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/tg/ - Traditional Games

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My dearest sister,

As I write to you now, here in the secret chamber we discovered when we were children, I can still taste her kisses. Still hear her voice in my ear. Her touch is still on my skin. She lies still on the bed, asleep. I can hear the shallow whisper of her breath. She dreams. The poison in the wine assured I would not be bothered, so I may write to you tonight as my heart so demanded. While my body lay with her, my thoughts were with you. Preparing the words I would say. The thoughts I would betray. I smile now, refreshing the quill. With her smell still upon me, I think of you. Only of you.

As is our tradition, I send you this missive to inform you of my latest tryst. I shall call her Lady Diamond–but only because I am certain your spies shall acquire her identity soon enough. There is a clue in the name… but a misleading one. Make certain your venom finds the right throat.

I remember now when our Game first started. I even recall that young Baron’s name. I can see his eyes as my knife entered his throat. Confusion. Hatred. Betrayal. Finally, despair. My favorite word. Despair. It pleasures me now even to write of it.

And next Season, I remember awakening next to Lady B’javay. Her body, cold. Her eyes, empty. Poisoned, even as I slept in her arms.

She stirs in her slumber, my sister. Blooded of the Bear. She has strength in her muscles. Strength I have suffered first hand.

Nearly as strong as you. But only nearly. And, oh, how I miss your strength.

How I miss breaking it.

Your ever-loyal brother,

Tomas Yvarai

Blooded of the Fox

Baron Shayv’ril
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Lady Diamond. A clue, but as you warn me, a dangerous one as well. Are you telling me she is beautiful yet cold? Or perhaps, covered in her namesake, she is exceptionally wealthy? Perhaps, like bears and diamonds both, she is tough and unyielding. I must admit, my spies have turned up no ‘Lady Diamond’ known to be Blooded of the Bear, so I must assume this is a private nickname.
How then, to discover the identity behind a name spoken only in the most intimate and secret of moments? I should be at a loss, dear brother, and be forced to surrender the forfeit to you. Yet, thank the Sua’ven, you have given me more than one clue! I know the city you currently reside in (else how could this letter reach you!) and well do I know your… fixation… with long-haired redheads. Since I know you would not have dared resume our Game without a truly remarkable inspiration, I feel somewhat confident in having my spies scour the city for redheaded she-Bears.

No cheating and persuading her to use a walnut wash!

Your adoring sister,

Ismene Yvarai
Blooded of the Fox
Baroness Sha’av
Dear brother,

For the love of the lady stop writing me letters.

Your ever annoyed sister,

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Beloved sister,

I write to you from the tower in our father’s castle, a storm at my window, saddened that you are still sore over your fallen Falcon. Perhaps if he was a little braver…

I am not sad for his departure, but sad that you still pine for him. He was a vulgar man, sister. Too vulgar for the likes of you. Undeserving of your kindness and unfit for your cruelty. As a lover, his limited imagination could not begin to fathom the depths of your delicious depravity. That was the reason I took his life. No other reason than that.

You will have to forgive me. My hand has been influenced by poetry. Sweet poetry. As sweet as the wine in your cellar. I think of it now. On my lips. On my fingers. The poetry of my Lady Diamond.

The Season is nearly finished and yet, she lays here beside me, asleep and dreaming. And I must say, your first maneuver was as obvious as a hammer. Dear, sweet sister. I expect better from you.

I arranged to summer with Lady Vax at her home under the Ponope Mountains—a lovely locale—arriving a week after my Lady Diamond. As you know, the Lady Vax always had an eye for me, so arranging a rendezvous with Lady Diamond in her rooms would be tricky. A suitable challenge. I am very familiar with the secret passages behind her walls—having engaged them for a dalliance there two summers ago—and employed them for the same purpose. So familiar, in fact, I need no light whatsoever, relying only on the count of footsteps and my fingers.

On my third night, as I was making my way through the dark corridors, my fingertips met a face in the black. Lady Vax’s voice sounded there. She called me by name.

“My dear Lord Tomas,” she said. “What are you doing behind my walls?”
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I smiled in the darkness. “I have become lost,” I told her.

I could hear her frown. “I do not think so,” she said. “I think you are on your way to meet Lady Diamond.” It was then I heard a match stick and a candle lit behind me. Standing there was her swordsman. He dropped the match, switched the candle to his left hand and put his right on the pommel of his blade. And there was I with no weapon at all.

“This letter,” she said, lifting it into view, “is from your sister.” Her frowned intensified. “A friend of mine, you know.”

I nodded. “I know.”

She raised her eyebrow. “You know she has a very low opinion of you.”

I heard the swordsman shift his gate behind me.

“My relationship with my sister is a private matter,” I told her, “and very complicated.”

“Nevertheless…” she flicked the envelope between her fingers and I could smell your perfume on the envelope and pages. The scent toyed with my senses… as you always do. Teasing me. Just beyond reach, but within grasp.

“Nevertheless,” she said again. “I have caught you this time, Tomas. Caught you violating my hospitality. And this time,” she paused just then, her eyes bright in the darkness, “this time, it is going to cost you.”

“If anything,” I told her, now leaning against the small corridor’s wall, “it is you who owes me a favor.”

She turned her head, just slightly. She clutched the letter now, no longer dancing between her fingers. “What do you mean?”

“When last I visited,” I told her, “you knew nothing about these hallways. It was only because I discovered them and used them that you even learned of their existence at all.”
Is... there a context to this?
Did you write this? Are you looking for critique?
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“A secret you kept to yourself,” the swordsman behind me said. I could hear the leather of his glove gripping his sword. He was ready to act. I would not be able to stop him. Not in this tiny, cramped place. And not without a weapon of my own. No. Here, my only weapon was my choice of words. Only her will kept that sword in its sheath. Her will and his obedience.

“Whatever you say,” she told me, “does not change the fact that you have violated my hospitality. And you must pay.”

“I sincerely hope your swordsman does not lose his patience,” I told her. “Any injury inflicted on me will certainly make its way to my sister’s ears.” I looked at the envelope she gripped so tight. “And you know her as well as I. You tell me,” I leaned in, just a little. “What do you think she would do if she discovered your swordsman caused a single drop of my blood to spill?”

I smiled. “How long do you think these secret hallways would remain yours?”

Her eyes and nostrils flared. The envelope collapsed under her angry grip. “She has a very low opinion of you,” she told me.

I laughed. “You should hear what she says about you,” I told her.

For a moment there, I thought I had pushed her too far. It was difficult to tell in the dim light, but I think I saw a tear curl up on her eye. Outdone by both of us, she turned on her heel. “See that he finds his way back to his room,” she told the swordsman, her back to both of us, but still blocking my progress. “Unharmed,” she added.

“Aye, madame,” the swordsman said.

“And Tomas.” I paused. She still had her back to me, but I could see her shoulders shaking. “You are no longer welcome in my house. You may leave in the morning.”
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Finally, morning.

My valet had my things packed and the carriage waited for me. As I left, I looked up to the window I expected to see empty. But there she was. Looking down, waving. I left a letter for her, informing her I must immediately and regretfully leave. She was holding the letter in her hand, her other hand on the window. The window steamed where her flesh touched it as did the place where her breath was caught by the glass.

As I pulled away, I knew I would not see her again for weeks. I hoped to complicate your task, but it seems the Lady is now quite vulnerable. In the home of your friend, without even a single sword to protect her…

… except for the letter my valet slipped under her door, letting her know where I would be staying for the next few weeks. My spies tell me her bags are already packed, and despite the protests of Lady Vax, she left at the first light of dawn.

Most crude, my sister. Most vulgar. I expected something more artful from you. But then again, you have been out of the Game for three years. Perhaps your subtle skills have faded.

And perhaps my disappointment will not end here. I hope not, but lack of practice can diminish even the most talented artist.

With love and respect,

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My darling brother,

I am most wroth with Lady Vax for her treatment of you. She was instructed quite clearly to ensure you lacked for nothing and suffered not a single heartbeat of discomfort. I wonder where she got the idea I have a low opinion of you. It was not from my hand, I assure you. Why, you must know beyond doubt how I am your most devoted and loving sister! Who else could ever understand me the way you do? And who could ever see to the very core of your heart, the way I have? Who else could see, like you do so kindly and selflessly for me, that the parade of doxies through your bedchamber is nothing less than outright humiliation, and do her best to ameliorate the problem? Perhaps one day you may find a woman who is your equal, one just a bit lower than I. But today, Lady Diamond’s day, is not that day.

Ah, but I suppose we must forgive Lady Vax her blindness. Few ven are fortunate enough to have a family quite like ours, and I daresay they completely fail to understand the sort of bond you and I enjoy. How many secrets did we whisper to each other, hiding from our parents high in our private tower or down by the secret bend in the river? What grand, elaborate plans we concocted in our youth! Do you remember our plans, to scour Shan’ri to find a pair of beautiful, powerful, tractable twins to wed? They would of course be ytola, and we would combine our households in a way never before seen, Ismene and Tomas Yvarai, and build an empire to rival… well, I need not speak his name.

I digress. Simple fluff and reminiscing, filling enough parchment to ensure the courier earns his gold.
Is this a Houses of the Blooded writefaggotry?
Is this implying you've succeeding in actually getting a group to PLAY?
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You see, my dear brother, you forgot one very key piece of information. Two, in fact. If I may venture a bit of sisterly advice: You are slipping. In your youth, you would have never surrendered this information so easily. I would have had to work much harder to win it. Though I suppose I cannot blame you - after all, it has been years since we last played this Game in earnest.

As it is no doubt too late, I shall relate the two tidbits here. One: Lady Vax’s true role in my scheme. I know Lady Diamond’s real name, thanks to my dear friend, kind enough to play hostess to you both. Second: Did you think to surprise me when you revealed your location at our father’s old estate? Believe it or not, I still have members of his household who are loyal to me. Loyal unto death - preferably another’s, not theirs. It was a plan which took me quite awhile to execute properly… but then again, all good plans take time. And you know how I hate to rush things. Ruins the flavor, like rushing a good wine.

I always wondered which traveled faster - a well-paid courier, or poison. I suppose I have the answer now. What was the last thing she said to you? How did you find her? Did a servant bring you the news, or did you discover her yourself? Was she on your shared bed, or could she not even crawl that far once the poison overtook her? I want to know what she was wearing. Something seductive, chosen especially for you, perhaps? Or had she not had time to change before her heart stopped? I like to think she was bathing when the final seizure came, that you were alerted to my victory by the sound of breaking porcelain. That you rushed into the room, thinking to save her… only to realize your fatal oversight.
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Though I believe you mayhap have cause to rejoice. I shan’t give you his name. But! He is a beautiful blonde duelist, a gem of the Adrente family. As I write this, he tugs at my sleeve and wonders why I will not put off my letters and come join him in another round of love-making. And to be perfectly honest, I have no good answer to give him.

Fare thee well, dear brother.

Your loving sister,

Ismene Yvarai
Blooded of the Fox
Baroness Sha’av
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Her body is still in my bed.

I woke in the night to relieve myself and found her there. Quiet. Motionless. Half in the vapors of sleep and dream, I assumed she still breathed. I even caught a motion in the corner of my eye, but dismissed it as a vision. Then, I returned to the bed.

When the sun arose, I found her. And your letter. I write to you now, the sun only just risen. Her body, still and quiet, half-covered by the sheets. Her eyes wide open. Her mouth agape.

I write to you now with the honesty of a brother—for is that not what we have always been, my beloved, but honest siblings? The first emotion that crept through my blood and into my heart was fear. An assassin was in my bedchamber last night and if I were his target, I would not be writing you now. And that is the fear that haunts me. Still lingering near my heart, pricking me with its cold needle.

The next emotion was anger. I cannot explain it. Perhaps a reflex, then. I had no true emotion for the woman. A panging of lust and that is all. Her letters were droll—the poverty of her grammar was only eclipsed by her handwriting—our conversations non-existent. I do not think more than ten words passed between us when we were not naked and tumbling about. Only then did her verbosity blossom.

And, oh! What a verbose one she was, my beloved one. Quite clear on her fancies. She told me exactly what to do and when to do it. Most women are puzzle boxes: expecting me to discover every precious spot on their bodies. Our Lady Diamond knew what she wanted and knew how to ask for it. Of all the things I might miss about her, it was that quality.
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I still wish I had drawn the shorter straw. Father’s face as I took his life—after the pain he put you through—would have been a sweet memory. And with such an eager hand I desired the death of our mother for reasons you and I both know. I shall not betray our promise. The secret shall never be written.

And I have lamented these many years that you have never told me the story of what happened in these walls. This is the first and last time I shall ever ask.

It was the simultaneous arrival of your letter that brought my memory back to that place. The synchronicity of events. Arriving at our home, their bodies already cold. As hers is now. Waking beside her body, the letter placed carefully on my writing desk. I pray you will forgive the dots of blood on his particular missive, my dearest one. After I read your clue as to the identity of the murderer, I took the liberty of killing the staff. My sword has never been so busy.

We must make arrangements to re-populate the castle. I assume you will approve any of my choices? Of course, you will. You have always been so agreeable.

As for your latest paramour, I would not grow too attached. I am in a particular mood. I suspect his end shall be a bloody one and I wouldn’t want to ruin your dress.

Until your sweet perfume again awakens me, I remain

Your devoted brother,

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My dearest brother,

The thought of you sleeping so peacefully next to the corpse of a Diamond who has forever lost her luster is a deliciously morbid one. I must admit, I am tempted to ask more questions about what it was like and how it made you feel, but I fear propriety forbids me from prying. I do, after all, have some manners. And some respect for the dead.

Did you really have to kill all the servants? Why not order their quarters searched till you found the one with a blue velvet coin-purse embroidered with my sigil amongst his personal effects? I am beginning to suspect you of enjoying bloodshed! You were in our father’s old manor, dear brother! The servants are loyal to his memory. And in his name, loyal to you. They would not lay a finger on you, a truth I know all too well given the difficulty I had in finding one willing enough to poison your she-Bear. Just to drive the point home: upon receipt of the poison, my agent had quite the vivid picture painted of what would happen to him, excruciatingly slow, if his aim was but slightly off and wine meant for her found its way to you.

No one broke into your rooms. Rest assured, the poison was administered while you dined and was carried into your bedchamber only by Lady Diamond herself. And as I mull over that thought, I find I must break etiquette and ask one question: what is it like to kiss a woman dying quietly of poison?
Though I suppose the answer to that question is more interesting if one is kissing a more captivating woman. Honestly, Tomas, she sounds quite the drab lover. You ought to thank me for releasing you from her tedium. Only lazy or dull men are pleased to find a lover who is so explicit and vulgar in her love-play. Women as puzzle boxes? Of course! Where is the fun in being given a puzzle box and shown immediately how to solve it? No, the enjoyment of both puzzles and women lies in slowly drawing out hidden secrets and discovering each new layer, every new treasure and delight on one’s own. What is entertaining about playing with a puzzle box you have already solved? No more than bedding a woman who has too quickly surrendered all her mystery. I pray the Sua’ven grant you a more alluring and mysterious lover to replace Lady Diamond. Hopefully, she shall be a bit more of a challenge for me as well. Bribing a clever piece of dirt to slip a few drops of viscous goo in a wine glass is so boring.

I also suspect you were not entirely candid about your lack of feelings for your cold, cold Diamond. Else why should you choose just now to bring up such memories of our parents, when you know the effect they have on me?

We pledged in blood never to breathe of the affair, to never speak of what we had done to another. Though I suppose such a vow might still remain unbroken, as ink is not breath. As I am confident that none shall ever read this letter save you, I will write of what happened. But in exchange, you are forbidden from ever mentioning the names of our parents in my presence again.
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So are they fucking or what?
(spoiler)I sure hope so.(/spoiler)
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I waited each day in our tower for the courier to come with the pre-arranged token which would indicate your degree of success. Would his hat have a blue feather, prohibiting me from action and warning me to flee before our parents discovered our counter-treachery? Would it be the dreaded black feather, a sign that we had vastly underestimated the power our parents still held in the Senate and you had been executed for your insolence? I think I might have thrown myself from the tower in grief had I beheld a black feather. My heart forgot to beat when finally I saw the rider approach, both for what it meant had been done and what I must now do. A red feather thrust proudly in his hat, waving in the wind like a warlord’s battle-standard. The hoped-for sign, telling me of success on your part and time for vengeance on mine.

I should have liked a day or two more to consider my plans further. Alas, the red feather was the sign for action.

As to how it would be done: I considered and rejected poison a dozen times over during my tower-bound vigil. Poison is how cowards kill - or, I rush to defend myself, those who must kill at a distance. I was neither a coward nor removed from our parents. To be honest, I wished their end to be far more personal. Though it might have been my hand which drew forth the secret toxins from apple seeds, gently mixed them with wine and served it to our parents… it was not quite the end I wished for them. My anger at their treachery, both against my person and against our entire House, demanded a different release.
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So, no poison. I contemplated swords. Yet you well know how I barely managed to satisfy our fencing instructor, and her strong suggestion that I cultivate a solid base of admirers from which to draw a champion should the need ever arise. Perhaps an assassin? Some strong bit of dirt, who could be coerced and then disposed of. Or one of our own, seduced and made pliable. But, searching my heart, I found I could not countenance such a course of action. Indeed, the thought of hands other than mine harming my family, even poor souls as debased as our parents, made me quite angry. The more I thought on the matter, the more irate I was at the Senators themselves! What right had they to determine the fates of our blood kin? No, if our family came to harm, it would be solely my own doing.

You see how the traditional methods of vengeance were closed to me. Therefore, I must be creative. Fortunately, a week keeping vigil in an isolated tower is quite good for letting the mind wander. Our parents knew better than to disturb me, and the servants were unobtrusive in bringing my meals and cleaning up the small room. To keep my hands busy, I knitted. Laugh if you will, but it proved an integral part of my plan.

And then dawned the day of the red feather. I would like to tell you how I sat and thought an hour or more on who to kill first, weighing my choices and coming to a decision only after a slowness for which you have so often chided me. Though, truly it was nothing of the sort. Quite out of character for me, I know, but I could abide no more long planning. They would both die, and who preceded whom mattered little in the end. So I simply tossed a coin into the air. If it landed in the ground crown up, Father would be the first to go.

The coin landed with the crown kissing dust. Mother, then, would die first.
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Our parents, though they were unaware we had discovered the whole breadth of their betrayal, knew we had learnt enough to make us dangerous. Though I was not expressly forbidden such things, a close eye was kept on me while I handled knives and other edged weapons. Had I even been inclined to poison, I doubt I would have been granted access to that special corner of Mother’s garden. But a pair of simple wooden knitting needles? What was the harm in that?

After all, it’s not like I spent my idle hours weaving a sturdy silk cord.

It was good that Mother was first. Her long abuse of ‘medicines’ had taken their toll on her body. I wonder if she ever would have reached Solace on her own, so severe were the ravages of recreational poison. Yes, I call them poison. And had you beheld what had become of her once-famed beauty, you would too. She was especially haggard in those last few days, hardly worthy to be called Blooded at all. Though the servants did their best to care for her, she had grown slovenly. Her hair, once so lustrous and the pride of Fox House, had grown grey and stringy. What used to be a radiant smile had now become black and snaggle-toothed. Deep creases had formed around Mother’s lips and eyes as her sallow, papery skin nearly dripped off the bone. Where she had once been round and firm, she was now spindly and coarse. Her youthful energy had turned to a slow, labored wheezing. It was in that moment I swore unto myself and all the Sua’ven to never indulge in such filthy substances. Call me vain, but I would find death eternal an easier fate to bear than facing Solace in such a wretched form.
Take it to /lit/ you fag.
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I think she, too, found death preferable to her current state, for the ordeal was over very quickly. Lying abed in the middle of the afternoon, she saw me approach with a grim expression on my face, holding several feet of handmade cord. She knew, without either of us speaking, why I was there and what I had come to do. I think as well that somewhere, deep within her black, drug-addled heart, there burnt a small spark of remorse for what she had done and pity for you and me. She put up only a perfunctory fight as I loomed over her frail body and began my dreadful task. Though she could neither breathe nor speak with my cord knotted around her neck, I stared into her hollow, sunken eyes and think I saw… relief? Forgiveness? Yes, there was fear. But it was overwhelmed by resignation. Even had Mother wished to fight for her life, she knew she had not the strength to oppose me. She knew she had spent the coin of her life on drugs and treachery. In the end, Mother accepted what it had bought her. Her thin hand wrapped around my wrist as I twisted the breath out of her. She was not fighting me, but forgiving me and saying goodbye to her only daughter.

After only a handful of heartbeats, she slumped sideways, bereft of both breath and pulse. I stayed several minutes in case she still lived and had planned some trickery. But when her bowels opened and soiled her fine satin sheets, I knew she was truly dead. I stared at her several more moments as I gently unwound my cord from her purpling, swollen throat. The woman who had given the both of us life, who had been so joyful when we were children, was an empty, stinking husk at my feet. And I was the reason why. I contemplated the strange world we live in, where a daughter can murder her own mother. Perhaps I wept, perhaps my eyes stayed dry. That, dear brother, is a secret I intend to keep forever.
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Eventually, the stench of her ordure drove me from the room. I seized a pair of servants and jerked my hand towards the open door. “Clean up the mess in there,” I ordered. “Burn whatever you can. I never want to see her again.” They nodded and scurried in. “And don’t tell Father, as you value your lives!” I called after them as they made the hideous discovery. And you wonder why so few of the former servants trusted me.

The very next thing I did was to head straight for the wine cellar, as I was in dire need of strong brandy after all I had done. I opened a bottle of the best, one Mother claimed to have been saving for the birth of my own first daughter. It was sweet, sweeter in that moment than I felt I deserved. Sweet unto cloying. But I drank the whole bottle in less than half an hour. Perhaps I violated my earlier oath to the Sua’ven, but I have never touched a substance other than alcohol since that day. And oh, what a terrible day it was! No sooner had I downed the entire bottle than I had to stagger to a nearby bucket and retch the contents back up.

So much for the most expensive brandy in our cellar. So much for my first daughter.

After washing my mouth out with a bit of water, I rewound the cord and went to find Father. Father, the author of all my misery. All our misery.

Ah, but dear brother! This letter has already gone on too long! And now my dressmaker is here, ready for the final fitting before Lady Peacock’s Summer Soiree. A pity you’ll miss it, up there in your dank towers. Hire whomever you like to repopulate the castle, you know I’ve never cared much about what the dirt does, as long as they do it right.
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And perhaps, if the mood strikes me, I shall relate to you how Father expired in my next letter. That is, if my darling duelist does not keep me too overly distracted by demonstrating just how skilled he is with all manner of blades.

Your faithful sister,

Ismene Yvarai

Blooded of the Fox

Baroness Sha’av

P.S. Though I find I must ask you one more question of my own. Father’s sins against me are well known. Beyond that, what had he done to earn your wrath? I cannot imagine the depth of your passionate hatred towards him was simply on my account.
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Beloved sister,
You broke my heart, my beloved. With your cold hands, you threw it to the ground and smashed it beneath your feet. You told me you would attend Lady Peacock’s Summer Social and I had arranged for the Grande Dame to invite me as well. How I anticipated your arrival. It has been so long. I daresay my hand nearly trembled when each Wolf was announced. And as each Wolf entered, I felt my back arch to see if you held his arm. But, alas, it was not to be.

The Lady noticed my anticipation and even commented on it. You should have seen her, my sister. Her florid gown, her headpiece. She was a magnificent garden, all on her own. The scents alone made me swoon, but the flashes from the mirrors and her endless chatter nearly drove me to violence. She mentioned that you could not attend due to some “illness” (a lie she did not believe, my sister) and she was greatly distressed because of it. She insisted on sending an apothecary to inspect your condition, but she did not know where you were.

I informed her I was without direction for her. Perhaps if she inquired your most recent lover…?

“Oh, the Count Adrente?” she said, gesturing for me to look.

And I asked, “The Wolf near the window?”

And she smiled and corrected me, “The tall, handsome Wolf near the window.”

I smiled. “You should ask him,” I told her. “Surely he knows where she is hiding.”

Lady Peacock returned my smile. “When is the last time you saw your sister?” she asked me.

I shook my head. “Many years,” I told her. “We had a falling out.”

She touched my cheek. “My dear, my dear, my dear,” she said. “Such a beautiful sorrow you wear. Your eyes are like sad gems.”

I turned from the Wolf in the corner and looked at her. “I have no sorrow,” I told her.

Her caress deepened. She touched my chin and my lips. “But you do,” she said. She stepped closer and I found my heart fluttering.
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She said, “Share it with me. This sorrow you carry.”

It was something in the scent of her. The sound of her words. The light in her eyes. The feel of her skin on mine. This woman had beguiled me. With just a touch.

“I have to kill him,” I told her.

She nodded. “I know,” she said. Then, she said, “And tell me why.”

The words leapt from my mouth without any command from me. “Because he doesn’t deserve her.”

She nodded. “I know,” she said. Then, she said, “And tell me why.”

My throat tried to squeeze shut, but my tongue betrayed me. “Because I’m the only one who does.”

She nodded. “I know,” she said. Then, she said, “And tell me why.”

I felt my hands clench as I nearly bit my tongue. And I told her a secret I swore never to tell.

Then, her hand dropped from my cheek and my will was my own again.

She touched my hair and I stepped back. “Witch,” I said.

“As an Yvarai,” she told me, “you should be familiar with the Blessings sweet Talia gives us.” She laughed. “And I offered you no hospitality in my home, Tomas Yvarai.”

“No hospitality?” I asked, my hand reaching for my Sword. But her hand found another weapon: a key. She dangled it in front of me.

“He left me for your sister,” she told me, gesturing again to the Wolf. “Do with him as you wish.” She dropped the key and it made a sound as it hit the floor.

Then, she turned away, laughing.

I looked at the Wolf. I looked at the key. I bent on my knee to lift it from the floor.

And I watched him. Your Wolf.

I watched him move through the party, his lips finding the lips of every woman in the room. The same lips that must have promised you so many promises of devotion.

I watched him. Watched as he flirted with all of Peacock’s dandy guests. One by one, as if they were waiting in turn for him. All except one.
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Her dress was green. Her hair piled up high on her head, she wore no Sword. When your Wolf approached her, she denied him with a polite smile. When he tried to put his hand on her breast, she corrected him with a snap of her fan. And the more she rebuked him, the more focused he became. He refused the offers of other women only to be near her.

And over the week, I watched. I watched as he arranged to sit next to her at breakfast, lunch and dinner. And I watched as he chose to be her partner in games. And when Lady Peacock called for the Hunt, I watched as he showed her how to hold the saddle—even though she insisted she already knew.

I watched. And during the hunt, Lady Peacock rode her horse next to mine and asked, “And how goes your hunt, my lord?”

“I am preparing a trap, my lady,” I told her.

“Is it nearly ready?” she asked.

I nodded. “Nearly,” I said.

The night of the hunt, I read your last letter again. My bed was cold and empty. I read your postscript and thought of writing to you, to answer the question you wrote there. But so focused was I on your Wolf, all that I wrote was tripe. I laid down in my cool bed and let sleep come over me.

* * *

I felt a weight upon me. I tried to move, but I could not. I opened my eyes, reaching for the knife I keep hidden nearby, but it was not there. I looked up and saw her, knife in hand.

“Looking for this?” she asked me.

She was atop me, her legs on either side of my hips. The moonlight made her hair silver and her eyes shine.

I nodded. “That is what I was looking for.”

She smiled. “I have seen you watching me, Lord Yvarai,” she told me.

Seeing the advantage here, I nodded. “I have,” I told her.

“Are you so bashful that you can only adore me from afar?” she asked.

I shook my head. “No, lady,” I told her. “Only respectful of your marriage.”

“You know I am married,” she said.

I nodded again. “I do.”

“And you are Tomas Yvarai?”
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I nodded again. “I am.”

“And what Tomas Yvarai is respectful of any marriage?”

I moved my hand slowly toward the dagger in her hand, but she moved it away, using her free hand to remove it from the sheath.

“Tell me,” she said. “What Tomas Yvarai is respectful of my marriage?”

I put my hand behind my head. Relaxing. I told her, “The Tomas Yvarai who cannot explain the motive behind this emotion he has never felt before.”

She laughed, but only in a hushed whisper. “And what emotion is that? Love?”

I shook my head. “I do not know that word,” I told her. “I only know it to be respect.”

She tilted her head. “Respect?”

I nodded. “I have seen you refute the advances of the Wolf,” I told her.

“I have,” she said.

“You are the only woman who has.”

She laughed again, this time daring a little louder. “He is a dolt and a clod,” she said, “wrapped up in a pretty package. Any woman who would fall for his blather is a desperate one. Or stupid.”

I said nothing then. She looked down at me.

“I like you watching me, Tomas Yvarai,” she said. “But that is all I will allow you to do.”

She dropped the knife and lifted her body from me. Then, she walked to the open window. “Good night,” she said. “I anticipate your distant admirations tomorrow.”

And then, she was gone.

I did not fall back to sleep for a long time after that. Nor could I remove the grin from my face.
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Needless to say, your Wolf was missing the next morning. His carriage was gone and Lady Peacock was complaining of guests leaving without notifying her.

“How fantastically rude,” she said at breakfast. Then, she looked at me. “I certainly hope nothing has happened to him.”

I shook my head. “I am certain nothing has,” I told her.

Of course, I was lying. I had no idea what happened to him. He left without warning, leaving before I had the opportunity to do anything. And so, your lover has escaped Lady Peacock’s Summer Social.

Enjoy him while you can, sister. The next time we meet, it shall be bloody.
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My Dearest Tomas,

Please excuse the ink-spatters on this page, as I fear my hand is
trembling quite a bit. It has been near a fortnight since I received
your last letter, and I find my shaking has not yet improved. And as I
write, I can read your thoughts, my dear devoted brother, and they are
fearful for my health. You worry I may have fallen ill with a fever,
or the ague. I assure you, my cherished, most best beloved brother, my
uncontrolled quivers are in no way a sign of poor health.

No, I am quite healthy. The shaking of my hand signifies a rage so
deep and profound I cannot even begin to put it into words.

I have sat down at my desk every evening for the past two weeks,
intending to compose a fitting response to your most recent
correspondence. And each night, I find my fingers trembling with
barely controlled fury, ruining yet another sheet of paper by
spattering it with ink-blots. What you are now reading signifies my
first successful attempt to write as far as a third paragraph. I think
now, having come thus far, I shall be able to finally write the
fullness of the letter I have been composing in my head.

You wonder, no doubt, what has propelled me to such a near-hysterical
paroxysm of anger.
Perhaps, you think I am upset by the fact you neglected to answer the
question asked in my previous letter. After I bore my soul and
lavished you with such a painstaking, lurid description of the death
of our Mother, only to have my own question in turn rebuffed?
Though I feel I would be perfectly justified in being angry with you
for that, I am not. Annoyed, yes – but not angry.
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Perhaps, you wonder, if I am full of wrath upon learning that Count
Adrente spent most of the Summer Soiree flirting with other women.
Nothing could be further from the truth. I knew his reputation well
when we began our romance. It was not his fidelity which first
attracted me, nor his wit. Rather like your own erstwhile bedmate, I
found his conversation to be quite dull, and knew that he has a
tendency to brag as to how many sheaths he’s found for his blade.

More than bit uncouth, I shall admit. However, thanks to his devotion
to the sword, my darling Wolf has arms shaped as if a master sculptor
had made them. Not to mention the exquisite ripples on his abdomen, or
his well-turned legs. I shan’t even begin to describe his hair – long
and silky, the perfect sort to entwine my fingers in as he brings me
again and again to ecstasy. And again. Though I shall admit his tongue
lacks quite a bit when it comes to speaking intelligently, he is more
than adept when putting it to other uses, a talent I find too few male
Blooded have developed as well as they ought. As long as he is willing
to come to me with such a tongue as often as I wished, what cause have
I to care about other women he flirted with? Not to mention, it would
be most unfair of me if I expected him to attend the Soiree only to be
bored witless.
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No, even though you attempt to inflame me to jealousy, that is not
what has me so irate.
Nor am I even very angry at having missed Lady Peacock’s Summer
Soiree. Do not mistake me, I had been looking forward to this event
for Seasons! I had intended to arrive at the first garden gala with
the Count, Lady Peacock’s own erstwhile lover, upon my arm. It would
have been delicious retribution for a slight which she offered me last
year. The insult was certainly not enough to cross swords over, but
‘twas one which deserved answer nonetheless. And what better way to
achieve this goal than to arrive at the good Lady’s Soiree with her
own former lover as my attentive escort? Surely, she had forgotten the
incident entirely, which would only make my vengeance all the sweeter.
And what pleasure it would give me to remind her of the dangers of
crossing Ismene Yvarai! Her humiliation would have been complete! I
had a dozen gossip-mongers waiting upon my grand entrance just to
ensure none missed the significance.

Ah, but my poor Count was notorious for being indiscreet. Though I
implored him to keep our dalliance a secret till the Soiree, he could
not keep that silver tongue of his from wagging. As I understand it,
he was so thrilled to have been taken into the bed of the Ismene
Yvarai, he could not leave off bragging for even a single week. Rumor
has it he even composed a few bits of doggerel in my honor. Though I
was flattered at the attention, it was not long before my good friend
Lady Peacock had learnt where her former beau had gone and whose bed
he was keeping warm.

Well, after that, there was naught to be done. Lady Peacock would
never be so gauche as to retract an invitation freely given. No, not
at all. Not when she could have me in her home, partaking of her
hospitality and quite naked to any sort of counter-revenge she might
inflict. I know Lady Peacock’s methods well, and could easily guess
what sort of schemes she might have in store for me.
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beloved brother, when I learnt that you had been invited as well.

What? You thought you had secured an invitation to Lady Peacock’s
Summer Soiree through wit and grace alone? Allow me to disabuse you of
that notion! The only reason you were invited was to play foil for me.
You were never intended as anything more than a pawn in some overly
elaborate, self-serving plan of the Lady’s. As if your pretensions to
elegance and charm are not easily seen through by even the dullest

But I find my hand is shaking again, and threatens to spill ink over
the entire page. Such a calamity would produce nothing except ensuring
I must start this letter over again tomorrow night. Shifting back to
the topic at hand:

It was far too close to the date of the Soiree for me to adequately
plan a riposte, so I begged off and cited illness as the reason why.
Trust me, dear brother, her apparent distress was not concern for my
health, but sadness that I was not there to be a target for her
tiny-minded games of vengeance. Ah, but my rage only becomes stronger
as I contemplate your conversation with her. Moving on.

I hope you are by now convinced that I am not angry at being unable to
attend the Soiree. Though had I been there, I might have been able to
keep your damned mouth closed.
And now, despite my best efforts, I find I have arrived at the true
reason for my rage.

You complete and utter FOOL. How DARE you reveal my secret, OUR secret
to Lady Peacock? You should have known better! How do you think she
has earned her high position in society? Why do you think it took me
so long to pry Count Adrente off her arm? I’d hoped you, of all the
ven in Shan’ri, would credit me with a little more style and talent
than THAT. I thought even babies still sucking at their mother’s teats
knew NEVER let to Lady Peacock touch their skin! And yet, so focused
are you on ensuring victory in our game, you completely ignore good
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You have sinned against me, dear brother, more times than I could
count. You have done me grievous wrong, time and time again. And each
time, because you are my brother, I have forgiven you. Yet this is the
first time where I feel as if you have truly betrayed me.

Now Lady Peacock knows my greatest secret. Do you have any idea what
she might do, what she could do, now that she knows [editor’s note:
text illegible]. I hope you are pleased. I hope your next endeavor
fails. I hope your sword rusts in its sheath. I hope you do manage to
seduce your Green Woman, and when you do, your little soldier refuses
to stand at attention and she tosses you out of her chambers, laughing
and spreading the tale of your lackluster manhood to all. And then I
hope she dies screaming. It would be worth seeing you again if only I
could watch your face as your lover begs for a rescue that shall not

Sleep uneasily, dear brother. Sleep uneasily.

All love and devotion,

Ismene Yvarai
Blooded of the Fox
Baronness Sha’av.
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My Beloved Sister,

How many times must I begin this cursed letter? How many times must I throw it into the fire and begin again?

And how many times will you reject it? Sending it back to me, unopened. Thirteen times I have tried and thirteen times you have returned it, the seal unbroken. The last time, my valet returned to me whipped and beaten, his nose all but ruined. Revenge, I suppose, for the murder of your nursemaid in father’s house.

You present yourself as an Enemy, my sister. And while I cannot imagine a more brutal or ruthless foe, you know the same would be true of myself.

If you truly wish to escalate your issue, I await official notice of your grievance.

Or, if you prefer not to make notice with the Senate, I can re-send the letter you have returned which contains the details of my final days at Lady Peacock’s estate.
Yours faithfully,
Tomas Yvarai
PS: I require your reply include the word “please.” I do love to hear it from your trembling lips, but in this case, I shall satisfy myself with your trembling hand.
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My darling, most adored brother Tomas,

Well-played. I have no idea how you convinced Lady Aleina to seal your short letter in with hers, and was halfway done reading before I realized she was not the author.

My reply comes not because your words impressed me. I write this only because Lady Peacock has, as yet, done nothing and made no move against me. I therefore shall allow you the opportunity to demonstrate that you were able to rectify this most grievous error you made during the Soiree.

Your devoted sister,

Ismene Yvarai
Blooded of the Fox
Baroness Sha’av.

P.S. Why would I care what happened to dirt? Especially dirt I have not seen in years. Your courier was unforgivably rude and needed to be taught a lesson. That was all.

P.P.S. I know what you want me to write. Get used to disappointment. You should be begging me for this chance. You are the one who ought be asking me ‘please.’ Unless I have completely misunderstood the motivation behind your sending me those thirteen letters in quick, desperate succession, and you, in truth, have no desire for me to read what you have written. Though, by all means, if you wish our inescapably entwined destinies to hinge upon a single word, push the issue. You and I both know the only way you shall ever hear me speak that word sincerely would be if I ever lost the Game.

P.P.P.S. You made no provision for context. Condition fulfilled.
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My beloved sister,
In case you ever need to know, the window outside Lady Peacock’s bedroom remains open at night so she may enjoy the night air and hear the crash of the waves against the cliffs. The stones and vines make good handholds. I scrambled up the wall quickly, with little effort and less sound.

And as I stood there, the moonlight casting my shadow across her bed, I thought of you and our most recent correspondence. She was not alone, but slept with her body coiled around another. I moved softly across the floor, not wanting to wake the guard outside.

I withdrew a small vial from my purse: enough poison to keep her still and quiet mixed with enough sugar to hide the bitter taste. When the liquid dripped onto her lips, her tongue licked it clean. She was done. Now, to him.

Your paramour lay so still next to her. I watched him for a moment and then withdrew my blade from its velvet sheath, the action as silent as my footsteps. I debated exactly what to do at that moment and in my hesitation, I remembered the question you asked me about our father.

It was that night after the Spring of Daffodils. The night we hid in the cave and played at the Blooding ritual we stole from mother’s library. That night, our father came to my room.

He must have stood above my own bed, as I stood above Lady Peacock’s, watching me as I slept. I woke smelling the liquor on his lips. His eyes and nostrils were red from the poison in his Blood. And he had a knife in his hand.

He said nothing. All he did was stare at me, the knife gripped in his fingers. Then, he put one hand over my mouth and plunged the blade into my belly. I felt hot blood spill over my skin and tried to scream, but he was too strong. He withdrew the blade but kept his hand over my mouth. He watched me. Just watched me.

Then, as the darkness crept onto the edge of my sight, he said, “If you say anything, I will kill you.”
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I woke the next morning, the sheets clean of blood, and my belly aching from my wound. Two days had passed. I did as he commanded, saying nothing. When my wound was nearly healed, I awoke again from my sleep, father and his knife again. This time, when he came close, his skin smelled of sweat and something else. Something familiar.

The knife plunged into my belly and I screamed into his palm again. The old wound re-opened and my blood spilled. He withdrew the blade but kept his hand over my mouth. He watched me. Just watched me.

Then, as the darkness crept up again, he said, “If you say anything, I will kill you.”

And as I faded, I recognized the smell on his skin. It was the smell of your hair.

This happened three more times. The last time, as I faded, he said, “Your sister does not belong you. She belongs to me.”

I thought of those words as I stood over your Adrente, sleeping so soundly next to Lady Peacock. By then, the paralysis of the poison had awoken her. I looked at her face. Her eyes wide open. Her mouth gasping for air. The Wolf was beginning to stir. Perhaps he sensed something was wrong. Perhaps. I knelt over him, straddling him as you must have done. I put my hand over his mouth and thrust my knife into his belly.

His eyes sparked from half-sleep to full-awake. My knees were on his arms. He could not move. I watched him, feeling the hot blood on my hand. And I watch that spark slowly fade from his eyes as his blood spilled from his body.

When the light was almost gone, I leaned in very close. Close enough to kiss him. And I said, “My sister does not belong to you. She belongs to me.”

I watched him as he died. Felt the last twitch of his muscles. His skin, so pale. His breath, gone. And beside me, Lady Peacock struggled even for that. I turned my attention to her.
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Her eyes full of fear, she glared at me. The blood from my knife dripping down onto her chest. Actually, it was not my knife. The knife belonged to Baron Vach, a recent arrival at her house whom she spurned with one of her clever and cruel rants. As I sat above her, his knife in my hand, he was in my rooms drunk and poisoned, having just finished making an example of himself in her library. I suggested to him that his position may be ruined if he did not make peace with Lady Peacock. He laughed at me and said he had his own ways of “dealing with the bitch.” The witnesses were all friends of ours. When the Jury is called tomorrow, I shall be sitting upon it.

But as I sat above her, the Baron’s purloined knife in my hand, I smiled at her. “You never offered me hospitality,” I told her.

Then, I put my legs on either side of her hips and put my weight on her belly. Her eyes bulged and her lips turned a delicate shade of blue. Her arms lay helpless at her side and her throat gasped. And slowly, very slowly, she died. Died along with the secret she pried from me. Finally, when all was finished, I left the way I came, making sure to drop the knife on the lawn outside as I made my way back to my rooms.

I must end my letter now, my beloved one. I have much to do. I must get out of Baron Vach’s clothes and put them back on him, return him to his rooms and get all this blood off my hands.
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Although, as I finish this affair, I must admit, as all of this is nearly over, the thought of you as an Enemy sent a particular kind of storm through my Blood. As I remember the last Game we played—and your own delicious submission—I have to admit, the possibility did not fill my heart entirely with dread. I felt a kind of eagerness I’ve never felt before. Every Revenge you’ve ever declared has been exquisite Art. And I wanted to see exactly what kind of Art you would throw against me. And the kind of Revenge I would throw against you. The thought of it now makes my hand quiver.

But I must leave you now, my beloved. I am afraid I leave you without a target; the elusive Lady in Green is gone. But I do know where she intends on spending the Winter. Perhaps you will have a target by then.
Until then, I remain eternally and faithfully yours,
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Dearest Tomas,

So. Lady Peacock is dead. I had heard rumors to that effect, but could not believe them. The thought of such a personality as vibrant and colorful as hers being snuffed out is… difficult to comprehend. You have destroyed something beautiful, my brother. True, Lady Peacock knew many secrets, which made dangerous beyond measure. But she was also a creature of exquisite beauty. We shall not see her like again. And to think… she is dead to protect me.

You have also solved for me the niggling matter of where my Adrente wandered off to. I suspected you were responsible. Again, well-played. I cannot say I am too grief-stricken over his passing, not when you described the circumstances. Ah, well. Easy come, easy go, I suppose. He was never a grand passion of mine, and I have easily replaced him with a man much more handsome, educated and talented. His star is on the rise and the Senate well-favors him. This man will go far. I wonder if you will even be able to reach him. Good luck, dear, on that count.

I was a bit surprised to read your last letter. Always, I had assumed your ire at our father sprang from something more… well, I would have guessed he interfered in your estates somehow, or damaged your prospect for a good marriage. I had not thought it would be so… personal. Though I suppose a hatred as deep as yours had to stem from somewhere close to the heart. I daresay you shall be quite pleased to learn just how our Father met his end.

To finish my story of that dire day:
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After I was done with my little fit in the cellar, I collected myself and rewound my cord. The servants were nervous and quieter than usual, wary of me and skittering around the manor like mice. By this, I could tell they had not yet betrayed me to Father. Yet soon, one motivated by fear would speak. I had to act quickly.

Father was in his study. Though the day was still young, there was already an open bottle of wine on his desk, three quarters empty. As I entered the room, he swiveled his head and peered at me with bleary, bloodshot eyes.

“What are you still doing here?” he demanded. “I thought you’d be on your way back to the capital by now.”

“Soon,” I responded. As an answer, he looked away from me and took a long draught of wine, directly from the bottle like some sort of veth tavern scum. I contemplated waiting for him to drink more. Perhaps another bottle of strong vintage, to further muddle his wits. Though alcohol, as we well know, would more often than not only make him angrier. I was not sure I could fight him in such a state. I was not sure I could fight him now. I watched him intently, wondering how I would be able to twist the cord around his neck. I did not think I could count on the obedience of any of the servants should I order them to restrain him.

“Mother is dead,” I blurted out. He only glared at me and called me a lying whore as he finished his first bottle and opened a second.

“How DARE you?” I was incensed. “How dare you, of all people, call me that? You have not the right!”
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At this, he staggered up from the desk and began yelling at me. I was treated to a lengthy diatribe which detailed all my faults and failings as one of the Blooded. I was vain, selfish and full of pride, the shame of House Yvarai. He disparaged my lovers, saying my multitude of indiscretions had cost me more than one advantageous marriage. He had wasted the equivalent of a Senator’s ransom in educating me. And the crowning sin: I was ungrateful for everything he had done to protect me.

At that, I could not help myself. I lost my temper.

“Protect me?” I screeched. “How did anything you ever do protect me? You imprisoned me and forced poison down my throat, you separated me from the only person I ever truly loved! How was that protection?”

He could only say the same things he ever said. It mattered not that I had suffered, that I continued to suffer… even tonight, dear brother, I suffer. And he cared naught. I am not surprised in the least to discover he spoke to you of owning me. Such was always in his character, to treat people as property. Perhaps he was jealous of the fact that you, out of our whole household and family, were the only one ever capable of showing me compassion. Unnoticed during his blustering, my hands nervously twisted the cord into a rough slipknot.

And then he blamed you, my adored brother, laying all my suffering at your feet. This, I could not abide. I repeated myself to him – Asaline Yvarai was dead, festering in her own ordure. Before he could react, I had slipped the cord over his head and began to pull.
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I was correct. My struggle with Father was difficult. Even intoxicated, he had the presence of mind to draw his sword and cut my cord in twain. I feared he thought to return the favor, as then he lunged at me with his blade. I dodged his sword, parrying with the wine-bottle as I ducked beneath the desk. The bottle shattered beneath the force of his blow, raining wine and broken glass down on me. A piece even cut me – if you ever wondered where the small white scar above my eye comes from, now you know.

Father stumbled and tripped over the desk. Quickly, I took the opening his clumsiness gave me and hit him over the head with the remains of the bottle. Crude, but it worked. The jagged edge of the bottle cut into his neck and scalp, stunning him. His sword dropped from his numbed fingers, and I grasped the blade, pulling it towards me. The sharp edge cut into my palm, but I was too excited to feel any sort of pain.

I wrapped my hand around the hilt as he tried to rise, fumbling for the dagger he kept in his boot. As he bent over, I was able to stab him in the side. The cut, though, was shallow and did nothing more than draw blood and enrage him. He drew the dagger and threw it at me. Fortunately, he was far too inebriated and I was easily able to dodge out of the way. His sword was heavy in my hand, difficult to hold because of the blood pouring from my palm. I had to swing it with both hands, lunging forward. I heard bone crack this time, and more blood gushed out from his fat belly. I think that moment was when he truly knew fear, and realized that I could kill him, that I intended to kill him.

I danced away from him as he began throwing things from his desk at me. An oil lamp singed my gown and an inkwell clipped my shoulder. But he had no more weapons left, and I was unimpaired. I stabbed again, piercing a lung. Frothy pink blood began to pour from his mouth.

“Traitor,” he gurgled at me. “Wretch. Ingrate.”
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I thrust again, piercing his heart. He could only stagger several more steps before falling again to the ground, for the final time. As his lifeblood poured out, covering his hands, he called down a curse upon you and me both. I shan’t repeat the curse itself, not even in writing, but I am confident that any magic a dying drunkard might have been able to cast in that moment has been easily countered already. Not in the least because I cut short his curse by stabbing him in the throat.

From entering the room to Father’s final breath, the entire affair finished very quickly. It shall take you longer to read this than I took to actually do it.

I could not help myself. I knew he was dead, but I could not help myself. I stabbed his sword into him, again and again and again. His blood soaked into carpet already stained with wine.

Again, I lost control of my body. Falling to my hands and knees, I retched onto the whole mess. It seemed as though everything I had ever eaten was coming back up. Even when there was nothing left in me, I still dry-heaved until I was exhausted. I collapsed onto my side, staring at the ruin I had wrought. I remember how proud Father was of that carpet when he bought it. And now it was ruined beyond repair, stained thrice over. My gown, too, was stained with blood and vomit. I tore it off and threw it into the fire place.

I did the same thing I had done in Mother’s room. I stared at the corpse of the man who had brought me life, contemplating the twisted, convoluted state of affairs which led me to this room, the blood of both my parents on my hands. Senate-sanctioned or not, the murder of blood-kin is a terrible act, and I feel I shall carry the mark of what I have done for the rest of my existence.
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Staring at his mangled, bloody body, I wondered if Father might have been happier if he had been married to another woman, instead of being forced to divide his time between his estates and attempting to control a ytola wife sinking deeper and deeper into madness and drugs. I wondered what sort of life he had dreamt for himself before he married Mother. Surely, whatever it was, it wasn’t the life the Sua’ven gave him. No wonder he had grown bitter when all his dreams and ambitions turned to ashes and humiliation, to the point where even his own children rejected him. But in all their years, he never set her aside. Even after she had corrupted her own womb with her poisons and could bear him no more children beyond the two of us (and what unsatisfactory heirs we proved to be!), he still did not abandon her. I often wonder, more than I wonder at any of his other actions, why he chose that.

Eventually, I could abide the room no longer. I made straight for the bath-house, where I kept the servants busy heating water so I could continue scrubbing for nearly two hours. As soon as I was clean and in a fresh dress, I left our parents’ house for the capital, straight into the arms of Lady Dara (perhaps, after reading this, you understand why I was done with men for a time and needed a gentler sort of love. Though Lady Dara was anything but gentle, as it turned out).

And that, dear brother, is how our father met his end.

Ismene Yvarai

Blooded of the Fox

Baroness Sha’av
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Dearest Sister,
I know this letter is late and I apologize. At the end of it, you will understand why.

First, however, the important things. For the tale of our parents’ demise: thank you for your pain. I will not linger any further on the matter. Instead, I will entertain you with my latest exploits. As you know, I am no longer in our father’s castle, but instead, have accepted an invitation to attend a party held by a distant relative of ours: our young cousin, the Lady Shara Yvarai.

And yes, you will want to pay close attention.

It was a masquerade, you know. I spent a long time deliberating on which to wear. Eventually, I decided upon the Wolf you gifted me on my passing from Spring to Summer. Do you remember what you wore to compliment it? I am certain you do.

Upon arrival, I could not help but notice a large portrait hanging in the ballroom. It was one of the largest paintings I have ever seen. It featured a beautiful nude woman—tastefully discreet—in a green mask, reclining in a magnificent bed. I hovered by the painting for what must have been a good hour or so for when I heard someone call my name, my ankles and knees were already complaining. I turned and saw a woman in a green mask, but not the same mask as the painting. I asked how she might know my name and her smile curved up, showing a little teeth.

“How could I forget you,” she answered.

“My Lady,” I told her, “there are too many women here who could answer in such a way.

“How many of them have you yet to bed, Baron Shayv’ril?” she asked me.

I nodded. “Ah,” I said, remembering the woman who awoke me in my bedchamber at Lady Peacock’s. I touched the emerald feathers of her mask. “I see you are keeping to a theme.”

“As are you,” she said to me. She touched my jerkin with her fan. “The Wolf for this evening. Not the Fox?”
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“It is a Masquerade,” I told her. “We are meant to be what we are not.”

“What should I be, then?” she asked me. She put her arms on my chest and stepped forward into me. “A wanton woman, desperate for your touch?”

“It is a Masquerade,” I told her. “We are meant to be what we are not.”

She laughed, then spun away from me. I watched her eyes under the mask. Her hair curled and beaded. The dress she wore clung to her in ways my mind cannot find words to convey. She stopped a few paces away. And then, she began to sing.
"You are a Wolf, Baron Shayv’ril
And I am your helpless prey
Wounded by your beauty and wit
I can only limp away
Helpless if you catch me
But I am wily yet
Or will you finally snatch me
Your jaws so hot… and wet "

She laughed then and left me under the portrait. Just in time for a tap on my shoulder from another fan. I turned and saw the mask that was above me in the portrait on the wall.

“Baron Shayv’ril, I presume?” the woman in the mask asked me.

I must confess, I was a little stunned by the question. “Yes,” I said.

“You do not sound so certain,” the woman in the mask said. I looked down and saw a sword on her hip, her dress cut like a curtain: easy to step through. And her boots were flat, not heeled. I looked back up.

“Lady Shara, I presume,” I said.

“My secret is exposed,” she told me.

I gestured to the painting. “More than one secret, my Lady,” I told her.

She laughed. “Oh, that thing. It was a gift from the Count Kether.” She touched her mask with her fan. “He also provided the mask. A prank, I am afraid, that I will have to repay him for later.”

I bowed shortly. “My cousin,” I told her. “I am afraid you have caught me at an inopportune moment. I am afraid I have been bedazzled by beauty two times in as many moments and that is too much for my small mind to handle.”

“Your mind is not what I came to talk to you about, cousin,” she told me.
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I bowed again. “And how can I assist you?”

She offered her arm and I took it. We walked.

“Your sister,” she said. “I invited her, but she has not arrived.”

“My sister,” I told her, “keeps her own affairs. I am not her seneschal.”

We stepped across the ballroom toward the balcony, the cool air of autumn reaching inside.

“Of this, I am only disappointed. It is of no real concern of mine. Although I have been told she is a magnificent beauty.”

I said nothing, but nodded.

“A pity she could not attend.”

We were on the balcony now. I could see her skin react to the chill of the night air. Her bare shoulders, the small of her back. She walked on toward the stairs that led down to her gardens. And the hedge maze.

“May I call you Tomas?” she asked me.

“Only if I may call you Shara,” I replied.

“I have read much about you,” she told me. Mostly gossip. Although, there is a rumor that a pillowbook has been written in regards to your affair with Lady Valente.”

“I can only confirm that there is a rumor, I cannot confirm the rumor itself.”

She nodded. “You have read the book?” she asked me.

“I think I have.”

We walked closer to the entrance of the maze. The light around us dimming.

“You know the scene where the Baron takes her into the maze…”

I recalled both the event and the chapter of the book. “I do.”

We stepped inside, now hidden from the party.

“Do you recall what he did to her in the maze?” she asked me, her arm growing tight around my own.

I smiled under my mask. “I do.”

She stopped and moved herself close to me. “Is it true?” she asked me. “Was it you?”

I felt her breath on my lips and I felt my own part to speak. “I cannot say,” I told her.

She moved a little closer and I felt the warmth of her body. “Was it you who wrote the book?” she asked me.

“Again,” I told her. “I cannot confirm…”
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I felt a jerk on my arm as I was pulled off my feet. My back hit the grass floor and I found a sword at my throat. I lay before her, the naked steel on my skin.

“Know this, Tomas Yvarai,” she told me, looking down at me from under her mask. “If I discover it was you who so shamed my cousin and then defamed her with your book, I will kill you.”

She pressed the steel harder against my throat. Then, she said it again. Her voice was like the hiss of a serpent.

“Kill you.”

She took a step back, removing the blade from my throat, but she did not sheath it. Instead, she stepped back to the corner. Then, she told me this.

“My mother built this maze,” she said. “It is a secret is something only she knew. When I was a girl, I snuck in, thinking I could solve it.”

She sheathed her sword. “I spent three nights discovering the pathway out,” she told me. “I am told you are a man of endurance and vigor. I hope that will make up for your eagerness.”

She laughed then and turned the corner. I pushed myself up and ran after her, but when I got to where she was standing, the bitch was gone.

I did escape the maze. Eventually. How I did so, I shall reserve for another letter. In the meantime, I have more pressing matters. Namely, the identity of an as-of-yet unknown count. And, a particular woman in an emerald mask.
Your ever-loyal brother,
Tomas Yvarai
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My Dearest Brother,

It was with some small sense of surprise that I read your most recent letter. You have not yet bedded your Green Woman? Has Tomas Yvarai, the Rake of Fox House, scourge of lonely wives everywhere, finally lost his touch? Is the only thing you are good at nowadays sneaking into manors to poison dowagers and their bedmates? Perhaps, my brother, you are getting old. Perhaps it is time to hang up your floppy hat and plow under your rose garden.

Although, really, you can find a much better woman than she. I don’t believe I’ve ever read doggerel quite that bad since I was twelve and stole your composition book.

And I did so regret missing our cousin’s fete! Even moreso when I learnt how she treated you. That was entirely unacceptable. I feel several square miles of burnt estate ought to send the message that Ismene Yvarai’s family is not one to be trifled with, don’t you? When you hear the news of the good Lady’s misfortune, know it was for you I caused such a thing to happen. No one, not even the Veiled Rose herself, can threaten my blood kin and hope to get away with it. I do admire her and would regret killing her, so I hope she got the message.

Though you know how I hate to brag, the reason I missed Lady Shara’s engagement was that I have been rather wrapped up in an engagement of my own. I am no longer the paramour of a Baron, but of a Count. Such elevation deserves its own celebration, and that is what I have been attending to. A pity you shall miss it, but I daresay you shall be busy chasing your unattainable vixen. Best of luck with that, dear brother.

And, unfortunately, thanks to this soiree, I must cut this letter short. So much to plan and so little time in which to plan it!

As always, I remain,

Your loving sister,

Ismene Yvarai
Blooded of the Fox
Baronness Sha’av
P.S. I suppose I ought to thank you for not revealing to Lady Shara who actually wrote the book.
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My dearest sister,

Truly, my heart is ready to burst from grief. Even now, the weight of it reaches my hand as I write to you. My eyes are so full of tears, it is difficult to see the words I write. I must speak them as I write them to keep pace with my thoughts. My thoughts, already drowned in sorrow and pain.

All of this, of course, under the shadow of the death of your Count. Such a tragic fall for such a great man. I weep. Like a newborn babe, I weep. My hands trembling. Such a promising young man. Such a handsome young man. I can only imagine the pleasure he must have brought you. Perhaps even the illusion of love. And perhaps, even for a moment, you permitted yourself to believe in such illusions.

Can I continue? Can I continue? I must! To preserve his memory, I must! I will fight through the grief that grips me. I will fight through it will the Courage our mother gave us.

From all reports, the Party you threw for him was a fantastic affair. I am certain you did your best to entertain your guests. Yes, there was only a single duel, but what a duel! Equally matched, so I am led to believe. And you should not be too disappointed there was only a single duel, my best beloved one. A woman of your age can only arrange so much.

And the kidnapping! Ah, how horrible! A noble woman snatched up against her will on your own lands! How did you suffer the scandal, sister? Did you dance your fastest? Did you use your charms to talk your way out of the responsibility? Then again, the husband is a man burdened by the chains of conscience, distracted by “what is right and fair” or some such nonsense talk I have heard him speak in the Senate. “The only honest ven in Shanri.” Is that what they call him? “The greatest fool in Shanri” is what I call him. Perhaps your skills were not so challenged after all.
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The ease with which I murdered him—and the grief I feel now—reminds me of that Count I threw from the parapets so many years ago. Even now, I remember how you begged me to pity him. To be merciful. On your knees, if I remember correctly. Weeping into my hands. On that day, I felt the same grief I felt now. Not for the Count—who cursed my name as he plummeted toward the ground—but for you. For at that moment, I did not recognize you at all. You were another woman. A weak, pathetic wreck. Something I would use and throw away. It was best that I dispatched him, my beloved. It was best. He made you into something ugly. Transformed my beautiful sister into a pitiful wretch. A mimic of the woman I adore. It was best I threw him from the walls.

As I said at the beginning of this missive, I am overcome with a nearly deadly grief. Your Count is dead… but that is not the source of my grief. No, my sister, I must admit, it is not. And, by now, you are clever enough to discern that I was at your party. Present and in person, not present in the activities of agents. I was even close enough to whisper in your ear. So close, my lips nearly touching you. But so cunning was my disguise, you did not recognize me.

You did not recognize me.

No, my sister, my grief is not for your dead Count. My grief is for the death of a woman I once admired. The death of a woman I once feared. The death of a woman I once held so close to my heart—naked and unguarded—that she could have plunged a knife into it.

My grief is for that woman. For all during your party, I did not see her once. Not once. Instead, I saw a blushing, simpering, stumbling, stuttering, bumbling school girl so infatuated with a pretty face, so distracted by troubles and dangers, so outdone by a single sabotage that she did not even recognize me.

Can I continue? Not only this letter, but life itself? Can I continue?
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Yes. Yes, I must. For I have hope, my sister. I have hope that the woman I once knew may appear once again. Perhaps inspired by the events that transpired last night. Perhaps inspired by the death of her Count. Perhaps even by this very letter. Perhaps by news of my grief.


But the light of hope is thin, my sister. Too thin for most men to survive.
Most men.
Your brother,
PS: Just before I sealed the envelope, I remembered one small detail. Word may have reached you that I have taken on a student. He is a dashing young fellow: brave, cunning and completely naive to the wicked ways of the world. I have arranged to finish his education away from the Academy.
This young man, who has undoubtedly peaked your curiosity already, is far too unworthy for the likes of you—even in your current, lamentable form. He is young, trusting and willing to believe anything a beautiful woman tells him. I suggest you do not consider him for any kind of mischief. I am indebted to his father to continue his education—which will bring a hefty sum to my coffers by the end of the year.
Already, I can hear the thoughts in your head, sister. But, for the purpose of maintaining my own estates, I suggest you seek a lover elsewhere.
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My Best Beloved Brother,
Ah, my dearest Tomas, as you are unaccountably grief-stricken, I am surprised beyond all description.

Of course I did not recognize you! What true Blooded, what true House of the Fox, would ever stoop so low as to disguise themselves as dirt? Why, by all the Sua’ven, would I ever want to look long enough at dirt to recognize it’s face? Why would you even admit to me you had done such a thing? I am shocked and appalled.


It is not true. I shall not believe that my elegant, erudite brother would ever dress all in black like a common cockroach, scuttling around like a servile wretch. This must be some fantasy story you are telling me, like when you had me convinced there was a ghost hiding in our father’s wardrobe. Surely, surely you would never shame yourself or your family in such a way. You must have simply had a vassal attend… I know precisely the one, he spoke into my ear directly. Which I thought was quite forward of a veth, but if he is your valet, that would explain it. I almost had the man killed, you may thank me that I did not.

And after reading your letter, I can understand why your Green Woman still rebuffs your advances.

If my brother is heartbroken that I could not see his true face beneath a mask of dirt, then I must also confess my own grief at seeing what you, yourself have become. What has happened that you must resort to begging yourself? Pleading for me to return to some ideal I never actually was? Yes, my brother, I can be quite cruel and cunning. But I was hosting a party that night. Why should I be needlessly cruel to my guests? You seem to misunderstand that the point of cruelty is to indulge when no one can witness – or at least, only a select few can.

Grow a spine. Then maybe she’ll love you. Or at least pretend to.
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Speaking of which, I find myself in the same position you were in several Seasons ago. Having learnt that one maid had been compromised, I had the entire staff poisoned. It is good you have not yet conquered your young woman, as I have been far too busy training a new staff to take their place to plot another’s demise.

And I cannot even congratulate you on a maneuver well-played! It was a clumsy, artless death you gave my Count. He deserved better. Don’t be daft, I never loved him. I learned at our father’s knee that love was merely another word for weakness, just as well as you did. You, of all people, know I am bereft and doubt I shall ever love another as dearly as…. well, that is one name I cannot write, now is it?

I thought you should know, I have also been enjoying my dalliance with Lord Voxilaven immensely. I would have preferred a little more subtlety in his seduction technique, but I suppose there are only so many things one might fairly expect of a Wolf. His boldness impressed me, and his victory in the duel with the ill-mannered Thorne pleased me. And I must also say, he is well-named. I could listen to him recite poetry to me all night and never once give a thought to other, more carnal pleasures. Well, almost. I have also informed Lord Voxilaven of the fact I am being cruelly persecuted by my brother, who is jealous of my success and has tangled with the honest Lord Thorne. I have never thought to warn a lover before, trusting my own instincts would carry the day. He simply laughed, in that bold, fearless way of his, and told me that he was not worried.
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I think this one might actually be a challenge for you, my dear Tomas! Especially as I hear Lord Thorne is quite wroth over the insult delivered to his wife as part of your scheme. That, I believe, is one terrible, terrible mistake you made. He arrived at my soiree in a beautiful, pale linen tunic. However, by night’s end, he had put on red and yellow. And, my brother, it was for you he donned those colors. I did my best to shift suspicion off you, but should the Voice Which Moves the Ven Heart and the Honest Falcon decide to join forces, I do wonder where in all of Shan’ri you might find loving shelter?

And as for your new protege… my darling, how fascinating! While I have once or twice been known to indulge in the pleasures offered by my own gender, I had not thought you the type. Though I suppose if one is losing one’s touch with the fairer sex, there are only so many options left open… Perhaps I shall show you just how cruel I am still capable of being, and use your catamite as the canvas.

Your sister,
Ismene Yvarai
Blooded of the Fox
Baroness Sha’av
P.S. Why did you never answer my last letter?
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Dearest Sister,

What poison have you been taking with your wine? I sincerely hope you are not dipping black roses again. You remember what happened last time. I had to throw away an entire outfit for the blood stains. And the Count still has not forgiven us.

I have received no letter from you since before the Party. I suspected the delay had something to do with the inevitable anger you must have felt at failing to protect your precious Count. And oh, how easy he was to win. A simple bribe to the maid. (A very pretty thing, by the way. A pity you had to dispose of her.) She lured him away to his bedchambers and slit his throat with such skill. Remind me to stay away from your maids, my sister. They are deadly.

But again, no such letter. Perhaps you wrote it in a fever dream? Or perhaps it was the black roses that gave you such a dream?

Also, your denial of my presence at your Party… I have disguised myself in such a way before and you held no objections. In fact, it was such a disguise that assisted you in that small matter in the capital. Have you so soon forgotten? Dearest sister, I begin to worry.

And my worries are furthered by news that some misfortune has reached your estates in the southern province. What is your seneschal doing? And why are you paying him?
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Yes, the Lady in Green has eluded me–as she has eluded you. She is quite crafty. But she will not elude me much longer. But she has bewitched me. I find myself incapable of taking another lover until she is mine. This damned flame of infatuation will be quenched. So I swear to you. She has even taken to sending me a letter of her own. I will not share all the details with you, but suffice to say, she is well aware of my current obsession and finds great pleasure in telling me. She tells me of how she thinks of me at the dinner table while her husband sits at the other side, distracted by matters of office and affairs of business. She tells me of how she remembers me in the darkness, under her hips and can barely control herself as she bids her husband goodnight. She is taunting me. And I have no choice but to follow.

But the poison in your Blood has also caused to you misinterpret my relationship with the young Baron. (I am not as open with my affections as you, dear sister.) He is only a protege, nothing more, and thus, he is disqualified from our Game. And, because he is providing me with a sufficient store of iron this Season, I again ask that you keep your plots and schemes away from the boy until he is worthy of your attention. And trust me when I say, he is completely unworthy of your attention. The poor thing would not know what to do with a woman such as you. So, for the sake of a flower not yet ready to blossom (and a Season worth of iron), stay away.

As for Baron V., I shall deal with him when my attentions allow me. They are currently busy. And, I suspect, he will blunder into his own death soon enough. He is with you, after all.

Your faithful brother,

PS: No more poison, sister. It has made your eyes dark. Perhaps this is why I find it so difficult to recognize you. And so difficult for you to recognize me.
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My dearest brother,

I laughed when I read your last letter. Laughed quite loudly. You accuse me of being forgetful, yet have the utter temerity to imply I take recreational poison? Were you not paying attention when I described in excruciating detail the death of our mother, and my vow to not end life as she did? I am known to be a hedonist, dear brother, but the great paradox of Ismene Yvarai is that though she is willing to dive headlong into all the pleasures life has to offer, she does not touch any drug beyond wine. You are the only man in Shan’ri who knows the reason why, and that should have been enough to convince you away from this bizarre black rose theory of yours.

I did, in fact, send you a letter a month ago. Written, sealed and sent by courier to your manor. I even have a fair-copy in my desk. Why, I went so far as to thank you for holding your tongue in front of Lady Shara! I cannot imagine Tomas passing up an opportunity to gloat over his sister’s thankfulness, which is why I asked. Do not blame me for your tardiness in answering. Or perhaps your new servants are still ill-trained. I would hope, at least, that you have instructed the dirt in your employ that my letters have some measure of priority. Search your study again, dear brother. I assure you, my letter is there.

And if I do not already have adequate enough reason for annoyance, I was quite perturbed this past week by your treatment of Lord Voxilaven. I don’t think it’s quite fair to take all my toys away before I’m done playing with them. Nor is it fair for you to keep killing my lovers while you refuse to present me with a target in turn. If you are really so impotent when it comes to seducing your Green Woman, at least bed a doxie or two in the interim to keep me amused and prevent my skills from dulling. Veth are fine to experiment on, but only a Blooded is an adequate target when it comes to a challenge of wit.
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Though, credit where credit is due, it was an extraordinarily clever plan. I am still puzzling out how you managed a few of the details.

As I’m sure you already know, I needed to survey one of my provinces. You mentioned it in your last letter, I believe. Let me assure you, my seneschal is a most capable woman whose service I find no fault with. The whole incident was nothing to worry about overmuch. Brush fires are common during this Season, as the vineyards tend to be dry after harvest. No doubt an accident of some kind set the place alight and the incompetent veth could not puzzle out the particular effect water has on fire, nor how to make use of irrigation ducts to combat the blaze. After the blaze died down, it was then necessary for me to travel to my vineyards, so I might inspect the damage and make plans for replanting. Lord Voxilaven accompanied me.

We rode most of the way on horseback. One of Count Fyx’s last gifts to me before his tragic death was a lovely pair of horses – one might swear they were twins in shape and size, but one is black as midnight and the other white as virgin snow. I took the black one for myself and gave the white one to Lord Voxilaven to ride as we toured my vineyards.

Fortunately, though Shan’ri has certainly delivered injury, it has not succeeded in its goal of conquering me. The damage to the winery is not irreparable. Restoring the land to full capacity will certainly take quite a bit of time and labor, but the region shall soon be producing wine again.

After a positively delightful evening, Lord Voxilaven and I came down the next morning in a rather playful mood. After the horses had been saddled and brought out to us, we concluded that the white horse matched my gown better, and the same with Lord Voxilaven and the black. So, on a bit of a whim, we switched horses.
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Of course, our games were cut short quickly when Lord Voxilaven challenged me to a race across a field. I won, of course, but when I looked back… well, my lovely Adrente had taken a spill from his horse. Riding back to where he was, I saw that sadly, his neck had been broken in the fall. At first I wondered how you would react to being denied prey thanks to an accident. But upon closer examination, I saw the saddle stays had been cut. Not all the way through – perhaps three-quarters cut, so the saddle would stay in place until just such a moment as a horserace. Not an accident, then, but deliberate sabotage. Just so.

Since I don’t really want to poison and replace an entire vineyard staff out of fear that one of them might have been compromised by you, I will simply believe that you had an agent (or were you costumed as veth again, and snuck into the stables yourself?) cut the straps. Well done. I never saw it coming.

Though I must ask one question which I have been puzzling over ever since the veth carried off poor Lord Voxilaven’s body. And no getting out of answering by claiming you never received this letter!

How did you know ahead of time we were going to switch horses?

With all due love and devotion,

Ismene Yvarai
Blooded of the Fox
Baroness Sha’av
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I hope you can read the sincerity in my words. I hope you can hear my concern.

I tell you now–without any artifice or intrigue–that I had no hand in the murder of your lover, the Baron V. I had plans for him, but your purge of the servants put them off.

Ismene, the sabotage on your horse’s saddle must have been meant for you.

Also, my spies have found your courier. He was on the edge of your land, his throat cut. The edge was too clean for a mundane blade. A bloodsword made the cut.

My sister, someone has declared you an enemy.

I have suspicions as to whom it may be, but the Senate is in recess–I cannot reach my contacts.

You know what to do. I am sending my personal guard to escort you to my castle. Do not be proud. Do not be foolish. Accept their help.
I remain yours,
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My Dearest Brother,

This is… unique. Today, I do believe I feel a new emotion, one I have not yet experienced. I have, over the course of my life, felt joy, anger, sadness, despair and even desperation. I have been in so much pain I could not remember my own name, and ecstasy to the same effect. But, dear Tomas, I do believe this is the first time I have ever felt panic.


Yes, as I shape the letters, it feels like the correct word. What I am experiencing right now is panic. I do not know how else to describe it. I feel like I should be doing something, making plans… but instead, I sit at my desk and write to you. Panicking.

Shara is going to kill me.

I retrieved the body of my courier, hoping it could give me a few clues as to what was going on. I spoke to those who had seen her on the road. I have solved the mystery of the missing letter (see! I told you it wasn’t black roses!). Apparently, my unfortunate messenger was waylaid just shy of entering your estates by brigands in the employ of Lady Shara. It seems the bitch has been keeping an eye on your mail.

The lost letter was a response to your description of Lady Shara’s birthday gala; when that deceitful, murdering little mynx held a sword at your throat and threatened your life should she discover you were the author of that pillowbook about her cousin. I was, as you can rightly imagine, quite cross that any person would take it upon herself to treat my only brother that way. Especially when such behavior is quite uncalled for. In my stolen letter, I speak of setting fire to her estates as a warning. I also thank you for not revealing to the ugly troll who did write that pillowbook. Cryptically, of course, but apparently Lady Shara is not quite dull enough to miss it.
Oh my lord...Houses of the Blooded on tg. I have never loved you more than in this moment....
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And, dear brother, before you think this is problem falls on my shoulders alone - you should know also that I speak of your murder of Lady Peacock and her bedmate. If I am damned by the contents, so are you. Out of any letter you or I have ever written each other that could have fallen into our enemies’ hands, that was the worst possible. I suppose I should be somewhat grateful that the late, long-lamented Count Fyx never found it, else we truly would have been doomed.

And so, tonight, knowing what Shara knows, I panic.

I must confess this is the first time in my life I am not sure what to do. I try to compose a plan, but I cannot think of how to thwart, of all the Blooded in Shan’ri, Lady Shara. I hear rumor that she has a signed and sealed edict of Revenge against me. My vineyards have been reduced to worthless ash through her arson. Lord Voxilaven, my darling poet-baron, was murdered when it should have been me. To think, if not for a last minute whim of vanity, it might have been my neck broken on that green.

I know Lady Shara well enough, but I don’t know her. I have seen her neither weep nor bleed. I do not know what moves her or what terrifies her. I only know she hates me, and that her hate is as unrelenting and merciless as a tidal wave. How can I possibly stand against such indomitable passion?

Your guardsmen have arrived, and are currently being fed in my kitchens downstairs. Though I must confess… dear Tomas, you have supported me so much throughout the years, through the darkest times of my life, how do I have the right to ask you for anything more? And if the lady is determined to see me dead, are their swords even of any use?

Perhaps this is a sign. I am not known to be a woman given much to spirituality, but perhaps the Sua’ven are trying to send me a message.
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There is a small vial of smoked glass resting on my desk, full of fragrant oil and distilled by my own hands. Every time I lift my eyes to dip my quill in the inkwell, I can see it sitting there, tempting me and taunting me with its promise of blessed release. It smells like sweet almonds. I am told a few drops of this in a cup of wine is not an unpleasant way to go, though I must wonder how anyone knows what it feels like well enough to accurately report the effects. My herbal says the oil brings a gentle lassitude before the final sleep. I am… fixated on the bottle, and the options it presents me.

No, I cannot poison Lady Shara. She is too suspicious, too paranoid. None of my agents would ever be able to get close enough to her for the vial to be of any use. No, dear brother, my thoughts tonight are of a different target for a cup of wine lightly flavored with almond.

Perhaps this is what my fate is. After all, is this truly what my life has come to? I always thought, if I did not achieve Solace, my end would be far more romantic than what I contemplate tonight. It is a terrible thought, to be true, but I cannot imagine the end Shara would grant me is any better.

For on my desk is another letter. Shara demands satisfaction. She demands a duel. The only champion I could call on either had his throat slit by one of your servants, or took a fatal fall from a horse, in my stead. You know my skill with a sword. I cannot hope to stand against her. And I know the Lady Shara. She is a mistress of the art of giving pain and prolonging suffering. I could not expect a quick, merciful death. She would drag the fight out, perhaps cutting my abdomen and then oh-so-magnanimously letting me live, so it would take me days to die of blood-poison. She’s done it before, you know she’s done it before. As I said above, I have been in pain so acute I could not even remember my own name. I have no desire to return to such agony. Death is preferable to such suffering.
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So, the little brown glass vial. I think seven drops in a single glass of wine ought to be enough. I even know precisely the bottle to uncork. A thick dry red of exceptional vintage and even more exceptional price. I was saving it for the day when our whole family was reunited under one roof. But I suppose this shall have to do. Perhaps we never shall be reunited except in the grave, and this is what the Sua’ven are trying to tell me. I shall give myself three days of studious introspection and meditation before I decide for sure, but I suspect I shall do what my body is already telling me is the right choice.

Please, when you find my body, burn it and scatter the ashes over the grave of my long-fallen Falcon. In the left-hand drawer of my favorite desk is a ring of keys to my various estates. It should be enough of an advantage to let you assume control of my lands. The drawer itself is locked, but I daresay you are resourceful enough to puzzle out how to open it without damaging the wood.

And, if I might beg one final favor…when my vineyards are producing again, pour the first bottle over my resting place.

And, dear beloved Tomas, please do not mourn me too much.

In loving memory,

Ismene Yvarai

Blooded of the Fox

Baroness Sha’av
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My last words to you, perhaps. Pay heed well.

I have held the document in my hand. Written by our own Count, signed in his name. The Revenge Shara holds against you is legal and binding. There is nothing I can do to avoid it.

She has insisted on a duel. Knowing your own skills with the Weapon, I knew such a thing would spell your end. Therefore, I have done what I must to protect you. I have accepted on your behalf, placing myself in the role of your Sword.

The Lady Shara has crossed Swords with twelve ven, my sister. She has yet to lose a duel. While my own record is equally flawless, someone must lose. And she has demanded she has been inflicted with True Pain. Therefore, only death will satisfy her Revenge.

The duel will take place in two weeks in the Count’s courtard. Neutral ground. I trust you will be there.

Should I perish, I have three requests.

The first is a letter I will be carrying inside my shirt. It contains a secret I have been keeping since we were children. You must read it.

Second, you must find a way to gain Revenge on our spineless Count. The man is a coward and a fool to be so easily intimidated by the Lady Shara. The woman’s lands are impoverished. Kept alive by nothing more than promises. At the resolution of all this, we must ensure that the Count pays for the pain he has inflicted upon both you and I.

Finally, I must speak to you regarding my young ward. Over the last month, I have grown quite fond of him. I have also intercepted five letters you have written him–after my request to leave the boy out of our Game. He is not like us, my sister. He is honest and faithful and true. In other words, he is a child. His Blood is pure from the poison of intrigue and treachery. I would like to keep that true for as long as possible. And so, in exchange for this act–being your Sword–I ask that you leave the boy alone.
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News of this duel must have travelled fast. Only last evening, while my castle was pounded by rain, my butler stepped into the dueling hall, interupting my practice. He told me a woman was waiting for me at the door.

I went there, unknowing what to expect. When I arrived, she was there. Her green cloak hid her face from me, but I knew her. The rain pelted down, but she stood as still as the rocks against the sea. I asked her to enter, but she stood perfectly still. Then, she put aside her cloak. Her face was wet, but not from the rain.

She said nothing, but only gave me a rose. Then, she turned away, running into the darkness.

I write to you now with the smell of her hair still with me. The rose sits on my desk, next to my ink well.

I can write no more.

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My Darling Tomas,
What a fortunate sister I am, to have such a loyal and loving brother! But you must not, you cannot die in my place. How am I to live the rest of my life with such a burden on my conscience? My dearest Tomas, though we have not seen each other in years (save that one instance when you elected to dress as dirt), I could not bear the thought of a world without you in it.

Of course, my dear brother, I shall indeed be in attendance. How could I abandon you? There is no way for you to fail, no way that you cannot overcome Shara. You are, without a doubt, the best duelist in Shan’ri. She is but a pretender. Do not speak to me of last requests and secrets in shirt pockets, as if she will be the victor. We know that cannot happen, that must not happen. The Sua’ven love us too much to see us out of the world so soon.

As for the Count… fear not, dear brother. The poison has already been brewed by my own hands. A small dose of fine powder, hidden within one of my rings. We need only to plot a way to get it to him. Together, we shall toast both your victory over Lady Shara and the demise of our treacherous Count. Together, we shall take his lands for our own, and assume the place which has been ours by rights since we were old enough to understand the difference between a Baron and a Count. Together, as it should always have been.

As for your third request… I must, I fear, make a confession. I discovered your protege’s identity, and could not help myself. This was before I received your letter, and was convinced I was soon to die. I had to behold this youth. Ah! Tomas! Now I understand why you worked so hard to keep from him. Why, I believed, as I looked on him from afar, that I was again in the presence of my lost, fallen Falcon. His hair is almost the exact same shade, and he wears it in almost the exact same style. How could I resist?
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Ismene Yvarai,

You will not recognize my hand. Your brother, Tomas, asked me to write to you regarding his condition after the duel. He is still too weak to rise from the bed and too weak to write you himself, so I have tasked myself to write in his stead. I hope this does not come as a surprise to you–seeing that I am using your brother’s stationary and mark–but I also hope this letter finds you well. I saw that you fled the field in the midst of the duel. I daresay, the tears were something you could not hide. I may also dare to say that you should not feel so ashamed by tears. Seeing a beloved sibling in such pain is a good cause for such emotion. Standing as you did for so long, concealing your emotions as you did, was a testament to your courage. I, myself, felt the cold hand of fear on my heart. As I owe so much to your brother now, and as close as I feel to him, I can only imagine the terror that must have been in your own Blood. It easily eclipsed my own.

But forgive me, as I have not properly introduced myself. My name is Shajar Thorne. For the last few months, your brother has served as my instructor in the ways of the court. My father–a man who has earned his Strength and Courage from the Road–wished that I should be brought up with an understanding of the Senate and its functionaries. Your brother has showed me much of the Senate and its wickedness. He has also told me that you are the only woman he trusted. Such a confession, I must admit, was given to me while under the pain of his injuries. The apothecary assures me much of what he says will hang somewhere between the truth and delusion. I think the words hung closer to the former than the latter.
What is going on in this thread?
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Because you left the duel before the conclusion, I feel it is important to relate to you–from a reliable source–the outcome and any other details you may have missed. I know your heart was filled with fear, and so, I shall relate the duel from the beginning. Perhaps a more objective perspective may give you better insight to the details. Also, my knowledge of the Art of the Duel may provide better understanding to what was a most unconventional conclusion.

I remember the sun hanging high in the mid-day sky. It was clever of your brother to arrange the duel then. I know his spies reported the Lady Shara always rose late in the day (due to her many, many illicit affairs) and such a time gave him a distinct advantage. Her choice of weapons was curious. She chose light blades. The Lady Shara is well known for her skill with the Sword and her love of heavy blades. I can only assume she had prepared for the duel with a heavier weapon and relied on the speed a lighter blade would give her.

The duel began as most do: with the duelists testing each other’s skills. Having trained with your brother, I knew his abilities were among the finest in the House of the Fox, but I had never seen him in a true match such as this. Having only heard of Lady Shara’s skill through various stories, I could only assume the tales were exaggerations, as they usually are. On this occasion, however, I was sadly mistaken.

Shara found first blood: a cut just above your brother’s wrist. While this may seem to be a trivial detail, it is most important in the matters of the Sword. The wrist is the key to a duel. Such an injury makes any movement difficult and painful. As the blood runs, it finds the palm and fingers, making the grip slippery on the pommel. It was a masterful strike—one that would influence the rest of the afternoon.
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I must say, your brother’s first strike was a matter of luck. Shara slipped on a bit of mud, and as she did, your brother’s sword cut high, finding a place just above her left eye. As I have been told, your knowledge of the duel is extremely limited, but a woman of your wits—as I have been told—must know what a fortunate advantage this would be. Blood dripping into Shara’s eye limits her eyesight, also limiting her ability to parry and attack.

But once that cut found home, Shara backed off two steps. She touched the wound and looked at her own blood. Then, she smiled.

I swear to you now, Lady Ismene, as a roadman on my father’s watch, I have seen many things. Terrifying things. Hordes of bloodthirsty orks. Spectres and their cold, dead eyes. The echoes of the unspeakable ones in their darkened ruins. And when I saw that smile on Shara’s lips, I have never been so afraid for another ven’s life.

Her Sword moved with precision, passion and wrath. Your brother’s parries and counter-attacks blinded me. The two Swords did not dance, but almost wrestled with each other. More injury. More Blood. Enough to turn your brother’s shirt crimson. Enough to wet the ground below them, turning the soil to a thick mess of blood and mud.

Your brother caught one of Shara’s thrusts under his arm and thrusted his Sword toward her heart. She caught the Sword with her gloved hand and slammed her forehead against the bridge of his nose. I heard Shara had learned to fight from a sailor, but never did I expect such a violent and unorthodox move.

Your brother fell back, his hand reaching for his face, completely helpless to her next attack. Her Sword thrust forward with such ferocity, the crowd gasped. It pierced his chest, nearly lifting him from his feet. His own Sword fell from his hand, falling to the blood and mud below them. And this, I know, is when you left the scene, your eyes drowned in tears. And this is when the duel took a most unusual turn.
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With her Sword through his chest, Shara held his chin with her hand and she kissed him, gently on the lips. Then, she said something to him with such a soft and sweet voice. I could not hear the words, only her voice. Then, with blood on his lips, he said something in return. A coughing whisper. Again, the words escaped me. But then, Shara turned her head to look at the crowd. Her eyes looking at every face.

Her eyes stopped on me.

And then, she laughed. With her cruel eyes on me, she laughed. A wicked and evil laugh that has haunted me since that day. Even in my dreams, I cannot escape it.

She withdrew her Sword from his chest and turned to the watching crowd.

“I am satisfied,” she said. “My Revenge against Ismene Yvarai is done.”

She stepped away from the field, and it was only then that the extent of her injuries became apparent. She nearly fell into her second’s arms. How she retained hold on her Sword, I shall never know. Although, I have heard rumor that the weapon is a Blood Sword, inherited from her mother. Perhaps that is how.

Since that day, my father’s apothecary has administered to your brother’s wounds. He assures me Tomas will recover in time, although the last blow—the strike through his chest—may linger longer. “It is the kind of injury that seldom fully heals,” the apothecary tells me.

I searched for you after the duel, but could not find you. I have prepared four copies of this letter—one for each of the locales your brother told me you may be found. I hope one of them finds you well and I hope again news of your brother’s recovery may ease whatever pain haunts your heart.


Shajar Thorne

Blooded of the Falcon

(no title listed)
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My Dearest Brother,

Oh, my beloved Tomas!

Can you ever, possibly, in a thousand years forgive me? I had not meant to fall apart as I did the day you faced Lady Shara. I swore to myself a dozen times over that I would be strong for you, as you were being brave for me. A solemn pledge that no matter what happened, I would not leave your side. Even if you should fall, I would take you in my arms, my hands in yours, and stay with you until the very end.

And yet, at the critical moment, my heart failed me. I cannot, even in my coldest hour, imagine a fate more terrible than witnessing your death. I knew watching such would drive from me any semblance of sanity. And so I fled, convinced you were about to die on the end of Shara’s sword, convinced that I would be left alone in this cruel world. I cannot begin to describe the joy, the utter relief and gratitude I felt, when I was told that you had survived and Lady Shara was satisfied, and yet we both remained alive.

I treasure the memory of seeing you that day. Isn’t that strange? What was supposed to be a deadly duel, and yet it has already become a fond memory. You looked so dashing in the midday sun, the sunlight glinting off your buttons and your Sword flashing through its forms on the dueling green. Whoever your tailor is, they dress you well.
Something beyond our comprension
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Watching you go through the drills we learnt together so long ago, I could almost imagine we were children again, before the full burden of adulthood fell heavy upon us, before we learned an adult’s cares and an adult’s disillusionment. I drank in the sight of you, practicing with your equally dashing protege, hoping it would not be the last time we ever saw each other again. Many years have passed since we were last together (I do not count that one night you claim to have dressed as veth. I still refuse to believe it happened), and yet it was as if we had parted but yesterday. And as I watched you, my heart full of emotion at the brother who would put himself in harm’s way for my sake, I could not help but ask myself…. what happened to us?

What happened to us, Tomas? I can remember how easy it all seemed when we were children. Can’t you? Staying up all night to try and catch a glimpse of the ghost in the cellars. Racing each other to climb the tallest trees in the orchard. Hiding up in our special tower, drinking stolen brandy and making all these grand plans for the future. It was I and you, and the rest of the world was meant to be our personal playground. We would marry well, and become Dukes before we were halfway through our third decade. Our parents would waste away into irrelevance as we took their lands for our own. Or they would beg us for their lives on their knees, wretched and repenting of every ill turn they had ever done us. All of Shan’ri would know the names of Ismene and Tomas Yvarai, know us and fear us and love us.

But somewhere down the line, we lost that. Was it just growing from adolescents to adults? Was it the deaths of our parents, deaths we share responsibility for? I daresay there are few who can understand what it is like to declare Revenge on your own parents. Then again, there are few among us with parents such as ours. I wonder, sometimes, how much they shaped us and how much is our own wit and talent.
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You were the only one there for me during the darkest Seasons of my life. I had thought that we would be there for each other in the brightest Seasons, as well… and perhaps we were, but we did not realize till later that the brightest Seasons had already passed. I suppose I can no longer say that you were there for me during the darkest Seasons of my life, but must now amend that to say you have twice been there when no one else would stand up for me or care for me. Despite having scores of friends and lovers who have all claimed to love me, when my life was in danger, it was you and only you who came forward and saved me. How can I ever forget? Is there a way to heal the breach between us? I regret it, as I know you must.

And so, my dear brother, I have an idea. With this letter, I have also sent the best palliative herbs and poultices I know, that they might speed your healing. With them come members of my own staff, ready to care for you. And, in a thick envelope with a plain wax seal on it is a plan I have long been working on. During nights when I am alone and cannot sleep, I sit at my desk and plan. And write. It is a plan you suggested in the last letter you wrote me, but one I have been working on since long before. Our aging, weakening Count has treated us both abominably, and he must be made to pay for his sins against us. His approval of Lady Shara’s revenge was the final, unbearable insult. I cannot abide a moment longer knowing he is still breathing. It is not too late, dear brother, for all our grand plans, of Dukedoms and wealth and power. I have been unable to enact these plans by myself, and I seem to have just the smallest bit of difficulty in finding an adequate partner to aid me… they keep dying quite mysteriously. But with you, I know we can succeed. Read over what I have written. Make your own revisions. And soon, we shall have his lands for our own.

Houses of the Blooded writing. Interesting setting, worth a read, though good luck getting anyone to play it.
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There can be no more fit Revenge, I think, than what you will read in my envelope.

On a lighter note… is it truly breaking my word if your darling protege seeks me out first? Shajar… what a lovely name! And a Thorne as well! I could not ignore the letter he wrote me, not when he took such exquisite care to detail out the entire duel! Perhaps a little patronising, when he wrote of things I already knew… but I suppose a few foibles must be forgiven in the name of callow eagerness. And he is so eager! I have never met a man more sincere in his desire to see me happy. He brings me flowers every time we meet, and is content simply to let me talk about whatever I wish, eyes rapt upon me as if whatever I said was the most fascinating thing in the world. I daresay I could recite to him the Seasonal taxes on my lands direct from the ledgers, and he would still have that same intensely interested expression on his face.

And the strangest thing of all: I honestly don’t believe he has any desire to bed me. Or rather, while I feel he would be thrilled if I asked, he’s not setting his heart upon liaison as the final goal of all the time we spend together. I mentioned it once to him, just to see how he would react, and do you know what he said? He said while he thought I was beautiful and charming, he was afraid it would ruin our friendship! You may now count four times in my entire life I have been rendered speechless.

I can sense you getting worried as I speak of bedding young Shajar. Do not fret, my Tomas, I am fully aware of my duty to you and the debt I owe. Not to mention, he is so young! But I swear, he has always been the one to seek me out. And I find myself almost incapable of resisting him. Perhaps because of his youth. He reminds me so much of myself at his age. Even more, he reminds me of my fallen Falcon, so much so it is nearly painful.
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And of course, how could I take him to bed with me, when I know it would no doubt mean his death? I can tell he adores me without really knowing me, how could I possibly hope to protect him from the game between you and I? I would hate to see him die, as much as I think you would hate having to kill hm. You are entirely correct – he is completely, perfectly, adoringly innocent, and I could no more take that away from him than I could bear to set fire to a painting or turn a sculpture into rubble.

Indeed, as a way to distract me from the fascinating Shajar, I have taken a new lover. He is not particularly intelligent or thrilling, I must admit. But he at least knows how to comport himself in the bedchamber, and is savvy enough to know when it’s time for him to leave. Best of luck taking this one out, though I wonder if I might not just grow bored before you can finish him off.

Yours always,

Ismene Yvarai

Blooded of the Fox

Baronness Sha’av

P.S. Alright, I’ve been resisting asking this whole letter. I even went so far as to fold this and drip a bit of wax on the paper before I re-opened it and added this postscript. I can resist no longer. What in all the heavens was it that you whispered to Lady Shara which convinced her to leave off not only killing you, but left her completely satisfied with her Revenge?
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My Dearest Sister,

The months of Summer have been cruel, but at last, I have found enough strength to write you a letter deserving of your attention. Many failed attempts are on my floor–torn and crumpled–but I think I shall find the will within me to reach the end of this one.

I must admit, the duel was nearly the end of me. It was only chance that made me the victim and not Shara. She was as wounded as I and (my spies tell me) has spent just as long recovering. I now find a smile curling on my lips as I find the necessity to remind you that this is twice I have saved you from Shara: once in the garden and once on the field. For one of those, I shall keep the whisper I gave to her for myself. It is a painful secret, but I promise to share it with you soon. Now is not the time.

And I have spoken most harshly to Shajar regarding his contacting you without my consent, and furthermore, I can hear his voice in your words when you speak of reconciliation between us. He has often told me that family is more precious than anything a ven can attain and could not understand why we were so distant. He obviously has spoken to you on the subject. He has spoken to me as well, and I must admit, his charming Falcon attitudes have swayed me.

While I would usually hold you accountable for my wounds, I shall not. In fact, consider all of your debts to me cleared. It shall be when we were young and foolish and knew nothing of debt or obligation. You and I are all that remains of our family. The joy we once celebrated shall be ours again. This, I swear to you upon my own Blood.

As for our wretched and vile Count, his betrayal must be answered in kind. And I have a plan for him as well. He is a man of great Courage and will not be easy to intimidate or seduce: thus our two primary weapons are taken from us.
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However, his devotion to the Suaven is well-known. And this, my dear sister, shall be his undoing. In the end, he shall betray what he honors most just as he betrayed you and I.

In the meantime, I should also let you know–if my young protege has not already informed you–that the Lady in Green has come to my Castle to help me recover. She has an exceptional hand at healing. Simply exceptional. Although, she still refuses my advances. At first, she gave me teasing responses, telling me I was too weak to carry through on my words. But, as my Strength grew, she had to find more clever denials.

“You are not strong enough,” she told me.

“You will tear your stitches,” she told me.

“Another week and you might be ready,” she told me.

Finally, last evening, I asked her why she came to assist in my recovery. She was washing her hands after removing my bandages, my injuries nearly completely healed and she smiled just slightly. I saw her try to hide her smile by turning her shoulder to me, but I caught it and she knew I caught it.

“I came to you,” she said, “because no-one else would.”

I shook my head. “My sister would have.”

She nodded. “That is probably true,” she said. “But are you so certain?”

I must admit, before your last letter, I was not. In fact, I doubted that you would. And then, I knew that if you did, I would not have accepted them. I would have rather died than accept your assistance, so angry was I at my own injuries and your flight from the duel. I sat in my own blood, my wounds so grievous they would not heal themselves, and waited to die. It was only when my servants brought up the Lady and I saw the concern in her eyes that I accepted any help at all.
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Of course, your letter arrived shortly thereafter and only now am I able to respond properly. Young Shajar’s urgings and my conversation with the Lady have swayed me. Only one would not have done it, my sister. And for that, you can thank both Shajar and the Lady–if ever the two of you meet.

And as I write this letter now, she is here with me. She watches me write, her eyes lingering on me a little longer each day. She smiles now, sitting by my window, the sunlight splashing on her hair. She reads one of those pillow books–the very one Shara asked of in her garden maze. Every few pages, she laughs or sighs. She has already asked the same question Shara did and I have given her the same answers.

“You are a rake,” she tells me, still reading.

“I was,” I tell her.

“What changed?” she asks me.

I do not answer her, but only return her smile. And she laughs.

And I know her resolve is slipping. She is nearly ready to fall.

Your brother,

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[trans. note: many letters from this particular time period, estimated to last approximately one year, are either lost or indecipherable. Given that these letters are written during a fairly chaotic period of Tomas and Ismene's life, this is somewhat understandable. John and I are doing our best, but unfortunately, the next batch of letters will be fragmented and sporadic. We briefly considered not even publishing this segment; however, after long discussion decided we owed it to our readers to do our best with what we had.]

My Dear Tomas,

This letter shall arrive with as many of my own personal guard as I am currently able to muster. The guards shall be lightly armed, as I doubt they will be required to engage in much combat during their journey - this has not, after all, yet escalated to that sort of conflict. At least, if we have both been circumspect enough, our Count is unaware that we have already escalated it to that sort of conflict. And that is the important thing. My guardsmen are there simply to protect what I wrote to you earlier about. They have successfully found in the ancient puzzle-house hidden deep within my swamp. The house was not easy to find, even more difficult to access and nearly impossible to navigate. But, dear brother, I was correct. You mocked me (lightly, yes, but I still read the mocking tone in your words), thinking it was a fool’s errand. My confidence was not ill-placed. The relics I were sure would be there, the artifacts of our Count’s favorite Sua’ven, were indeed hidden in the house. We even found more than expected. Not only did we find the two mirrors, the pendant and the statue, I also found a leather folio full of loosely bound manuscript. It appears to be written in cipher. I am currently hard at work trying to decrypt it, for I am sure there are useful secrets within.
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mfw this fucking shit
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It was a terrific maze! The house appeared to be three stories from the outside, and one would think a cellar would be nearly impossible to construct in a swamp. But, as these things so often are, it was much larger on the inside than the outside, and three levels of cellars and subcellars. Stairs filled almost every spare inch of space, or so it seemed. Some of the furniture had rotted away to splinters and dusty cobwebs, but some pieces gleamed as if they had been put together yesterday. The relics were hidden in an attic, though the keys to the chest which contained them were in one of the cellars. I shan’t bore you with the details, but I can say with all surety that going from attic to cellar and back again in a puzzle house was one of the more thrilling experiences of my life!

Retrieving these items was quite an expensive errand. Not only the difficulties and cost of preparing and mounting an expedition into the deepest reaches of the swamp, but the dangers of both land and house. I lost several competent attendants to traps set in the house, and Shan’ri claimed my navigator on the way back. The unfortunate soul fell out of the boat and into the open mouth of a great, monstrous beast which was nothing but jaws, stomach and tail. We managed to spear it, though too late for it’s poor victim. I have enclosed one of it’s teeth with the rest of the package. Not as anything I find particularly useful, but it is a curiosity. Perhaps you might give it to the Green Woman, she seems the sort who would appreciate such a gift.
It's been said like 5 fucking times. Just look for any comment that isn't a part of the narrative, it's either someone asking about what it is, or saying, outright, that it's Houses of the Blooded.
You stupid shit.
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The Captain of my guard is the man entrusted with this letter, the relics and a few other choice items. My Captain is quite good at what he does, and is the only veth currently in my employ whom I allow to carry a sword. Among the other items he carries, one is a small vial sealed with red wax. He has been instructed to hand this over to you personally. Within the vial is one of those substances I am so well known for brewing. Do be careful with it! I have made it quite potent. Should you accidentally get any on your hands, make sure you wash them thoroughly with hot water and strong soap before eating or touching your face.

I know your plan did not call for the use of poison just yet, but I had thought it would be better to have some on hand in case the opportunity arose. It is quite likely that our good Count knows we are up to something without knowing the full extent of our activities, and so I would not be surprised to discover he has increased the already stringent security surrounding him. Getting poison to him would be even more difficult that poisoning Lady Shara. But, as Father used to say, the Sua’ven favor the bold and the prepared. And considering we are attempting to use artifacts of the Sua’ven against our own Count, we could use as much of their support as they are willing to give.

Also… I know I promised I would not ask again, but it is difficult for me to refrain. Is it truly necessary to put Shajar in harm’s way by bringing him with you? I know you believe it is useful for him to earn the necessary experience, but I can teach him so much more if he is with me. You believe I intend to seduce him, but I do not know how many times I might swear that is not my intention before you believe me.
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There are many reasons I will not touch the young man, not in the least because I am still attached to that Bear. Had I known we would have called a truce in the Game for the duration of our struggle against the Count, I certainly would have been a little choosier about a bedmate. He’s not awful, but he’s convinced that I am in dire peril. To protect me, he insists on being by my side as often as possible. I cannot even drink a glass of wine drawn from my own cellar without him insisting on taking the first taste. It’s a bit sweet, but even the best honey becomes cloying after putting too much in your tea. He also tries to write me poetry, which I suppose is flattering it it’s own way. Unfortunately, all he writes is simply doggerel. It’s terrible! It’s worse than terrible, but if I act anything less than perfectly pleased with it, he will sulk for days. And he doesn’t even have the decency to go sulk in another room! Even though he persists in acting like an upbraided child, he still follows me from room to room.

But I digress. My whole point is that it would be terribly impolite of me to attempt to seduce Shajar while my Bear is still in residence. And while he is a bit annoying, he’s not gotten to the point where I wish to send him away. Besides, if you will not send me my good friend Lord Thorne, who else could possibly keep me company except the Bear? Why, if Shajar were here, I could easily pick a fight with my Bear and have him sulking his way back home. So you see, dear brother, letting Shajar come stay here is even more of a favor to me! At least when he writes poetry, it’s not patently awful. He says his family is Thorne as far back as the records go, but I insist he must have at least a few drops of Fox blood in him.
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And as a last bid - Shajar is incredibly bright. I have no doubt that with him assisting me, we can quickly and easily decrypt the manuscript I found within the house. I cannot ask my Bear, for he is neither intelligent enough nor trustworthy enough to be involved in this project. But I think we might both be able to trust Shajar. At the very least, you know I shan’t be hiding any of the folio’s secrets from you, not with Shajar to tell you exactly everything he reads and learns.

And with that, dear Tomas, I must get back to my manuscript. Soon, victory shall be ours.

Your loving sister,

Ismene Yvarai
Blooded of the Fox
Baronness Sha’av
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I must say I'm very much enjoying the story.
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My dearest sister,

Once again, I find myself opening a letter with concerns for Shajar. When he refused my orders to stay here, despite my threats of abandoning his tutelage, I knew his boldness would put him in danger. But I never expected him to try confronting the Count himself. Last time I wrote to you, I hoped his bravado would have been tempered by his failure to defeat the Count’s swordsman, but it seems, his injuries only stiffened his resolve. Finding himself at the point of certain death was not enough for him, so he thought to throw himself upon it. Word got back to me swiftly–seeing the boy’s life is in my charge–and now I find myself writing to you, hoping to find him still alive.

And I write to you now from the battlefield. Here, through the fire and smoke, I can see the walls of his castle. My own men were insufficient for such a siege, but I have managed to find allies in the capital; although it took a great deal of promising to make them crawl out of the corners. I have two hundred men marching on the Count’s northern borders while my own men are currently poisoning his castle’s water supply. After all these months–nearly two years–it is nearly finished. He hides in his castle like the turtle in his shell. He forgets that I can simply flip him over and eat out his belly while he flounders on his back.

It has been almost one hundred years since these lands have seen such bloodshed. An open war. That is what we caused, my sister. An open war. If only you could see it.

The jackals sit on the borders of the lands, waiting to pick up the scraps. In the west, Duke Venel sits with his seven hundred men. I can see them on my hilltop here. I will require a miracle to put him off the scent of blood. I may need you here, sister. Your history with his son will make things much easier, I suspect.
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Your last letter inquired on my progress with the Jade Lady. As I told you before, there is no progress until all this blood is settled. Her own husband, I am told, argues against me in the capital. I think he begins to suspect our “friendship.” At least, that is what the Lady told him we held. The irony is thick, my sister, for that is exactly what we have. She has refused any advances from me, and in her one moment of weakness, I found myself refusing her.

Ah, but I have not told you of that moment, have I? Let me tell you a story.

It was shortly after my recovery from Shara’s duel. I was feeling well enough to walk about the grounds, albeit with the assistance of a cane. My butler announced her arrival and I granted her my hospitality. I saw her walk into the garden carrying a bundle tied up with a handkerchief. She insisted we have lunch in the garden, revealing meat, cheese, fruits, bread and a baked pie. How could I refuse?

“You are looking healthy enough,” she told me.

“Another week,” I said. “And I may be ready to ride.”

She blushed a little. I drank the wine she brought, spiced with healing herbs.

“Am I so obvious?” I asked her.

“Predictable,” she told me. “Predictable.” She paused and cut some bread.

I smiled. “Would you prefer me to be mysterious?” I asked her.

She shook her head. “No,” she said. And then she began to speak again, and my ears distinctly heard her begin to say, “I love you just the way…”

She stopped. Her hand, on the knife, cutting an apple, slipped just a little and she stabbed the tip of her finger. She cursed and dabbed at it with a handkerchief.

“How stupid of me,” she said.

“For what you did or what you said?” I asked.
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She did not look at me then. She only said




possible future.”

She drank the wine again, deeper than before. “Forgive me,” she said.

I nodded and took her bleeding hand. “There is nothing to forgive.”

Although, you must forgive me, sister, for sounding like a hero from one of your beloved pillow books. The Lady was mine. In my hands. Willing. Wanton, even. And could not find it in my heart to take her. Something overcame me. An emotion I have never felt before.


And so, as


Your brother, who loves you,

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[ed note: As with the other letters written during the war, this document was severely damaged. An astute reader will no dout notice an abrupt change in tone from the first half to the second half of the letter. This, along with several other contextual clues, leads me to believe this letter may be two separate pieces accidentally conflated into one. However, apart from the shift in tone, I have no other evidence to support this thesis. And if there are two letters, they were written close enough together (from the same bottle of ink, it seems) as to make very little difference. In an attempt to preserve continuity and clarity, I have chosen to present this piece as a single letter, and hope the reader will indulge it's internal idiosyncracies. R.]
My brother,

What have we wrought upon the land?

I apologize for not writing sooner. After the Count’s most recent attempt to assassinate me, the safest thing for me to do is keep moving. I try not to spend more than two nights in the same place, which makes keeping up with my correspondence passingly difficult. I don’t believe I told you about the last attempt. The plan itself was rather clumsy, I feel almost insulted. It involved a poisoned dagger and a poor, doomed, bribed veth. Or perhaps he was blackmailed, I didn’t care to ask. The dirt died quickly on the tip of Shajar’s sword. I had no idea he was so fast! You have trained him well.
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In my constant traveling, I have seen things I could not imagine, not in my darkest and most morbid of moods. I have seen the burnt out shell of the count’s old castle, and witnessed the destruction wrought upon his fields and farms. Once-fecund soil has drunk in so much blood that only the meanest scrub grass will now grow there. The veth have tried to plant crops, but too much death has been absorbed into the ground. No life will sprout, and even the hardiest wheat will simply wither without bearing fruit. So many have died by the score, of war and famine and disease, there are not enough of them left to sustain any sort of productive industry. The young men have died of war, their wives have died of grief, and their children and parents have died of starvation.

What use is winning this land for our own if it is no use to us once it is ours? In the last town I stayed at, there was not a single veth left who was strong enough to drive a plow. I can certainly move some veth from my land to this once it is ours, but even my own resources have been sorely depleted by our long struggle. I can ask no more favors from my friends, I have asked too much already.

At least the end is in sight. Despite all our sacrifice and suffering, it is obvious our Count knows he can no longer win. All hope of victory left him after the battle at Aisa’s Ford, when half his men fell dead of the poison before the fighting even started. I think now he seeks only to make sure our victory is as costly as possible, and that winning will give us no peace. It may be working, my brother. I had never thought to have been the instrument of so much death. A pinch of powder in a glass of wine administered to a single target is one thing. But when my spies told me the number estimated to have died from the water we contaminated, I could not imagine being responsible for that many deaths. It is a heavy weight, and keeps me up at night.
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I had always thought myself strong in the face of killing. I murdered my own parents, with my own hands. I played our private Game will a deadly skill, of which I have always been rightly proud. Yet now I am haunted by the faces of the nameless dead. I suppose that is why I have such difficulty. It is easy to kill someone you know and hate. But this sort of mass murder is just so… impersonal. I didn’t particularly hate any of the men who succumbed to the powder I made for you, they were just unfortunate enough to be working for the wrong man. An accident of fate, with no more meaning nor motive beyond that.

And as each one of mine dies, I find my fury at the Count grows. My veth have done nothing to offend him except being mine. I can almost forgive him for attempting to have me killed. It is a more honest way of setting disputes, I think, than bidding strangers murder each other and whoever ends with the fewest deaths is the victor. Sometimes, I think -


Ah, but I am getting too sentimental. Forget what I wrote, dear brother. At long last, we have achieved the dreams we treasured as children. While I might wish dearly someone had warned me of the cost before we set down this road, I would do nothing differently. We deserve this. We have earned it.
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Shajar has been of immeasurable comfort during this time. I cannot begin to describe the depth of our friendship. It is strange - he is so much younger than I, and yet I find myself being the one to turn to him for advice and guidance. He is possessed of a wisdom beyond his years. I wish I had his talent, of seeing the good in everyone. You might as well give up asking for him to return to you. Shajar knows he may come or go as he pleases, and he chooses to remain with me. I will not force him to do what he does not wish to do. If you can persuade him to leave me for your side, I shall not stand in his way. But, dear brother, you must persuade him first. Besides, travel is too dangerous durng this time of war.


And I want to make one thing explicitly, abundantly clear. What you wrote in your last letter was not just shocking, it was utterly insulting, patently ridiculous and completely untrue. I did not, nor have I any intention of, writing a letter to his parents attempting to begin marital negotiations between the two of us. Anything you have heard to the contrary is an absolute and utter lie, no doubt perpetrated by the Count in a desperate attempt to discredit me. Shajar is a very dear friend, perhaps one of the dearest I have ever had (except of course for you, my best beloved brother). But I would not think of trying to marry him. Especially not now, when I am about to become a Countess and he is barely a Baron. We should be too wildly mismatched to be an effective partnership.

Not to mention, it would be unforgivably gauche of me to begin betrothal discussions on my own behalf. Such things ought rightly be done by one’s parents, and mine are sadly deceased and unable to perform such a service for me.

Lastly, you know my thoughts on marriage. I could never be a submissive partner. From what the rumors tell me, Shajar’s parents would never allow him to become ytola, either.
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Besides, my reputation is well known to the both of them. Shajar tells me his parents are already looking for a bride for him, among the Mwrrs or Adrentes to balance out his Falcon blood. The thought of their only son marrying an intemperate woman with a lifetime of scandal behind her would no doubt send them into fits.

Having cleared up THAT particular issue, perhaps we might turn our thoughts to securing our victory? My spies tell me the Count is attempting quite the ruse. He is having a veth dress in his clothes (can you imagine!) and travel in his coach to his manor in Diavale. The journey shall be quite public. Not a parade, but certainly not in utter secrecy, especially since the road to Diavale passes close to my own lands - in fact, the vineyards burnt several years ago by Lady Shara. He hopes to distract us with a decoy while he travels in the opposite direction, towards the ports wheere he hopes to make good his escape by ship. Whether he sails in flight or to an ally to beg for more troops, I cannot say.

Part of me wishes to let him go, claim his lands and be done with it. However, letting him live is a risk we may no longer take. There is always the chance he will show up with another army at his back, or that we might bite into the wrong morsel and have all our hard work come to naught.
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It seems as though there is only one thing left to do, and then it is finished. Shall we meet at the ports, ready to make an end to this after several long years? I am tired of all the killing. Just one more death, the death we have been working towards for so long, and our shared desires shall finally be realized.

I shall see you soon, Tomas.

Until then I remain,

Your loving sister,

Ismene Yvarai
Blooded of the Fox
Baronness Sha’av (for now)

P.S. The rumors of marriage between Shajar and I are forgiveable. Annoying, but forgiveable. However, if you ever DARE imply Shajar might father a bastard on me again, I will kill you. I am not threatening you. I am simply stating fact. A fact which you, of all people, ought to have known without being told. I have already heard a few disturbing rumors coming from the capital. I can forgive what I have heard so far as nothing more malicious than mere attempts by my enemies to ruin my character, but it had damn well better stop. And it had damn well better not be you behind them. I’ll be charitable and assume it was some tactless attempt to discover if he and I had grown intimate since my last letter. Well, darling brother, until you tell me what’s going on with you and your Green Woman, I shan’t reveal a bit of what’s between Shajar and I.
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(from the private journal of Tomas Yvarai)

Her name is Kassana. Kassana. Kassana Valar. “Blessed by the Moon.”

And after confronting my sister, she is still alive.



My dearest sister,

We have blessed our floor with the blood of the courageous.
With all of our cousins and neighbors gathered, the party celebrating our conquest of the Count was a raging success! The Game of Knives. The Storm. The spectre. We shall be the talk of the Season and many Seasons to come.
Although, you must forgive me for the small bit of fun at had at your expense. I am sure a woman of your cunning, by now, must have realized that I sent a personal invitation to each and every woman on our guest list imploring them to wear a green dress. The burning in your eyes was well-worth any wrath you may throw at me.
Did you find her? With so many dopplegangers, I must admit, even your own impressive skills must have been challenged. I made every effort to divide my attention among my emerald darlings evenly, but your spies may have found her out. May have. Perhaps.
The Storm was a terrible event. How many guests did we lose? Seeing as you remained at the castle after the party, I assume you have made some sort of record, explaining and apologizing to their families? I would hate to be held accountable for their injuries and disappearances. We did offer them hospitality, but one cannot offer hospitality against the Storm.
And where was your young, brave Falcon? I must tell you that my letters to him are returning to me unopened. I planned on chastising him for such impertinence. You haven’t been advising him to ignore me, I hope. Have you?
Have you?
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My spies at the party did say they saw you with a woman near the end of the party and that your conversation ended with laughter. Your laughter. My spy told me the sound of it was like feeling an icy spike shove through his heart. I know that laugh well, sister. Can you tell me what brought it to your lips?
And for whom was the red you wore? Certainly not our young mutual friend? Certainly not him. Not after I spent so many letters telling you to stay away from him. It was if you had ignored me completely. I cannot imagine you would do that. Ignore me so ignominiously? With whom have you begun a new Romance, sister?
Or are you afraid to tell me?
I must admit, I have started no new Romance… other than the one I started and ended at the party. You may not have heard the details. I will recount them for you now.
You may recall inviting that actor to our party. Yoli, was his name, I believe. Our young friend was most infatuated with the boy. I can see why. He was handsome and witty and as broken as a porcelain plate dropped to a brick floor. Such pretty young men attract pretty young women. Apparently, the boy went out into the stables to investigate a sound: a voice he heard. When he returned, his face was twisted into a contorted mess I shall honestly never forget. I must admit, I was frozen with terror. I had never seen a spectre before, let alone one possessing a man I had only met earlier in the evening.
When he came into the door, he looked at me and accused me of poisoning him. But the voice was not his own. His voice belonged to the Count. I quickly looked at the other faces. They were too terrified to understand the implications of his words. He pointed at me and said something I do not remember. Then, Yoli regained his own voice and shook his head, as if he had been struck from behind. He then plunged his own dagger into his belly. Blood on our floors.
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It was only later, when I retired to my room and looked at my own face in the mirror that I saw what I saw and remembered what he said.
“A mane of cobwebs.” That is what he said.
And my hair now boasts a strain of silver. Not all of it. Just a strain. Although, I suspect that strain will reach further into my scalp and convert the rest of my hairs soon. I must consult a Serpent and discover a way to counteract such a curse.
When Yoli died, the young woman blamed me. She said I was responsible for his death because I had offered him hospitality. I consoled her and acknowledged her grief. And I told her that anything I could do to help ease her pain–anything within my abilities–was at her disposal. The young woman was easy to sway and easier to seduce. Such playthings are far below my skills. But I wanted to know if I could turn a woman from absolute hatred to unquestioning passion.
I did. And all it took was sweet words and a direct gaze into her eyes.
She did your gender no favors in my eyes that night, my sister.
Needless to say, once she was mine, I grew bored with her. Within the hour, I called her back into the ballroom. I held her hand, smiled, and looked into her beautiful eyes.
“You are a slut and a whore,” I told her. “And unworthy of my love.”
And then I arranged for her murder.
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Unfortunately, I relied on one of your guardsmen for the job. Not only did he fail to cut the girl’s throat, but also ran away with her. Another enemy I shall have to dispatch when the time allows me.
Of course, the duel brought the aforementioned sacred blood to our floor. A duel for love. A duel of love. I only saw the end result. Perhaps you were there for the build to blades crossing? Could you tell me of it?
There was so much more, my sister. And my moments with you, I must admit, were precious. The most precious. No other woman so commanded my attention as you. You are the light in my darkness. My hearth in winter. The comfort to my pain.
Command me, and I am yours.
As always,
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My Dearest Brother,

Words cannot describe the joy I still feel tonight, even after all our guests have departed and my veth are bleaching their hands raw scrubbing blood off the floor. Our soiree was a complete, inarguable, inimitable success! They shall speak of this night for many Seasons to come. Though we hosted but a single duel, what a duel it was! A dear friend known to write opera from time to time hinted upon leaving that just such a duel might appear in her next great work.

My red dress did not have quite the effect I was hoping for. I think most assumed my intent murderous and so avoided me, when nothing could have been further from the truth!

Poor Yoli. Correct as always, my brother. How did you describe him? “As broken as a porcelain plate dropped onto bricks.” Not too far from the truth, I will admit. But, my beloved sibling, his broken soul was precisely what I found so intoxicating about him. I have invited too many perfectly sane, boring men in my bed. A little madness always spices up an affair. I did hope to catch a taste of his insanity, to unearth what hidden drives might persuade a man to change his Blooding and catch ork babies for sport. Unfortunately, he had his grand demise somewhat too soon. A pinch of madness might be a delectable spice, but too much ruins the whole dish. I would not worry overmuch about what “he” said. Without a doubt, Yoli spoke with our vanquished foe’s voice. Though, truth be told, I do not believe what possessed Yoli to have been a real specter. Simply an echo of the old Count’s rage at his loss and defeat. I understand when our armies had at last battered down the portcullis and he could feel my handiwork burning through his veins, our erstwhile Count ended his own life in precisely the same manner Yoli did. Poor man. I remember the Count as having been quite good with horses, I would have certainly offered him a position tending our stables.
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I did manage to attract one dashing young Swordsman, one Lord Oswald. Also wearing the red. Unfortunately, he has a bit of a reputation as a man with a wandering eye. I certainly don’t care about my lovers’ histories before they come to my bed, but they had damn well be faithful to me until I either tire of them or you shuffle them off the mortal coil. No matter. I shall find a new plaything soon enough. I am Ismene Yvarai.

I must admit still being a bit unclear on what precisely led up to the duel between Lord Uval Yvarai and Lord Talon Steele. A mystery for the ages, I believe. I know for truth Lady Irene was grievously wounded, as there was no disguising the copious amount of blood staining an otherwise exquisite gown in a very indiscreet location. The fellow whom she accused of wounding her (with his member!), Lord Davon Steele… well, he might have been capable of inflicting such injury. Not the largest I’ve ever seen, but certainly substantial. Then again, Lady Irene is no blushing virgin, and I doubt it was the largest she’d ever seen either (in fact, if the rumors are true, she enjoyed Lord Voxilaven far before I did, and my darling lost canary would certainly have bested this fellow in that sort of duel. And I had no difficulties with him. You see, dear brother, my habits are good for something after all!)

However, somehow, the Lady Irene was Injured. To all appearances, Lord Davon seemed the one responsible. The Lord claimed a surfeit of passion drove him to it, and deeply regretted harm done to the Lady. Unfortunately, his words came a bit too late, as he spoke before a jury already convened. His passionate defense came not from regret, but a sincere desire to keep his life. That much was obvious.
This is one fucked up family, right here.
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But of course, that, my dear brother, you know already! Or were you simply too dazzled by the luster of your Green Woman’s gown to pay attention to Lord Davon addressing the jury? I must admit, her clothing was quite sumptuous! I shall have to win her tailor to my own estate. He’ll not have work with her for much longer anyway.

A pity I could not eavesdrop on the jury’s deliberations when they retired to the privacy of their room, I would have loved to know what the Only Honest Man in Shan’ri made of the whole thing. The jury returned a strange verdict - Injury, but no Insult. And you and I know well the limits set upon the duel. True pain inflicted, True Pain received. The Lady Irene easily found her champion in Lord Uval. Did you invite him? You must have, I know I would have done better than to be so gauche as to extend an invitation to one wearing the black. Though perhaps I ought to take credit for Lord Uval after all, seeing as he gave a stunningly good show in the duel. And I understand his wardrobe was the result of writing an unflattering opera about the Emperor. There are worse reasons to take the black.

It took Lord Davon the better part of an hour to find a man willing to stand for him in the duel. The poor dear… despite his victory against you at the Game of Knives, I could tell he probably hadn’t touched a Sword since his Blooding. But somehow, through love or bribery or the Sua’ven only know how, he procured a Wolf champion, one Lord Talon Adrente. Upon which, of course, all the duelists and their champions retired to seek comfort in prayer and perhaps wheedle a last minute gift from Ikhalu.
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The duel itself was quite thrilling and bloody. Lord Uval must have received half a dozen cuts and given just as many. The Wolf’s blade slashed his lovely lacy poet’s sleeves to bloody ribbons, though our cousin managed to get in a few good nicks himself. It was quite obvious the men were matched equally in both passion and skill. I found myself on the edge of my seat! I had think hard on who I was hoping would win. It was difficult to work up overmuch sympathy for a man in all black, but his devotion and adoration to Lady Irene was nothing short of inspiring, as was his bladework. I also pitied the poor Lady for all that she had suffered that night, and wished to see justice done to the one who had wrought her ill.

And the end! Ah, dear brother, the end of the duel is what inspired my operatic friend. I have heard some of the rumors about how it ended. Let me set the record straight. No, no one stabbed themselves. And as far as I know, the blades were not poisoned (though even if they were, there would not have been time for poison to take effect). Instead, Lord Uval had pressed the fight so long and hard that he drove his opponent to the edge of the circled ven who watched the duel. And as luck would have it (or perhaps this was Lord Uval’s plan all along), Lord Davon stood but a pace from the clashing blades. As soon as he got within range, Uval whirled on his heel and plunged the blade deep into Davon’s heart!

I was close enough to see the whole thing. The Sword cut into him with such ease, it might have been slicing through butter. Lord Davon looked surprised and scared as blood leaked from between his lips, while more ran down to Uval’s hands. Davon fell to the ground slowly, sliding off Lord Uval’s Sword with the strangest rasping sound I have ever heard. Now I know what steel on bone sounds like in slow motion.
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And though he had achieved his goal of vengeance on behalf of Lady Irene, victory came at a terrible cost for Lord Uval. In skewering Lord Davon, Uval had left himself open to Talon. Lord Talon immediately took the opportunity to sink his own blade into Lord Uval, killing him almost instantly. Reaching out to the crowd with a bloodied, shaking hand, Lord Davon gasped out what was either a farewell to his lover or an apology to Lady Irene before expiring. An unorthodox, yet thrilling, end to a rather unorthodox duel. So you see why, even though there was only the one, I still consider the evening to have been a smashing success. The bodies were disposed of as you ordered - Lord Uval shall be given all due honors, whereas Lord Devon was thrown onto a hastily constructed pyre, his end witnessed by only a handful of veth tending the blaze.

If this ever becomes opera, it shall be quite a stirring scene.

Oh, and a little credit, Tomas. it was ridiculously easy to pick your Green Woman, Lady Kassana, out of the throng of simpering little doves. I did not bother marking with whom you spent your time. You are too much the rake. You thrive on any sort of attention. Moving from woman to woman, looking deeply into her eyes, speaking sweetly, treating her as if she is the love of your life. Child’s play for you. No, my brother. Instead, I watched their eyes as you spoke with them - and when you spoke with others. It was too easy. I watched for the woman whose eyes never left you, even when you were done speaking with her. The woman who could easily flirt with other men, but only had fire in her gaze for you. The one whose eyes narrowed when she saw you flirting with the other women. The one who looked at me with fear. You are remarkably talented at hiding your emotions, but unfortunately, the Lady Kassana is not.
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Or, rather, her fire burns so hot and so bright for you that it cannot help but shine so visibly. She feels quite passionately about you, this much was easy to determine. The Rake Breaker and the Prince of Rakes, who in all the world would have thought? I can hear the Sua’ven laughing from here. This is how legends are born, my brother. And what a story it might have been! Lady Kassana surrenders her everything to a man who is the epitome of everything she once claimed to despise in your gender. And yet she manages to contain her overwhelming feelings for you with grace and dignity. I admire her, Tomas, I quite honestly am in awe.

I haven’t yet decided how I will murder her.

Poison is my old standby, but is a bit too easy. This must needs be a special death. How many of the women you have taken into your bed could honestly claim to have loved you? Infatuation, flirtation, Romance… but what I saw in Lady Kassana’s eyes. Ah, dear brother, it was true love! I know it well, I do. And so I think Lady Kassana deserves something a little more… elegant. An epic end to an epic love story. I do have that blood knife, which is a tempting thought. But they are dangerous weapons, and I have already been toying with the idea of piercing a different woman’s heart with it (nothing for you to worry about, dear brother, just a personal conflict I find myself unavoidably enmeshed in). Perhaps I shall take a page out of your book, and sneak into her chamber in the middle of the night to put an end to her that way. Perhaps I shall strangle her with the same cord I strangled our mother with. She has a very graceful neck. I would enjoy seeing it crushed beneath my hands.
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Or maybe poison is the solution. I would have to come up with the perfect formula for her, though. Something which works slowly but ever so surely. Something to draw her death out. That would be a romantic death, would it not? Her lying abed, coughing her life up in wet, ruddy gobs as her lungs slowly dissolve from poisoned blood, her begging you not to grieve and you begging her to stay strong. I should like to watch that, I think. Maybe if the pain became unbearable enough, she would stare deeply into your eyes, speak of how much she loved you and plead for you to do the merciful thing.

As if you ever had any mercy.

Though the sudden approach has its appeal, too… there one moment, and taken away in the very next heartbeat. Perhaps I might enlist the aid of your little lost lavender plaything. I know you broke her heart, quite ruthlessly. And I wasted a whole evening trying to plan the best way to put an end to her! I have decided for myself to be merciful - as far as I know, you two didn’t have time to consummate your Romance, and so she is of no concern to me and our Game. Or if you did manage consummation in the brief minutes you were not in the room, I feel even worse for the poor girl! Lady Irene gets a better showing from the men she picks.
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Besides, I shall enjoy breaking the Rake Breaker. This is a rare challenge, dear brother, and I ought to thank you for it.

Yours in all devotion,

Ismene Yvarai
Blooded of the Fox
Countess Sha’av

P.S. I cannot begin to guess at Shajar’s mind. If you really want to know why he’s returning your letters unopened, go to his lands and ask him. That is, if you can peel him away from his new wife. His parents found him quite a winning match, you ought to at least congratulate him on marrying a rich woman who will no doubt bring him many strong children. He swore his marriage would not interfere with the depth of our friendship, and that he would send for me when he could. Send for me. As if I were a parcel. Or a veth. You begin to understand why I wore red that night, dear brother. Shall we not speak of Shajar again? At least for the next Season or so, as the problem should not take much longer than that to solve. And I would be ever so grateful!
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My dearest sister,

Your latest later, I must admit, drove me to distraction. I could not believe the words I was reading. Not for their content, mind you, but for what was shown to me through their most hidden meaning.

I have attracted the attentions of Lady Kassana. “The Rake Breaker” herself. What a fool I was, falling for her pretty promises. I admit, I was taken in by her at the beginning, but now that I know exactly who she is, I shall deal with her myself. It was I who was fooled, my sister. It shall be I who murders her.

At the same time, I must admit, your latest letter only confirmed my suspicions at the party. Never before had I seen the light that was in your eyes. The way you watched her, not like my sister, but like something else. I had seen that light in other women before, but never in you. And I must say, it was… enlightening.

The light I saw, dearest sister, was jealousy.

Could it be, dearest one, that you believe my love for you has faded? Or become eclipsed by the love of another? Such a concern is ill-founded. If put in the position of having to decide between the two of you, you know well enough that I would choose you. She was, is, and shall always be a momentary distraction.

The jealousy you feel toward her has no basis in fact, my sister. You should not concern yourself with her. As I said, now that her identity has been revealed to me, I shall deal with her in my own way.

In the meantime, I notice you have not made any announcement regarding a new lover. With Shajar gone, I expect your castle must be getting quite chilly. The loss of a friend is much greater than the loss of a lover, but one can certainly make up for the absence of the other.

Do not allow yourself to be alone too much longer, dearest sister. We both know how melancholy you become when you are alone too long.

Your beloved brother,

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My Dearest Brother,

You shall have to forgive me, as I fear this note must be shorter than many of my previous letters. I am currently packing for a short trip. It has been too long since I have taken respite. I have decided to go to the seashore. I shan’t be long. I daresay not longer than a week or so. Nothing to worry you. Merely a small, niggling, annoying issue begging to be taken care of.

You do realize, of course, that allowing you to murder Lady Kassana violates the long-established rules of our private game? If I might restate rules we have clung to as if they were holy dogma: I have a Season to murder your newest lover; you have the same amount of time to return the favor for mine. Failure requires a forfeit, one which we neither of us has ever had to surrender. And surrender, indeed, is the word of the forfeit. You know precisely what I should ask if I won; the name I crave to hear. But I must admit not knowing what you might demand of me, though you have oft teased and mocked me with insinuations of what my forfeiture might entail. If I didn’t know you better, I would believe, dear Tomas, acknowledging my supremacy as the Mistress of Poisons (as I understand certain ven now whisper of me) and understanding I might never fail, were trying to manipulate the rules. After all, if Lady Kassana dies by a hand not my own, you could conceivably claim the forfeit.
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Should you give me your word of honor, O Prince of Rakes, that you shall not make any such claim, regardless of how or when Lady Kassana expires, I shall concede to your request. I must admit a morbid curiosity to see how you shall kill her.

And now, my darling, a carriage awaits and I must be off on my small adventure!

Yours forever,

Ismene Yvarai
Blooded of the Fox
Countess Sha’av
Mistress of Poisons

P.S. I except you shall hear from Shajar within a fortnight of receiving this letter.

P.P.S. Don’t be ridiculous, Tomas. I am beyond jealousy and all such petty emotions. I am Ismene Yvarai.
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My dearest Kassana,

You must die.

You must trust me now more than ever before. There is a delicate reason why this must be accomplished and it is a reason I cannot tell you. However you may do it, do it quickly. I have bought you enough time to conspire with whom you must to create and maintain the illusion, but it must be quick. By the end of the Season. Sooner, if possible.

My beloved, I would tell you the reason this must be accomplished, but I cannot. I must not. Only know that I have been commissioned for your death and find my hand incapable of doing so. Despite ourselves and who we are, I now know that I love you and I cannot bring myself to destroy the only woman I have ever loved.

I beg you, leave your husband and come to me now. I will make the arrangements myself. I realize now, even now, as I write these words, that such brutal work can only be accomplished by a villain. A villain such as I. As unworthy I am of your love, I shall prove its worth by breaking the most sacred promises I have ever made. I hope these revelations will prove my truth and devotion to you. I hope they are not wasted in vain.

The danger to your life lies in the mind of my sister, Ismene. She sees you as a threat to her own legacy. A dangerous woman driven by jealousy and hate. Jealousy for your beauty and cunning. Hate for the love that has grown between us. And all of this because of our Game. Of that, I can say no more in letter, but I shall reveal all when you arrive.

I beg you again: leave your husband and lands. Come to me now. I have already made preparations in my mind and soon I shall fulfill them with my hands. Come to me and we shall be together. There are many lands in Shanri where we will not be recognized. I will go with you wherever you desire. Together, we will build a new home and I shall serve you as you desire.
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I have sent this letter with my most trusted servant, Isha. He shall bring you to where I am now. I have sealed the letter in such a way that only one of my family may open it. Such is my concern for your safety.

I hope that I shall see you soon. Already, I fear to lose your laughter forever. It has been the only light in my dark life.

Your beloved,

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My friend Tomas,

I must needs beg your forgiveness. You have treated me far better than I deserve, and I fear I have not adequately returned your kindness. I know it has been too long since I last wrote you, and that is the primary slight I have committed. My wife and I had been quite busy establishing our new estates. I thought it prudent to simply return your letters to you, rather than risk their being lost in the hectic shuffle.

It means little now, but I must also offer you an apology for not extending either you or your delightful sister an invitation to my wedding. Ismene’s reaction to hearing that my parents had chosen a wife for me was quite… spectacular. She is a woman of rare and incredible passion. And though she has long been one of the closest friends a man could ever ask for, I feel safe in admitting to you my fear that she might have disrupted the ceremony. Having made that decision, it would have put me in a rather awkward position to have invited you and not Ismene. I hope you will forgive me, for I surely meant no Insult by it.

Though now I must confess it appeared there was little to celebrate that day. We had expected our fortunes to be tied together until Solace came upon us. Yet now I must report the sad death of my wife.

She has been murdered. Most foully and most cruelly. I cannot fathom it, my friend. Perhaps you might be able to offer some advice. I know you have a superior understanding of such things. You have cultivated an insight into the darker motivations of the ven heart than I have cared to.

My wife was the sweetest woman I have ever met, hardly the sort of woman who went about making deadly enemies. She was also quite pretty, though nowhere near as beautiful as Ismene. Ismene carries herself with a certain sort of sensual self-possession few women ever seem to master. Ah, but I am letting thoughts of her distract me!
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Though my bride was quite confident herself, she lacked that smoldering inner fire so unique to your sister. I did not think she was a woman who would ever stir a great passion within me (my bride, that is), but I could certainly come to care for her. And, more importantly, we would easily be able to manage our estates together and raise strong daughters and competent sons. I was looking forward to our future prosperity. Isn’t that what a marriage is all about?

She did not deserve what has been done to her. As Ismene might have told you, part of my wife’s lands included an expanse of swamp infested with all manner of abominable ork. As I was chosen theyvestra in this marriage, the responsibility of clearing my wife’s lands of course fell to me. I assembled a group of brave Swordsmen and we ventured into the boggy terrain. We were gone for three weeks. Though we could not exterminate all the orks, we certainly made a significant dent in their population. A wary and well-armed traveler might now cross the swamp in safety.

I rode back to my castle looking forward to a soft bed, sweet brandy and the coming Summer opera Season. I was quite sad to learn that your sister had tried to visit me while I had been away. We had, in fact, just missed each other! She departed the day before I returned home. A wonder we did not meet on the road. She did leave a note for me, which lightened my heart to read. Though your sister might be a woman of rare passion, she is sensible when she has had time to cool off. She expressed happiness for my situation, and asked forgiveness for her outburst upon hearing I was to be married. She also wrote several quite nice things about my wife. Apparently, they had shared several meals during Ismene’s brief stay. I am not sure what to think about that, but Ismene can be quite discreet when she needs to be.
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I was pleased to read her note, and immediately dispatched my own roadmen to come find your sister on the highway and beg her to return. If all has gone well, she is on her way here.

My happiness turned sour in my mouth, however, when I entered the chambers I shared with my wife.

She was in her nightclothes, tangled in the bed linen. I could not begin to fathom what I saw. There was blood, so much blood! It soaked her clothes, the sheets, even the mattress. Her hair was matted with the stuff. I ran to her body. There was a dagger rising from her chest. She had been stabbed through the heart. I reached to pull it out, but gasped when I touched it. It was a blood dagger, Tomas!

Who would murder my wife with a blood dagger? As I said before, she was a sweet woman. I cannot imagine her being able to incite such hatred in even the most vengeful of ven.

The entire situation is confusing. Not only was it a blood dagger, but when I examined the weapon from a safe distance, my questions only multiplied. This was not a true weapon that she had been murdered with, the edge was completely wrong. It seemed more a plaything, perhaps something someone might use whilst playing the Game of Knives. Yet someone had turned it into a blood knife, and then murdered my wife with it. Not only that, but she had also been strangled. With a length of dirty white cord. It looked quite old, and crudely made.

I cannot begin to comprehend it.

Does any of this make sense to you? There are rumors that my wife made an Enemy through her marriage to me, but I cannot find any solid proof. You have many more connections to Society than I do. What I have heard speaks of a suitor, upset at losing her to me. But if that is true, why kill her? As long as she brought us no shame, I would have been happy to look the other way when it came to her forming especially close friendships. After all, I am scarcely pure myself, in that respect.
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Ismene is on her way here, I am glad to hear it. I could use the presence of a friend tonight. I intend to ask her as well what she thinks of this sad affair. I know her forte is poisons, though, so I do not think she could offer me as much insight as you might. Though, on the topic of your sister… please forgive me, I do not wish to cause offense. But I have heard some disturbing rumours about her. I cannot believe she might ever be capable of what is spoken about her. Please, my friend, reassure me that these are but rumours. They say Lady Shara is behind them, and I well know the enmity between her and Ismene. A word from my closest friend and mentor, and my heart shall be at rest.

I hope to be able to visit you soon. I remember well what you have taught me, and I have already had all my veth killed for allowing a murderer into my home.

Your friend,

Shajar Thorne
Blooded of the Falcon
Baron Teravie
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[editor's note: the letter below is deeply stained with wine making some passages difficult to read. The damaged passages have been translated to the best of our abilities. We've taken small liberties, assuming words and phrases from context. We've marked these passages with parenthesis.]

My Sister,

It is done. She is dead.

Although, it would seem I am not the only one with blood on my hands. I received a letter from Shajar recently. He told me about his wife’s murder. He also told me it was performed with a sorcerous blade and an old, stained strangle cord. Ismene, you must be more careful.

I told him to burn the cord lest it prove sorcerous. In truth, I told him to burn the cord lest he allow one of Jonan Drax’s blasted “knights” to divine whose hands were on it last. Like I said, sister. Careless [sic]

I also told him to send the blade to me. I would deal with it. Again, I find myself covering your sloppy trail. For this, you are in my debt. Do not doubt it or contest it. The boy was ready to bring the dagger to the Senate and what kind of trouble would that make for you and I, do you think?

You even went back to the Castle and allowed these things to remain in his possession! Your wits are no longer with you. I have lost all patience with your pre-occupation with this boy. He was entrusted to me to begin with and he belongs here with me, not with you. Not after what you have done to him.

I begin to suspect your preoccupation with the boy may have more to do with your loins than your brains. Only a woman so enthralled with pleasure acts as you have. You have surrendered all your cunning and all your wisdom to a pair of pretty eyes and a dashing smile. (You must send him back) to me before you put me in the position I was in before: having to murder one of your lovers that I actually admired. And this one also a Falcon.
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You have already put me in the position of having to murder outside the Game once. Do not put me in the position of having to do it again. At least the previous Falcon–who’s death occurred so long ago, the name I cannot even recall now–was a man of courage. When it came time, he did not beg or barter. He looked me straight in the eyes and told me, “Your sister loves me more.”

(As if he would know) my sister’s heart better than my own. I nearly felt pangs of regret when I learned I would have to kill him. I also nearly considered allowing you to win the Game, so great was my admiration for him. Allowing him to escape. It would have been worth it. At least, that’s what I thought.

That’s what I thought until he said, “Your sister loves me more.” And then, I had no qualms about killing him. In fact, it wasn’t until morning that he died. It wasn’t until morning that the last drop of his blood spilled and his eyes rolled back and his breath stopped. He was an honorable man. And for that crime, I murdered him.

[sic] bother [sic] child [sic] wearing the (black)

I realize now I’ve never told you that story. The wine in my head makes me remember and forget. Too much wine. Too much poison in my blood and in my brain. But, yes, that is how your Falcon died. Whatever his name was. And you! You wearing mourning colors for weeks. Never have I been so ashamed of you. Never. Not until now.

Send the boy back to me. Do it or there shall be consequences. I killed her for you. The least you can do is send the boy back.

How long is this thing?!
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Really, Tomas,

Your last letter was so garbled as to be nearly incoherent. Spattered with ink, the words illegible. Not to mention, the paper positively reeked of brandy. Did you uncork a bottle directly into the inkwell? Or did you simply decide to launder your clothes in alcohol?

To begin with, I am deeply shocked and hurt you would accuse me of murdering Shajar’s wife! How dare you?

I am, of course, willing to be charitable and believe you spoke through a haze of liquor. Why, I only met the woman once! I certainly had no cause to wish her dead. Especially not now, not once I have seen the effect her death has had on my poor Shajar. He is positively inconsolable. Not, I believe, because he loved her (I know he didn’t); but rather, I do believe it’s the first time someone close to him has died. You think I am jealous. But I assure you, I am anything but. To begin with, I am not a jealous woman. Shajar is a dear friend of mine, and we agreed long ago what was between us would not progress any further. Strange, I know, but I am oddly content with it. And so, you see, his marriage was certainly no threat to me.

Perhaps, dear sibling, I am being framed. I have heard rumors Lady Shara still passionately hates me, though she will not attack me up front. She is no doubt the one responsible for the vile rumours circulating about me. I would not put it past her to attempt to implicate me in another’s death.

I need nor want any of your ‘help’. You may not realize this, Tomas, but I am damn near untouchable. The Senate has tried several times to find fault with me. Tried, and failed every single time. Lady Shara has tried to assassinate me, and failed as well. Why? Because I am Ismene Yvarai. I could dance naked through the Senate, waving a blood knife in one hand and my enemy’s severed head in the other. And they would not touch me. I’m that damn good, Tomas. So, no, I don’t need your ‘help.’
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And I have absolutely no idea of whom you speak when you demand me to return ‘the boy.’ Surely you do not mean Shajar Thorne, who is a grown man, a widower and free to come and go across Shan’ri as he pleases? If you want him to come to you, you’ll have to charm him away yourself. He may have started out as your ward, but take another look at him, Tomas. He has grown up, and no longer needs you as he once did. Or are you trying to take him away from me just out of spite? Poorly played, brother. If that is the case.

Also, in your drunken stupor, you are confusing my lovers. My poor Falcon died instantly, breaking his neck on the rocky ground beneath the parapet from which you tossed him. The lingering death you are thinking of is a different Falcon, not my first. Your first. Our first. Your wine has begun to affect your memory. Do take care. I have never known you drink quite this much.


Oh, dear.

Are you grieving? I have to say, you have always seemed able to hold your liquor before. You rarely, if ever, get this drunk. Has the Green Woman’s death (by your own hand, no less!) so unmanned you that you have crawled into a brandy bottle as a result?


Of course you haven’t.

Because Kassana isn’t dead.

I know she’s not dead, dear brother. Do not waste ink or breath trying to convince me otherwise. I have been keeping a close eye on her. I suspected you might attempt to trick me in hopes of preserving her life. I knew you were capable of it, but I yet hoped you would prove true to me. It seems I have been sadly disappointed. How could you, Tomas?

A clever ruse you pulled, to be sure, but I am cleverer. Far cleverer. Not only have you violated the tenets of our Game, you have LIED to me. I think the green bitch deserves to die screaming for that alone. For driving my dearest brother, the only family I have left in all the world, to betray me.
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Throughout our lives, since even before we were born, we have been an inseparable pair. No matter the amount of physical distance dividing us, there were none who could come between Ismene and Tomas Yvarai. Threaten our special bond. Not our parents. Not our lovers. Not anyone. And you, Tomas, have now profoundly violated that bond. Our promises both spoken and unspoken. Had you told me the truth, that you loved Kassana, I would have been merciful. As I wrote in my last letter, I understand what it is to truly love someone. And I understand the utter agony you feel when you are separated from that person. All it would have taken was you offering me the forfeit. The one question you refuse to answer Season after Season, year after year.

But now, Tomas, you have lied to me. You have taken great steps to deceive me. And now, no matter what you offer me or how ardently you beg, Kassana will die. And she will know exactly why she is dying - that you were the one who betrayed her. Even though my hands will be the ones to brew the poison and slip it into her wine, it will be your fault when she dies. Perhaps she might even expire calling your name. I’ll let you know if her last words are of you. Just so you might know the peril of breaking your word to the Mistress of Poisons.

If you didn’t want her to die, you should never have fallen in love with her.


Ismene Yvarai
Blooded of the Fox
Countess Sha’av
Mistress of Poisons
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I remember the Falcon now. I remember throwing him from the walls of father’s castle. I remember you begging me, pleading with me to spare his life. I remember how pathetic you looked on your knees, tears streaming down your face. How weak. How helpless. And how I despised him for making you so wretched. Like an alchemist performing his trick in reverse, transforming something so sublime into something so vulgar. You truly loved him, didn’t you? Clinging to my surcoat, you offered me anything if I would spare him from our Game.

And I had you, then. In that moment, you truly would have done anything. Given in to any command. And you would have done it without any hesitation or regret because you knew that act would have saved his life. Would have saved your happiness with him.

I had you.

No act would have been too demeaning. No act would have been too profane. And you know exactly how many vulgarities and profanities my imagination can summon. Anything for love. The love of your precious Falcon.

I had you.

You. Proud Ismene Yvarai, begging at my feet. The woman who makes men beg. She who has tamed a thousand hearts with only a glance and ten thousand more with only the promise of a touch. You offered me anything, then. On your knees before me. Snot and tears on your face. Disgraceful. Disgraced. Humbled. And with your surrender before me, do you remember what I asked? Do you remember?

On your knees, looking up at me, I asked, “Are you still a virgin?”

And that is when you lied to me. And that was when I knew he had to die. Because you lied to me. He made you lie to me.

And so I threw him from the walls of father’s castle. I watched him plummet and I watched his body break below. And I remembered your lie. Your deceitfulness. Your treachery.
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Yes, Ismene. I have lied to you. I have performed the very same treason you accuse me of, now. And I do so because I suffer from the same pain.

Here I am, at your knees, with tears in my eyes. I cling to your dress with weak, trembling fingers. My head bowed with shame, I admit, I am weak. I am helpless. I cannot live without her.

I hope you remember the moment when you knelt before me. And I hope you remember my cruelty. I hope you remember it because I want you to remember the pain of asking such a thing.

I am asking for your mercy which I know is still in your heart. I will offer you anything to spare her.

Please, my sister. I plead. I beg. Please. Let her live. It is such a little thing.

Please. Let her live.

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My Beloved Brother,

I write this letter to you from the small room atop the eastern tower in our parents’ manor. At this moment, I am sitting on a cushion with a writing board on my lap. There is ink to my right and clean paper to my left. A glass of wine sits in front of me. The chill Autumn wind blows through my hair. I hope to finish before the sun has fully set, for it seems appropriate to write you this letter from this battlement.

Do you know what I would see if I stood up and peered out over the crenelations? No? Of course you don’t. But you are afraid. I can taste your fear from here, carried on the wind. How long has it been since you last saw your dearest Kassana? Your beloved Green Woman? Your true love? A few days? A week? A fortnight? Has it been a month since you last heard her voice, smelled her scent, felt her skin beneath your fingers?

Did you really think you could deceive me again, Tomas?

You fool.

You poor, besotted fool.

I intercepted your last letter, telling Kassana where to hide from me. Yes, my dearest, best beloved brother. Once I had the letter, it was easy enough to send along one of my own. I invited Kassana to meet at our parents’ old manor. In your name, of course. Sealed with your initials.

She came. Of course she came. She was as smitten with you as you are with her.

Oh, dear me, did I perhaps reveal too much in my choice of verb tense?

Forgive me, Tomas. This letter is so much fun to write. More than I thought it would be. I feel positively giddy! I hope my hand does not tremble too much and spill ink all over this fine white paper. Though I race against the setting sun to complete this letter, I still want to draw it out as long as possible. To enjoy this feeling. Vrentae.
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I think the good lady was rather surprised to see me here and not you. But I assured her you were nevertheless on your way, unfortunately delayed by your “ward”. Kassana was a bit nervous at first. But you know me, Tomas. I quickly put her at ease. We had the most delightful tea together. She could not stop talking about you. I was content to simply sit back and watch her carefully catalog all your virtues. Oh, yes, Tomas. If I had not already known, I would have learned it then. Your Green Woman was desperately, hopelessly in love with you. And you obviously returned her ardor tenfold. A hundredfold. A thousandfold.

The Rake Breaker and Prince of Rakes. What a pair. You really would have been worthy of being immortalized in opera.

I invited Kassana to take a stroll with me. Almost immediately, she remembered what you no doubt warned her of and was back on her guard. Then she realized I am Mistress of Poisons. I could see her quickly going over the tea in her head, wondering if I had fed her some deadly thing. I doubt poison would have worked if I had used it. You know all my favorites. I imagine you have been teaching Kassana how to build up her resistance to them. A good, if unnecessary, strategy.

There was no polite way for her to refuse my company. So she came with me. We walked. We talked.

“Tomas has told me of your… Game,” she said haltingly.

“Has he?” I responded.
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She nodded. “I… that is, you should know we’ve never….” She blushed. But oh, Tomas. I could hear the lie in her voice! I know it well. After all, it’s the same tone I use every time I’ve told you Shajar and I are not lovers (he’s in hiding, by the way. I made sure to tell him in person why he ought to fear you. Technically, we have been lovers since before his wedding. Which means I’ve won the Game already. But I shall be charitable. Autumn ends in two weeks. Good luck. Two weeks, and then you are mine, your forfeit is mine and your knowledge is mine. Ah, but I digress horribly! Back to my penultimate conversation with Lady Rake Breaker).

I laughed off her discomfort. “Well, then, there’s nothing to worry about!”

At this, she smiled. Poor fool, she actually believed me. I decided to embellish a little bit. “To be perfectly honest, I believe I would be incapable of playing the Game with you, Lady Kassana. Not only as I have come to think of you as a dear, close friend, but also because you make my brother so happy. The Sua’ven know we both have had so little happiness in our lives. I can see the love in your eyes, hear the love in his voice. I, too, love my brother. Nothing in nearly two decades has pleased me more than knowing he has fallen in love, and with a woman like you. You are surely worthy of each other.”

I suppose I should not have been surprised Kassana believed me. After all, I was telling the truth. Mostly. At least about the important parts. About you. Mostly.

She was quiet as we ascended the east steps, but eventually broke the silence to ask me, “Why?”

“Why what?” I returned her question with a raised eyebrow.

“Why do you and Tomas play this… Game?”

I sighed. “It’s a long story. But I suppose you deserve to know. Has he not told you already?”

She shook her head.
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“Very well, then. Many, many years ago,” I began, scarcely believing I was about to reveal the entire story to someone else, to this woman of all the women in Shan’ri, “I fell in love.” I sighed again, remembering my first.

“He was a Falcon. And, oh, how beautiful he was! His mother had dealings with my father, the nature of which I never fully understood. But it meant she came often to visit us, bringing her favorite son with her at times. I never noticed him until I was in my first flush of womanhood. Then I began to notice… things. Things a woman notices about a man. The way his arms looked, as if cut by a lathe. His shining dark hair, hanging halfway down his back, wondering what it would be like to run my fingers through it. The way my heart skipped a beat whenever he fixed his deep green eyes on mine.”

Kassana had the most moonstruck expression on her face, and I knew she was thinking of you. I continued.

“The warmth of his hand as it held mine. It was not long before we professed our love. We swore eternal devotion to each other. Tomas… I think Tomas knew something was between the Falcon and I. I should have told him, but I did not. This was a woman’s secret. I wanted to tell him in my own time. Every time he asked, I simply laughed it off and downplayed the entire Romance.

“Had it stayed a Romance, we might have been able to find some form of happiness. But we were young and foolish and passionate. Not yet hard and cynical. It became… it became a liaison.”

What a demure woman you chose! She actually blushed when I used that word! I ignored her and continued. I had begun telling a story I never told another living soul. Not even Shajar. And I would not stop till it was done. Yes, Tomas. All of it.

“Our secret liaison continued for… oh, less than a full Season. The happiest Season of my life, truth be told. But then came a day when our secret could stay secret no longer.”
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“Eventually. I had something very important to discuss with my beloved, so took him to my private tower. I thought no one would discover us, that we would have privacy. Of course, my lover was quite passionate back then. He insisted on a coupling before hearing what I needed to tell him. And, silly me, I consented. That is how my brother came upon us, in flagrante delicto. Or nearly so. He was… furious. You have not seen him lose his temper the way I have. He was somehow convinced I had been spoiled, that this man was taking advantage of me. And, I believe, he was also deeply hurt by the fact I had not confided any of this to him. He grabbed my naked Falcon by the throat, dragged him to the window and held him out the window.”

Her eyes had gone wide. She did not want to believe you capable of such things. But it gets worse, doesn’t it; Tomas?

“I screamed and pleaded with Tomas to let him go. But Tomas refused, only saying how he had been deceived, how his sister had been defiled. I believe he was even crying when he said such things. My Falcon flailed helplessly. He tried to speak in his own defense, but Tomas had his hand firmly around my lover’s windpipe. It was enough of a struggle simply for him to breathe.

Tomas demanded to know if I was still intact or if this man had “ruined” me. I tried to tell him I was still marriageable, that my prospects had not been irredeemably destroyed by youthful ardor. But of course, though we had not been fully coupled when Tomas came upon us, neither of us was clothed and even a blind veth could see where our liaison would have eventually gone had we not been interrupted. Tomas knew I was lying, knew I would lie before he even asked the question.

‘Tell me!’ he demanded, yelling at me, ‘Tell me one reason, one good reason, Ismene, why I should let this trash live. He has ruined you and made you weak.’
what the fuck am I reading?
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“I was on my knees, wrapped in a thin linen sheet, begging Tomas not to kill him. I was apologizing profusely for keeping this secret from him, imploring him to be merciful. I told him what I hoped would persuade my brother to pity. I told him I loved my Falcon.

‘You were supposed to love me!’ he screamed in return.

Tomas’ hands grew tighter around his prey’s throat. ‘You have one chance, Ismene. Tell me why I should let this man live when he has come between us and weakened your spirit so.’

I took a deep breath and said-”

I took a deep breath. And then I said it. Oh, yes, my dearest brother. I opened my mouth, and I said it. It.

“‘Because I am carrying his child.’

My Falcon’s eyes went wide. I had not had a chance to tell him yet. He redoubled his efforts to get loose of Tomas. But it was too late. I could see something go out of my brother in that instant. Some part of him hardened beyond recovering. I had said the very wrong thing. My poor wingless Falcon, aided by my brother, flew out the window and broke himself on the ground below.”

Kassana was staring at me, dumbstruck. Horrorstruck.

“Ismene,” she whispered, “I had no idea…”

I shook my head.

“It was almost twenty years ago. What came after was far worse.” I stopped, reliving the horror for the first time in years.
A story.
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“My father was furious when he found out what Tomas had done. He had known about the pregnancy already, of course, as had my beloved’s mother. We had devised a plan to save our names and fortunes. My fallen Falcon and I would have been married quickly and quietly to avoid scandal. I would have retreated from society for several Seasons, afterward emerging with an infant of vague age. But of course, my intended had been cruelly murdered by a jealous brother who thought he owned my secrets. No vean would marry me now, not if I was mother to another man’s child. I understand Father even went so far as to stab Tomas one night, trying to teach him a lesson about precisely whose property I was.

“Father fed me poisons after the murder, trying to rid my body of the baby. He even snuck up behind me once and pushed me down the stairs. All that did was break my leg. It was too late, the child was too much in me. And, oh, I wanted this baby. It was mine, and no one could take my own flesh and blood away from me. I resisted the poisons and kept my baby alive inside me through sheer force of will. Tomas was… I believe he regretted what he had done, his role in this whole mess. He was the only person, the only person there for me during this terrible time. Sometimes, though it would cause him to spend the entire night screaming in agony, he would drink the poison himself to deceive our father and thereby spare me. He saved my baby’s life, I am certain. My father forced me to dress all in black, a symbol of my shame. No one would speak to me. Tomas alone had a kind word for me. Tomas alone gave me love.
I find the lack of animals disturbing.

I hope a bear becomes involved somehow.
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“I delivered my baby early. It was a difficult labor. Father had brought in a midwife sworn to secrecy, but it was still hard. It took me two days to give birth… and at the end of it, I had the most beautiful son a mother could ask for. The midwife cleaned him as I panted in the bloody bed, wrapped him in a soft chamois blanket and handed him to me. Oh, he was gorgeous! He had his father’s eyes and my hands. I thought I even saw a little of Tomas in him, as well.

‘You must name him,’ she told me. ‘The secret name.’
“I nodded, and thought for several heartbeats, just looking down into my son’s newborn eyes. I have never, Kassana, ever felt a love that strong or pure. I speak of having known true love once in my life. Many assume it was with a liaison, perhaps with the one who was my baby’s father. No. The only time I have ever known true love was holding my son in my arms. Tired, sweating, bleeding, weak, crying from the emotions which overwhelmed me, but the happiest I have ever been or ever will be again.

“I raised his ear to my lips, and, as all mothers do, whispered his secret name.

“And as soon as I had, the midwife grabbed him out of my arms. I screamed, but she stepped away from me. ‘You are not fit to be a mother, slut,’ she said. ‘Your father has ensured he will go to parents who are capable of love.’
“I screamed again, tried to get up, tried grab my son away from her. But I was too weak, my leg still Injured. I fell to the ground in a tangle of bloody sheets. I ordered the veth to detain her, but they dared not. She walked out of the room, and that is the last I ever saw of my son.
“And now, Kassana, you know why I play the Game of Tears with Tomas.”
I turned to face her. Her cheeks were streaked with weeping. Strange. My eyes were dry. I suppose I spent all my tears years ago. Can you believe it, Tomas? I thought I would die with this secret. Yet I actually told another living, breathing ven about my son.
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“Ismene, I never….” She was quiet for a moment. “I don’t understand. Your story is sad, but why does it explain why you play the Game?”

“Oh,” I laughed. A bit too brassy, I thought, but Kassana seemed not to notice. “I forgot that last part. You see, it was Tomas who delivered my son to his adoptive parents. He knows my son’s given name, the name all the rest of the world knows him by. Tomas also knows the names of the ven who adopted him. All I live for, Kassana, is a chance to see my son again. To see what sort of man he has grown into. I know only his secret name, but Tomas knows his public name. Tomas made it clear long ago there was only one way I would ever learn that name. To play the Game of Tears, and to win. So I play. For almost twenty long years, I have played. And, I confess, not without some degree of pleasure on my part. But now, my current lover is in hiding. A few more weeks, the Season ends and victory shall be mine.”

Kassana could only stare at me. You had never told her about me, had you? I suppose again, I should thank you for keeping another of my secrets.

“So after you win, will you still play?” she asked. Hope glimmered in her eyes.

“I am done with death,” I answered her. “Two more weeks, and it will all be over.”

And, oh, she sighed with relief just then! Poor dear.

I looked around me, and laughed. “Why, the strangest thing! We’re here!”

Kassana looked puzzled. No matter, the stupid cow was standing right where I needed her to be standing. Everything else was just drama from here on out.

“We’re in the exact same room where Tomas killed my Falcon!”
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I think she must have heard the coldness in my voice, for she tried to flee then. But I was too quick. And if I am to tell the whole story, I had also slipped a numbing agent in her tea. Not enough to kill her, but enough to throw her balance off. I wager you had never thought to inure her to that kind of poison. I had played out this scene in my head a hundred times, and it would have all been ruined if Kassana escaped. I like to hedge my bets.

Just like you, Tomas, I grabbed her by the throat and held her out the window. Just like my Falcon, she struggled to draw breath. I could see the fear in her eyes. The awful, sinking realization that she had been played from the start. Of course she had. She might have been the Rake Breaker, but I am Ismene Yvarai.

I bent her over the parapet. My lips were as close to her ear as they once were to my long lost son.

“I swore to Ikhalu that one day, my brother would suffer as I have suffered. Yet I could never inflict my pain on him. There was never a way to hurt him that deeply. But you, my dearest Kassana, you are that way. He loves you as he has never loved anyone. Taking you away from him is the only way to complete my revenge. And now you know all my secrets but one. Here it is: Ever since that black day when my first love fell as you are about to fall, I have hated Tomas Yvarai.”

And with that, one small push and she was out the window! Flying with no wings, screaming curses at me until the most satisfying wet thunk I have ever heard. I leaned out the window to look. There she was, broken and sprawled on the cold, hard ground, blood seeping out from her. Most definitely dead.

I went over to the small cabinet that is even now still there. I took out the wine I had been saving for this day, poured myself a glass, and began composing this letter.

Two weeks, Tomas.

Two weeks.


Yours with all filial affection,

Ismene Yvarai
Blooded of the Fox
Countess Sha’av
Mistress of Poisons
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Wanton Whore,

It is with a careful and steady hand that I write to you now. Careful, steady and sober. I have ordered my cellar be locked and remained in my rooms. I have used the two weeks you have given me to discover Shajar’s location to purge the poison from my veins. Yes, all the poisons. Even the ones you have secreted into my system without my knowledge.

Oh, what a clever and resourceful slut you are! Poisoning my wine. So slowly. How many years now has it been? Filling my mind with clouds. It was only your most recent letter that alerted me. You should know now that my addiction to your potent potables has been cured. You have turned my most precious weapon–my mind–into a weapon of your own. You cannot rely upon it as an advantage any longer.

My faithful spies in our father’s castle have reported the truth of what you wrote. Her body has been returned to me, as you wished. Her broken body. I caressed her hair one last time before I set her to the pyre. Her lips were too rotten for a final kiss. Another insult you have compiled upon the injury you have delivered.

Two weeks was what you gave me. It has been four. And yes, you have won, little slut. You have won. And in return, I shall tell you what you want. But only at the end. I shall make you wait for your victory. As long as I can. For you have committed many sins, my sister. Many sins. And for those sins you have committed, you shall pay dearly. I shall return the injury you have given me. But I shall not stop there. No, I shall deliver an injury to you that is far deeper than any you could ever have given me. You shall pay the price for murdering my happiness. You shall pay the dearest price of all.

But to draw out the anticipation of your final victory, I shall first list the insults and injuries you have bestowed upon me. And then, the Revenge.
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Your first insult, you cowardly trollop, was slutting with that Falcon (who’s name shall never pass my lips). We made a promise to each other when we were young. We bled on it. Before we even knew sorcery, we bled on it. We swore we would belong to each other. And you gave up your flower to that imbecile. That cretin. That dandy know-nothing. You fell for his pretty promises and his flashing eyes and his smile. Did you think I did not know? Did you think you could keep any secret from me? I knew. Yes, I knew. And I waited for you to make a mistake so I could find you there. Naked. Helpless. So I could watch you beg at my feet for his life and I could steal it from you. To punish you for being so stupid.

Yes, it was a punishment. But it was also to make you strong. My own little bit of alchemy, there. Transforming my sister from the whimpering girl she was into the woman she is now. That was my first act. I repaid your treachery with a gift. Always has been my way. Repay your little sins with great gifts.

It was I who made you strong. It was I who burned your weakness from your blood. It was I who transformed you into the woman you are now. The only woman worthy of my devotion. Or, so I thought. Or, so I thought.

All the strength I gave you. But you still cling to your weakness. Ah, but we shall discuss that in a moment, shall we not?

You see, I like to test the things I create. You are my very own creature, and so, I chose to test you. To see if you were truly worthy of my love. And I have found my creation to be… wanting.

You lack the Courage to face an enemy face-to-face.

You lack the Cunning to see the trap I laid out for you.

You lack the Wisdom necessary to know the simplicity of avoiding it.

You lack, sister. You lack.
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Your second insult was compounded by an injury that can only be healed in one way. You have murdered my happiness, slut. After I begged. After I pleaded. You murdered her. And for that, I shall return the favor in kind.

Shajar will be murdered.

But it will not be my hand that pulls the knife. Oh, no. Dearest, sweetest, most delectable slut…

… it shall be yours.

You will murder him. You will murder him to spare him the pain I shall give him. You will murder him to keep his ears from hearing what I have to tell him. You will murder him to protect him. And do you know why, my pathetic, love-struck sister?

Oh, how I urged you not to bring him into our Game! How I pleaded! Knowing you could not resist that which was denied to you. All I needed to do was say, “Leave this one alone,” and with the certainty of Seasons, you leapt upon him. Spread your legs for him.

You are as pathetic as you are predictable.

You may have seduced him, but not completely. Not yet. How do I know this? Ahah. My hand trembles again. Trembles with the delight of knowing I have beaten you, Ismene.

Do what you always do, slut. Pry from him his most private secret. Ask him to tell you his secret name.

And then, Ismene Yvarai, you will know my Revenge.

With deepest sincerity,

Tomas Yvarai
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Really, Tomas.

Enough with the histrionics.

Your letter is damn near incoherent, I almost didn’t respond. I hardly know what I am responding to.

Accusing me of poisoning you? Of clouding your mind? Hardly. In case you hadn’t noticed, this revenge has been twenty years in coming. I wanted you to feel the pain with every fiber of your being. Cushioning the blow with mind-numbing poisons would have precisely the opposite effect. I’ve no idea who’s been drugging you, but my plan relied on you being sober and perfectly, completely aware of the world around you.

Even now, Tomas, you have not the slightest idea how I have suffered. You have not marked the same day every year with melancholy wondering. You are not seized with worry every time you hear of the Storm wiping out a caravan; or of youngbloods dueling to the death. You do not weep when you hold an infant… even an ork infant. Do you know, though I know a dozen recipes, I have never once taken precaution against conception? The many lovers I have enjoyed, virile men all. And not once has their seed taken root. The poisons may not have accomplished what Father hoped they would, but my womb is blighted nevertheless. There will never be another child for me.

I want to see my son so badly, it hurts. I want to see the man he has become. I want to hold him in my arms again. I want to meet his wife and play with his children. I want to find out which House he has joined (though I cannot imagine him being anything other than a Fox, just like his mother).
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There is something else you do not realize. Shajar Thorne loves me. There is not a single thing you could tell him about me to change his heart. Every day I wake next to him, I am surprised again by that fact. I almost regret treating his wife the way I did. It seems so unnecessary in retrospect. Even if you bundled up all the letters I have ever sent you, even if you devised complete and utter fiction and sealed it with my name and gave it to him with a pretty ribbon wrapped round the whole sheaf… yes, Shajar would read them and believe them. And he would still love me.

So tell him, my brother. Tell him everything. Tell him our whole story. Tell him how I earned the title Mistress of Poisons. Tell him I bore a bastard when he was still in swaddling. Tell him how many deaths can be laid at my feet. Tell him just how many men (and women) have come into my bed. Tell him how I murdered our parents. Tell him all that… and he will still love me. Even if you found incontrovertible proof that mine were the hands which ended his wife’s life (an act I still categorically deny), he would still love me.

You wish a token from me, to prove that I am the mistress of my own fate? Prove I am still your sister? Prove I am still Ismene Yvarai? Shajar told me his secret name long ago, the first night we were together. The first time, it turned out, he had ever lain with a woman. He thought the gift of his secret name was appropriate for the occasion.
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You don’t understand, Tomas. You never will. With all your threats and bluster. You murdered me twenty years ago, when you killed the man I was going to marry. Yes, I loved him. And was grief-stricken by his loss. But I would have gotten over it. Only I could not. Not when his death also meant the loss of the only person I have ever truly loved. Had my beloved lived, you and I could have been happy. I would have been married. But wasn’t that what we planned all along? Advantageous matches for each of us, working in concert to build up both our fortunes. Sweet Sua’ven, Tomas, I would have been the dominant partner, even!

No, Tomas. You were enraged because what happened was outside your control. You have always sought to control me. If you cannot command something, you destroy it. That is why none of my lovers were ever allowed to live. Because, while you could not control who I invited into my bed, you certainly could see to it that no one stayed very long. That is why you have dangled this name over my head for twenty long & lonely years, making me play your Game and bend to your will.

And that is why I chose Shajar. Even if you had found him, I doubt you would have possessed the nerve to kill him. Not your precious ward and protege. Not an undischarged debt. Not the symbol of your honor.

I once chose lovers by their cunning. By their hardiness. Those I thought could thwart you without killing you. I only regret the solution took so long. To choose a lover you would refuse to kill.

Well, I play the Game no longer, Tomas. Tell me what I want to know, or be forsworn. What means more to you: pride or honor?
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And if I learn my son has died sometime during the past twenty years… it won’t matter how it happened. Plague, Storm, revenge or romance. If he died without ever getting to see his true mother, if he died without me ever getting to see him again… I will use every resource at my command against you, and you will wish I had stopped at Kassana.

Yours with all filial affection,

Ismene Yvarai
Blooded of the Fox
Countess Sha’av
Mistress of Poisons

P.S. I counted three times to make sure I was accurate. You’ve taken two more lovers into your bed than I have. Who’s the harlot & the slut, then?

P.P.S. Shajar has asked me to marry him.
Unto the Most Illustrious & Revered Senate:
Greetings in the name of the Suav’en Jonan Drax.

I am called Shajar Thorne, a Baron of House Falcon.

I write this testimony in response to a request for information regarding Countess Ismene Yvarai and her brother, Count Tomas Yvarai. Although the events occurred almost a year ago to the day, the memories remain sharply clear in my mind. I regret that I am unable to deliver this report in person, but the particulars of it are still too painful for me to speak, and may remain so for quite some time. As the Senate well knows, as a result of these events, I have elected to take the black. My word, therefore, would mean very little when delivered on the Senate floor. I have given this written testimony to a trusted friend, who has promised to read it before the august Senators, omitting nothing.
I must warn you all: this is a cautionary tale told by a man who finds no shame in using words such as “honor” and “duty.” These words were taught to me by the man and woman who raised me. I use them without ridicule or irony. Tomas and Ismene Yvarai were no different than any of you. Indeed, no different than I. My testimony will, I hope, demonstrate this.
Please forgive me by opening with a recounting of my childhood. It will become important as we progress. I shall be as brief as possible.
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I grew up in Uliinsher, which borders my current holdings of Teravie. You are likely not familiar with the lands. They are quiet and pastoral. Nothing rare or valuable can be found there, and it lays off the main highways. As a result, it is peaceful, idyllic sort of place. I was raised by two honest and decent ven - Baroness Sophias Thorne and her husband, Baron Kilim Adrente. I realize such virtues are not recognized by many of the Senate, but in the back counties, far from the City, honor and decency are as valuable as steel and iron. There, the Storm rages fiercely, and one learns quickly to unite with your neighbors for survival’s sake. This engenders a strong sense of community I have not encountered in the city, and which may be alien to the city-bred among you.
I was raised without siblings of any sort.
As I grew towards adulthood, a stranger came to visit whose very presence caused even the livestock unrest. Though I did not recognize him, Sophias and Kilim knew who he was. The pause in their eyes confirmed it. He was welcomed with all the hospitality our meager manor could muster, even though his arrival made the household wary and worried.

Shortly after his arrival, I was formally introduced to this man as Baron Tomas Yvarai. I recognized the name. Even in the wilderness of Shan’ri, we had heard of the Prince of Rakes. I wondered what business he had which brought him to our residence. After all, I had no sisters for him to seduce, and Baroness Sophias invested all her energies into her playwriting. We were left alone to talk.
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“I owe your parents a debt,” he began. “Especially your father. The particulars are not important, but I pride myself on paying my debts. Even though this debt was incurred before you were born, I will honor it. I have discussed the matter with the Baron and Baronness, and they agree with me. Therefore, I have a proposal for you: while you have no doubt been provided with the best tutors money can buy, there is only so much one can learn here. Come with me, and I shall see to it your education is completed. University, if you’d like. But more important than that, I can teach you secrets books and tutors cannot.”

He must have seen my astonishment, because he laughed then. His laughter was anything but easing to my confusion. Baron Kilim was yvestra to Baroness Sophias, so I did not understand at the time quite how he could have been owed anything - especially by Tomas Yvarai. Though, I assumed, if the debt was older than I, perhaps it was also older than their marriage. And here was Tomas Yvarai himself, in my parlor, offering to take me with him to the city and complete my education! I of course accepted his generous offer, and we were away within the fortnight. It was much, much later when I learned Tomas’ purse paid for my tutors in the country. For many years later, I wondered why. I would soon discover that some questions are best not answered.
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I shall not bother with the details of my budding friendship with Tomas. Let it be said he was a true mentor to me. Without his influence, I doubt I would be the man I am today. For better or worse. I have to admit feeling a certain sort of connection to the man, for reasons I shall explain later. We were often taken for relatives while out and about, an assumption I (at the time) took great pride in. It must have been my youthful impetuousness that prompted me to ask about his sister. I kept asking to be introduced to the equally notorious Ismene Yvarai. Tomas, however, warned me away from her every time I asked. “She is a dangerous woman,” he would tell me, “You are intelligent, but that matters little. You are too innocent for the likes of her. She would seize upon your innocence and corrupt it. I would not be doing your parents any favors if I did not keep you from meeting my sister until you are ready.”

Whether he planned it that way or not–and I cannot say anything is coincidence or chance when considering the Yvarai siblings–I finally did meet Ismene Yvarai when Tomas had his now-famous duel with Lady Shara. Her elegance and beauty struck me as soundly as Shara’s Sword struck my friend. And wounded me just as deeply. Though Tomas warned us both away from each other, we could not help ourselves. She was wise and strong, and a thousand other things a man looks for in a woman. All of us have read the same poetry and pillow books. We know who she was. We shall not see a woman like her in a thousand years, no matter how hard House of the Fox may try.
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I remember the day when our friendship became a Romance, and the day when our Romance became a liaison. The first step was during the long struggle in which they rose to Count and Countess. Under a tree watching the fires from their Enemy’s wine fields burn, she turned to me, her lips so close to mine. I could obey Tomas’ warnings no longer. When the siblings finally succeeded, I was so proud of them both. I felt honored to be included in their small family. It is true that Ismene was the first lover I ever had. It is also true that, our first night together, I wanted to give her the most precious gift I could. I offered to tell her my true name. I thought it would make her happy. She refused to hear it, though. “The only result of telling someone your true name is suffering,” she told me. She also swore me to secrecy regarding our liaison, though at the time refused to tell me why. This also gave me pause - after all, Ismene was anything but shy when it came to her affairs.

As I reached my nineteenth year, my parents reached a decision regarding my marriage. I had avoided the question as long as possible. At first, I was enjoying my time with Tomas too much to wish for the responsibility. Later, I did not want to leave Ismene. Finally, though, I could delay no longer. Sophias and Kilim had secured for me a good match, for which I was a dutifully grateful son. When I told Ismene, however… she was enraged. She felt betrayed. Having never been married herself, she could not understand that a marriage would not have interfered with our bond. The argument caused an emotion to stir in my heart that I had never felt before while in Ismene’s presence. I felt the terrible pangs of fear. Fear for her rage, and fear that I had lost her forever.
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But as the months passed with my new wife, I found a kind of happiness I did not expect. She was as I: a child reared in the country, where matters of politics and intrigue are the stuff of literature and history. Those were happy years for me. And although I missed my adventures with Tomas and my nights with Ismene, I found the Courage to put them behind me and accept my new life.
After returning from a hunting expedition one day, I found Ismene had been by. She left a tenderly worded note, apologizing for her rash words and asking forgiveness. A forgiveness, at the time, I was only too glad to grant. The letter stirred old emotions in my heart. Emotions, I admit now, were never truly dead. A man can deny many things in his life. The love of a woman is something he can deny for only so long. Ismene and I resumed our liaison without my wife’s knowledge. For a month, our dalliance continued. Finally, I told Ismene my wife must know. She agreed. “Love and marriage are siblings who must never meet,” she told me.

It was only a few days later when I discovered my wife had been murdered. At the time, the violence seemed mindless, and mystified me. Senators, in this matter I admit, I was woefully blind. After reading the letters left behind by the Yvarai siblings, the truth of the matter is clear to me. I should have seen it that day. However, we are always loathe to believe those we love are capable of terrible deeds.

My wife’s murder was the beginning of a long year of tears.
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Back in the City, Tomas had met a woman: the famous Kassana Valar. I need not repeat her reputation to the esteemed members of the Senate. Her personal Revenges upon those Tomas would consider friends and compatriots is well-known. I know now she kept her identity secret from Tomas for as long as possible–mystery always makes the best bait for the kind of trap she was setting for him–but in the midst of it all, they fell hopelessly and passionately in love. I know many will not believe it, but I tell you know, I recognized the light in his eyes when he spoke of her. As for her, I only met her once and the same light was in her eyes. My heart sang to see them together. I was happy that my adopted brother was in love as I. The only thing that kept my happiness from becoming complete was keeping my promise to his sister not to reveal the truth of our relationship to anyone. I know the Senate enjoys the old adage about secrets being best kept in coffins, but I shall give you a new proverb: a secret is best kept behind a Falcon’s lips.

One day, Ismene wrote me in a panic. She urged me to leave my own home and come to hers immediately. When I arrived, I saw her as I had never seen her before. Her hair was uncombed and her face as white as a spectre’s. She was speaking so quickly, I could barely understand her. And then she said something I could comprehend but not fully understand.
She told me, “Tomas intends to kill you.”
I could not believe what she was saying. I asked her why my friend and brother would want to kill me.

Her eyes were mad and red and ragged with tears. “Because we are lovers,” she told me.

“What?” I asked, shocked. “Why? Tomas is a dear friend! He should be glad for our happiness!” I demanded she tell me what had made her so upset, but she refused. I demanded an explanation. She collapsed in my arms then, weeping madly. It was only long minutes later that she spoke. The words still burn in my memory. I shall recount to you now what she told me as accurately as I am able to remember it.

“Ever since my first lover,” she told me, “we have made a… a Game. When I take a lover, Tomas has a Season to kill him. And I, the same for his.”

I could not believe what I was hearing. I began to wonder if true madness had befallen the woman I loved. “Ismene, I have been your lover for much longer than a Season and Tomas has not made any attempt to kill me.”
She sobbed. “I know. I know, dearest. That is why I swore you to secrecy about us from the start.” She began to weep and sob again and it took many minutes to calm her down enough so she could speak. “I don’t want to play, Shajar,” she told me. “I never have. But Tomas has something I want, I’ll never be happy without it. The only way I can get it is to win this Game.”
And it was at that moment that I first heard a certain sound in her voice. It was at that moment I knew Ismene Yvarai was hiding something from me.

I took her in my arms. “And so I must hide from Tomas until Autumn passes?” I asked her. “That is easy enough, darling. But I will do it on one condition.”
She asked me what it was. I looked her in the eyes. “You must promise me, no more killing. Once you get whatever it is you need from Tomas, you’re done. It’s one thing to destroy an Enemy in Revenge, but this sort of cold-blooded murder does not become you, Ismene. You’re better than that.”

With that, she only cried harder. I did get her to promise, though.
And I heard that same sound in her voice again.

I was afraid now. Afraid that the woman I loved had gone completely mad. I was also afraid that she may not be mad and was speaking truth. If it was true, how simple and gullible I was. How these two had used me like a Spear on a Tivalti board. I did not know what to do, but I wanted to stay close to Ismene. I needed to watch her, to make certain her madness would not consume her. She refused to see any Apothecary, saying something about how her mother had died. I feared for the worse.
Ismene insisted I go. She assured me I would not be safe in her castle. And so, to ease her mind, until the close of Autumn, I dressed as a veth and worked for Tomas as a stablehand. I left behind my own valet to watch her and report on what he saw. If the Game was true, I thought the move would be too risky. But Ismene assured me this strategy would work, that Tomas would appreciate the maneuver once he found out. At the time, I did not know how deadly this Game was.
One night, a messenger came to me with a letter from Ismene. In it, she informed me that Baronness Kassana was dead. I was surprised to hear the news, considering I was so close to Tomas when it happened. Ismene told me the Game was over and I was safe to return to her. I was happy simply to be reunited with Ismene, but my happiness was soured by hearing of Kassana’s death. Perhaps this mad Game of theirs was true?
I returned and saw my love had returned to her glorious state. She was dressed in the same gown she wore on the day we met. Her skin smelled so sweet and her kisses on my lips made all my cares and fears evaporate like dew in the afternoon.
I surprised myself by asking her to marry me. She surprised us both by consenting. All that night, I felt I was walking in a dream. My mind only half-thinking. My heart pounding with a power I had never felt before.

We were married the next day. I had not even told Sophias and Kilim, who had always severely disapproved of my friendship with Ismene. I told no-one.
That night, lying together for the first time as husband and wife, impulse took ahold of me. I held her in my arms and bent over her until my lips were just brushing her ears. “Tomas,” I whispered.
She said, startled and confused, “Why would you invoke my brother in our wedding bed?”
I smiled. “No. My name. My secret name. It is Tomas.”
She was silent. Strangely silent. I feared I had somehow offended her.
“That is why, I think, your brother and I are so close. We share the same name. It was quite a coincidence when we first met, but as we came closer, I knew it was a sign we would be lifelong friends.”
She said nothing. Only stared at me. Then, she said, “Sleep now, my beloved. I have something I must do.” And she left the bed and walked away.
For the next week, I was in complete, mindless bliss. My happiness with her was overwhelming. I can scarcely recall any of the details. Days later, I woke one night with my head hurting and my stomach wrenching. Something was wrong. I felt poisoned. I found Ismene’s side of our bed was empty and I heard a weeping in the corridor. I crawled from my bed–my limbs limp and weak–and found her wandering naked through the cold castle. She was babbling. Blood and bits of her hair under her fingernails. I think she was in the place where Sua’ven dream, for when she spoke to me, it was in a kind of gibberish dream-speak. I brought her back to the bed and called for the Apothecary. He said giving her a poison to still her mind to sleep was dangerous. I spent all that night holding her in my arms.
When she finally came to consciousness, she shoved me away. She was screaming. She ran away from me then, running through the halls of the castle. I spent hours looking for her but never did. Her father’s castle holds many secrets. It still does, I am certain. I have no desire to discover any more of them now.
The next morning was when I found the letters. Letters from all over Shanri. Letters filled with the rumors of an illegitimate child. Letters stained with her blood and her tears. In the morning she was well enough again, and I showed her the letters. She swore to me the rumors were false, that Lady Shara was simply trying to attack her with words since Swords had failed her. Like a faithful lover, I believed her.

It was another night of wandering and gibberish. My fears were forefront in my mind. I got no sleep that night. And the next day, Tomas came to the castle. Swathed in red and yellow.
When I saw him, my fears for Ismene were eclipsed. I know now that I have never been afraid of any man as I was of Tomas Yvarai that day. At the foot of her gates, he screamed Ismene’s name.
I wanted to go out to meet him, perhaps cool his temper, but Ismene begged me to stay inside. “He will kill you!” she told me. “Please, Shajar! Do not go! He will kill us both!” I sent out my valet to speak to Tomas. Tomas killed before the man could say a word. And so, I went into the courtyard behind the safety of her gate and spoke with him.
“Bring out the slut who calls herself my sister,” he commanded me.
I asked him, “What do you want with my wife?”

“Your wife?” he yelled. “Your wife?” He turned his head up to the windows, yelling at Ismene. “You lying harlot! You don’t know! I told you to find out his name. You did not, I know you did not!”

“What has she not told me?” I asked him.
Tomas Yvarai smiled at me then. I had seen that smile before. A gift he gave to jealous husbands and lovers. I felt my blood freeze in my bones.
“You are going to die, boy,” he told me. “I will find my way into my father’s castle through doors so secret even your… wife… does not know them. And then, I will kill you. But before you do, I will tell you a secret. And that secret will wound you deeper than any Injury my Sword can give you. And then, when you are cold and dead, I will kill your… wife. And there is nothing you can do to stop me.”
Then, he turned and walked away.
I ran up to Ismene and demanded the truth. She just stared at me, her eyes fully mad. I grabbed her by the shoulders and she ripped away from me, using her nails against my skin. She was deep into madness now. There was no rescue for her. I was to lose two wives. My only hope now was to make sure they did not both die to murder.
As night approached, I found my Sword. I also found Ismene there with it. She had regained some of her composure, a pure red gown hung on her slender frame. Her hair was tied up high above her head and she was holding my Sword. “You cannot defeat him,” she said. “You’ve never even fought a duel.”
I took the Sword from her. “I have your love to protect me,” I told her.
Her eyes swelled with tears and I thought she would cry again. But she laughed instead. “Yes,” she said, “you have that. I would murder Tomas a thousand times over to keep you safe. If I thought it would protect you, I would even kill myself. Tomas believed I would kill you to protect… you. He was wrong. There are some loves even the Prince of Rakes cannot understand. Death aplenty to keep you safe, even my own.”
“Hush,” I told her, putting a finger on her lips. “Do not say such things. I love you and could never be happy without you.”

Ismene made a sound, somewhere between a laugh and a sob. She took my face in both her hands, and pierced me with her gaze “No matter what happens tomorrow or the next day or the next, I want you to remember one thing. Never doubt it, ever. You, Shajar Tomas Thorne, are the only person I have ever truly loved.”
In that moment, staring into her eyes, I could see she was sane. And I knew she was telling the truth. It only lasted that moment, though.
Hours later, Tomas found us, Sword in hand. He said nothing. I drew my own Sword and attempted to parry his first strike. I failed and my blood found the floor. I attempted to parry his second strike. I succeeded, but failed to catch his riposte. Again, I bled.
I failed and failed and failed. He was killing me with tiny cuts. I had seen this before. This was the way he committed murder. He enjoyed it. Every cut reminded me that he could have killed me then. He did not need to say anything. I knew it. Had seen it before. Would never see it again.
As he prepared for the final blow, Ismene screamed his name. Her voice caught his attention for just a moment, and I struck. My blow was weak and poorly aimed and he parried it immediately, but the tip of my blade caught the back of his wrist and ripped flesh. His blood oozed out onto his hand. And Ismene began to laugh. “You lose,” she screeched. “You lose again!”
Tomas kicked me to the ground. The Sword fell from my hand. I could hold it no longer. I was his. I prayed to the Sua’ven for assistance, knowing my doom was only a moment away…
… but it did not come.
My eyes were closed and I opened them. I saw Tomas standing above me looking at the open wound on his wrist. Then, he looked at Ismene. Then, he looked at my blade lying on the ground alone. I did not need to hear what he whispered for I knew the word well enough.
My wife, after all, was famous for many reasons.
He grabbed my blade from the ground and turned to Ismene. She screamed. I stumbled, trying to stop him, but my Injuries were to great. He stumbled then, falling to the floor. But he looked up at his sister as she laughed. And then, he grabbed her and they struggled for only a moment. As I watched them, they looked like lovers tumbling together in a violent game, each fighting to top the other. And then Tomas raised the Sword in his hand and thrust it down upon her. I heard the sound of steel and flesh. I heard the sound of the Sword piercing the wood below her body. I saw him put both hands on the blade and push it further down. And I heard Tomas screaming the word “Die!” over and over and over again. Ismene’s hands were at his face, ripping deep into his skin. And then, her hands trembled. And then, as she looked at me with an incomprehensible expression, they fell to her side.
And Tomas fell back. He slumped to the ground. His eyes were nearly dim. His breath was shallow and wheezing. And there, beside his sister, he died.
Her Apothecary treated my wounds. The Injuries Tomas gave me were many, but small, and I recovered quickly. I left the castle behind. Not even the best Swordsmith in all of Shan’ri could repair the damage done to my blade. I do not know what happened to their bodies. I assume the servants burned them, as is our custom. I left them both behind.
I have included with this testimony the entire correspondence between Ismene and Tomas Yvarai. I have read them all, and there is one, terrible conclusion I must draw from them. No doubt it is the same conclusion you shall draw when you have read them all. Some have wondered aloud at their strangely close relationship. Now they may see it for themselves and draw their own conclusions.
To any who have further doubt, I confronted Sophias Thorne at her home. I demanded she tell me the name she whispered to me at birth. After a long afternoon of questioning, she admitted she could not. She attempted to explain, but I did not need to hear it. I know now the truth about myself, that I have been nothing but a pawn in a blood-soaked game of lust, love, revenge and tears.
There are many who would cast judgment on Tomas and Ismene. I say to them that they do not see the walls of their own homes and the blood baked into the mortar which holds them up. Tomas was my friend and Ismene my lover and wife. I loved them both. What drove them to madness was not of their own minds, but an extension of the endless, bloody games the Senators play in that damned dome. I have been both a participant and a victim in those games, nearly driven mad myself. If you seek to find the cause of the Yvarai siblings’ madness, I suggest you might find it in your own hearts.
And now, my testimony has concluded. I intend to wear the black. I also, with the permission of the Senate, wish to no longer be known as Shajar Thorne. I relinquish all my lands and holdings to whomever has the strength to take them. I shall spend the rest of my days fulfilling my father’s blood as a roadman and landless Falcon.
bravo, sir. Bravo.
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A distinctly enjoyable read.
thanks OP. i meant to go to bed TWO HOURS AGO.
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Great job, OP. Very commendable.
>Siblings Yvarai Correspondence
>vote, dammit
I must say, that ended much differently than I expected it would at the start.
OP I am in awe, so much so I just purchased a pdf copy of this game because god damn this was an awesome read.
>OP concludes his story with a post titled "In conclusion, Fuck John Wick"
>Give John Wick money because thread was good.


nah, it's cool.
That was fucking incredible. Fucking. Incredible. Well done, OP. Well fucking done.
Good lord that was a good read.
What happened to the second post?

Also, why have I never even heard of Houses of the Blooded before?
OP what the hell have you done to me emotionally?

I just wanted the brother and sister to get married and fall in love. That's all I wanted, and this is what you've done to me.

Great writing OP, I fucking loved it.

Okay, just realized OP didn't write this. But still, fucking amazing. It's almost 4am and I can't go to bed now. Goddamn it. I guess I picked a great day to venture onto /tg/ for the first time.
Can't upvote it hard enough.

Thanks to whoever submitted it to the archive.

Unfortunately, it's the nature of the setting of Houses of the Blooded for stories like this to end in such a bloody fashion. It's one of those settings where it's probably far better to write stories about rather than actually roleplay in, due to the clash between the nature of the setting and the standard RPG group desire to work together rather than be constantly planning each others downfall in game but be civil about it outside of the game.

Having the protégé turn out to be the sister's illegitimate son was a good twist though.
I just finished reading this.

It was extremely enjoyable, and haunting.

If it weren't for the fact that it relies on a lot of knowledge of the setting, I'd say it would make for a good film.
Stop bumping your shitty fapfic.
Why are you upvoting things that the OP copy and pasted from John Wick's website?
The story itself doesn't really rely on the setting that much. More like just references it for flavor.

Aristocratic intrigues full of sex and murder can easily be adapted to any sort of fictionalized late-medieval/early-renaissance setting.
Just received my Wilderness book today. Should we turn this into a Houses of the Blooded thread? I'm not sure how I feel about some of the new resources and I don't know about you guys, but refering to Shanri as a Republic bothers me somehow.

(I was going to post a pic of my HotB collection, but we've reached the image limit).
>mfw I read this story
I have no face for this.

OP, the pic you started this thread with is very misleading. This isn't about cute girls doing cute things at all.
But that is what it is, Senate and all.
Yet, nowhere in the corebook is ever mentioned as such. Bumping every now and then into "the Republic" while reading Wilderness felt out of place for me.

On the plus side, House of the Boar is much, much more interesting than the House of the Horse. The demonology part... that I didn't care much about to be honest.
You, sir, have no taste at all.

Poisoning people is cute as fuck.
>Should we turn this into a Houses of the Blooded thread?
I don't see how considering that no one can even play the thing.
oh man. I love /tg/
and I love you OP.
>See the twist coming the moment shajar is introduced
>Still mfw the inevitable happens
Kinda makes me wish I had a sibling, to be honest.

I feel like I've missed out on a lot of potentially murderous antics being an only child.
>most decent, honest character in the entire story
>still murder his entire household staff just in case

This setting.
I definitely get a South-East Asia vibe from the culture of this setting.

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