Jump to content


  • Content count

  • Joined

  • Last visited

Community Reputation


About Roen

  • Rank
    A Free Sworn

RP Related

  • Main Character
    Roen | Nabi
  • Server
  • Time zone

Recent Profile Visitors

695 profile views
  1. Roen

    Cigarettes and Fireflies

    Many years ago... “I can’t.” Her hand was so small, yet it held on so tightly to Chanai’s forefinger that the Xaela could only stare in wonder at the fragile thing in her arms. The babe was but a few suns old; her raven locks were soft and wispy upon her tiny head. And when those sleepy eyes blinked open just a slit, Chanai saw her own golden gaze looking back at her. “I can’t do it, Siban.” Chanai’s voice trembled, full of both awe and anguish. “She is beautiful. And she is his. And she is mine.” A shuddering breath left her, her lips parting into a smile as the babe began to suckle upon her fingertip. The Xaela’s sadness gave way to stubborn resolve. “I won’t.” “You speak from the mother’s heart,” the elder seer answered, her aged hands holding onto a necklace of bones gathered in her lap. She sat hunched in her seat made of leathery hides, her back bent with the passing of decades. Gifts of meat, woven cloth, and incense were scattered around her feet and throughout the yurt, although the attendants that had hovered about had left the two auri female to their privacy. Such was the intimate relationship shared between the elder seer and her star pupil. The udgan did not look at Chanai nor the baby she held. She only stared at the floor as she thumbed through the carved baubles, made of both tooth and stones of the earth. Her voice was muted, laced with melancholy. “Will you forget all you saw? All that you know? Will you forego the lives of many more generations to come?” Chanai felt herself shake, her hold upon her own child tightening as she brought the babe closer to her breast. “Do not speak to me as if I am but one of your adepts. I was the only one willing to do this from the start. The only one to see it through.” Even as her own words left her lips, she heard the confession of her own betrayal. Siban remained still as stone, as she continued to stare at the bones in her grasp, but new lines appeared around the woman’s eyes. Chanai couldn’t tell if they were drawn by sadness or ire. The udgan’s voice remained low and steady, quiet as to not carry beyond them and the yurt. “And now you are the last.” The soft clatter of the necklace came to a silence as Siban laid her hand over it, her gaze rising to steadily fix on Chanai. She felt as if the woman's eyes were spearing straight though her. “You and that babe you hold are the last remnants of hope we saw in the divination. She bares the mark.” The old Xaela’s chest sunk as she let out a heavy exhale. A weight of sorrow seemed to weigh heavily upon her frame. “Our people will never know peace... if you make this choice.” “Will you betray me to the khan? Or my brother if I refuse?” Chanai bristled, her nostrils flaring. “Will you tell them of the forbidden ritual? As if the khan would accept your words over his own udgan.” The look that Siban gave her surprised the younger Xaela. The elder seer looked truly forlorn, her shoulders slack and her aged face seeming more weathered than ever. “You have always stood by my side and never betrayed me. I would not betray your faith. Even for the sake of all.” Chanai stared at her, a new pain contorting her visage. Those words were like a slap to the face, reminding her of the bond she and the elder shared. How committed she had been to this task, this unimaginable gift the gods demanded for the sake of peace. Year after year, she had witnessed the bloodshed between the Kharlu and the Jhungid, mended the seemingly innumerable wounds that resulted from the battles, only to repeat it all again the next year. All that the Kharlu and the Jhungid did beneath the remainder of their suns was dedicated to this ritual of violence that was doomed to repeat itself. The prosperity of the tribe depended on winning the next battle, and the next, and the next. Strengthening their numbers was mandated to defeat the Jhungid. It was fated for all time. Only Siban’s visions said otherwise. How had Chanai ever thought the completion of this task was possible? “The gods are too cruel.” She shook her head. “Your visions come from the cursed moon. It cannot be the only way. I’ve already lost him. I can’t…” She swallowed down the lump in her throat as she looked back to the babe in her arms. There was only a look of peaceful slumber there, so unaware of the terrors that existed all around them. The udgan’s head lowered again, beads of her braids clacking quietly with her movement. “I cannot make this choice for you. It must be made freely of your own will.” “So then, you will tell no one?” Chanai’s question was held both apprehension and a desperate plea. Siban rose from her seat, leaning heavily upon her gnarled wooden staff. “The offering has to be a willing one. It is useless for me to tell another.” Her deep-set eyes bore into the younger seer. “I see you as my own, so I understand your need to protect your child. But someday... someday she will question. And she will come to understand the circumstances of her birth. Then what will you tell her?” Chanai just stared back at the elder in silence, having no answer. The udgan didn’t wait for one as she turned and made her way out of the yurt. Left alone, the air seemed more stifling than ever. But all her fears and doubts vanished as soon as Chanai laid her eyes back upon the wrapped newborn laying against her chest. “Nabi,” she whispered to her baby daughter. “That is the name your father gave you when you were growing in my belly. I won’t let anyone harm you. You will forge your own destiny. You will walk your own path.” She leaned down and pressed her lips against her soft hair. And not the one your mother bequeathed onto you.
  2. Roen

    balmung Mikky's Barber Shop!

    Aw! I never made it there. For scheduling reasons. 😭 I thought this was such a cute idea and passed it along to a few others.
  3. Roen

    Cigarettes and Fireflies

    Nabi tacked up the last of her notices on the bulletin board outside of the Hostelry, smoothing out the parchment and squinting at the written letters. She didn’t have too much time to admire her work however, for she noticed Wlveva making her way back from the tea house. The Xaela turned and quickly paced away since she was sure the hyur wasn’t too keen on advertisements on the board that distracted potential adventurers from the Clan marks. Still, what better place did she have to drawn in potential capable hunters that would go to Yanxia and the Steppe to retrieve her reagents? She was confident that some of her stocks would be replenished with the help of Mister Eshem -- no, he wanted to be called Marsazio, Nabi reminded herself -- but she couldn’t rely on one man to restock all of her supplies. Ever since her clinic had burnt down and she had gone into the mountain after Anchor, her business of selling herbs and potions had come to a complete standstill. Yoshinari and Mimiyo had yet to return from their trip to Hingashi -- the one that they took at her behest -- and so it was left to Nabi to see to restarting the shop, now that most of the stall has been rebuilt. The ferry back to Shirogane was still a few bells away, so Nabi took the opportunity to go visit her favorite spot in Kugane, the koi pond by the consulates. She leisurely made her way through the Kogane Dori, winding through the crowds there, both Hingan and foreigners alike. She gave a friendly wave to Kurogai as she passed by her favorite teriyaki stall, then hopped up the steps toward the Ijin Diistrict. And while the cherry blossoms were in full bloom all throughout Shirogane, Kugane had the swaying willows and the crooked pines, with their own delicate scents that was just barely hinted in the caress of the ocean winds that washed through the port city. It wasn’t like the Hanami Festival, where the countless pink flowers blanketed all the branches, and the higher mountain air enticed her senses with the fresh aroma of spring. Nabi could not help but smile at the memory that returned of her and Anchor’s visit to the Plum Springs. He had agreed to go with her to the festival -- with a healthy dose of reluctance, of course -- but she had successfully convinced him it was good to get out and enjoy the sun and all the splendors that made their return when the last of the winter had thawed away. There were singing performances and plenty of vendors. She even purchased a couple of festival masks for the occasion, although Anchor refused to wear his. The sun lent its illumination behind the cover of clouds, and the veiled sky reminded her of the morning when she had left Kugane to go into the mountain. But it had been cold then. Now, the air was warmer, with the gentle breeze causing small ripples in the shallow pools that outlined the periphery of the Spring. The water gently lapped on the shores of grassy mounds where the trees were lush with fresh cherry blossoms. Nabi enjoyed the crowded yet somehow still tranquil ambiance of the festival, watching all the attendees milling about. She and Anchor meandered leisurely, gazing at the flowers and browsing through various stalls. Then Anchor did something Nabi didn’t expect. He suddenly held out his hand to her. “Alright. Let’s be gettin’ this over with. To me now.” Nabi didn’t question at first. He beckoned, and she came as she always would. She followed along as she entwined her fingers in his, as Anchor led her to another quieter island. She didn’t find it odd either when he then placed her at a particular spot near a few trees. She was too busy reveling in the moment. Surrounded by cherry blossoms beneath a hazy afternoon sun, she couldn't help but admire how the day warmed his face, even his ever-slanted lips. “Jude,” she whispered his name, the one he had confided in her beneath that mountain. “This was one of the things I wanted, back then.” Her voice had turned timid, sentimentality suddenly welling up in her chest. Anchor blinked, surprise flickering over his eyes at his name. “A-aye, ya mentioned it then. And again.” He cleared his throat, narrowing his eyes at her. “Ya be satisfied, then?” Nabi nodded wordlessly, her gaze lowering to their hands, her thumb grazing over his knuckles. Her lips slowly split into a warm smile. “I am,” she murmured. “And I am glad that you are here.” Anchor seemed to hesitate for a moment, his lips parting then pressing tight again. Then after regarding her for a moment longer, he huffed. “Don’t ya bloody lie to my face!” he said indignantly, chin tilting up sharply. “Ya ain’t be satisfied.” He spun away from her, releasing her hand, and marched off a few fulms to a nearby tree. Then he promptly kicked the tree. Three times in all. It brought a heavy shower of pink petals raining upon his head. It covered his hair, his shoulders, and the ground beneath his feet. He then turned on his heel, facing her. “There. Like ya bloody well wanted. Ain’t it everything ya ever dreamed.” There was plenty of sarcasm in his voice. But Nabi didn’t hear it. She saw the cherry blossoms petals spinning and floating all around him, to land lightly over his face and frame. It was what she had wished for. One of many things that she had pictured when she hoped for more tomorrows. Nabi remembered her lungs filling with so much air in that moment that she thought she would float away. Instead, she hopped over to Anchor and threw her arms around him, planting her face against his chest. “You remembered!” She laughed gleefully. “I--aye. How the hells could I be forgettin’ somethin’ so utterly ridiculous?” he scoffed. Nabi peered up at him, still grinning from ear to ear. She stepped back and clapped joyfully. “Still. You did do it.” She tiptoed, brushing a few petals from his hair. Anchor sighed, leveling a flat look at her. “See?” He too reached over and plucked off a petal from her hair, flicking it away. “Now ya be satisfied.” A soft sigh escaped her lips as Nabi recalled that very moment, letting that warm memory linger in her mind for as long as she could. Anchor wasn’t with her in Kugane this afternoon, and Nabi was starting to not feel so anxious when she wasn’t near him. It was probably because he was getting stronger every sun, color returning to his complexion, and his joints and bones no longer as prominent as they were when they had escaped. Still, there was always a certain feeling of elation when she saw him again after she had been away for just bells. As if she was reminded yet again, that he was alright. Nabi knew it was silly to be so overly protective now that they were free, but it didn’t ease the sense of vigilance she had over him. That thought brought to mind something she had nearly forgotten. Nabi pushed off from the bark of the willow tree she had been leaning on. There were other things she should be looking into while she was in Kugane. She furrowed her brow, dismissing the daydreams and the recollections from her mind. Now that she too was feeling better with her own aether beginning to replenish itself, it was time to start delving into what she had been putting off for too long. With quicker steps, Nabi started making her way back toward the pier.
  4. Roen

    New character looking for FRANNND

    If Marsazio was in Kugane, Nabi would love to make new friends!
  5. Roen

    Cigarettes and Fireflies

    Twenty-six years ago... Chanai watched him breathe as he slept next to her. The flames flickered and danced chaotically, whipped by the winds that whistled into the cave. But the fire stubbornly continued to burn, lighting that small space she shared with the Xaela warrior next to her. The night had fallen, and the two tribes had retreated to their respective sides. The only ones that remained were the dead that laid upon the field, those that had yet to be gathered after the long and violent sun. And then there were the two of them, a Kharlu healer and a Jhungid warrior, tucked away from sight on a mountain that overlooked the bloodsoaked plain. Chagur Jhungid was everything she had imagined him to be. He was the strongest of his tribe, known for his prowess on the battlefield. His skill with his greatsword was said to be unmatched, and he had slain many Kharlu warriors in the years past. Some said that it was because of his unspoiled lineage, his bloodline that was believed to be one of the purest from the earliest ancestors of the tribe that made him so powerful. Chanai’s golden gaze roamed over his bare chest as it rose and fell. There were many scars that marred his skin, and her trained eye could discern what came from which weapon and when he had incurred them. He had been a fighter for over a decade, and it was in thanks to the likes of him that the Jhungid won many battles. She knew how the victors of war took their spoils after the annual campaign was over. How their warriors were expected to plant their seed onto many females, so that the tribe could swell their numbers with more heirs to the violence, who would soak the soil with their lifeblood in the years to come. But this warrior had not looked to her as his spoil of war. When she found him amidst the smoky prairie, he had suffered his own injuries, although none that would have been mortal. Breaking custom, Chanai offered him her aid, and strangely enough he accepted. He could have cut her down, could have taken her as his own and brought her back to serve the Jhungid in any way he wanted. Chanai was fully aware of all these possibilities when she approached him. “The battle is over,” Chagur said to her, a wearied smile softening his features. “And tomorrow, the strife between our tribes begins again. But for what few bells remain of this day, I would see peace between us.” Indeed, Chanai had known this warrior to adhere to honor and duty. He fought for his tribe’s survival, and he killed because he had been taught since birth that it was expected of him. But he did not hold victory as something to relish in, bloodlust was not what drove him to cut down the Kharlu. Chanai knew too many warriors that lived only for battle, her brother enjoyed nothing more than to prove his superiority by taking as many Jhungid lives as he could. And this annual tradition gave him just the means to do so. Chagur was not like her brother. Chanai knew this, when she chose to do this. There were only a very few who had the pure lineage as he did, but amongst those, Chagur was the only one that would not have killed her or raped her on the battlefield. No… he was different. Even during the healing, they had talked. He was curious as to who she was, and why she was offering him her skills. And even though she gave him no reason to, he trusted her not to try and poison him. Something about the warmth in her golden eyes, he said. Chanai scoffed at him, chiding him for being too trusting even as she led him away to a secluded cave. But as his earthly brown eyes lingered on her, and his baritone voice continued to coax her to converse with him, she almost forgot the true reason she had sought him out. She was beginning to enjoy his company and appreciate his smiles. But Chanai was too determined to let herself get distracted for long. Her touches became more intimate, her answers more inviting. Chagur didn’t resist her advances. But to her frustration, there was no hurry in his reciprocation either. Where males would often rush for immediate satisfaction, Chagur took his time gazing upon her, letting his fingers note the details of her scales, and his lips roam over her body. Chanai hadn’t expected this. As she watched his scarred chest rise and fall evenly in slumber, she didn’t expect that she would relish this night. That she would stare at him, drinking in the view of him, not wanting to forget what he looked like. His tanned skin, his long, chaotic raven locks, taut muscles, and lips that wanted to smile rather than frown. She wanted to etch them all into her memory. Why did the thought of not seeing him again suddenly tightened her chest with unease? She knew she should be gathering her clothes and slipping away in the middle of the night. She had gotten what she needed, she had accomplished what she had set out to do. But as her hand lowered to her belly, she felt a flush of warmth from within. There was a part of her that wanted to stay. Chagur turned in his sleep, his eyes drowsily peeling open as he looked upon her, staring at him. His expression softened at seeing her, and it melted her heart. He reached for her, his thumb caressing her horn ever so gently. “You are still here,” he murmured. A soft sigh escaped her lips. “There are still a few bells yet, before the dawn.” “Then stay with me for awhile longer.” His hand drifted from her face to her hair, following its course onto her collarbone. He idly traced its contour, his eyes becoming half-lidded again. Chanai nodded, entwining her fingers in between his, her smaller hand closing over his callused and bloodstained knuckles. She was doing this, to try and end the conflict once and for all, was she not? Then why not allow herself to revel in this fleeting moment of yearning and tranquility? The morning can wait. Destiny too… can wait. Chanai tucked herself in against his chest and closed her eyes, breathing in the scent of him as she welcomed his embrace.
  6. Roen


    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)
  7. Roen

    Cigarettes and Fireflies

    The shed was small and cold. The winds whistled in through the cracks in the walls, and the door rattled against an incessant gust that wanted entrance like an unwelcome visitor in the night. Nabi recognized it well. Dread pitted her stomach as she found herself here. The place's disuse over the years was apparent in the cobwebs, the dilapidated walls, and the thick coat of dust that covered everything. But it was their only shelter from the cold, the only respite in sight after they emerged from the freezing waters of the lake. “Rest with me a spell,” Anchor whispered as he tugged on her dress. His breaths were so faint and there was hardly any strength left to his body. Nabi was about to frantically look around the dark space, looking for something, anything to warm him. But his grip made her pause. One of his eyes was fully red with blood, and it was obvious he wasn’t seeing what was in front of him, the way his hand weakly felt toward her wrist until his gauntlet lightly encircled around it. He kept trying to grasp upward toward her arm but his touch kept slipping down to her hand. “S’enough…” he exhaled, his head limply resting against his chest. It wasn’t enough, Nabi wanted to tell him. He had nearly died, many times over in that mountain. For her. He had gone into that mountain, in a trade for her freedom. And now, they had finally escaped, and here he was, propped against the wall of an old deserted shack, his arm awkwardly bent and his skin ashen pale. He was so cold. How could it be enough? She should have protested. After all he went through, he had kept his promise and gotten both of them out. And now, he was slipping away from her. But as she looked to her wrist and his shaking hand there that seemed desperate to pull her back to him, she swallowed. How could she deny him anything? “Just for a spell…” Nabi said quietly as she settled into a seat next to him, tucking herself between the crook of his arm and his chest. She pressed herself against him as closely as she could, one hand draping across his torso. At least she could try and warm him. But when she laid her head against his chest, she heard his heartbeat. It was a feeble and distant thing. And it was slowing. It skipped beat. Then two. Then the next was even slower to come. “Figures…” he breathed faintly, his lips brushing against her brow. “To find again… only to lose…” “I’m going to try and heal you.” Nabi said firmly with a grimace, rising from his chest. Her own aether stores were drained, and her body was only able to continue because of the potion she had taken in the morning, one that kept her adrenaline running throughout her body. It was a dangerous thing, to try and heal him as she was, but what else could she do? She was going to lose him. “Nabi…” His metal hand closed around her forearm unsteadily as if to protest. But no more words came forth from his pale and broken lips. I can do this, Nabi told herself as she laid both her hands on his chest. The light from the small fire within the oven licked the metal augment of his arm, giving it an odd red glare. Nabi closed her eyes to shut away the darkness that was creeping upon both of them, gathering the last bits of aether left in her body. She called out to the earth to answer her heartbeat, to beat with her own, to give her strength to pull Anchor back from the precipice of forever-darkness. I can. Only, she couldn’t. Instead of her own heartbeat in her ears, she heard his, as it skipped a beat then another, then it paused. One more beat echoed in the distance, as if he was far far away. Then... there was silence. Nabi felt herself reaching for him, to grasp whatever strand of life she could within him, but it slipped away, like grains of sands sifting through her fingers. His skin turned frigid cold beneath her touch and when she opened her eyes, his body had turned black and distorted, much like that of Ashen Bear, the final champion Anchor had fought. And just like the mutated roegadyn after his death, Anchor remained still, even as his blackened body began to melt away. But the enhancement remained, still encircled around her arm. And despite his body no longer containing life, the gauntlet began to tighten its hold, the razor sharp blades slowly emerging from its fingertips. It pressed and pierced into her flesh. Bright red blood began to pool forth in rivulets down her arm from the rends the sharp, unforgiving steel was tearing into her skin. Nabi tried to pull herself free, but to no avail. The agonizing pain as that gauntlet clawed away at both flesh and aether returned fresh from her memory, and Nabi tried to scream. She startled awake. Nabi was gasping for breaths, and there were tears that had stained her face and the pillow beneath her. She blinked rapidly as the recognition of her surroundings returned slowly to her, the dream of blood and death slow to loosen its hold upon her consciousness. But Nabi saw Anchor, lying there next to her. She stayed frozen, just staring at him, willing him to breathe. And when she finally spotted the faint movement of his chest as he slowly inhaled and exhaled, a shuddering breath left her own, and she bowed her head, awash with relief. Careful not to wake him, she pressed her forehead against his chest. But the sight of seeing him alive gave her little relief. The despair and the horror from her nightmare still gripped her chest like a vise. Her fingers curled around his shirt, as if to hold him there with her. She was shaking. Wasn’t this over? They had gotten out. They were back in Shirogane. She was under the blankets with him. He had asked her to stay with him until she was recovered. They were safe. They were free. And yet, when she closed her eyes, her mind was pulled back into that mountain. “Hold to me now…” he told her, before he tucked her under the blankets. “Ya can rest with me a spell, aye? So ya not be forgetting.” Her fingers tightened their hold on the fabric of his shirt and she tucked herself against his body, suddenly desperate to hear his heartbeat. She didn’t let go, even when she heard the strong and even rhythm within his chest. Nabi didn’t know how long she stayed that way, just listening to him. She didn’t want to go back to sleep, to return to the visions of that place. The darkness that nearly crushed her spirit. The mere memory of it was enough to make her tremble. But eventually the call of slumber prevailed, as fatigue finally weighed her eyelids closed. But her hands remained upon his shirt, over his heart, even in sleep.
  8. Roen

    Cigarettes and Fireflies

    Her finger barely brushed the surface. Silent rings of water grew outward, the reflection of the blue sky blurring on the rippling surface of the pond. Nabi felt soft nibbles greet her fingertip, and the Xaela smiled as she saw the brilliantly colored koi swim to the surface to greet her. There were a few shy ones that hid beneath adjacent floating lotus leaves, but many circled and frolicked near the rock where she was perched. Signs of spring were blooming all around; leaves were more vibrant in color and flower buds were starting to emerge from their protective shells. The winds had become a gentle, whispering thing, and it carried a faint scent, promising of blossoms soon to flourish. Nabi lifted her face to the sky, welcoming the warming touch of the sun that greeted her skin. A lazy breath filled her lungs then slowly left through her parted lips, a serene smile lingering on her countenance. It felt like forever since the last time she was able to sit out in the sun with no worries or cares. The winter had been brutally unforgiving. Ever since her clinic had burnt down, and then all the troubles that followed… the last few fortnights had been the hardest she’d ever experienced in her life. But now that it was all over, the sun seemed warmer, the sky looked clearer, and the air never felt more crisp. “The world will look odd… when ya be back… everything'll look so trivial…” Anchor’s words drifted into her thoughts as she soaked in the light of the day. So much has happened. Nabi understood what he meant. When she tried to think through the process of rebuilding her clinic, and the task of restocking all her supplies and the work and the obligations that went with it, it felt so... mundane. But then there were other things too, little details that she had not noticed in awhile, that felt more alive and more vivid than ever before: the rustling of willow branches as it swayed along with the passing breeze, the soft babble of water as koi swam about, and distant chirping of sparrows as they sang merrily to each other. “You’ll be…hah…” Anchor’s voice whispered in her ear again. He sounded so far away. So weak. “You’ll be alright now…” Even just the vaguest recalling of that moment, it tightened her chest. Why did her thoughts return there now? To that small shed by the lakeside? It was their only refuge from the cold after they had swam out, escaping the mountain through a small shoot of a tunnel, carried away by a frigid river through a waterfall onto a lake. In that tiny shack with just a small oven for warmth, that was where Anchor’s heart started to slow, skipping a beat, then slowing further. He had poured out so much of his aether in that mountain, that his body had too little left. Nabi saw him slipping away before her eyes. She too was drained and exhausted, but she couldn’t let him go. She couldn’t let him die. What had she gone into the mountain for? After all they endured, what would it have been for if she lost him, just after they finally shared that first breath of free air? Another sigh left her lips as Nabi pulled her thoughts back to the present. She lifted her wrist before her eyes, the sunlight catching the glimmer of gold and silver threads entwined there. The bracelet was a gift, made by her mother’s hands, the one that Nabi had worn on her person for as long as she could remember. Her mother had implored her long ago, made Nabi promise not to take off the bracelet except in the most dire moments of need. It allowed her a closer connection to the earth, but she also knew it would be risking discovery by those that her mother had fled from so long ago. I am sorry, mother. I couldn’t lose him. Nabi had taken it off, more than once, to heal Anchor in the fighting pits.The final time was in that shed, when she used all the aether she had left. She knew he was going to die, and that she was the only person left that could bring him back from that precipice, return him to the light of the living, even if it would cost her everything. She said her last prayers to the Mother and called to the earth for its strength, then laid her hands upon him and gave him all she had. Nabi inhaled deeply as she came to lay beneath a maple tree, her hands stretched out over the cool blades of grass. Her eyes squinted at the shafts of sunlight peeking through the canopy of branches above, her gaze darting from one random leaf to another. She couldn’t quite remember what happened after, in that shed. There were vague visions, of luminescent butterflies answering her call, and fingers of vines and roots reaching for her through the floorboards of the shed. When she had finally awoken, she was laying on the floor, attended to by Anchor who looked so terribly worried. But the shed was intact, with no sign of unusual foliage having overgrown it from the inside out, as she had seen in her dreams. Nabi smiled broadly at the memory even now. She did what she promised herself to do. She saved him. Even if she didn’t quite understand or remember how, the end was still the same. They were now both back in Kugane, and they were both alive. Only… it wasn’t the end. “I was wrong, you know,” Nabi had confessed to Anchor in that shed, whispering what truths came to her mind, when she thought he was drifting away. “I thought I wanted one thing from all this. Your freedom. That if somehow I helped you get free, that it would all be worth it. “I was wrong. I want more. I want… to watch the cherry blossoms rain upon your head. And... I want to hear you say my name. I want us to watch the fireworks again. I want to show you the fireflies taking to the air just as the daylight sinks into the sea.” She was imploring him to stay. With her. “I want so much more." Nabi bit her lower lip, her forearm covering her eyes, as if that would shield her from the questions that began to grow in her mind. Now that the rest of their lives awaited them, what did those words mean exactly? So focused was she on just their very survival, she had not allowed herself to really see how important Anchor had become in her life in such a short period of time. She had gone after him, knowing she would be putting her own life at risk, accepting that she may never see her loved ones ever again. And more than once in that mountain, she had made impulsive and dangerous decisions to put his life before her own. She hadn’t questioned what that meant. She only knew that she had to. And even now, there was no doubt in her mind. If she ever thought he needed her, if he was ever in trouble, she would not hesitate in coming to his side. She would protect him. Even if she wasn’t powerful or strong, she would still be there for him. But even more than that, she wanted… She wanted to see him happy. When had that become so important to her? To see to his happiness and well-being? How had that become the most important thing? And what did that mean for the rest? For Tserende? The ever polite and quietly spoken man who had come to her aid more than once? Who had kissed her under the afternoon sun? Who she had kissed back as a blush rose to her cheeks? To whom she struggled to confess her growing feelings for after the trust that was developed over moons. She could still recall the moments of mirth they shared as she teased the unflappable man about his unwillingness to try a cooked mollusk. Or the gleeful laughter that rose from her chest when he took her riding over the waves of the ocean on his giant bird. Nabi had thought she found a content and peaceful place for her heart to reside. But now, she felt pulled by the undeniable whirlwind that was Anchor. Turbulent and unpredictable. But amidst all that turmoil… in the center, there was this glimpse of a tender heart hidden behind those many scars and wounds. He was so strong, yet so hurt at the same time. How could she be pulled by such opposite things? Did it make her a bad person to wish both of them happiness? Selfish… Nabi chided herself. She still remembered the subtle distance and coldness to Tserende’s demeanor when Nabi begged him for help on Anchor’s behalf. When she refused to listen to his advice about accepting Anchor’s sacrifice and went against his wishes in willingly accepting Grave’s invitation, there had been acute disappointment in the Ishgardian’s pale blue gaze. Had she hurt him already even without realizing it? That thought made her sit back up, the serenity she felt earlier draining away to leave only a weight of guilt that sat heavy in the pit of her stomach. She needed to speak to him. She hadn’t seen him after the escape; Shael said he was looking for her in Yanxia just as the Highlander was. Why hadn’t he returned to Kugane? Why hadn’t he come to see her? Nabi frowned. She was being more selfish than she realized. Just expecting him to come to her, after all he’d done for her already. Pushing off her legs, she rose. She was free from danger now. She couldn’t push aside these questions anymore. Not that she knew the answers to them, but… She knew she needed to speak with Tserende.
  9. Roen

    Cigarettes and Fireflies

    Gunshots echoed overhead. Usually such things would make her flinch with fear, but while Nabi kept her head low and her heart was racing faster than ever, her lips parted with a nervous kind of relief, knowing it was Shael up there. Her eyes darted from guard to guard as they were rushing out through the gates all around them, but soon as they heard the gunshots, their attention was diverted upwards. They were drawing their guns, looking to find the shooter. Anchor was right behind her, and guiding her towards the door that he had exited out of earlier. As Nabi lifted her dress and darted to the opened portal, she spotted two figures there. One was a guard, writhing on the ground, clutching at his leg. A stream of blood was spurting forth from the back of his knee. A quick assessment told her that his artery just above the calf must have been severed. And next to him, she saw the means to his injury. Myuto, the mute slave boy that Anchor had befriended, was crouched near the guard, with a sharpened bone in his bloodied hand. He was warily watching the guard, until he spotted both Nabi and Anchor. He suddenly rose and waved his hand, a youthful smile on his face despite the chaos. Once both of them were through the gates, Anchor did not waste time drawing forth the blade and shoving it into the guard's throat. Nabi looked away. There was something about Anchor that had made her shudder. It wasn’t the violence or the bloodshed this time; since he had caught her falling from the dais, she felt nauseated around him. She could feel his anomalous aether just overflowing from his body. She had caught something changing about him during the fight itself, when he was using the gauntlet on his own person. Now the very air around him felt sickly. His eyes were bloodshot and there were stains of crimson pooling in the corner of his eyelids. Even his voice sounded somewhat distorted. Once he pulled his blade free from the guard, he pointed the bloody tip down the tunnel. “Go!” he ordered Myuto, before he turned to her. “Follow him!” He then spun from them both to close the door behind him and latching it shut. Myuto scampered away and Nabi continued to follow as fast as she could. She was silently thankful for the potion she was able to drink before coming to the match, else her weakened body would never be able to keep up with this pace. But she felt its effect injected into every muscle fiber, as her heart pumped harder than ever to keep her moving. It was a maze of narrow tunnels and caverns. Mytuo took multiple quick turns, and if it wasn’t for him guiding her, Nabi knew she would be hopelessly lost in these depths. It was when both took a sharp turn that a guard appeared out of nowhere, also running quickly toward the sounds of chaos and battle. He immediately reached for his gun, but then another arm shot out from the metal bars behind him, grabbing the man by the throat and pulling him back against the cell. Nabi could spy scales upon that arm. Whoever it was that intervened, was an au ra, just like her. There was no time to linger or even thank the stranger. Nabi nodded quickly just as she spotted Myuto darting away. As she took off after him, Nabi hoped that the au ra, and the rest of the fighters would find the same freedom she was chasing after now. Just as Myuto finally came to a stop, pointing ahead to the final tunnel that would offer them escape, she heard an explosion in the distance, one that rocked the mountain and brought a rain of dust down upon their heads. That was when Nabi turned around and realized Anchor was nowhere to be seen.
  10. Roen

    Cigarettes and Fireflies

    Anchor… has won. Nabi had been watching the match, her hands clutching the railing the entire time. There were moments where she had to close her eyes, only to open them again an instant later when the crowd roared again. But in the final moments, she had closed her eyes, her hands clasped pale in its tight grasp, as she prayed to the kami and the Nhaama, for him to live. For him to win. When all the arena suddenly fell quiet, Nabi’s eyes shot back to the ring, where she saw Anchor’s blade protruding through Ashen Bear’s chest. She didn’t hear Masashige’s announcement of the victor, nor the thunderous howl of the audience. All she could hear was Anchor’s voice, from two nights ago, as they huddled by the hearth. "I be imaginin' you be up there with 'em all through all the entertainment. Near and by the end o' that match, no eyes'll be on ya. Even if they were a moment 'til, when the roar o' the crowd be beckonin' their gaze, you'll be movin'. Don't hesitate. Don't be lookin' around wide-eyed an' afraid to make sure. The dais be overlookin' right over the ring, aye? I don' care if it looks like I'm on my last leg." "I want you to jump." Nabi pushed off from where she had been praying. Her heart was pounding so hard against her chest, she thought it would burst out. But as she took one step, then another to the edge of the dais, no one stopped her. Their eyes were indeed, all on the ring below and the fight’s finish. She looked behind her once, just to give a look to Ghoa, one that implored her to leave as well. She could not say anything for the fear of alerting others. But she could not let her stay on the dais either. Not when she knew that Shael and Tserende were planning something against the sponsors. Ghoa met her gaze for a fraction of a second, but then Nabi had to keep moving. She could not delay. While everyone looked to the new victor below, it was her chance to escape. But just as her hand reached for the railing at the very edge of the dais, Nabi felt a sudden constriction around her other wrist, jerking her backwards. “Where do you think you are going, precious thing?” Nei Uzuka forcibly pulled her around. “Don’t you want to enjoy his victory?” Before Nabi could even reply, Nei was turned half way around herself, by a hand upon her shoulder pulling at her attention and frame. It was Ieharu Musa, and he struck the younger woman’s chest with his palm, sending Nei staggering backwards as she released her hold on Nabi. The elder Doman stepped in between the Xaela and the hyur, his stance wide and his hands taking up a defensive pose. “What… are you doing?” Nei hissed, clutching at her chest. “Your bargain with Saltborn is at an end. He broke your agreement. She is no longer under your protection.” “She is,” the elder sponsor answered quietly but firmly. “As long as I draw breath, however many I have left.” Nabi could see Musa’s hand shaking from where she stood. His shoulders rose and fell with breaths that were slowly becoming labored. Her eyes went to the cup of tea that was in his hand the entire match, now rolling empty on the ground. The tea that had contained Nei’s poison, one that the woman had been pouring for Musa for the last many sennights. Nabi stood frozen with fright. She had only discovered it that morning; the contents of his tea that had been mostly well hidden, except for one flaw. Nei hadn’t succeeded in completely removing the subtle scent of a little known mushroom that Nabi had worked with before. When she had shared her knowledge with Lord Musa in private, his surprise at her candor was obvious on his aged face. He smiled sadly at her, and promised to guard her safety for as long as he lived. But he then continued to drink the tea when the match came, Nei pouring that insidious toxin into his cup. “I promised her that much when she told me of the poison in your tea,” Musa continued in a low voice. His guards stepped in front of Nabi to block her path, but the elder gave them a nod. “Let them pass.” Nabi blinked, her eyes going first to Musa, who didn’t meet her gaze. She then spotted the other part of ‘them’ as she saw Ghoa on the other end of the dais, also trying to make her own retreat. Musa’s guards all but surrounded the entire dais, but at his command, they stepped aside, allowing the Xaelas to pass through. Ghoa didn’t give Nabi a second look, and Nabi turned, hurrying to the edge closest to her. Anchor would be waiting for her to jump. She had absolute faith that he would be there. Gathering her breath, Nabi climbed over the railing. She could see Anchor running towards her. She gave Musa one last look, and the elder gave her a small nod with a slight softening of his eyes, before Nabi released her hold to fall to the sands below.
  11. Roen

    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 temple. 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.
  12. Roen

    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.
  13. Roen

    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]
  14. Roen

    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.
  15. Roen

    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.”