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About Roen

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    A Free Sworn

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    Roen | Nabi
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  1. Cigarettes and Fireflies

    Nabi curled her fingers, her hand sinking into the softness of the blanket. She had all the comforts that a wealthy Doman lord could provide. A mattress beneath her that hugged her form, so soft it felt as if she was floating on clouds, and a pillow that nestled her horn and head, delicate as freshly spun silk. The guest bedroom within the Musa estate was far warmer than the cell she had been in for the last many suns within that mountain. The shoji doors lent soft lighting, diffusing the lantern illumination from the outside, and elaborately painted fusuma walls depicted tranquil scenes of waterfalls and koi swimming about, designed to allow the guests within to feel at ease. And yet Nabi felt colder and more alone than ever. She wanted to run back to that mountain, to the cell that she and Anchor had shared for the last many suns. With its single wooden table in the corner where she was allowed to do some alchemy work, concocting balms and crude recipes to help Anchor’s recovery. She could imagine that table in the corner of this empty vast room, and she saw herself sitting on the cot that Anchor had pulled up to the table for makeshift chair. She saw herself smiling even, as she worked to mix another bowl of gruel, and Anchor reaching over and feeding her a small bite of fish with his own hand. Anchor would call her daft for wanting to return to that place. But that single room within the mountain---sparse of any comforts other than a cot, a fur pelt, a hearth, and a table---was still the space that she and Anchor had shared, enduring everything that was thrown at them. Nei Uzuka had forced Anchor into acts of cruelty against her and Myuto, Elam Grave had demanded that she too wear that cursed collar around her neck, and the Curator had forced Anchor to use his gruesome enhancement to drain her blood and aether for his own experimentation. Nabi closed her hand into a fist, her eyes going to the arm that was still bandaged. She had nearly broken, twice, beneath the weight of the darkness within that mountain. She had willingly entered its depths to save Anchor’s life, anyway she could. But when faced with so much cruelty, she found that her resolve had limits. She had a flash of panic every time she tried to swallow through that ungiving metal circlet around her throat. After her aether was drained, she struggled to remain standing for long periods of time. Her arm ached whenever she tried to use her hand, and any time Grave visited her, he made her shudder from the depths of her bones with fear. But each time she felt herself failing in her determination, Anchor was there to help pick herself back up again. He challenged her the first time, asking if she was only going to last a few bells after entering the mountain. Nabi had felt guilty, ashamed that her courage had failed her so quickly, especially after realizing that she negated his suffering so she could satisfy her own need to see him. The second time he was so much more gentle. She had curled up into a ball, crying upon that cot. Her body was in pain and trembling uncontrollably; she was weak and drained, and wasn’t sure if she could keep going for either's sake. “Jus’ a tad longer,” Anchor had murmured softly. “Then it’s over. No more o’ this. No more.” He had climbed into the cot with her, pulling her tight against him, cocooning her with his body and the bear pelt to lend her his body heat. “There now. Stop your bloody shivering, aye?” Nabi could almost hear his tender whisper brush by her ear. Nabi pressed her lips tighter, slowly exhaling to calm the stirring within. No matter how silky and smooth Lord Musa’s bedding was, she found no rest here. There was no safety and peace that she felt within that pelt, as her shivering slowly came to a stop within Anchor’s embrace. When her crying finally had ceased, they had murmured softly to each other, her mind and spirit regaining some of its composure and strength again. “I was supposed to save you,” she had confessed, her cheeks flushed with shame at her weakness. Anchor snorted softly, although without any real derision. He paused thoughtfully, before he murmured, “...You ‘ave.” He brushed aside some of her locks, before he leaned in, lightly pressing his nose into the space between her horn and the back of her head. “Nabi,” he whispered her name, for the first time since they had met. “Before you left then, what did the sky look like?” Nabi felt her chest tighten as she recalled that question, the same way it had then under the pelt. He had been there, beneath that sunless and starless mountain, so much longer than she. And he was the one that was trying to pick her up as she struggled. “It was misty when I left Kugane,” Nabi answered him, trying to imagine as much details as she could of that last sun before arriving at the arena. “The air was moist, as if it wanted to rain. The sky was covered with clouds. Not the voluminous white billows that took fantastic shapes, but the ones that were smooth and spread even, like fine woven cloth. Although no rays of sunlight broke through, you could still see the soft glow where it waited just beyond.” She shifted where she laid, to gaze upon him. And his eyes remained steady on her, didn’t dart away as they usually did. “I’m certain it will be waiting for us when we leave this place,” she told him. “We will see it soon. I know it.” Nabi still felt that certainty, rooted deep within. It had come to her when she had bathed, upon the insistence of the Curator, that she be presentable for Lord Musa when his men came to fetch her. Only after the blood loss and aether drain, the heat of the bath nearly made her faint in the tub. That’s when Anchor held her, yet once again. She just gripped herself and the tub for balance, while he ran the washcloth over her, gently wiping away dirt, blood, and sweat of the last few suns. They didn’t need to exchange words. She trusted him implicitly. And in that moment, as warm water trickled down her back, and she could feel his breaths as he leaned in and gingerly ran that cloth over her skin, that she knew this wouldn’t, couldn’t be their last sun. Nabi was more certain than ever, that Anchor would win that final match on the morrow. That they would escape, with the help of Shael, Tserende, Myuto, and Ghoa. She didn’t know how, or what the plan was, only that she trusted them to carry it out. As much as she would do her part. As she lay in the guest bed of Lord Musa’s estate, she knew she was ready. She would attend the match tomorrow, sit on that dais next to the Doman lord as his “guest”, and watch Anchor face an opponent that had yet to suffer defeat. Grave wanted to see her wither, but Nabi would defy the Highlander, no matter how much he terrified her. Uzuka wanted to own and control Anchor, but he would slip through her fingers and find freedom. Musa wanted to use Anchor to manipulate the power upon the dais, but it would all come tumbling down tomorrow. The dais, their machinations, their hold over Anchor and herself. They'd be gone from their lives. As Nabi's gaze drifted about the details of the paintings of the fusama that decorated the room, her eyes landed on the picture of a lone samurai facing off against a fearsome dragon. And just as that warrior would stand against unimaginable odds, so would Anchor, and herself as well, with an unwavering faith in those she implicitly trusted. Anchor would win that fight. Shael and Tserende would be there to help them escape. Ghoa would manipulate what strings she could, and Myuto, even that little slave boy, would lend his strength and guide them out of that mountain. With everyone doing their part, how could she not? Nabi closed her eyes and forced herself to sleep. She had to rest. She needed all the strength she could muster for tomorrow. Tomorrow they would determine their fates.
  2. Nabi

    Album of cool art I've collected! Either commissions or just awesome art drawn by a very talented friend. (I am looking at your Ruen)
  3. Cigarettes and Fireflies

    Watching him breathe was something she had done many times. There was a strange sense of peace that settled upon Anchor’s visage when he slept, as though the bitter lines that often etched his face had forgotten to return during his time of rest. For that, Nabi was thankful. She sat by his bedside, hands clasped together as they rested on the edge of the cot that he had been laid in. His chest rose and fell beneath the heavy bear pelt that was draped over him, his skin finally showing signs of warmth beneath its shelter along with the relief given by the hearth in the room. For the entirety of the time that he had been here, Anchor's living conditions had been cruel and merciless. He was given no protection from the cold in this cavernous place, where the winter winds seeped through both stone and skin. When Elam Grave allowed Nabi to see Anchor after he won his match, one that had left him bleeding badly from multiple wounds, he had been left chained to a wall in a heat-deprived dungeon made of stone. Nabi shuddered at the memory, when she had first laid her eyes upon him beneath this mountain. It wasn’t the pool of blood around him, she had seen that in her nightmares. No. It was the weathering of his skin, the metal circlet that tightened around his neck, the burn marks beneath that unforgiving device, and his left arm that had a metal gauntlet that was forcibly attached as it pierced through his flesh. This grisly thing they called Enhancement. Anchor had been beaten, burnt, and bled. Evidence of punishment and suffering covered his entire body. Even now, after he had been healed to the best of her ability, and that abomination of a metal thing removed from his arm, his bruised cheek still looked sunken, his bones more prominent, his complexion ashen pale. And his body marred with scars of mended wounds. She had begged upon her knees to both the Curator and Lord Musa on behalf of Anchor. Elam Grave had been deaf to her pleas when she had implored him in Kugane. But here, in the fighting pits, there were other sponsors she could beseech. Men as powerful as Elam Grave. And the elderly Doman named Ieharu Musa, had shown interest. It was by his orders that the Curator agreed to remove the cursed gauntlet, to allow Anchor’s body to recover. She was also allowed to heal him and was given supplies to do so. Nabi knew there were other powers at play. Lord Musa likely had his own agenda for agreeing to let her help Anchor. But for now, she didn’t care. She just wanted to make sure Anchor lived. No matter what the cost. There was a pang deep within at the thought. How ignorant and naive she was. She knew Anchor would be livid in knowing she had come for him. But while she had only one thing in mind, to try and save him, what she did was the worst thing she could have done to him. Nabi felt another shiver run through her spine as the memory of his rage returned so clearly in her mind. He had grabbed her wrist and twisted it upwards, bringing her up to his face, his teeth bared and crimson with fresh blood. His eyes were wide with bitterness as he seethed, even as the chains that hung from his wrist rattled loudly. “And you says no more trouble!” he had screamed at her raggedly. “You betrayed my own, and you be thinkin' words be havin’ weight between us?! You think your life be havin’ weight after this now? You already thrown it away for me. You lay it forfeit. You forfeit mine. The moment ya be skippin’ in this place. You just too simple to realize!” His grip didn’t relent as he pushed and pulled at her. “Aye, and it alone might be worth it, wouldn't it? Lettin' the last light flicker from my eyes at chance to know your face when you learn what it all be for. That you'd finally know how it feels when all ya ever did was for nothin’. Meant nothin’ to a corpse. And meant nothin’ in face o’ your struggle.” Tears welled up in her eyes again as Nabi bowed her head, her clasped hands white in their tight grip. She finally understood. All the suffering, all the punishment that he had endured, he had done so, so she could live. And she had made it all meaningless, when she left the life he had bought for her with his blood, to try and come save him. Others have told her this, Brick, Tserende… but she didn’t want to listen, so desperate she was to try and help Anchor. Her need to see him freed blinded her to what her actions actually would do to him. She had not truly understood the weight of that sacrifice until she had witnessed his torment, and saw the agony in his eyes in the realization that it would all be for nothing. That depthless void of regret and sorrow threatened to take her again. She dug her thumb into her bandaged palm, letting that pain bring her thoughts back into focus. He was still here. He still lived. What she may have done to him might be unforgivable, but there wasn’t anything she could do now to undo it. Now she just had to see it through. She had to see him out of here, alive. Whatever it took.
  4. Characters Singing Voice/Speaking Voice?

    I find that finding actual speaking voice for a character is REALLY HARD! But this one below comes close in quality both voice and singing for Nabi: [video=youtube]
  5. Cigarettes and Fireflies

    Nabi pulled her wool cloak in tighter. The fog had been so thick throughout the entire morning and afternoon, she hadn’t seen a single shaft of sunlight break through. It had made her all the more nervous, and she didn’t know if she shivered from the anxiety or the cool mist that was seeping in through her clothes. “Elam has instructed me to extend to you a different sort of 'offer', if it could be called such. He wishes for me to bring you along to the fighting pits in a few suns time, for Anchor's next fight." As Ghoa’s words drifted into her thoughts, Nabi gave a sidelong glance to the Xaela who sat in the same carriage as she did. The woman gave her a reassuring smile when their eyes met, but it did little to calm her quivering stomach. It was Ghoa who had relayed the message of this invitation, after she had admitted to Nabi about working for Elam for the last many moons. That truth had hurt; Nabi was ready to flee from that meeting, shaken by the knowledge of the woman’s betrayal. The beautiful and worldly woman that Nabi had long admired had been working for the man who had orchestrated her worst nightmare. And yet, here she was, drawing at least some measure of comfort from the same woman’s presence. Was it her belated forthrightness? Or her willingness to help her? Her ability to help Anchor? The last had at least held Nabi at bay, preventing her from leaving as soon as the truth was revealed. But as they continued to talk, Nabi could see that Ghoa’s intentions were earnest. She saw regret and compassion in the pale silver eyes of the other Xaela. At least, Nabi had to believe she did. Ghoa was her chance. It was through Ghoa that she was going to see Anchor, even if it was just to watch him fight for his life. Elam had wished her to come and watch, and used Ghoa to bring her. "I'm certain that no small part of the reason is to cause you pain by watching it. You have vexed him quite a lot. He also mentioned that should Anchor win his fight, he is considering allowing you to see him. Not as a measure of goodwill, of course. Rather, I feel he intends to use the opportunity to test Anchor's resolve." Nabi tucked her hands into the folds of her cloak, fingers lightly rubbing over her wrist. There hung her silver and gold woven bracelet but with a small bauble attached to it. Her fingers glided over the ornament, lightly rubbing it as it rolled beneath her touch. She had accepted the invitation, of course. How could she not? This was a chance to see with her own eyes that Anchor still lived. And if she was able to see him, get close enough… Nabi glanced outside the small window of the carriage. Ghoa had prepared her for what to expect, at least to some degree. That the Xaela was invited to the match by another “sponsor”, a Doman lord by the name of Hikomoro Ishiku. He had sent a caravan and six armed escorts to meet Ghoa at the docks of Yanxia, and to bring her and Nabi to the mountain where the matches were held. None of the guards gave a second glance to the two petite au ra. They were there to protect the two guests of their master. Ghoa had said that this Hikomoro was one of the sponsors of these fighting pits. Just like Elam Grave. Nabi could only guess how the man accumulated his power and wealth. It made her shiver again. "I've not heard someone more set on walking themselves into foolish, needlessly dangerous situations before." Tserende’s disapproving voice and gaze were still so clear in her memory. He had opposed her decision to accept Ghoa and Elam’s invitation. Of course he would. He only worried for her safety. He had advised her against trying anything impulsive to help Anchor, no matter how difficult it was for her to do nothing. When she had confessed to both he and Shael that she had offered to surrender herself to Elam, in exchange for Anchor’s freedom, his usually cordial demeanor shifted to something more sharp, his eyes icy. "You did not think that we would suffer for your brash, arrogant, and uninformed decision if it worked as you had hoped? Do we matter that little to you, or do you believe that you matter so little to us?" Those words still panged her. He and Shael had been so angry at the revelation. Nabi could still feel the phantom tingle on her cheek at the slap that had come from Shael. Now she realized that her decision was very much like what was bestowed onto herself. No choice was given, no warning, just someone else giving themselves up regardless of danger, for another’s sake. She couldn’t live with it, how did she expect the same of Tserende and Shael? "He told me to tell you he was dead. He doesn't want you thinking about him. Or languishing about it. He doesn't care." Shael had found Anchor and had even spoken to him. She shared the fact that his life hung in the balance from match to match in the fighting pits, and even relayed to Nabi what he had said. Her warning to Nabi was her attempt at trying to give the woman some comfort in the way of distancing herself from the person who caused her so much worry. But Nabi knew. Even if she had only stayed with the man for less than a moon, even if the circumstances of their shared time was forced and under duress, she knew those weren’t the true intent of his words. The caravan jerked to one side to draw her attention back to the outside. Looming before them was an imposing view of a mountain that was growing ever in size the closer they approached. With one final turn of the narrow road, a dark yawning cave opened up in front of them. Nabi could see people meandering in, and as Ghoa had warned her, there were guards at the entrance checking each attendee. Even as their caravan slowly came to a stop and one of the guards opened the door to allow the two Xaelas to exit, Nabi’s eyes went to the gaping maw of a cave at the base of the mountain. Others were clamoring to get in, but the sight chilled Nabi to the bone. This was where Elam Grave had thrown Anchor into, to fight for his life. This was where men like Grave did as they wished. "The fighting could get very intense. There is... no guarantee that Anchor will even survive it. You need to steel yourself for this, whatever the outcome. Even if he should fall, there's no reason either or both of us should follow right on his heels by making a foolish mistake." As her feet touched the ground, Nabi put one hand upon her stomach, trying to calm her nerves. She had chosen to come here. Against the advice of those more careful and wise, against the wishes of those who wanted to keep her from harm. But she could not stay safely tucked away. Not while someone else suffered in her stead. The guards led them to the mouth of the entrance, where another guard motioned her to lift her arms, while his hands patted and groped her to make certain no weapons were hidden. Nabi wasn’t sure how she did not tremble, but they let her pass after the search, just as they did with Ghoa. Then a cold wind brushed past them all, wailing into the dark hollow in front of them. Nabi stood still, her courage threatening to falter, until Ghoa look her hand and gently led her in. “Listen only to what your instincts tell you is right, not the words of those looking to protect you, however well-meaning they are.” Ghoa’s earlier advice echoed distantly in Nabi’s ears. “Don't allow yourself to become a spectator to your own life.” She had chosen to come. She had failed before in saving him. She couldn’t fail again. “Does he matter to you that much...?" Nabi could not answer Shael when she had asked that. Only tears came forth. Despair and desperation had held her thoughts hostage then. Now that she was standing here, dread and uncertainty weighing every step, she could hear Anchor’s voice. He would be furious if he knew. "You got ones like you. That go sniffin', and diggin', and explorin' them darker corners. And then you got the one's that were bred there. You ain't see the true piss of this world. Its people. You's hardly even had a taste. You saw a peek in from the muddy window." He had warned her. It seemed so long ago now. She had taken his words to heart; she thought she would follow on her promise to exercise caution. "Ya said you wasn't to make anymore trouble,” his raspy voice flitted by her ear, the last rational voice trying to stop her. It was tinged with torment. I am sorry. Nabi wanted to tell him. I am about to break that promise. Nabi followed Ghoa into the dark belly of the mountain, toward the distant roars and the cheers that was rumbling forth and starting to vibrate through the cavern walls.
  6. Cigarettes and Fireflies

    Nabi squeezed her hand firmly, pressing the nail of her thumb hard into the palm of her other hand as they were both clasped in front of her abdomen. It was easier to calm the fluttering in her stomach by concentrating on the pain. Her body wanted to shudder with dread, her instincts screaming for her to flee. As she made her way up the floors of the Hostelry, where she knew Elam Grave to be dining, she had to focus on her steps, so that she did not stumble on the stairs from her nervousness. She began to see armored men, standing idly by the walls as she ascended, giving her a once-over. The first one reached for his ear, muttering something low. All eyes seemed on her. There was fear that gripped her heart and threatened to steal her breath, and a part of her wondered if she had ever been this scared before. She nearly faltered in her stride when she remembered: running away from Elam Grave after being struck, waking up tied and gagged in a small crate, then having a bag pulled off her head to see strange men gathered about her. Indeed, she had been much more afraid than this. Nabi clutched onto those memories as her pillar of strength. Those were the events that guided her now, as she rounded the last turn before the final floor of the Hostelry. That double door to the right leading out to the bridge to the airship port, it was her last possible means for escape. As another patron walked right through it, the sunset beyond seemed almost blinding in its temptation. It called to her. But she could not. There would be no turning from this. She had already asked Mimiyo and Yoshinari to leave Kugane, to stay with their distant relatives in the mainland of Hingashi. At least for a little while. She did not, she could not tell them everything, only that she might be away awhile, and for their safety, she wished for them to travel to Hingashi. Mimiyo of course had questions, and Yoshinari refused. But Nabi would not take no for an answer. She pressed that it was a matter of life and death, and that they needed to trust her. And that she would have Tserende here, so that they needed not to worry about her. It was a lie, of course. But for their safety, she insisted and pleaded, and eventually Mimiyo agreed on the condition that Nabi wrote to them and often. And that they would return soon. Since her return, there was always a quiet concern hidden behind their gaze when they looked upon her, as if they knew something had happened. She could not hide her heartache, and even though her tears came silently beneath the blankets at night, Nabi knew that Mimiyo knew her heart. But Nabi could not tell them the whole truth. But they understood that the matter was of grave importance to her. Would they let her do this? Nabi was certain of that answer. She had pleaded with Tserende just bells ago, for any aid that could be given to Anchor. Tears fell as she told him that she simply could not go on, knowing Anchor suffered in her stead. She had hoped that Tserende understood, that he of all people would help her find Anchor. "I doubt that you coerced him into making his choices.” Tserende was calm in his response, his pale blue gaze intent upon her, even as he carefully wiped away her tears. “Just as I did not coerce the person who ended up giving their life for me to be here at this moment. If he has indeed perished, then he believed that your potential was worth that much. The most important thing that you can do with that confidence is to live up to it. Ensure that you bring about some good with your time here. Ensure that you do not cast it away impulsively." Why did none of them understand? Tserende, Brick, and Shael. Why wouldn’t anyone help her find Anchor? The very thought of him tightened her chest, pierced her clear through with grief every sun. How could they throw away his life so easily? Agree to this unacceptable trade? “And what of all of the aspiring herbalists and alchemists that Grave will try to replace you with? How many of them would you like to exchange for 'Anchor?' That is the state of things, as they stand. I understand that you would like to help him. I have my doubts that there is anything to be done for him at this point, however, even if we were to try. We should minimize the loss others are bound to suffer, now." Tserende’s words finalized her decision. He was right. How many others to replace her? What would Elam Grave accept in trade for Anchor? It started with her, it should end with her. “I know you only wish for my well-being.” Nabi remembered her last words to Tserende before they parted for the evening. “I also know you did what you could to make sure Mimiyo and Yoshinari were safe.” She remembered trembling as she looked up at him. “Would you always do so? For me?” “Of course,” Tserende had looked upon her with a curious if not somewhat confused expression. “You needn’t worry over that. Why would I not do so?” That was one comfort she would hold onto. It took all she had not to shed any more tears as he kissed her goodnight. Yes, that would be a good parting memory to treasure. What little courage she had been clinging onto began to slip away like sand through her fingers, as her heart started to pound painfully in her chest, when she spotted Grave seated at his table. He had not looked her way yet, even though the rest of the men standing near him trained their gaze upon her immediately. Nabi squeezed her hand harder, steadying her steps as she came to stand in front of his table. Elam Grave languidly put a piece of fish into his mouth and poured himself some sake, before he finally granted her his attention by looking up. Nabi thought she could feel herself shake as she stood there, waiting. “Miss Nabi,” he said her name slowly, thin lines appearing at the edges of his eyes. “You are looking well. What can I do for you?” It took her a breath for her to gather her words. His calm low voice nearly unnerved her. It was that same unmoved expression he had held when he came to visit her that fateful night. But this wasn’t about her anymore. That wasn’t why she came. She swallowed, and her throat felt like sand. “I have been told of your agreement with Ironsong.” Her voice shook. “And with Anchor.” She slowly lowered herself to her knees, placing her hands upon her lap. She bowed, her head coming to nearly touch the floor. “I am here to beg for his release.”
  7. Cigarettes and Fireflies

    Nabi closed the door after Brick left, her fingers working to twist and fasten all the locks that Anchor had in place. The sounds of metal sliding and securing into place sounded louder in the empty abode, the cool morning air draping her shoulders with a slight chill. Nabi turned from the door, making her way back to the den, where she gathered the pot of tea that had gone cold overnight and the cup that was unused. She emptied out the water in the kitchen, then turned to the stove, where the stew she had made the night before had gone cold and thick. She had used new spices too, from their outing at the Shogatsu Festival. This batch was going to be much more flavorful than the ones she had been making for Anchor the last fortnight. But he never returned from his meeting with Elam Grave. "Even in this world of lies and deceit, there is a time and place and knowing of when and who to lie to. Saltborn failed at this, despite succeeding in many other areas. As part of the arrangement, he will be punished for his transgressions against that man and his own. I know not what awaits him. That is the truth of it." Brick had delivered the news of Anchor’s fate in a matter-of-fact if not a bit subdued voice. Nabi had stayed up most of the night either wringing her hands or pacing nervously, waiting for the pirate’s return. It was on the rise of morning, when her eyes finally surrendered to the fatigue, that the au ra quartermaster paid a visit to Anchor’s home with the news. Nabi recalled being unable to speak, much less breathe at first. "Not any arrangement made by us, by any means." The quartermaster had smirked ruefully. "Saltborn did well in securing your possible freedom from this situation and also mending to the now tentative relationship between Grave the and Ironsong for future business. However, that man proved to be no fool. He was informed well ahead of time what had happened outside of Isari. As such, while he agreed to our comrade's terms, he sees a lesson to be taught. As it were." Nabi could not accept that. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. This began with her. Because she refused Grave. Anchor would never have been in this mess if it wasn’t for her. She would have never wanted this. She tried to press this upon the quartermaster, but it only made him turn cold as he rose to tower over her. "Do not make me regret my words. And furthermore, do not waste the chance that has been given to you. One, I truly do believe, is not deserved. You were not to be my burden. Nor the Ironsong's. And, for I am certain, not Saltborn's. Just like everything else you've seen. You've heard. You've witnessed. You will forget. You will, or I will see you gone. That too--is the truth of it." Nabi stared at the brown gravy that had curdled into a muddy consistency within the pot. She lifted it from the stove to put it away, but she stopped in front of the sink as a fleeting glimmer of shadows and light skirted over her hand. It was from the small fish bowl that she had set by the window, with two copperfish swimming within. She had caught one at the Shogatsu Festival by pure chance, and the second one Anchor had scooped up after much show and splash, once she challenged him that he could not. He had wanted to make them into stew, but she had instead found a glass vase to house them in. She was sure he was going to be annoyed by that... She looked down to see her hand shaking. Hot tears began to flow down her cheeks even before she knew it, and she let the pot drop from her hands onto the cups and the dishes in the sink, loud clatter of ceramic shattering the stifling silence. An anguished cry left her lips as she gripped the edge of the sink, her head bowing over her hands. Her entire body was shaking and she felt guilt and despair twisting her insides. Brick’s words had never left her thoughts, echoing painfully time and again. She shouldn’t have been his burden. If she had known that this was what awaited him… she would have never... She was willing to go back. Work for for Grave. Accept whatever fate awaited. As long as no one else had to pay for her actions. The very thought that Anchor suffered in her stead made her stomach turn. But when she made that offer to the quartermaster, Brick gave her back the letters, those she had written to her family and friends, the ones that were never sent. "These are to those you care for, aye? Your mind is not thinking clearly. By any means. Your emotions are getting the better of you. Calm yourself. Consider again what has been offered. Consider the consequences of each." Brick exhaled, a look of resignation heavily drawing upon his features. "Also consider... your actions do not reflect onto Saltborn and what he has done to That Man. His people. Don't waste this." Breaths came harder through her sobs. Her chest felt like it was being crushed with a vise. To help Anchor, she might put her family at risk. But to do nothing would mean he would be punished because he saved her. Nabi released her hold on the sink, as she slid weakly down to the floor. Sorrow and regret poured freely from her cheeks, her stuttered breaths broken by sobs. Her heart was breaking into two and she did not know how to reconcile it. How could she protect them both?
  8. Cigarettes and Fireflies

    A single lock clicked into place as Anchor left. A long exhale left Nabi’s lips as she looked toward the doorway, the small den suddenly feeling both unfamiliar and lonely at the same time. It was a strange feeling. When she had first arrived here with Anchor many suns ago, she was nearly charmed by the place. It was small but filled with character; she doubted there was anything he kept in his home that didn’t hold some kind of significance or use in someway. Nothing was frivolous. She had taken to rigorously -- almost obsessively -- cleaning and reorganizing his kitchen to spend her suns while he rested. Taking care of his wounds, cooking and cleaning, it kept her busy enough for a while to take her mind off of the troubles that had landed her here in the first place. But as suns passed, she started to become restless, her thoughts once again returning to her family, her friends, and her home. So it was to her delighted surprise when Anchor took her to the Shogatsu Festival. She went disguised with a fox mask, and he had insisted more than once that it wasn’t for her, nor was it a vacation of any sort. He just wanted to stretch his legs and get some fresh air for them both. Nabi barely heard any of it, so excited was she to get to attend the festival that only came around once a year. The festival was full of people, performances, and delectable foods. She forgot why she had to wear a mask at all, as she visited one stall after another, purchased hot red buns for them both to nibble as they watched performances, and even won a pair of copperfish at a fish scooping game. But when she recognized a familiar face in the crowd, and had to hold herself back from saying hello, she was abruptly reminded of her circumstances. Suddenly, guilt hit her heavily, that she wasn’t sharing this festival with her family and friends as well. She had been so happy to enjoy the festivities herself that she forgot what her loved ones may be going through. Were they reassured by her letter? Or were they worried? Were they allowing themselves to enjoy the coming of Heavensturn? All merriment left her then like a floating lantern deflated of air. In hindsight, Nabi regretted the gloomy mood that came upon her with that thought. She wanted Anchor to enjoy the festival too. She had been so determined to inject some cheer into his life and the Shogatsu Festival was the perfect opportunity. But at the end of the night, it was he who rekindled her spirit as he shoved the fireworks into her hands, wanting nothing to do with it. As she waved the sparklers to send a flurry of embers flying all around them, Nabi spun and laughed. It was as if she was summoning a swarm of fireflies with a wave of her hand. The sparks would spin and float away, some of them aiming for the sky. She watched them disappear toward the heavens, a sense of serenity finding her in that moment. A belief that things would be alright, somehow, in the end. She could have sworn she spied a smile on Anchor’s face too, if only briefly. Of course, since the night of the festival, she had grown somewhat more impatient. She organized then reorganized his kitchen for the third time, and now she was more certain than ever that there was not a speck of grime to be found in his kitchen and bath. Still, her thoughts strayed to the festival, and her family. And hope. So when Anchor announced that he was going to leave for the afternoon to meet with an old contact, she was hopeful to come too. But he reminded her of her predicament. "You aren't to be goin'," he said. "I trust ya will keep your word about not causin' any trouble--you aren't ta show face, with or without me, aye? I'll be hearin' of it if ya try and be doin' something thinkin' it smart." She had promised it, that first sun when he brought her to his home. That she would not cause any trouble for him. He had nearly died for her, that was the least she could do. Even when he told her that he had worked for Elam Grave, which was the reason he was there in Yanxia in the first place... even then she told him she would still keep to her promise. And so now he trusted her enough to leave her alone in his home. This was the first time since she had been taken, being left to her own care. It felt both freeing and frightening at the same time. Nabi’s gaze wandered, to what she knew to be in his home. Of the possibilities of disguises if she did want to leave. The lock was to keep people out, not in. She could leave while Anchor was gone, and return to Kugane, to at least get a glimpse of her family and perhaps send more word to others. "Once I be recovered, I'll be speakin' to him.” A memory, clear and painful in its lucidity, returned to her. It was when she confronted him about his association with Elam Grave. He had flung spiteful words at her after she accused him. She could not fathom why he then saved her. He did not answer her, but eventually, he reassured her. “Once I do, I'll make it clear you ain't to be touched, aye? Ya can go salvage your pleasant little dream and do away with this. Free to do as you will. But for now. No trouble." His voice had dropped into an almost agonized whisper. "Ya said you wasn't to make anymore trouble." Nabi’s chest rose and fell with another deep breath. Her hand had come to rest over her stomach. In the suns that she had been here, the stir of fear and anxiety had lessened slowly over time. It wasn’t due to Anchor’s kindness; his temperament and demeanor remained harsh and abrasive. But what he’s done for her was something she could not forget, and in that, she found comfort and maybe even a small sense of security. “I promised,” she quietly echoed the words she had given Anchor moments before he left. “No trouble.” Some weight seemed to lift from her shoulders once she made the decision. Pressing her lips together, her golden eyes darted about, looking to the den. She had left this room mostly untouched since it was where Anchor had been resting. Now that he was gone… Nabi smiled and grabbed the rag that hung from her waist.
  9. Holidays

    Happy Holidays to you and everyone!
  10. Cigarettes and Fireflies

    The fire in the hearth crackled and popped. Nabi watched as the flames danced over the wooden logs in the hearth, her eyes following the course of the tiny embers that would take flight. They reminded her of fireflies, the small and beautiful motes of light that would bring her a measure of comfort in times of darkness. "No showin' your face around here. No runnin' off smart to Kugane thinkin' the wrong things. If'n ya don't think of your OWN benefit -- which I'm beginnin' to think is the case -- then think of your loved ones, aye?" Anchor’s earlier words returned her as her eyelids grew heavy. The fatigue that was descending on her was no longer letting her push aside the memories of all the things that had happened since the night before. "And if you STILL find'in inspiration lemme remind ya that YOU decided this. Ya could have gotten away -- and ya chose not to. Damn daft broad." Her answer had been simple. “I needed to see that you lived.” "AND LOOK WHERE THAT GOT YA!” That only made him more vexed. “With the one who's livin! Congrats on ya! There was the THIRD choice where ya took the damn horse ya was gettin' rattled around on and made straight away north--fuck all to this. Sod it all... ya live with your actions now, woman." Nabi wrapped her arms around her legs as she brought her chin to rest on top of her knees. Anchor was right. She could have taken that horse and just ran from it all. Perhaps the thought might have occurred to her when she watched the Doman on horseback as his head exploded in Anchor’s choking grasp. She had already witnessed so many deaths, Anchor’s sword shearing through flesh, soaking her and everything else around him in blood. But when it was all over, Anchor’s eyes dimmed and rolled backward in its sockets as he collapsed onto the ground in a heap. She still remembered the halting uneven breaths, his chest laboring to take in air in despite the blood that was rapidly filling it. The thought of running away while he was dying… it never came. Nabi looked over her shoulder, to the chair where the pirate was now sound asleep. The elixir and the tea that she had made had done its work, easing his pain and slowing his thoughts to allow him to drift to sleep, despite his protests. She had watched him sleep only twice now, and it was the only time when his face looked at peace. When he was awake, his deep red eyes always seemed to broil with irritation, ready to explode into a fit of rage. She remembered recognizing him when the bag was yanked off her head, standing behind the man who had taken her. A sob choked her breath in that instant, at the thought he too would be part of it all. But then something changed in his barely controlled expression, and he stepped forward, drawing his sword. Nabi shuddered at the memory of the violence that followed. She looked to her wrists where abrasions remained from the bindings that she had forcibly pulled her hands through. The glow from the hearth caught the glimmer of the thin circlet of silver and gold that wound around her wrist. A bracelet that her mother gave her years ago… one that she pulled off when she tried to mimic her mother’s art of healing using the earth. It had drained her with the effort but it was enough to stabilize his severe wounds that Anchor did not immediately bleed to death. Trying to save his life, attending to his injuries, that was what she had focused on to force her emotions to stay at bay. She did her best to keep up the brave facade, clutching onto the positive things: that she was in Shirogane now and not on a pirate ship, that her family was still safe, and that she was not being sold off to some Doman lord. But now that she sat upon the rug in the small abode that was Anchor’s home -- a small apartment enveloped in a scent of wood and musk -- the weight of the day’s events was starting to settle into the pit of her stomach. Just yesterday she was decorating her clinic for Starlight, and planning a dinner for her loved ones. And now, she was hiding from the world for the sake of her family, and counting on a man who had violently killed so many to keep her safe. He did not want her near, that much was clear. She had promised him as he slept that she would stay to see him recover, see him whole. But once Anchor was fit and able… then what? What would become of her? Nabi had to believe that Brick sent her letters. To her family to let them know she was safe. And to Tserende and Shael to let them know what had happened. Tserende would search for her, she knew this. She had to believe that they would somehow figure this out. So that she could return home without worrying for anyone’s safety. She just… wanted to go home. Her hand rose to rub at her neck, where the memory of the strangling hold of the whip had left fresh bruises. She touched her cheek where the throbbing reminded her of the man that had started it all. She felt her fingers tremble against her face before she realized she was shaking. Hot tears fell from her eyes without warning; the view of the flames blurred before her eyes. Nabi curled into a tight ball and cried where she sat, her quiet sobs only accompanied by the soft crackling of the fire.
  11. Cigarettes and Fireflies

    Continued from here... Nabi leaned in, inhaling the heady scent of pine. The prickly needles tickled her face, so she leaned back away, lightly rubbing the tip of her nose with her finger. The scent was similar to the eastern pines, although the western variety stood straight and tall, with the deep green pine needles jutting upwards. It was as if the tree wanted to show off how strong it was, towering over the rest of the foliage. It was unlike the pine trees that she was familiar with in Othard, where the bark twisted and curled, as if it had taken the time to explore and to grow, outward and upwards from the time it sprouted. Still, it was western custom to drape the pine in fancy baubles during Starlight. So when she wrapped the miniature starlight tree in twinkling lights, it looked like the proudest sapling she’d ever seen, joyfully basking in all the colors. Nabi stepped back and placed her hands upon her hips, admiring the new addition to her clinic. It was only for the holidays, but she had sought out western merchants specifically to try and collect some appropriate Eorzean decorations for this time of the year. She could not help but smile giddily, wondering how it would be received. It was a strange sight, certainly; her clinic was mostly Hingan in furniture and decor, but she wanted to make the place more welcoming to everyone, especially those that she would invite for holiday dinner. Starlight was an Ishgardian celebration after all. Would Tserende feel more at home if he were to see some traditional dishes? Did Shael enjoy this holiday? Did she exchange gifts? Kiyokage has also been in Eorzea, only recently having made his return to Othard… perhaps he would enjoy a reminder of his travels as well. And he had promised to bring his lady love, no less. Nabi hummed cheerfully, anticipation bringing a certain lightness to her mood and steps as she spread the Starlight poster onto her wall. It was a lovely painting, depicting children being brought to a warm dinner in the cold of night. The spirit of the occasion did appeal to her, it was a time to celebrate kindness, remembrance, and generosity to those less fortunate. Even with all the grim and violent tales she had heard from Eorzea, she had to believe that any realm that observed such festivities must be a hopeful place. She sighed quietly as she admired the colorful decorations within her clinic. What would Mimiyo think about the sudden influx of western ornaments? The older Hingan woman seemed to be a little more tolerant when it came to the matter of ‘ijins’ of late. She no longer referred to Tserende as a ‘foreigner’ and she even stopped glaring at Shael whenever she came around. Mimiyo still did not trust the Highlander woman, but acquiesced that she seemed to have found more honest work with Tserende. And she did surprise Nabi when she asked with some measure of concern about Tserende’s wounds after Nabi treated him in her clinic. Mimiyo did not want to let on that she was starting to accept the new people Nabi’s life, that some of them were becoming quite important to the Xaela. And the Hingan definitely did not want to show that she was fussing about the injuries of a man she used to consider an outsider. Nabi could not help but smile at the thought. She turned to her work table, leaning over the book of recipes. Now, where was she going to find mandragoras for the stew? Perhaps she could just substitute it with other tubers and vegetables. She was making a list of the ingredients when she noticed the first white fleck twirling downward that tugged at her peripheral vision. A pleased gasp rose from her lips as she stood, running to the window to open it. She reached out with a hand as a snowflake landed lightly upon her fingertips. It melted into a tiny droplet against her warm skin, but then another snowflake landed and then more. Nabi let out a laugh as she looked up, as the sky above began to dust the the earth with the lightest of pristine white flurry. It was going to be her first Starlight, and her heart bloomed with glee at the thought. It was then that a quiet knock at the door drew her attention. She brushed off her hands and closed the window to ward the room from the chill that would eventually enter and went to the door to open it. A familiar Highlander -- one she was not expecting -- loomed at the door with an odd expression in place. “Miss Nabi,” Elam Grave greeted her in a cool tone. “We need to talk.”
  12. Cigarettes and Fireflies

    Twenty-six years ago… Another year, another battle awaited. Chanai stared into the vast, desolate field. The sun had yet to awaken the earth, and a heavy grey fog still roamed the plains. It was the quiet before the storm, before the Kharlu and the Jhungid would meet upon the steppe with clashing swords and lances upon the arrival of morning. Battle cries would echo into the sky and the soil would be soaked with the blood of the fearless and the desperate. Some fought for the honor of the tribe. Others for the glory. And some, like her brother, for the thrill of battle. Bloodlust burned in his veins. Slow footsteps, accentuated by the sound of the wooden staff prodding upon the land, drew Chanai’s attention behind her. The quiet clatter of bones and beads announced the arrival of the elder seer, although Chanai did not turn as custom demanded. She stood still, facing forward, her frame draped in a heavy cloak. As the older Xaela approached, adorned in layers of leather with carved ornaments wrapped around her neck and wrists, there were no exchange of formality, only silent acknowledgement for each other’s presence. Alone with the Elder, Chanai knew she could speak freely with the woman that raised her. “Are you certain of the prophecy, Siban?” Her voice trembled as her gaze remained fixed on the prairie. “The blood and the bones have never lied to me.” The older Xaela’s voice was cracked and brittle with age, and yet her certainty still cut through her words like a sharpened knife. “You took part in the ritual. You know the sacrifices that were made to even attempt that divination.” The woman ambled up to stand next to Chanai. With her back hunched, she planted her gnarled staff firmly into the ground and leaned heavily against it. The bones and the stones that hung from the metal rings on the head of the staff rattled. Chanai clenched her fists by her side, turning her golden eyes upon the older woman. “Why would the gods be appeased by such a thing? Do we not shed enough blood already?” She felt the heat rising to her face, her heart starting to pound with indignation. Even a hint of such impiety would never be allowed in the presence of others, and yet Siban was the only one that she trusted with all her questions and doubts. And she was the only one that would have even considered performing the augury. “It is because of our ways, that it has to be blood that is given.” Siban turned, her white milky eyes rising to meet Chanai’s ire. “This yearly strife, it is in hope of gaining the god’s favor. It is fleeting. We must fight for it yet again with the next turn of the year. You wish to forever end it? To end the cycle of carnage? The sacrifice must be made through suffering.” A long pause of silence fell between them, before Chanai eventually turned her head, fleeing from the older woman’s unrelenting conviction. “Perhaps you still cling to the old ways, Siban. Perhaps it is you who desire such misery. It is all you believed in.” Chanai regretted her words as soon as it left her mouth. They were said in anger, and she knew better. Siban’s Dalamiq origins always let other shamen see her as somewhat inferior and eccentric, in worship of a red moon rather than the Dusk Mother. But none would never say it to her face, for they feared her magic. Gifted unlike most with the ability to see into the mysterious patterns of aether through use of blood as her medium, many came to her for portents and healing. And it was under her tutelage that Chanai grew into her own talent in drawing upon the aether and the elements. When she was met only with silence from the Elder, Chanai bowed her head. “I did not mean…” “You asked the question,” Siban interrupted her, although her voice remained neutral. “I gave you the answer. Only you can decide what you will do with it.” She slowly turned away from the view of the plain, making her way back to the yurts. “The fog is lifting,” the old woman said as she clacked away. Stuttered breaths left Chanai’s lips as she turned back to the plains, and indeed, the heavy mist was burning away under the rising sun, the distant peaks of mountains becoming visible. She squinted her eyes and she could see the silhouettes of banners and yurts that were also starting to emerge across the field. She turned, her cloak and hood wafting with the wind that suddenly swept into the valley, chilling her to the bone. It cleared away the last remnant of fog, as if to draw the curtains back from the empty stage. A distant horn rang through the air.
  13. Cigarettes and Fireflies

    (Continued from here...) Nabi turned the small knife in her hand. The narrow steel blade was washed with a hint of a violet sheen, the only clue that it was coated with poison. Miss Ghoa’s words echoed in her memory. "I'm not a fighter myself, but this has seen me out of more than a handful of sticky situations. The blade is coated with a poison I bought from a Mankhadi woman. It only takes a shallow knick and it's quick to slow a person's movements, but not strong enough to be lethal. It gives the wielder enough time to wriggle away and escape when things turn sour." Nabi held the blade before her eyes, the flames of the small firepit lending it a foreboding glimmer. The Xaela replaced it carefully back into its sheath, then tucked it into the top of her boot, as she was shown. There was a pitting in her stomach at the thought of using it, or even consider needing it for that matter, but the affair with Elam Grave had left her with lingering worries. Her first instinct was to go to Tserende, of course. He was the one she turned to when there was trouble, to make things alright and to feel safe. But something had stopped her. Elam Grave was her client, and it was not as if she had never dealt with difficult clients before. Whether it be an argument about costs (although that was rare, she was never known to be an expensive alchemist) or the effects of the potion, Nabi had always been able to open discourse with whomever was unhappy and eventually reach an amicable agreement. But Elam Grave had reacted so suddenly and violently (even if it was only directed against a wall), just the memory of it gave her pause. She had known him to be a persistent sort, the Highlander was fond of twisting words and situations to insist upon his needs. He had been a generous customer nonetheless, and when she declined his offer of exclusive employment more than once, it didn’t seem to raise any true ire, only a hint of frustration. Nabi had not thought much of it, at least until now. After his outburst, Nabi could not help but remember that Tserende’s first impression of the man seemed less than favorable. Was that one of the reasons why she felt more at unease around Elam Grave now? But was it the right thing to then, to turn to Tserende at the first sign of difficulty for him to fix her problem? It wasn’t fair for her to expect him to step in every time there was a conflict. He had told her he didn’t like relying on anyone. Perhaps she was starting to rely on him too much. Nabi was wrestling with these questions when she had a timely visit from a woman she secretly admired. Miss Ghoa, a beautiful and worldly Xaela dancer and traveler who had visited her stall months ago, returned for a social visit. She was quick to notice the consternation that darkened her mood and so when asked, Nabi open up about all her worries to the Xaela. It was Miss Ghoa that told her that Eorzean men often did not hold their liquor well, and while much like the Xaela males they all growled and beat their chest in anger, the westerners were far less likely to act upon it. Nabi could tell that Miss Ghoa was far more experienced than she would ever be, and she was willing to share with Nabi her well earned wisdom. She also did not like the idea of Nabi asking another male for help, especially if that could turn the situation more stifling or controlling than before. Not that Nabi ever worried that would be the problem with Tserende. She suspected that Miss Ghoa must have had some past experience to color her view in such a way. Or perhaps the woman just had a strong pride in relying on herself and no one else. Even so, her words did empower Nabi in some ways. “Others might think they can step upon us, but no one should stop us from pursuing that which brings us happiness -- dancing, exploring, learning, potion making, or whatever else we set our eyes upon." Nabi inhaled, filling her lungs with the evening air that rolled in from the opened window. She let out a long exhale, forcing out all the worries that had been troubling her mind in the last few suns. Nabi mulled over Miss Ghoa’s advice on focusing on what was important to her, in making her decision. Even if the concoctions were illegal in Eorzea, Miss Ghoa rightly argued that they weren’t forbidden in the East. Nothing was criminal in studying and working with them in Kugane, after all. And Nabi did enjoy studying new reagents. Perhaps she was letting one drunken mishap on the part of a westerner to cloud her thoughts too much. After all, there were many other things she had to look forward to. Tserende and Shael (the latter somewhat reluctantly) agreed to take her with them on their next trip to search out relics and hidden antiques in Yanxia. Beyond that, there was the trek through the Steppe as Tserende worked on mapping the some of the region, with Akhutai as their guide. Months ago, she would have never imagined going on such exciting adventures. And yet now, with new friends and loved ones, she felt that her world was growing bigger. Perhaps learning how to deal with stubborn, impatient men like Elam Grave was one of the price to pay for her new boldness. She straightened and lifted her chin. She could handle this. Nabi swung herself out of her seat and rose, the walls of the clinic turning gold and orange as the sun began to retreat from the sky. As distant sounds of people retiring to their homes started to filter in from the outside, Nabi found her thoughts flitting about like a butterfly. As the day gave way to night with the promise of tomorrow, she too would look forward to what was to come. A world of experiences she had never known awaited her. She just had to take it one step at a time.
  14. [Coeurl] Bless me in this endeavor

    Just popping in to just to tell you I like your Voltron avatar. (what. Keith is my favorite) Oh and have some blessings. Good luck!
  15. [CLOSED] Eltheia's art thread

    Sending you a DM for a commission slot!