aralli: (aniseed)
Wow! Another amazing game - and an intensely powerful, and I think overall positive, experience for Aniseed. Thank you to everyone.

Below is Aniseed's prayer from the first game. There is a big fat trigger warning on it: it has graphic descriptions of violence and gore, very dark themes, self-harm and attempted suicide.

Thank you, Hannah, for coming up with this. She unknowingly hit trigger points for Aniseed again and again, as there's a lot of stuff I've written for her but which hasn't been worth sharing.

Aniseed's prayer

My body feels more normal now. My arm aches, but the tightness in my chest has been eased by smiles and laughter, and I'm able to take belly-deep breaths as I kneel in the mulch to pray.

I turn the pages of my book, looking for the patrollee's prayer I always start with. I have many prayers written in here, notes from sermons, and the instructions for the very first healing I ever learned. Later come the pleas for forgiveness and mercy that I've collected over the past year. I think I'm going to lean on them heavily today.

Lady of Justice, hear my prayer. I place myself before you ...

The steady rhythm of the words, which I have said hundreds of times by now, is soothing. I feel my focus narrow, the sounds around me fading out, leaving the words on the page, the warmth in my body, and that sense of opening up to the sky and trying to spread my mind and heart and listen.

The children are still in my thoughts, but I am calmer now. The emotions are at bay unless I invite them forwards.

I finish the patrollee's prayer with the traditional words: with faith, I serve. My fingers fumble over the pages, flicking through for the next words to say.

The page turns. It does not carry a prayer.

It's one of my better drawings. My favourite style, with crisp lines and minimal, clean shading. The setting is a forest, but the figure in the middle stands out starkly. A girl with long hair, her child's face contorted with rage, her legs a bloody mess. She tries to swing a sword, but her face is so bloodless that there are smudges beneath her eyes. Her life is pooled beneath her, dark and potent. She's going to die soon.

I know this girl. A week ago, I was trying to draw her, but my memories wouldn't cooperate. She had just been a blur, a recollection of screaming and blades, her face unseen. I'd cried with frustration, unable to show her the simple respect of remembering who she'd been.

But I turn the page again, and there are more drawings. Instead of the jumble of incongruent features - old eyes, young mouths, gawky adolescent limbs, all together - I have captured them all unambiguously. It's rare for me to be able to be this consistently good. I'm not sure what's changed.

She did. I start to feel something cold in the pit of my stomach. She was blocking me, with guilt and shame. When I lifted those - when I admitted the truth - it all came back, and the pencil was alive in my hand. I could draw them, beautifully, as long as I remembered: I had enjoyed it.

The cold thing in my gut feels hot now, and it's twisting about, fear and excitement both at once. This doesn't feel right, and something in the back of my head is confused and trying to form a protest, but I can remember doing these drawings now. I can remember how being honest opened me up. Freed me. Gave me talent.

I skim through the children of the Prince's Vale, my insides coiling tense with anticipation for each one. My face feels strange; the muscles ache like I'm grimacing, like I'm upset, but that doesn't match with what's coming down from my mind. I'm proud of my work. And what better place for it but here, in my prayer book? I have replaced the imprisoning words with the proof of my own strength.

I couldn't draw them, I remember. I tried and I couldn't. I cried and I hated it but they never got onto the page.

That makes sense. That is real. The rest just flows out like logic.

Until I let myself realise I liked it. Until I stopped her from filling me with guilt. Until I let myself be what I really am.

The next page isn't some strange, unknown child met once upon a patrol.

Warmth blossoms as I look at the picture of Arphenion. His young, serious face is just as I remember it; there's something studious about it even in slumber. Fen's asleep on a pillow, a book near one of his hands. His throat is clean, which let me clearly capture the texture as skin gave way to muscle, the glisten of his windpipe and the little bits of pink foam that had been shifted when I put him to bed, the rough start to the wound and the way the cut became cleaner and smoother as I put more strength into it.

Cuthalion rests on the next page, curled on his side, mouth half-parted and his soft young hair messy and sticking out in odd directions. He has a smattering of freckles along his jaw and under his chin; they grow more frequent and dense until we get to the second open mouth. This one isn't natural, and blood has got onto the sheets, but I can see how I got all the way to the backbone, even with just a few simple lines to create the image And the freckles which splay out from his throat are painted in his blood.

I am revulsed. I don't know why. It wasn't as if it was really my fault. They'd been arguing back and forth, driving me insane, and I'd had the knife handy. Fen was easy, because I took him by surprise. I had to grab Al and hold him firmly to stop him from struggling. Afterwards, I cleaned Fen up and put them both to bed, took out my sketchbook, and started to draw. Marshal Liana would love to see portraits of her children, asleep in their beds, where nothing would ever worry them anymore. I feel the glow of pride.

It's cut by something sharp. I have a knife in my hand again, but this time I'm gripping the blade, pushing it against my thumb from the ball of my hand to the very tip. The pain is a piercing sting. I think it's trying to tell me something. I'm in a forest right now. I'm kneeling. But I have my book in front of me, all the evidence of the wonderful terrible artwork I've created. Even so, I'm squeezing the knife tighter. It's starting to make me feel unwell. It's kind of like guilt.

But that's stupid. I try to laugh it off, but my voice sounds far too much like a sob. Something's not right here. I release the knife and turn the page.

Now this ... this I can be proud of.

Jonn is seventeen, and taller than me. He has longer lashes, but the same nose, and we're both skinny. My little brother was apprenticed to a jeweller, but he couldn't make anything as beautiful as what I made out of him. I'm a damn good healer, and I knew exactly how to make things last. I took my time, there in the kitchen, turning Jonn into an angel with his features painted in his blood. I moved the kitchen table and hung him from the rafters, peeling the skin from his back to make the wings, accenting his features with my red-brown paint. He was still living when he first spread his feathers.

I would never. I did it. I love him. I enjoyed it.

His name tumbles out of my mouth. I can taste tears. There is a pressure building inside of me, shoving my stomach and intestines down into my pelvis, squeezing my lungs against my ribs, pushing my heart up into my throat to stifle my breath. The centre of my body feels black and is full of tar. I am swollen and bulging with whatever is inside, and it is forcing me to cry.

I'm frightened by what my body is doing. It hurts, it's in pain, it's trying to reject something. I feel like a fever trying to push an illness out through skin and sweat. I don't know why I feel like this. I am proud of myself. I have enjoyed my art. I have stood taller than I have in such a long time. I want this, so why am I pushing it away?

When I knelt, and opened my book, I opened my soul. I asked her to guide me - a foolish relic of a time when I was weak and blind. But she took the invitation. That is why my body is rejecting what I know I have embraced. That is why, despite having found my freedom in killing, I am now writhing on the ground, sobbing that I won't, don't want to, can't, when I know that it is all that I want.

But there will be freedom from this too.

I only have to think it, and she is there. That is what I am now. Though my body still churns, I armour it with my mind. I place cold black bracers on my arms, and a helm encloses my head. They are barbed on the inside. As they pierce my skin, blood does not run out. Instead, I feel the death slide in, entering my veins, infiltrating my flesh. The chaos takes my hands, moves my fingers for me. I summon my Lady of Justice, garbed in Anarchy.

She is not incandescent now. She does not scorch or even shine. Her flesh is real and grey. I stand before Justice, and she is mortal, and all the while I am growing in power.

I taste iron, and my vision goes red. My body still fights me. I have dragged my bloody hand across my face in despair. I must know that I am losing the fight against my freedom. This is what I am. No Defender. No Marshal. No priest of petty faith. I bring death and I bring suffering, and I revel in what I do. I have no need for gods.

She has trapped me for so long. Wound wires of guilt about my limbs and tightened them until they cut into my flesh and made my joints swell with gout. She has built walls to keep me trapped, never to be what I find joy in being. She casts cloaks of shame over my head, trying to blind me, make me cower under their weight.

But not anymore. I reach out, and close my black-veined hands around her throat. My body reaches out too; it is losing its pointless fight. I squeeze, and she gasps, and I watch her face as I choke the life from her.

I stop before she dies, feeling drunk and glorious. Her pulse throbs weakly beneath my thumb.

I cannot do this. A line of fire laces my throat. I drop my lady at my feet, my resolve, for a moment, wavering. I hesitate.

And plunge my hands into her chest.

Her heart is alive in my hands, and it pulses against my grip like it's trying to wriggle free. But I am the one who will find freedom. My fingers tighten and crush, and as her red heart's blood streams over my hands, I feel the black finally claim my own. Justice dies, and now no one can stop me.

I cannot do this? I have done it. And it makes me happier than I have ever known. No more guilt. No more shame. Just honesty with myself, and with the world: I love to kill, to strike, to tear and rend. There is no sweeter bliss than giving death. I have grown far beyond the silly girl I once was, who denied her bloodlust and told herself that the thrill of violence was wrong. Now I am exultant.

But, before I go out and take my fill of this ripe, vulnerable world, I have work to do.

I take the prayer book, and with my Lady's blood, I draw her. My hands around her throat, the light in her eyes fading. I do not even need to try to capture her on paper; the blood flows where I want it to go, guided by mind as well as hand. She takes shape, her mortality immortalised for me forever.

I smile.

I will not do this.

I fall upon my sword.

Sharp steel rends my stomach, and grinds against a rib. I shudder until my weight drives me against the crosspiece, and I slump to the side. Something hot is pumping out of me, my hands are clutching the point where sword and flesh join. I am screaming.

As someone hauls me round, the world dances before my eyes, and then goes black as the sword, still thrust through me, is yanked to the side. Even though it tears, I find myself thinking, This will not kill me. The pain is too low in my body. I got the angle wrong. I missed my blackened heart.

Hands, everywhere. Voices shouting. My body is pulled this way and that, still cradling four foot of steel, and my head thunks back against something hard. It didn't work. I am still alive. I am still a monster. The knowledge of what I am and what I want to do blooms large, growing with the hot, sticky blood on my stomach.

My body jerks. There is an empty place where the blade was, and then the throbbing blood rushes to fill it, rushes to meet the outside world. As I lose sight once again, stark realisation comes.

I did not kill Liana's children. I did not kill Jonn. I did not kill my lady. That was a monstrous nightmare.

But I have, at last, after a year of wishing and never having had the courage, tried to kill myself.

The tears come freely now. I sob and gasp and cry, not knowing the hands that hold me, not knowing where I am, lost and scared. I weep from fear, and from pain, and most of all from grief.

I want this to be a nightmare too. I want to stir and find myself unbroken and happy and whole. But I am shattered into a thousand twisted pieces, and I do not wake up.
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November 2014

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