many nights when a particular passage would send her pulse racing to such an extent that she would be forced to snap the book shut in surprise, and climb from her bed wide-eyed and sweaty in the middle of the night in order to stash it away in her usual hiding place. It was one of Iris' greatest fears that her mother would one day discover that particular book, so she made sure to conceal it more thoroughly than all her others. While she could admit to thumbing through it every now and again after her first initial reading, she never read it again in its entirety like she tended to do with most other books.

Every time she picked it up, she couldn't shake the feeling that someone knew exactly what she was up to. It was that same fear and paranoia that motivated her to bring the book along with her and those that comprised the favorites of her collection. Iris wouldn't be able to live with herself if someone happened upon it without her being there to explain and diffuse the situation. Somehow she had pushed its existence out of her mind entirely until she heard Peter's story. The thought of him learning of its existence only intensified the heat and color of her face in that moment, but she assured herself that she would be safe as long as he kept his hands off her possessions.

He had been talking while Iris was absorbed in her embarrassing recollections, so once she returned to reality, she resumed her old strategy of nodding knowingly even though she had missed certain chunks of his story. Redness still tinted her cheeks, but she attempted to collect herself by inhaling and exhaling deeply and readjusting and straightening her posture. One of his final scraps of information actually caught her attention, so it was easier for Iris to distance herself from the scandalous memory.

"You were drafted?" she found herself saying suddenly, though she had intended to keep her curiosity buried again. Iris mentally berated herself. Hadn't she already driven herself crazy enough by saying all the wrong things? What if that was a subject he was not fond of discussing? Perhaps it was a painful topic? Oh, she was hopeless. Why did she have to open her mouth?

Thankfully his mention of the food seemed to present the opportunity for a convenient distraction, and she jumped on the chance to take it. Iris rose so quickly from her seat that it took her a moment to steady herself. She then bent over the fire and creased her brow as she carefully inspected the quality of their meal. To her trained eye, it seemed to be done. Happy at the promise of a meal and for a reason to avoid more conversation, Iris quickly made preparations to safely remove their food from the flames and to the bowls and platter she had procured. She was bustling around the camp in that special business mode when his questions finally reached her.

Iris froze immediately; her entire body tensing as she quickly debated how to answer. Why did everything in Iris' life have to lead back to her? She still preferred to avoid talking too much about her family and her circumstances, but lying wouldn't work, and she had already utilized avoidance previously. The best course of action seemed to be another one of her trusted methods - to be honest while revealing as little as possible. Iris cleared her throat and made an effort to resume her tasks as if nothing had happened. "My mother," she said with her back to him, perhaps with more stiffness than she had intended.

It seemed easier to respond if she didn't have to look at him, but she couldn't count on her tone. "Everyone around here knows how to cook up a decent fish at least, but I'm not aware of anyone who cooks quite like my mother." That was certainly true enough. For all the bad that could be said about Mariana, no one could ever call her a lousy cook. Of course, she had the benefit of professional training and resources in her youth. And Iris' vote of confidence might not have meant as much if Peter knew she hadn't had many opportunities to taste anyone else's cooking. They weren't the type of family that held or attended dinner parties, after all.

Iris arranged their meal in a way she believed to be aesthetically pleasing before serving Peter his portion and seating herself with her own. She hoped that the food would be sufficient to distract him from that particular line of conversation. Iris didn't know how to explain her mother to a stranger, nor did she desire to. She hated her and she loved her, and was still struggling to comprehend how one could feel such dissimilar and powerful emotions toward another person at one time. Especially a person who she was supposedly meant to revere and admire unconditionally.


Last edited by Iris Ravelli on Mon Mar 18, 2013 9:34 pm; edited 4 times in total
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Peter Dunnage

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PostSubject: Re: Campfire Tales   Mon Mar 18, 2013 5:35 am

Peter had always been rather coarse in nature, a byproduct of having spent his childhood in a whorehouse. It wasn't as if any sense of propriety had been bred into him. There was never a point in his upbringing that his mother - or any of his makeshift mothers - had thought to sat him down and explain to him the finer points of sex. As soon as he could walk and talk, he was steeped in it, desensitized completely. He could not recall all the details of his first sexual encounter, but it had meant very little to him beyond pleasure and a fun way to pass the time. Now, as an adult and a vagrant, copulation held slightly more meaning to him, but he still did not attach more to it than the momentary distraction from his solitary existence and the joy of pleasing someone other than himself.

Around Odelia, he had been somewhat conscious of himself and sought to censor himself at least a little bit in her presence. With friends and comrades, however, there had never been any need to watch what he said. Of course, he was not quite so colorful with his language when speaking with children, but with adults, he felt no need to suppress his cursing or dampen his innuendos. Along the way, a few people had reacted negatively to his lack of manners, but none quite so violently as Iris.

She had turned an interesting shade of crimson at his offhand comment regarding his imaginary sword swallower. Though he marked her for a woman with prudish sensibilities, Peter had not thought her that puritanical. It amused him. He had no idea of her actual age, but he felt she could not be that much younger than him, especially with her shrewish attitude. Yet, she was not behaving as a disapproving matron might, but more like...a virgin, if he had to guess. It surprised him somewhat, even if it shouldn't have. The bulk of the Undan women he had met thus far were a liberated, vivacious bunch. Again, Iris was setting herself apart.

Peter was not an especially empathetic person, but he could tell when he had broached a subject that didn't want broaching, even if he couldn't decipher much more than that. It helped that Iris wore her heart on her sleeve so plainly that Peter would have been blind not to see it. Maybe her mother was a sore subject? Had she spoken about her in the past tense, he would have thought she was dead by her tone. Curiosity poked at him, begging him to inquire further, but he ignored it. Who was he to pry when nearly everything he had told her thus far had been a lie?

He tamped out the tobacco in his pipe with his thumb and set it aside before taking the offered plate with a mumbled thanks. No matter what else could be said about Peter Dunnage, he always said thank you. Most of the time. Usually. Wiping the ash from his thumb onto his shirt, he plucked off bits of meat from the fish and popped it into his mouth, immediately mumbling an "mmmmm!" through his lips. It occurred to him belatedly that the fish was probably extremely hot, having just come off the flame and all, and that it would have been more sensible to have waited a moment or two for appearance's sake, but hell. She hadn't noticed him reaching into the fire or inhaling his soup at the inn and even if she had, surely she would blame his horrendous table manners rather than his horrendous power that made him impervious to heat.

"So this is what it tastes like when fish isn't burnt!" He exclaimed excitedly, bringing the plate up to his lips to slurp up some of the soup. [b]"Hell on Carista, you used salt!"

Peter was not exaggerating or flattering. He truly was excited to have a well-cooked meal on the road. When that excitement was added to his natural enthusiasm, it made for a large number of exclamations. He had almost forgotten that she had asked him something.

"Oh anyway, yes, I was drafted." He spoke around the mastication of the white-fleshed fish. "When I was twenty. Terra-Ignis War. I don't know how much you heard about it over in these parts."

Unlike his upbringing as a child performer, the war was easy to discuss, as whatever he described to her would have been a different story entirely, a completely abstract fabrication. In telling her of his supposed life in the military, he was actually telling her nothing at all. His war time experience, as far as he knew (and he knew admittedly very little), had been wholly unique. Any and all information he had obtained concerning the conventional soldier had been hearsay or from books and stories. His leash had been much tighter than everyone else's, though the leash had been disguised well.

Peter suddenly realized that he had almost nothing in the way of actual knowledge concerning the war in which he had been (to say this without ego) a very large part. He did not know why the war had started or why it continued for as long as it had. He did not know what Ignis had gained besides a bit of land or what Terra had lost besides lives. He did not know the international consequences of the debacle. All he knew with any kind of certainty was the isolated world his keepers had created around him. Terrans were bad. Ignis was good. Peter was a hero. Arrive, destroy, go home. Though he had not thought about it at the time, he was sure that when he had been in squads with the elder Grand Masters, they had been coached what and what not to discuss in his presence. Of course, even when they did talk about important things, he had been too young at the time to understand or care. Politics was not of great interest to him now, much less when he had been a hormonal teenager with far more power than he should have had.

Since leaving Terra, he had met a few veterans who had likewise traveled to Unda, albeit for sun and sea rather than sanctuary. During the war, Unda had remained mostly neutral, as was wise, considering it was a huge trading hub and a port for the entire world. None had recognized him as anything other than a fellow countryman. Why should they have? Every time he met with someone of the appropriate age and build for a soldier and an Ignese accent, he was convinced he had been found; thus far, he had always been wrong. But when he would have a drink or converse with these men for as long as was absolutely necessary (before he skipped town immediately, eyes over his shoulder the entire time), whatever topics they chose inevitably led to the war. Like him, they were all ambivalent toward Ignis and what they had done, or been forced to do, for no discernible reason other than hysteria and patriotism. Like him, they distanced themselves from it, despite the fact that many of their wounds, physical and otherwise, were only just scarring over. They acted at apathy. It was someone else's war, not theirs. They had just been unfortunate enough to be caught in it.

But none of those men had slaughtered hundreds with the blink of an eye, or been a prisoner of war in the possession of their own side.

"I didn't actually do any fighting until about two years in, was discharged about four or five years later." He shrugged. "That was...damn. Six years ago, almost."

Peter had tacked an additional three years onto his actual age. If asked directly, he would be hard put to find a reason as to why he had done it. Perhaps it was simply because he could and because Iris would believe him. She had little choice. The more lies he fed her, the thicker the walls between them became, though from her perspective, those same walls might be crumbling.
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Iris Ravelli

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PostSubject: Re: Campfire Tales   Tue Apr 02, 2013 4:31 am

Though her haste to serve Peter his meal was largely a result of her desire to slow the discourse between them for a time, Iris was also feeling mildly curious as to what his reception to the food would be. Her cooking prowess was well known within her home, but Iris still found herself feeling pleased whenever anyone bothered to give verbal appreciation for whatever she happened to prepare. After all, more effort went into concocting a meal for an entire family than a less experienced person might assume, not to mention Iris always worked and observed meticulously to ensure everything she served lived up to her personal lofty standards.

The only issue she could foresee was the element of uncertainty that came with this particular meal. It was her first time cooking in an unfamiliar place without the use of some of her standard supplies and implements, so she had to admit that she felt somewhat out of her element. All things considered, she did believe that she had done as well as could be expected, but having to deal with so many unpredictable variables was still nothing less than nerve-wracking. She pretended to be wrapped up in attempting to cool off her food to ensure it was safe for consumption, but would still cast him the occasional sidelong glance whenever she felt certain he was not paying attention.

Muffled sounds of appreciation soon emanated from him, and that pleased Iris enough that she was willing to ignore yet another blatant display of atrocious manners and return to her own portion with a self-satisfied smile on her lips. She had noticed that he had bothered to at least thank her, which she supposed balanced things out a bit. "You're welcome, Peter," she said, doing her best to maintain a formal tone.

Iris didn't want to appear smug or arrogant at what she considered to be her own success, but it was proving difficult to hide just how nice it felt to be reassured that she wasn't completely inept that everything she attempted in regards to Peter. Apparently even he couldn't throw her off her game this time. In a strange way, Iris almost felt as though she had won some sort of challenge that had been posed to her. The air of victory and briefly reinvigorated confidence permeated her, and she was still smiling to herself as she took her own first bite.

Hm, maybe not her best, but it was certainly passable. She had been taught to never present a mediocre dish, but Iris got the distinct impression that she could slop almost anything on a plate and Peter would be satisfied with it just being thoroughly cooked and seasoned. His unrefined palate was no excuse for sloppiness in technique and presentation, of course, but it was true that aside from her mother, Iris had always been her own harshest critic. The best concession she could manage to offer herself was that the food was good, with room for improvement. Still, even with her reluctance to congratulate herself on the quality of the finished product, her mood would not be dampened. Iris had managed to impress a person who had lived and seen life more vividly than she ever had, and there was something powerful and almost intoxicating about that. It was certainly liberating for her to be able to feel refreshingly adequate.

Feeling better than she had in days, Iris slowly enjoyed a spoonful of soup, taking her usual amount of care to avoid letting it drip on her clothes or down a corner of her mouth. Its warmth spread through her almost instantly, and it was almost as soothing as the lambent fire before them. There was a lazy contentedness about her now as she relished the luxury of a period of undemanding silence and a fine meal to accompany it. How lovely it was for her to feel good about something again, without the nagging pressure to perform or conform to some prescribed role or ideal state of being.

Even her previously unshakable fatigue had been momentarily forgotten as she reveled in the utter tranquility she was feeling in those moments. For Iris, it felt as though her day, which had recently been a jumbled mess, had suddenly transformed into something coherent and satisfying. After a series of increasingly frustrating missteps and setbacks, she felt it necessary to seize and thoroughly enjoy the one instance where she finally felt a semblance of control and pride in herself and her abilities. While this might have appeared to be a trivial and altogether insignificant development to anyone else, it was greatly significant, who had been feeling so relentlessly bogged down by her own doubts and perceived failings, that even the briefest respite or sign of growth was welcome.

The atmosphere was also noticeably agreeable. Encroaching darkness was warded off by their ever-strengthening fire, and an easy silence continued between them as they both consumed their meal with disparate levels of grace and restraint. Iris' usual desire to fill the typically uneasy gaps between conversations was noticeably absent, which she contributed to a combination of her buoyant spirits and her stronger need to avoid telling him any more about her mother. For a time, Iris felt completely at ease with herself and her normally complicated situation. So naturally, Peter had to disrupt her serenity with more conversation.

To be fair, Iris was the one to present him with the initial question, but it had slipped from her quite unwillingly, and she had almost managed to forget that she had been foolish enough to ask it until that moment. That particular topic would be sure to dredge up some unpleasant thoughts and memories, but she wasn't sure how to divert it now. "I believe I know enough about it," she said in reference to the war, as she looked up from the meal she had been delicately wearing away at until that point.

Her statement had an underlying meaning that he was unlikely to discern. On the surface, yes, she knew enough about the war that had waged between Terra and Ignis that she could follow along competently without feigning comprehension as she had been forced to do with other subjects they had discussed. Alternatively, her response could have been said to mean that she had learned more than enough about that war to last her a lifetime.

She could never hope to achieve or understand the perspective of a soldier or any other active participant in the horrors that war was known to wrought no matter how many books she read or stories she heard, but Iris still had the misfortune of knowing the far-reaching effects of the chaos and devastation such strife inevitably created. It seemed conceivable that the war might have appeared to be a self-contained or even insular mar on Carista's broad, rich history to those who were fortunate enough not to be influenced by it in some way, but Iris knew better. Though it had occurred far enough away to potentially seem negligible to some less sympathetic or politically-minded Undans, she knew firsthand the way the longstanding combat and bloodshed had the potential to ripple out and bring ruin upon innocent bystanders who desired nothing more than to live in peace.

That seemingly distant war had the power to completely and irrevocably alter the course of her life. Iris often fantasized about her upbringing might have differed had her mother not been made to endure and technically view the grisly demise of the family she was just beginning to reconnect with. All she had once held dear had been reduced to ruined piles of ash in bone in a matter of minutes; needless casualties of a war in which they had played and asked for no role. They had been condemned simply on ultimately trivial matters of station and proximity. A violent and arbitrary act that was performed and concluded in mere moments, but carried with it serious implications and an impact that was surely destined to last many lifetimes.

It was because of war that Iris and her brother would never know what it was like to experience the love of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who were cut down before their time. Their father's family had always been relatively small in comparison to what their mother's was said to be like, and his parents had passed long before either of them were born. They were the only remaining legacy for the lines from which both of their parents originated, though that wasn't meant to be so.

The loss of so many people she never had the chance to know often seized upon her like a sudden stab of pain, or a throbbing ache inside. That bereavement was real and yet distant and detached; she lamented the absence something she never had in the first place, and that was one of the many brutal tragedies of war. Sometimes Iris imagined writing to her stately grandmother in Terra, humbly thanking her for extolling all of her recent accomplishments while thoughtfully inquiring after her health and wellbeing as Iris believed a good granddaughter ought to do. She conjured up a hopeless dream of befriending some nameless, nondescript relative of her own age, swapping stories, blending their cultures, and promising to arrange visit whenever fortune permitted it. It was during those rare times when she allowed her mind to wander to such somber, grim places that the typically suppressed pain came to her.

Iris longed for her fantasies to transform into something real and substantial. She wanted to know these people, the puppets, the figments that existed only in her mind and were nothing more than ashes scattered by a cruel wind in this physical realm. She desperately wanted to know what it was like to have a family that was untarnished and whole and characterized by love on all sides. Such unachievable desires and enduring regrets also tended to be accompanied by shame and feelings of being irredeemably selfish.

As much as she believed it was an injustice that she and Vincent were robbed of a proper extended family, their vague sense of loss could never compare to the true loss that had torn their mother to shreds and dismantled her life, her ability to cope, and her ability to give and receive love. When her parents first met, Mariana was said to be vivacious and proud, with an indomitable spirit and a thirst for adventure. But that woman was yet another casualty of the war, and Iris had very few concrete memories of who her mother once was.

Her mother did not fight in the war, but she was altered and ultimately destroyed by it regardless. Risking one's life in battle was certainly one way of understanding it, but it was not the only way.

She did not resent Peter for whatever part he played in that bleak, reprehensible war, though. That would have been a childish way to react, and it wasn't as if he could help that he was drafted into battle. Such a cycle of directionless hate, prejudice, and misunderstanding played an integral role in breeding such wars. Indiscriminately demonizing all those who fought on the side that left an indelible scar on her life would never bring back those who were lost or assuage her mother's deep regret and trauma. Iris had always pictured herself easing her own pain and bitterness in a more constructive and exemplary way. Perhaps one day she would travel to Terra and engage in some sort of diplomatic relief effort. Maybe she would happen upon the remains of the area in which her relatives lived and died and pay them proper respect.

And maybe she would learn more about the woman who raised her, whose true nature and upbringing was all but unknown to her; comprised of vague tales that had already been heard secondhand. It had always been one of her more fanciful dreams, but with her newfound freedom, maybe such a trip wasn't as farfetched as she had once assumed.

Still, though she bore Peter himself no ill will, his relatively innocent comment about not being sure how much she was bound to know about the war struck some sore spot. Iris looked down and saw that her fists had become clenched as she lost herself in recollections, but she attempted to play it off by flexing her fingers absentmindedly. That war deprived her family of so much, and cost them all Mariana, who could have been a wonderful mother, but who was too crippled by her overwhelming pain and fear that she ended up damaging those she only sought to protect. In the end, while that war truly slayed many family members, it also deprived her and her brother of a real mother and their father of the woman he married, even though she was still very much alive in comparison. War killed people on the battlefield, it killed those who had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and if one was lucky enough to escape with one's life, it was still a possibility to feel quite dead on the inside.

Iris had become so wrapped up in her own feelings on the subject, that she hadn't given much thought to how Peter might have been affected by his firsthand experience in combat. It was quite some time ago - it seemed he was older than she had initially assumed, but she was sure that some of what he had seen or done had to have stayed with him throughout the years. She wanted to know what that was like. Did he regret his part as an initially unwilling participant in the war? Did he feel any remorse or sympathy for the victims on the other side? Iris was suddenly overcome with a desire to understand a previously elusive perspective.

It seemed imperative to know whether or not it was true that good could still exist on that opposing side. Peter didn't strike her as particularly ruthless or brutal - tricky, sly, cunning - maybe, but not ruthless. But it didn't seem fair to take such a dangerous and potentially presumptive leap by inquiring further while she had been continuously evading him and refusing to offer him up anything real or revealing about her own life. What she was about to do would be in opposition with many of her established rules: say as little as possible to avoid complications, no prying, and no revealing stories that were too personal or uncomfortable. But this was different. He potentially held the key to a side of that war that she had always wanted, maybe needed, to know about.

Iris looked away from him and back at the remains of her meal as she mulled over the right words to use. She was hoping that giving him something personal and honest about how that war impacted her life would indirectly lead to more discussion about his view on the conflict and the role he played in it. "That war... it...," she paused as something seemed to catch in her throat, "It cost my family so much." She finished with a slight shake of her head and managed to force herself to look in his direction without actually looking directly at him. She still wasn't certain if that single moment of vulnerability would come back to haunt her or even lead to the kind of results she was hoping for, but the full impact of what she had said to him still hadn't quite hit.

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