|Ashur|| A light breaks across El Dorado as the sun crests the eastern horizon. Clouds spread like butter across a pale sky illum with golden-red hues, blanketing the region in a gentlewarm glow. On this morning, at least, there's a tranquility in the air, a sense of peace unbroken by mayoral indiscretions, far-off raids, or domestic dispute.
But one man is as conflicted as the desert birdsong he interrupts is harmonious. His presence rumbles like distant thunder, silencing their cries, as he makes his way within the church. He seems ill-placed: while the church might be ambiguously non-denominational, it is nevertheless a church, not a Roman temple; it is a house of peace and healing, not blood-sacrifice. The brute, scarred and handsome, with the huge gnarled hands and the thick chalk-whitened toga, clearly does not belong.
Nevertheless, he walks, his boots stomping out a staccato rhythm on the floorboards. "I seek one of the," he begins, voice resounding, "priestesses here. Come, girls; I've need of you."
He waits a moment. Then sits on a pew.
|Tina||The echoes are Ashur's only answer for a minute or two. Then a red-clad nun emerges from one of the doorways flanking the stage and the pulpit, hastily straightening her tabard and tucking a few stray wisps of pale blonde hair beneath her cowl. "So sorry to keep you waiting, Mr. Ashur... I was getting ready for the early services," she explains, blushing faintly. "Anyway, you said you needed us. Sister Neva is indisposed, but I am free for a while. How may I help you?" she asks softly.|
|Ashur|| "Ah, the beautiful nun," Ashur comments in blunt praise, waving a hand to gesture to an open space adjacent him. "I have not met your sister; is it normal for kin in your religion to take to the church together, and serve together?" The man scratches at a knot of scarred flesh on his chest, the mark of a heavy claw cutting beneath the right breast-- and above it, in a patch of naked flesh that's burnt away the thick chest hairs there, is a hot to the touch hand print seared onto the war god's person.
"Sit," he commands, watching her, and waits for her to do so. She'll be forced to find some place not within his grasp as he spreads and takes up space; the man is a mountain, after all, and looms possessively over the fixtures. "Tell me about demons."
|Tina||"Oh! I'm sorry... I should have clarified, I think. She's not my blood sister, but my spiritual sister, in the same way that all members of the Church are brothers and sisters in faith," Tina explains hastily, still blushing. "Though I have heard of family members joining the service together, even if they do not serve together."
She finds a spot to sit just barely beyond his reach, at least for the moment. "That's a terrible wound... how did you get that? And does it have anything to do with your question about demons?" she asks, shivering.
|Ashur|| "Spiritual sisters, not blood," he acknowledges, staring at Tina with unsubtle appreciation. The man is not physically aggressive-- indeed, he is sitting on a bench in a church, relaxed and wounded. Nevertheless, there's an intensity to the narrowness of those golden eyes, and how little they blink when stripping away the nun's concealing attire. "I understand that well. When family is so precious and so easily lost, it is easy to crave a broader fellowship."
The print of the hand is clear and unambiguously human: the separation of fingers is clear, and it has a raw burnt slow-healing look to it. The hairs not burned away by it are charred by the heat, and break when he scratches them. "There is an evil place, my Tina," he rumbles, "to the west. A curse lies upon it, and I seek to know and break it; but before that happens, I am ignorant as to the nature of the magical, the spiritual. Ever have I been a soldier-- a man fashioned for a world base and material. What do I know of the spirit-stuff Mars is made of?"
A grumble as he watches her. "I was wounded so in Dunwich."
|Tina||Tina starts to reach curiously and tentatively for the handprint, but masters herself and withdraws her hand apologetically. The intense regard he gives her keeps her blush rooted in her cheeks, and she has difficulty meeting his eyes. "I am afraid I know little of demons... only that they are creatures of evil, enemies of men and beasts alike, and they can possess the living, according to the Good Book. They can be cast out of those they possess, but I know not how. The Lord and his son could cast them out, but... well, they are the Lord and his only begotten son," she adds, as if that needs no further explanation. "Does that wound hurt? Maybe I can treat it somehow, so it will be less painful..."|
|Ashur|| The man slides closer and reaches for the nun's wrist. His touch is gentler than one might imagine, strong without being crushing; yet there's enough pull to it to make clear the ease with which that could change. "There is no need for such modesty, my Tina," he chastises lightly, and with another pull presses her hand to the print. Whatever wounded him was larger than her, to be sure-- her hand can press within the burn's silhouette and still be engulfed on all sides. The skin there is warm to the touch. As is the skin of his hand, which rests overtop hers.
"I have been burned before," he tells her, looking down at her with that intense gaze still. "But not like this. I came to Dunwich and my vision turned black; as if in a dream, I woke to glimpses of movement, of bodies through trees. I was dragged and my limbs bereft of all strength. I shouted with no voice; helpless as a child I was once more."
|Tina||Tina gasps softly as her hand is grasped and pulled to the handprint. Her eyes are still wide as she feels the burn under her hand, and the warmth of his hand over hers. "Y-you were rendered senseless, without any apparent cause? No attack or shot struck you?" she asks, working to understand. "And then someone, or several someones, dragged you away, and you could neither move nor speak?" She crosses herself with her free hand. "This has an air of something strange and unnatural... the Good Book mentions both ghosts and demons. Did you ever see who was dragging you away? And when were you burned?" She flexes her trapped hand, trying to gently draw it out from under his.|
|Ashur|| Beneath the burn, the man's heart beats with a steady vigor; the poor nun's trapped hand is forced to feel the hardness of his muscle as it thrums above that beat. There's a light in his eyes as they seize hers as hot as the hands. "The black turned to red; nightmarish visions assailed me. I heard speech, but not words-- none I could make sense of. And through it all, sharpening my dulled senses, an encroaching sense of fear, as oppressive as the falling sky. Eventually, I could move again, through great will and fury; I struck dead all those who surrounded me."
He feels the flex of her hand but his will proves the greater, for a moment-- her hand is squeezed, his thumb brushing across the row of her knuckles. Only then does he permit her to withdraw. "When my fury subsided, I looked to identify my enemies.. and there was nothing there. As if it had all been some trance of delusion-- yet beneath my armor, this burned hand."
|Tina||Tina's eyes lock with his. It's less that she can't break his gaze and more that she somehow has no will to try. "Visions, a sense of fear... it /does/ sound like something unnatural. And no bodies where your enemies had fallen. It may have been a fever-dream, or a nightmare. But that would not explain the burned handprint that left no mark on your armor..." She lightly cradles her hand to her breast, lightly rubbing its back with her free hand, as if trying to soothe a cramped hand. "It is quite a mystery."|
|Ashur|| "I, too, thought that-- that it was a vision. I thought even that it was a foul air; some gas or vapor, unnoticed, leaking from the earth, or some ruin of the old world, and poisoning my thoughts." He breaks eye contact for a moment and looks aside, soaking in the decor of this palace of worship; the symbols and the effigies, the cross mounted on the wall above the dais. Who is that man in the faded painting with such gentle eyes?
His attention returns to her. He shrugs one arm over the back of the bench-- how poorly he fits upon it, bursting with muscle and size, spilling over every edge-- and lazily traces a finger along her veil. "What is the purpose of this?" He asks with an impulsive curiosity. "To conceal yourself. Does your God demand his women be unseen by men, my Tina?"
A moment's wait for the answer, and then he continues on. "But as you note, delusion does not explain injury. There are explanations, of course-- perhaps I lost consciousness from the fumes, and while asleep, someone held a metal hand to a fire and pressed it to my chest. After stripping me of my armor. Then they put it back on, and took none of my belongings."
He is skeptical-- it shows in the beast's tone and the furrow of his brow.
|Tina||"It may have been a mere mind game by living people. But you don't think that is what happened to you... and neither do I. It makes no sense. Besides, isn't taking armor off a lot of work? Putting it back on would seem to be even more. And then they would have to get all of your equipment back on as it had been. It seems like so much trouble just to play a vicious practical joke, or even to send a warning," Tina muses. "No, that can't be it."
She feels her eyes half-lidding at that touch of a finger, even through her inner veil. She can't help an annoyed little glare at his question, a look that is probably more adorable than intimidating. "No, He does not... we dress modestly so that we present a chaste and solemn visage to the world. A symbol of our disregard of the physical pleasures in favor of spiritual focus and our devotion to our fellow men and women. Why? Does it bother you?"
|Ashur|| "It beggars belief to think so much effort would be put into a cruel joke," he agrees, "and so I do not believe that. I have seen more than that in Dunwich; the dead reaching up their graves, ghostly voices, phantasms of things I-- of things that should not be seen." His mouth shapes itself to a frown, eyes scowling at some unvoiced memory. "It is a cursed land. A beast I faced there showed nightmarish taint; a deathclaw, greater than others, whose very skin could expel flames. Such is why I sought you out, my Tina-- I know little of these things, and the Legion did not share your God.. but people know that the church understands evil spirits. The church and the tribals."
At her question he chuckles, and with an indolent forcefulness, curls his fingers around the base of the veils, taking them off. "You believe he made you, do you not? He would not have made women beautiful if they were meant to be hidden."
|Tina||Tina shivers, more violently this time, and crosses herself again while whispering a brief prayer. "I did not think such a twisted and evil place could exist here... perhaps I should have known better. It's true that the Church knows a little about such evil creatures, but I regret that I am only a nun, and not a scholar of such things. I am truly sorry that I cannot help you more..."
She trails off as he tugs her veils over her head, gasping in shock as her whole head is exposed, and her blonde hair and braid severely ruffled in the process. "Stop!" she cries breathlessly. "What are you doing?"
|Ashur||His response to her breathless panic is a total calm-- in control of himself and the situation. "Quiet," he tells her, and as her blonde hair is exposed he takes a moment to examine her with a more critical eye. The stray locks that stand on end from the sliding of the fabric, the long thick braids so pale blonde they almost look white-- a fitting complement to her storm-gray eyes. "You are as a doll, my Tina; as I thought, there is no God who would desire you hidden." A finger traces along her cheek, brushing aside an errant pale-silver strand. "You could steal men's hearts with nary an effort; what compels you to a life of modesty and humility and isolation?"|
|Tina||Tina stares back at him, wide-eyed and breathless in spite of herself. She doesn't try to take her veils back from him. What could she do against such a man as this? Instead, she starts to draw back, but finds the side of the pew up against her back almost instantly. "Please... stop. I am... I am not that sort of person. The Church saved me when I was lost and alone... gave me a new life, a new purpose. Someplace where I was wanted... needed. It is only right that I give back to it. To temp men's hearts with a pretty face and a coy smile... it isn't right for a Sister to do such things. It is not our way. Please understand that."|
|Ashur||He slides forward as she slips back; and while the pew prevents her retreat, there is nothing but the space between their bodies to slow him. His movements are slow, languid, a cat cornering a mouse-- her veils are now discarded behind him, forgotten on the seat. "What is your way, my Tina?" His question lingers there as a heavy hand cups her cheek; the fingertips caress her hairline, while the lower parts flutter along the side of her eye. The hand is large enough to cradle the whole of her face. "A pretty, lonely doll, tucked away in an old building like a child's favored toy in a chest; that is not what a girl is for, my Tina. Don't you know that?"|
|Tina||Tina shakes her head, though his hand prevents her from moving it very far in either direction. "To pray, to serve my Church, and to seek a better way of life... to help other people in need... that is my way, Mister Ashur," she manages, calmly, though she remains a little breathless. "Could you please remove your hand now? And no, I don't know that. Perhaps you should tell me. Just know that I may not agree with you. Actually, I almost definitely won't," she says, meeting his eyes firmly now.|
|Ashur|| When she finally meets his eyes, that rebellious spark inspires two feelings: anger and amusement. To be defied by a woman chafes, yet-- yet that show of spirit, a sudden willfulness from the petite bombshell, seems so completely at odds with her demure appearance that the contrast forces him to smile. She asks him to remove his hand and he does not immediately; it lowers, his fingers brushing the side of her mouth and lips, thumb ticklishly gliding along the smooth hollow of her throat-- and then the touch is at an end. She is free of him, though he still looms near, so much bigger than her.
"A woman's purpose is to nurture life; to know the ways of the body and the earth and the spirit, that ills might be banished and wisdom gained. They are made to accept men inside them, submitting to penetration, to conquest; and so conquered, they are made to loyally follow." He leans back and the corner of his mouth quirks in half-smile. His eyes never slip from hers. "That, my Tina, is true purpose; the nature of woman as set down by your God."
|Tina||"To accept /one/ man... her husband. That is what the Good Book says," Tina replies, frowning faintly as the touch is so slowly withdrawn. And still blushing. "But to marry requires consent from both man and woman. Not to be rude, but I doubt I will ever marry you, Mister Ashur. Besides, don't you have your girls to take care of?"|
|Ashur||"They are well taken care of," Ashur remarks, watching the warm color spread through the doll's pale cheeks. "And so will they always be. A man has his role, too, my little Tina-- to protect, to discipline, to guide. You will meet them soon enough; they will show you a woman's happiness." The fingers that brushed her lips brush next through his beard, combing it down as he undresses her with his eyes. "But you are right. A girl must not accept any man; she is meant for one. And you, sweet Tina, for me. Come, spend time with me; I am idle today. Your doubts will be banished."|
|Tina||"I have little doubt of their comfort or their happiness. I have met two of them, and they seemed well taken care of. But I doubt I am meant to share their happiness or comfort, so I must refuse. My calling requires it," Tina says softly. "Though I do not refuse without some small regret. But I must refuse all the same. I'm sorry."|
|Ashur|| The bull of a man stares down at the small holy woman, and when he smiles, there's teeth. "No," he corrects her, in utterly dumbfounding rejection of her claims. "You have a higher calling than this; I will make you mine, priestess." He leans away from her, seizes her veil, and as he rises to his feet his shadow falls over her in a great dark wave. He reaches down and affixes it back upon her head-- though she'll need to adjust it to make it fit right. And as he does, there's another brush of his strong fingers along her cheek and her lips, as if committing the feel of her to memory. "I intend to venture forth to Dunwich once more today; that is why I called upon you so early. I will visit you again this evening, my Tina. Be ready for me."
With that, Ashur turns upon a booted heel, his heavy toga swirling lightly against his legs, and makes for the church entrance.
|Tina||Tina forces herself not to flinch away from his touch, adjusting her veils as he proclaims his intentions. "Blessings and protection to you then, Mister Ashur," she says, by way of farewell. "If you have need of advice or counsel when you return, I will try to help you if I can at all."
As he turns and makes his way for the door, she shakes her head. "I wonder if Dunwich might give him a cold shower instead of a hot hand this time..."