An Act of Faith

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Dystopia Rising had a bunch of events this past weekend. I was at one and holy crow was it good. I should be sleeping, but I can’t sleep so I wrote a story based on the weekend. If you haven’t checked out this game, you really really should. The story is based on events that happened to my character, Jeanie. The other characters are products of their players. The world is from the amazing brains at Eschaton Media.

**********

“Updated symptoms,” Jeanie muttered under her breath as she wrote her notes down in her science journal, “Skin has finished healing in both sites. Infection pushed the staples out of the stomach. Tress helped remove the last of the sutures from the chest.”

Jeanie paused and ran her fingers across the y shaped scar on her chest. She had known the experiment that she was helping out with would be dangerous. The theory was sound and had quite a bit of knowledge to back it up. Surround the irradiated tank heart with living infection to increase it’s life span. Increase the life of the tank heart to ensure greater chance it gets used to give people their second chance.

The scar on her chest was a strong reminder of how dangerous the experiment really was. She had a second heart in her abdomen, not attached to anything. Beating at it’s own, slow, undead rhythm. She had zombie flesh slowly rotting inside her body with the hope that her body can keep it from rotting out completely.

She closed her eyes and dropped her forehead onto the table. Her left hand pushing into her stomach as a wave of pain flashed over her. She carefully took deep breaths and focused her breathing. She didn’t want to let either heart (or both) start beating too fast again. The graverobber, Sig, had gone back to Eden. If something went wrong, the only one who could fix it was Doctor Plaggue and he was often out with the hats.

The iron was on her own then.

She sat up and glanced down at her notebook before continuing her notes. “Periodic flashes of pain. Focusing on breathing seems to be keeping the hearts in sync with each other… or at least not beating too fast.”

Jeanie paused. Tress was a doctor or a sawbones? The irons should probably chat about that soon. Make sure they’re on the same page and regularly checking up on Jeanie’s health. Maybe get Nell for when Tress wasn’t in town. Either way, a doctor needs to be involved. After all, she was under orders not to die.

What would Nell think? Would she be annoyed? Appreciative? Understanding of the iron’s decision? Worried like Charles? Or would she understand like Ted that this was Jeanie trying to make a step forward, an act of faith.

Faith. The graverobber said there was a small chance of death. Jeanie may not know much about bodies but she was a scientist and understood the grave and the undead. The chance was much much higher than Sig would actually say. But, she had faith. Faith that she would survive this. She had no proof, but she was certain it would work. She would help usher medicine into a new age of science. She would help humanity evolve.

An act of faith.

What would Finch say? Would he agree? Would Savannah speak though him? Jeanie sighed. She would have to tell him. They would likely have a long conversation about it. Hopefully he would see that it wasn’t a suicidal choice but her actually trying to move forward in her faith and act on the very painful lesson he taught her at Devil’s Rest.

Jeanie shook her head and went back to her notebook. “Lethargy still present. Subject is staying in well populated areas to ensure regular rest and nutrition. Will have regular check ins with medical staff to look for symptoms not visible to non medics.”

Jeanie yawned and took a deep breath before closing the notebook and putting it away. She curled up on the couch and glanced across the room at the bar and to the red headed Rover who was wiping down some glasses.

“Wake me up if something happens,” she called out to him.

“Sure thing, kid.”

Jeanie closed her eyes and took another deep breath. She would get through this. It would succeed. She just knew it. She had faith it would work.

It had to work.

It would work.

Right?

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What is Freedom?

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My goodness. If you haven’t checked out Dystopia Rising by the amazing people at Eschaton Media, you need to do so. This past weekend was a game and it was intense and wonderful and made the world amazing. Seriously guys, play this game.

**********

Jeanie glanced over at the new ink on her left forearm. It was one of two new pieces. Or maybe one new piece and one updated piece. The updated piece was on her shoulder. The bow of ship leaving a cloud of smoke. A number added to the bow of the ship A-825. The new piece was down on the forearm, in purple. The number 25 and the Hedon triple X figure.

Do you want to be free?

What kind of question is that? Of course.

Do you want to be free?

Yes.

She slowly slid her fingers over the new number and sighed. She had spent years fighting to remove the numbers that had been tattooed to her face back in Motor City. She had searched and fought and cried. Mickey had gotten ahold of the syringe that removed the numbers branded into her skin. She had cried in agony as she remembered the pain of having it placed on her cheek while Caleb had held her and the brew burned the ink out of her skin.

Only to have not only the old number returned but a new one.

And by her own choice.

You know how the Dock Workers ink their story into their skin? Well, Irons sort of do the same. We claim the ink in our skin as our story and wear it with pride. Only I haven’t. And I’m trying. I’m trying to be proud.

As much as she wanted to be proud, there was a certain hurt that came every time she got new ink and remembered the pain of getting her first tattoo. There was a certain pain in the knowledge that she was once again marked as property of someone else, as a slave. She was trying so hard to reclaim pride in her life and in what she had lived.

It still hurt.

Hey Jeanie. Have you torn up your papers yet?

No. Why would I?

Slavery is illegal now. You’re free.

Her papers were still in Charles’ pocket. She had not torn them up yet. He had asked, but for some reason, she wasn’t ready. It wasn’t the right time yet. And despite numerous members of the town reassuring her that she was now free, she didn’t feel free.

She never had.

Remember the first question you asked me?

Yeah.

Well, I’ve never felt free. And every time someone reminds me that I’m an Iron or comments on my glow, I don’t feel free. And I’m trying, but honestly, it’s hard.

Jeanie sighed and stared down at the empty glass in front of her.

Would she ever feel free?

“Yo, asshole,” she shouted to the red headed rover chatting at the other end of the bar before waving a 5 chuck lager at him. “I want another.”

Withdrawal

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Dystopia Rising piece about Jeanie. You know the drill. The world is by the awesome folks at Eschaton Media (go explore all of their work. Seriously, just go do it.) And the characters are characters created by other players in the LARP and used with their permission (or it’s me quoting actual interactions we had while in play).

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Glowing red hands were tightly gripping the large mug of steaming hot tea. The retorgrade had warned her that it would be hot, but she didn’t care. Very calloused fingers desperate for warmth didn’t care that the mug was hot. It’s not like she’d burn her hands. The forge didn’t and that was hotter.

Jeanie sipped at the hot tea, trying to stop the shaking. She was certain it was from the cold. It had to be from the cold. It wasn’t unreasonable to think otherwise.

Got an itch you can’t scratch?

Jeanie dropped her forehead onto the counter and squeezed the mug tighter.

Years of addiction don’t go away with one conversation.

The iron sighed and bounced her forehead against the counter of the bar. It was difficult without the needles. Without the milk ensuring that she was calm and able to think. Without the salvation giving her comfort from the overwhelming stress caused by the Hansfields and the lack of Charles.

Fuck where was Charles? He hadn’t been seen since Pequod Port. He was her owner. He had the contract. But without him and the contract, his protection meant nothing. Did he even care? Would he ever come back? After Caleb died, he’s one of the few who still understood. Was this the time that his business would keep him away for good?

Charles is an Ascensorite. He’s not capable of loving. He just has those that are his and fuck anyone who messes with his things. It’s not love. It’s pretending to love things he’s decided to own.

Jeanie sat up and shook her head. No. Jak was wrong. Had to be wrong. Charles was like her. Emotions too strong to handle. Easier to control them with drugs. Stop feeling and then you know how to function again. That’s why he hadn’t stopped her from using until she went crying to him in Pequod. Right?

The iron scratched at her right fore arm.

The only reason he cares for you is because you’re his and he cares for what he owns.

“No,” she muttered under her breath before guzzling a large amount of the still scalding hot tea. “No, I won’t give in. I won’t do this. I’m gonna stay sober. I have to.”

The iron shuddered.

“I gotta find someone to talk to.”

“I hate withdrawal.”

Her

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Most of you are used to me posting stories about Jeanie, my original character for Dystopia Rising. Well, this is not a Jeanie story. This is a new character. The Dystopia Rising LARP allows me to have three active characters at once, even if I can only play two a game. Up till now, I’ve only ever had Jeanie. Now I have a new character. Her name, is Rahab. So, here you go, an introduction to Rahab. I apologize if the writing is a little clunky, as this character’s personality might make writing a bit on the tough side, but we’ll see. As always, the world of Dystopia Rising is put out by the amazing people as Eschaton Media and is totally something you should check out.

**********

“Pardon, but can he help her?”

The man looked up from where he knelt in a small garden patch. His eyes widened and he gulped a moment at what he saw. A woman, green skin, almost sick looking, veins stretching across the face in purple and blue, white gauze wrapped around the eyes. “‘Scuse me?”

“Can he help her, please. She got separated from the caravan and is lost.”

“She? She who?” He stood up and brushed his hands on his pants to get the dirt off.

“She is…” the woman paused and her shoulder slumped a moment. She took a deep breath and continued. “Would he understand if she said ‘I am lost’ instead of ‘she is lost’?”

“You? Yer talkin’ ’bout you?”

The sickly green woman nodded. “Yes. She is lost and in need of assistance.”

“Um…” He glanced down quickly at the rifle on the ground. “You ain’t gonna do none of that brain juju bull shit, right?”

The woman shook her head. “The ancestors did not give her the ability to use her mind that way. This is good as she was taught it is a sin. He doesn’t need to worry.”

“Um… alright… Were you headed anywhere in particular?”

The woman shrugged. “She doesn’t know. That one never told her where the caravan was headed.”

“That one?”

“The one who leads the caravan.”

“Right.” He looked behind her a bit, towards the treeline, scanning for anything he could see. “Where did you come from?”

“That one did not really permit her to leave the caravan camp when we had arrived in a town. That one said that people would be frightened by her and it would be unkind to scare them.”

The man forced a quick laugh as he glanced around, still looking to see if anything had changed. “Yeah, well, that one was probably right. Are you lookin’ fer anyone in particular?”

“She would feel comfortable finding those of the Fallow Hope. They would know what to do with her.”

“Then y’all probably wanna find yer way to town. It’s close. ‘Bout a day or so walk down the road.” He pointed behind him at the path leading into the woods. “That’s the Grove proper. Out here is a bit less busy an all. But there’s a trade meet comin’ up. Might find people there that leave home for it or even live in the Grove center instead of us folk here in the Outer Grove. That’s probably yer best shot.”

“Thanks. She is grateful for his help.”

The woman walked around the man, careful not to step on his gun or in his garden. Somehow, she seemed to know where to place her feet despite the fact that her eyes were covered up in cloth.

The man just stared at her as she walked away.

Logic

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It’s been awhile since I posted. In that time I have done a lot of things. I got married. I worked a Renaissance Faire. I went on my honeymoon to Waikiki (lovely place, try it sometimes, bring sunscreen). So, Jeanie and Dystopia Rising both got put on the back burner for awhile. But they’re back. I’m back to playing. And I’m back to writing things that are going on in Jeanie’s life. So, if you like the story, check out Dystopia Rising and any other work by Eschaton Media. Also, remember that while Jeanie is my original character, the other characters and locations are property of the people who created them (not me). And yes, when I write a story with/about other characters, I have the permission of the others involved and work closely with them to make sure it is true to their characters as well. Enjoy the story.

Trigger Warning – Descriptive drug use,

**********

She couldn’t stop shaking.

“If I drop, keep going. I can take it. Just get in and get out. Don’t worry about me.”

“Natasha’s gone. Just go. GO!”

Why did it bother her so much that Natasha died? She’s a Pure Blood. A fucking prissy rich and manipulative Pure Blood. All of them are manipulative. Doesn’t matter that Jeanie can’t figure out what Natasha’s ulterior motive is, she has one. She should be glad that Natasha got pulled under by the River Hunters.

But she’s not.

“Charles, I’m sorry. The River Hunters got Natasha. They pulled her under. She didn’t come back up. I know you wanted to be there for her. I know. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Jeanie sat down on a log at the firepit with a groan before gripping her stomach. She took a deep breath and tried to will her hands to stop shaking. They wouldn’t stop. She wiped the sweat from her brow. Why won’t she stop shaking? Just fucking stop shaking, damn it!

Deep breath. Take a deep breath in. Slowly. Now let it out. In. Out.

“Tri, I saw it happen. They pulled her off the boat and dragged her under. She didn’t come back up.”

The Iron grabbed her head. Rocking back and forth. “I don’t care. I don’t care. She’s just a stupid Pure Blood. I don’t care. I don’t care. Why the fuck do I care?”

Jeanie punched both hands down into the dirt at her feet. Her fingers splayed out before gripping the soil and balling her hands into fists. “Fuck this shit. I need to calm down.”

She grabbed her brown bag and started rummaging through the pockets. Her fingers frantically dug into each pocket before hurrying to the next. Then, her fingers wrapped around a glass vial.

The Iron stopped shaking. Slowly, she pulled the vial out of the bag and stared at the familiar milky white liquid inside. This would calm her down. Put her emotions in check. Keep her from freaking out over a stupid Pure Blood, one who succeeded in manipulating Jeanie into caring. Rich bitch. Her hand slid into the back and pulled out a small scrap box. Practiced hands popped off the lid and dropped the contents onto her lap. Empty syringe. Small needle in an old world pill bottle to keep it from breaking. Get the needle out of the pill bottle, twist into place on the end of the syringe. Open the vial, slide needle inside. Pull up plunger of syringe to fill the syringe with Milk.

Jeanie shut her eyes for a moment and let some of the tension release from her shoulders. She opened her eyes and glanced down at her left forearm, covered in black ink. She glanced above the anchor to the crook of her elbow. A few visible blue veins. She didn’t stop to think as she lined the end of the needle up to the blue vein, pierced the needle into her skin and pressed down on the plunger.

The Iron’s eyes closed and she let out a deep breath. Her body relaxed and the stress from before disappeared. She let the feeling wash over her for a moment before sliding the needle out and dropping it onto the ground in front of her. No more shaking. No more worrying over Natasha. Just calm.

She smiled when she heard bells. Caleb was always good company.

The bells stopped and there was a moment of silence. “Why?”

“Why what?” Jeanie opened her eyes and glanced over to where Caleb stood at the end of the log. He was glaring.

“Why did you need to use?” His paws balled into fists.

“I couldn’t think clearly.”

“About what?”

“Natasha.”

“What about her? She wouldn’t tell you to take milk.” He shouts out. His paws unclench and then curl back into fists. Something was wrong. He’s not okay.

“She died. I watched it happen. And it bothered me. A lot.”

Caleb rolled his eyes and threw his hands up. “Even if it wasn’t her end,” he yells and grabs the syringe off the ground showing it to Jeanie, “you shouldn’t be doing this!”

“I shouldn’t think logically? I should let emotion cloud my thoughts?”

“Use fucking drugs because she died.” Caleb tosses the syringe to her feet. “You’ve seen deaths before.”

Jeanie shook her head. “No, I haven’t. They’ve always been saved, or out of sight, or awful… and… that’s not… her… anymore…”

“So, you’re destroying yourself for liking her?” He starts pulling his weapons out and tossing them to the ground. “What is your problem with liking her?” he shouts.

“She’s a Pure Blood,” Jeanie comments. “She’s supposed to be manipulative and doing everything for her own gain. She’s supposed to be like every other one. I’m not supposed to like her because she’s supposed to fit the data.”

“Your data is wrong!” Caleb shouts and turns to look at the flames for a moment before turning back to Jeanie. “Stop acting like you know everything when there is proof in front of your damn face that you’re wrong!”

Jeanie shrugs. “I can’t figure it out. I don’t understand why she doesn’t make sense. Why it bothers me. It shouldn’t. But it does and I can’t stop seeing her die and I can’t figure out why it bothers me.”

Caleb throws his arms up. “Because you can’t get over the fact that you like her. You only see her as a pure blood, not a person, like how she sees you.”

“I see pure bloods the same way you see the pack. How would you feel if you started liking one of them?”

“There’s a difference between seeing people that made a choice to harm me and seeing an entire strain that way.”

“Welcome to Motor City, where Pure Bloods rule over everything and decide everyone’s life.”

“Stop acting like you’re in Motor City. You’re safer here. You keep acting like you’re there and this place will become the same.”

“I’m not safer here! I’ve ended up in chains in multiple times since then.”

“I don’t see chains on you now,” he screams.

Jeanie grabs the syringe and hands it to the Ascensorite. “Mother’s milk is one of the ways you enslave an Iron.”

“You are being a slave to no one but yourself. You need to fight your weakness.”

Jeanie shrugged. “Well, I’m sorry. I failed.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Caleb growls. “Adapt! Evolve!”

“Maybe I’m doing everything I can! Maybe I’m afraid that I’m stagnant and will never be anything else.”

“Then distance yourself without drugs and try again.” He unclips the collar on his neck and throws it down to her feet. “The collar is dead. My blades fall apart by next summer. It’s a distraction. Work on it. Hit it. Think about Natasha again when you calm down.”

“I can’t just stop.”

He rolls his eyes. “I can only do so much. I’m only a fighter.”

Jeanie turns to look at Caleb. “And I’m only an Iron who got forced into craving something. Okay, I’ll work on something else,” she grabs the collar,” just like every other Iron who fights it. I’m not working for more, so I guess I’ll just shake and puke instead.”

“Get a shakeys.” He tosses his arms into the air and growls. He grabs his blades and turns to walk off muttering, “I just don’t get it.”

Jeanie sighs and stares down at the broken collar and the syringe at her feet.

“And I don’t know how to explain it.”

 

Jeanie

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I know I’ve posted a lot of stories about Jeanie. She’s my original LARP character for Dystopia Rising, an incredible game put out by Eschaton Media. But, at the same time, that doesn’t mean that you all know her. So, I decided to post some pictures (art work) that has been drawn of her and a few of my favorite tid bits about the pieces.

P.A.W. Illustrations

P.A.W. Illustrations

This was the first piece I ever commissioned for Jeanie. She was still a newer character in the Dystopia Rising world. That being said, the piece is still utterly amazing and includes some incredible little details. The most obvious of which is the red hue around her ankles, wrists, and neck. In the game, Jeanie is a strain known as the Iron Slave. She was born into slavery, spent most of her life working as an engineer on an assembly line. The glow is part of the strain. They all glow bright red. It’s both a way to give them the light needed to work longer hours (well into the night) and a way to make sure they can be easily identified and unable to hide at night. For Jeanie, a member of the Darwinist faith, it is also a testament to evolution. You can actually look in the picture and see the signs of her as an engineer. She’s covered in soot and grime. Her face is scarred (and yes those are actual scars that exist on the character that I makeup in every game). You see her designation number. But, one of my favorite parts is that you can see just how strong she is. You can look and see her muscles there. It’s pretty epic. Then again, I find this whole image epic. Then again, there was a reason I asked this piece made in the first place.

Demon With a Halo Illustrations

This next image is also a Chibi. Okay, so a lot of my friend’s draw Chibis. They’re cute. I commissioned one from each of my friends. Yeah, I’ve got multiple chibis of Jeanie. So, what? Anyway, it also has some very unique little details. It’s a different style (of course cause different artist). But the little things make it so awesome. Firstly, it has Jeanie’s hat. The hat is very very important to her. It was a gift, one of the first she had ever received. It was from a character named Bones. While he’s not around anymore (he moved to a different chapter that is very far away), his hat still is and his hat is still utterly important to the Iron. The other majorly awesome detail about this piece is the necklace. Jeanie’s necklace has been a staple to her character since I first started playing her. It means a huge deal and is very much so her entire story condensed into a single prop. You know that your character is extremely important to her when she is willing to give you a piece of the necklace. To this day, she’s only done that once. That says something.

Sarah Maeks

Sarah Maeks

Oh my goodness look at this adorable piece. It’s a little more freehand than the others. But I think that adds a lot of charm to it. Jeanie is not, by any means, a neat character. She’s an engineer and a mad scientist. If she doesn’t look messy and covered in grime, something is wrong. The style of that is so perfectly shown in this. It’s got the hair that she can’t keep in control (with bits hanging in her face and around her ears and sticking out the bun). It’s got just how grimy her pants are getting. But you’ll notice something specific. Look at her cheek. There is some green and a very carefully added R, just slightly darker than her skin tone. So, there is absolutely story behind each of those. The green was Jeanie attempting to claim her own ownership over the tattoo, turning it into something that she was proud of. So she had a green darwin fish added around the designation number. Only, then she was captured (the story tellers are awful and I love them) and had her cheek branded as a runaway. That’s the R. It was a hugely emotional rp for her. It was also my first attempt at making a latex prosthetic (which came out awesome, I might add). But yes, so utterly cute.

Sarah Maeks

Sarah Maeks

This one was not actually commissioned for me, but Jeanie is still in it, so I show you. This is a bunch of the Iron Slave characters in one of the game chapters. It isn’t all of them in the chapter, but a bunch of them. Due to similar histories, the strain tends to bond with each other rather well. From left to right, we have Mainz DeWalt (and also the artist), Glitter Cola, Rock, Jeanie (that’s me), and Chief. We’re all circling Rock because he had just found freedom and he is very very young. We sort of became his family. We protect him and look out for him. Plus, you can see how each of us has our own personality and all that. Ugh, I just love this picture. Sarah, your work is amazing. Why you so good?

Sarah Maeks

Sarah Maeks

This is not the only family picture that Sarah Maeks drew as a commissioned piece.  This one is not actually a chibi though (WOAH! I know, right?). And it has far more than just Iron Slaves in it too. It is still Rock’s family though. It shows a lot more of the personalities though, since it isn’t all Chibi. From left to right, you have Jeanie (me), Glitter Cola, Rock, Yorrick, Honey Badjur, Mainz DeWalt, and Mordecai. The Iron Slaves in the piece are Jeanie, Glitter, Rock, Honey, and Mainz. Yorrick is a Remnant (who is silver, it’s cool) and Mordecai is a rover, hence the scarf. Rovers and scarves are a thing.

Ana "Sal" Mars

Ana “Sal” Mars

This next one was not a commission. This next one was someone going “I’ma make your character with this highlighter on this piece of sticky note” and she did Jeanie. And it is awesome! It is simple. It is cute. And the expression is spot on. Most every other piece that has been made of Jeanie has her in a happy mood. Jeanie is almost never in a happy mood. She doesn’t have much to be happy about. It’s sad. It’s tear jerking. But it’s true. Jeanie is not happy. And as much as her life sucks, when things happen, she sorta sighs and just accepts it. It is a sad existence that she has, but it’s the reality. When her life goes to crap, she cries about it and then sort of acknowledges that she doesn’t really have any other options. One day, I would love for her to feel otherwise, but for now it isn’t going to happen. Sad, but true. What makes this so awesome to me, is that it perfectly captures that. That and this artist is one of my absolute favorites. Her work is officially part of the Dystopia Rising table top books. I’m jealous and have really wanted her to draw Jeanie for awhile now. I’m so happy she did.

P.A.W. Illustrations

P.A.W. Illustrations

Last, but not least, we have another commissioned piece of mine. This was my most recent commissioned piece and one of the few pieces where Jeanie’s smile is spot on. If you’ve read any of the pieces I’ve written, you’ll know Jeanie has fallen in love. She fell for an character named Sliphox. He is an Ascensorite character who has already had his ascension, which has made his faith far more visible in him. His faith is the Tribe of Autumn. It is visible with his antlers that grow out of his head and the fact that he has paws instead of normal hands (if you look, you can see his paw holding Jeanie’s hand). But, what makes this image so perfect is the looks on their faces. Jeanie feels completely free and carefree when he is around. That is her smile. That is the way she is standing with her toes off the ground. In this moment, all is right in the world. Now look at his face. He’s almost glancing at her. He’s happy, but he’s not completely letting go. Look at his feet. Look at how he’s almost ready to jump. He’s protecting her. He wants more than anything for her to be safe. You can see it in this picture. You can see just how much he wants her safe in every part of how he is holding himself. This image perfectly shows their relationship. Granted, it has changed (read my most recent stories) but this image is so perfectly them.

New Deal

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This piece is part two of two

This piece is something that happened at the last Dystopia Rising Game I went to. I tried doing a piece that sort of explained the aftermath of it, but I never got to a point that did it justice. Here is attempt number two, only this time, it’s me recording the event from my character’s perspective. Also, normally, I don’t put this reminder up since most of the information I post is well known. Not all of this is well known, so please remember to keep this out of game until you find out in game. 🙂

**********

Jeanie sat at the table in the Ripton Falls hospital. She was shuffling the Vegasian cards that Mister Oddfellow had given her. But he had left. And no one wanted to play. So she just sat at the table shuffling the cards. An Ascensorite sat watching her. His eyes were two different colors. He wore bells on his ankles. He watched the Iron for a moment before slipping into the seat in front of her.

“What are those?” he asked, curious.

“Vegasian playing cards. Mister Oddfellow gave them to me.”

Jeanie didn’t know how long she’d been sitting there. She couldn’t stop shaking. She couldn’t stop the tears. The overwhelming feeling of being completely alone had returned. It was almost as bad as when Caleb March had died, only this time it was worse. This time Sliphox chose to let himself be destroyed. Some might argue he wasn’t dead. Some might argue that they had finally made him better. But no one else had been called his mate. No one else knew, just knew, that there was nothing of him left. He was gone.

“What do you do with them?” he asked as he placed his paws on the table. That was weird that he had paws and not hands.

“You play Black Jack.”

“How do you play?”

At some point, Anne came over and wrapped her arms around Jeanie. There were no words. There was no questioning why Jeanie was so upset. Just gentle arms carefully holding the shaking Jeanie. But of course, it wasn’t Sliphox. Why would he do that? Why would he protect her or do anything like that when a rover born like him would break a promise he made?

“Jeanie,” Anne said quietly, “He’s asking for you.”

Jeanie shook and didn’t answer. How could she answer? How could she go over to him and be there for him when he refused to be there for her? She felt the tears fall more quickly. It didn’t matter if he was asking for her. It wasn’t him anymore.

Anne gently stepped back and walked away leaving the shaking Iron alone.

He scrunched up his face as he stared at the two pages of science in Jeanie’s notebook. “What’s it mean?”

So, Jeanie carefully explained the game. She explained about how you didn’t want your cards to go over 21. She explained how you wanted to be able to to get as close as possible but the other person didn’t know all you had because you had one card that only you could see.

Then the sound that Jeanie was dreading. It was deafening, though no one else seemed to notice how loud and painful it was. A jingle of bells. Each step and that jingle seemed to echo through the entirety of the building. Each step made it harder to stop the tears from falling.

Jeanie looked down, trying not to watch from the corner of her eyes as the Rover-born Ascensorite made his way over to the shaking Iron. He placed his spear down on the ground next to her and knelt down on the ground. Jeanie’s eyes dropped into her lap. She couldn’t look at him.

He shook his paws in front of him and his eyes darted around the room. Then he dropped his gaze back to his cards and peaked at the one card that wasn’t face up on the table. He finally sighed and bounced the nails of paws onto the table. Jeanie slid him a card and he quickly picked it up. Then his shoulders drooped and he placed the card on the table. “I didn’t want that card.”

“Jeanie,” he said quietly.

She didn’t look at him. She couldn’t stop shaking. She couldn’t stop crying. It wasn’t Sliphox. She didn’t know who it was anymore.

He gently placed his paws on either side of her head and placed a kiss upon her forhead. “I love you.”

Jeanie shook her head. “You’re not you.”

“You’re my mate,” he answered quietly. One of his paws dropped away from her head. The other slid down to hold her cheek. “I love you.”

“But you’re not Sliphox anymore. You left. You’re gone.”

“How do you know?”

She held her left hand out in front of her, eyes looking down at her palm. “You promised. You said you would never leave me. But you’re gone. You broke your promise.”

He looked down at her palm. “It’s gone. We’ll have to fix that.” He wrapped her hand around his blade. Then he wrapped his palm around the blade and pulled quickly, cutting into both of their palms. “Jeanie, I will never leave you. I will always take care of you and protect you. You are my mate and I love you.”

“But you left. You’re not you anymore. How do I know who you are?”

“Ask me.”

Jeanie dealt out the next round of cards. He quickly peaked at his face down card and then bounced his nails upon the table. So Jeanie slid him another card. He looked at it and then peaked at his face down card again. He bit his bottom lip. Then he shook his hands in front of him. Jeanie flipped her cards. She had 19 points. He flipped his card. He had 20. He grinned and slid his cards into the pile of used cards that they’d been building up.

Jeanie looked around the room. She couldn’t look at him. She couldn’t answer him. She didn’t know what to say. She dropped her eyes back into her lap. “We haven’t played the Vegasian cards in a long time. You didn’t want to play.”

He stood up. Pulled a table over and made sure that he had a chair on the other side. He sat down and smiled. Jeanie was trying so hard not to look at him, not to meet his eyes. But she could still see him out of the corner of her eyes. He started bouncing his claws on the table.

Jeanie pulls out the Vegasian cards and very carefully begins to shuffle the deck in front of her. She starts dealing out a game of Black Jack.