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Letters and Life (A journal of sorts)

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There were times as Kathenna traveled that she would take the old, worn letters out to read. She knew them by heart now. Still, there was something comforting about them, even during the times where she felt nothing but frustration and confusion for not being able to remember the person who had written these letters to her. Somewhere inside, she felt she should love the man she'd known, but it was hard to love someone you couldn't remember that well, especially when he'd abandoned her. It was as if she were reading the life of someone else, and was unable to connect that life with her own memories, try as she might. A bleakness had stolen over her the first month this had happened, when she would revisit the letter she'd been writing to herself, pretending to be him. Him, wherever he was. The him who would never receive her messages, because suddenly he was gone from her life. She still didn't know how to feel about it. Should she mourn someone she felt she no longer knew? Should she cry over letters that spoke of deep love? 



As the airship made its descent into Ul'Dah to dock, she put these letters away, then twisted the small silver band about her left ring finger. It was more in homage to a memory than because she felt that tug of love she should have felt that she still wore the band. That, perhaps, was what saddened her the most. She knew she still loved this man, but there was nothing ... In a way, that broke her heart more than the realization she had lost her fiance and couldn't blame it on the Calamity.

Edited by SPNoelle
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Dearest K - 

I have reached my first location, right on the outskirts. It's still quite chilly, but not to the degree we are used to. There's a thin dusting of snow along the ground. I see plumes of smoke when I breathe, thin little misty smears on a clear sky. It's so beautiful, K, to see the actual hint of green beneath the snow. It was rare we ever go to travel this far. Do you remember? The sun was so bright when it came up that we would shield our eyes as it gleamed on the glassy ice. We laughed at how it barely penetrated the thick veneers to reach our chilled skin. Here, the snow can barely endure against the sun. The intensity of it is incredible, my love.


I almost didn't make it to the border, you know. I felt such a moment of weakness, hating myself for leaving you behind. I know it's what we both decided. It was safer for us both if he thought we were no longer together, that we had broken the engagement, and that I had left in anger. He would be less likely to seek me out. I pray this is true. After everything that I've fought through to get this far, I would hate to have our plans ruined by his finding us out. We're one step closer to our freedom, my love. It's a small step, but one that is completely necessary. It's that alone that keeps me from turning around, coming to drag you along with me. 


There are so many 'if only' moments that have gone through my mind in the short week that I've been away from you. If only we could have taken more to pay for your passage. If only there had been a way to smuggle you in the chocobo cart. If only his eye had not been directed on you so often. My being a lesser peasant helped my escape. I don't say this to brag, my love, but to fret. I would have willingly traded places and been the focus of his hateful eye, if I could have traded places with you. I have already begun to plan my destination in order to save up gil for your passage. 


Please, have patience, my love. I know he's unbearable to endure. If I am lucky, in less than six months, I will have you stowed away on a chocobo or goods cart, and have you travel with a larger pack for safety's sake. I saw no dragons on my path, but the larger caravans have safer measures, and they'll be less likely to take notice of you. I will be moving from the cart to the airship station within a few days, I've been told. But this man is kind enough to deliver this letter back to you. I've paid him with some of the few gil I have left and am helping to tend his chocobo in return. I will find ways to continue sending letters to you, I promise, love. Hide them, guard them well. Destroy them, if you must. If you can send me any response with him, please do. I love you, K, eternally.


Forever yours,


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Dearest K –

I write to you from a distant hill, beneath trees that bloomsuch shades of green that I couldn’t begin to imagine in all my dizzying dreams. We’ve seen pictures and seen such vibrant colors in clothing. It’s not the same as seeing the sun glimmer through the leaves in golden hues. I can’t begin to express the beauty I see all around me. I see it, and I wish you were here to see it with me. I miss you, my love, with an ache that becomes more unbearable each passing day. Each bite of apple I take is shared with you in my mind. The rich smell is delightful. They’re not chilled from the snow or baked through, but fresh and tart, and utterly delightful.


How is it there? Has he gotten worse? I know in your last letter you expressed fears of his changing. I don’t fully understand how you mean. Has madness begun to touch his mind? His paranoia seemed to be worsening before I left, but not to the levels you’re hinting at. Please, dearest, stay strong. Do as he asks, as long as it keeps you safe. I will send for you as soon as I have gil enough to bring you here. I can’t disclose where I am currently, should this fall in the wrong hands. It’s best that you be cautious in how you send your letters, too. You never know who will apprehend them.


Think instead of my lips on yours. Think of our tender nights together, and how we would gaze at those dark windows through the night, with only a candle burning, sharing our dreams with each other. Think of my hands in your hair, and I will think of how you would always touch my arm when you laugh at one of my deplorable jokes.  I’ll think of youat night, when my arms ache to hold you. I hope you’ll think of me and brush that part of your neck I know you love for me to kiss. Don’t forget me, my love. No matter what happens, I will send for you.





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My dearest K - 


     My first time upon an airship was fascinating, and I wish you could have seen it. It was expansive! There weren't many people on it, and I was smuggled on as "help" for the merchant I traveled with. Not a gil was given, for which I'm grateful. I would have walked had I needed to, just to make it to where I need to go. It's different to hear the engines on board compared to overhead. The light hum resonates through the floor so when you press your teeth together, you can feel the faint sensation of vibration through them and into your gums. It almost tickled at times. 


     I'm grateful that you were able to send a letter to me so soon, by the by. I didn't thank you for it before, when I should have. I treasure the words. It's a part of you, something to keep dear until I have you close to me again, my dear. However did you get this to me, though? No, it's best that I don't know. What if you were to tell me and someone were to intercept it? Then our secret would be done for. It's why I don't share my location or plans here, though I would tell you everything if it were possible. It's enough that I'm telling you about the airship. There are enough of them, and there are so many travelers that use them, it would be hard to find one lone man among the rest of them, especially one who most will forget as soon as they saw him. 


Your bright beacon of hair, however, would draw attention. When it comes time for your escape, you'll have to wear something to conceal yourself. You are too bright, too pretty, and they would notice you at once. I would keep my soon-to-be wife safe. I've already met a few ... let's say eager individuals along the city I'm in. I would never have expected to be given the invitations that I have. I assure you that I've turned down every one, but still I laugh at them. I know that their offers aren't free, and even if they were, they would still not be enticing. They don't give me the same thrill or anticipation as you do, my love. This will be a difficult time, I assure you, so expect that I will pounce you as soon as we're able to be alone. 


I won't be long in this city, I should warn you. Long enough to establish myself with a guild, I anticipate, then I'll move along. Once I have a location that you can send letters to me, I will send it to you in code. You remember how to decipher it, I hope. Otherwise, this will be an interesting means of getting letters back and forth. This may be my only letter in the next twenty days, I should warn you. I can't know until it comes time to move to the next location. Until then, be safe, my love. Be watchful of him and his doings. 


All my love,


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My dearest K - 


     I'm in the city and I should tell you, it is swarming with life of all sorts. I can stand in one place and hear snippets of stories from all sorts. It's intriguing to hear the things that you do, just standing in one small section of this large land. I can't understand why we cut ourselves off from them, but I have always been of the mind that our masters were crazy, though in a different way from what they seem to have been turning into as of late. 


    I'm sad to say I have little to offer in this letter. I didn't want to make you wait for another message from me, though I haven't received word from you since getting here. Please don't think I am complaining, my love. Your situation is far more precarious. I am only saying that I miss you intensely, and I feel I should remind you of this often and in many ways. I was tempted to add along a flower with this letter. However, I fear that by the time it arrived there, it would be either wilted or frozen solid. Either way, it would be pointless to send one now, much as I want to. I'd rather shower you in their petals in person. 


     For now, I am keeping more to myself, though I have signed up with a guild to continue learning blacksmithing. There's little money in it, since I'm mostly polishing weapons and keeping the fires heated up. It's a blow to my pride, I admit, because I'd hoped to hop into learning how to shape weaponry from the beginning. It seems I have a long journey of knowledge in this as well. I met a friendly fellow the other night while I was tending to his armor. I won't share his name, it's safer not to, but he's a Miqo'te with large, black ears and a long tail. He laughs often and loves to dance. He forced me to accompany him to a nearby tavern to have a few drinks in gratitude for my tending so diligently to his armor for him. He means to pay me without informing my teacher, as long as I willingly do the work at his inn room. 


     That may seem like an odd request, but then he does odd work, he admits. I've been hesitant to ask him more about it, because it's clear he doesn't wish to share. As we have only become acquainted, I can understand his reticence. His inn room is filled with objects from his travels, too. He shares stories with me. I hope to introduce you to him within a few months, if everything works out successfully. I have told him stories of you, too. He understands how dire it is to get you here, and he has offered to help in any means he can. He intends to introduce me to a friend in the next few days, to see how I can help them.


     There are plans set in motion to get you here, my love. You know this is my only desire above anything else. We will be together again, I promise you.


     All my love, 


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My Dearest K - 


                Your last letter is concerning, but I’m relieved to know that you came from the situation unharmed. I should have warned you of his compatriot, but I never believed you would meet him. It’s quite unlike the man to act in such a wild way, as he has never seen us as worthy of time or attention to introduce us to the nobility before. Please, guard your tongue, watch your back, my love, and bide your time until I can come for you. I have been accepted on here, and have been running along hotter lands from time to time. It’s nearly unbearable when you’re so used to constant winter. There is a caster who has perfected the right level of chill on the skin to protect you from the brutal heat, though. I have been in his company more as the days have gone, and I’ve joined with his companions in a small company. They’re speaking of wetter lands, as they dislike the heat nearly as much as I. It will be a long trip, and I don’t know how long it may take for us to land.


                I dreamed of you last night, by the by. Your hair was loose along your shoulders and you were wearing that soft white gown you know I like best. You were laughing, and nothing more. Your eyes were warm and tender as you whispered, “I love you” and slipped down beside me, still laughing happily. I woke and reached for you, not realizing it was a dream until the coldness of the night crept over me. The stars were watching my every action, and I’m certain they were laughing at me, as well. They can’t know the misery in my heart, not as you do. I know that I keep telling you soon, and nothing more. I want badly to give you promises, but I can’t. Not yet, K, my love. I have heard of a place that I can bring you, one that there are homes along water, that you could build a garden at and cook to your heart’s content. You could roam the waters with bare feet and sing sweetly to me as we walk the sands. I haven’t the money to afford it, mind you. I’m still struggling to afford my own food, though my new compatriots are generous to share meals with me at this point. I have been learning skill with swords and have become proficient with bows, too. I wish you could see me here. I wish I could see you here, see how you would blossom.  


Soon, my love.

                - M

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My Dearest K –



                I have not heard from you in two weeks and confess concern. I understand that there are trite times when you’re unable to reach out to me. As soon as you are able, please give me word that you are safe. 


I’m still on the paths myself, so my responses are precarious at best until we’ve settled again. We have been on the run as a new enemy has made himself known. There have been increased altercations as of late, and I am grateful you’re not here to experience them. Attacks from dragons are difficult enough, wouldn’t you say? These men … these monsters, I would say, hate our skills and intend to punish them for us. These are the words that have spread along the cities and have come to our ears. We have lost two of our company, but where we lose those precious few, we find more refugees who run from these attacks. I am afraid, my love, in a way I didn’t believe could be possible here. I thought it would be safe to bring you here. First I must know that you’ll be fine. 


                Our company has met up with another, a larger, and I believe we are to begin training in earnest. K, something is coming, something that they fear. A war, they say. I don’t know if this is true, not really. They are only words, after all. Still, I would know that you’re safe. Please, write to me as soon as you are able.


                My heart is with you forever.


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  • 2 weeks later...

Dearest K -


I’m relieved to know that you’re well, and am surprised at what he is now teaching you to do. Still, having a unique skill will be highly valuable once you have come here. I know that I continue to say soon, but I cannot yet say when. All I can do is share with you the life that you would live once here, one I’m forced to share with you in my mind and heart only. I swam yesterday for the first time. Mind you, I did not go deep, for I’ve never been in the water before. It was fresh and cool. I could feel fish, small ones, running along my legs. A few nipped at my toes in a ticklish way. I could almost hear your laughter join mine as I moved my arms clumsily through the cool blue depths. My friend is teaching me things here and there, things I have not known. Their government is so odd to me, so freeing in some ways, that I can’t begin to understand their means of freedom compared to ours. I wish I could explain this to you, and know you will understand immediately once you have come here.


We shared a meal with our new company, a grand feast that had quite unique foods that we often served but were denied to taste. You and I would often bites, all the same, my love. It’s not the same, however, not when the food is fresh compared to dried and congealed in grease. The food was not half eaten, but prepared beautifully and with such aromas, the mouth watered. I went back for more and more, and my friend laughed that I would gain so much weight, I wouldn’t be able to fit into my new clothing. I have had to learn to mend to keep myself garbed, and have learned to make a shirt for myself so far. I wanted sorely to make something for you as well. I’m certain I could get your measurements correct. It wouldn’t be safe, though. I’m afraid that something would give away my location. Even in my descriptions, I fear I give too much.


I asked that they make your favorite food one evening. They had never heard of it. Can you believe that? I taught them how to make it. I even went out to catch the necessary items myself. I told them all of you as we spoke. Your beauty and sweetness, and how you would dance into my arms when you were happy with something I had done. How bright your eyes would become when I would kiss you. Your exuberance would flow through the room, and you would sparkle. Ah, my love, how I miss you. I cannot help but think of you in everything I do. I wish you were here to bathe with me, and to rub at my shoulders as only you know how. The company has skilled healers to attend to the aches, but I would rather have you tending me with your sweet kisses. I would rather have you in my lap so I could find that ticklish spot on your ribs and lure you down onto the fragrant grass to make love to you.


I miss you, my love.


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My dearest K - 


Things are far more tense than I had expected. We are intending to move out soon, and join in a nasty skirmish. I'm not sure what to expect, and I fear this is the last chance I'll have to write to you in a few months. Knowing this, I am prepared to send you gil at the nearest convenience. It's not going to be enough, and I wish I could give you further information than what I have. In truth, I'm not sure what to expect, and I dread what may happen.


I'm not prepared to face whatever is there, waiting for us, but I've been tasked with protecting a great general. He and I have gotten on well, and we talk often about you, among other things. He is wanting to front your passage here. I think you'll like him, once you get to meet him. It pains me not to give you information on who he is now, because I truly think you'd like him if you were able to learn of him. Just know that this great stranger has been in our place before, with a cruel situation that took his lover from him, and delivered her over to his worst enemy. She died, and he endured the loss of her. Now he gives us a chance that he never had.


Please, tonight my love, keep my name on your lips as you whisper your prayers in the dark. Hope for our safety. Remember that soon, you and I will be together, once we have reached our location and are safe again. I will share more with you once I can. However, if things don't go as I wish, and I don't survive, please know that you are always in my heart and in my mind. You have been with me in every step I've taken. I have not gone anywhere that you weren't there with me, my dearest K.


All my love,


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Her back was bruised from the hard swats of wood over cloth. At least he hadn't used the whip, but one of his guard's arrows, the hard point of the tip sometimes digging into her back. He'd been angry with her. She was slow, weak, refusing to learn at the impossible pace he set. He wanted too much of her, and he was losing his mind at such an increase pace, Kathenna wasn't certain she could endure it much longer. It had been nine months since her lover's last letter, and she didn't think he knew of the child she'd endured and lost. She wanted to be in his arms when she told him of that tragedy. He'd assured her that he would write, that he'd let her know as soon as he was able to, what he was enduring. She fretted over him, feared the worst more as time endured. His silence agitated her to the point that she wasn't sure she could endure another day.


As tears slipped down her pale cheeks, she cautiously hobbled over to the slender stone table tucked in the corner of the tiny room. There, beneath the edge of the table, was a stone that had worked loose some years before. He had shown her when he'd found it by chance, and they had crept love letters to each other by use of this crevice. This is where she'd stored his letters this whole while, and kept those that she'd written to him until they could be delivered. Since his last letter, she had written over thirty to be given over. The old herder had assured her that he sent the letters off safely, but he never heard anything in return. He was certain the letters were getting to her lover, however. 


After today, however, Kathenna had her doubts. She kept as quiet as she possibly could as she wrote, huddled in the corner of the room with only a candle to light the paper.


My love, my only, M-


I cannot endure this any more. I have heard nothing from you in some time, and I fear your loss. I know you said that it would be some time before another letter would be sent, but I'd hoped to have heard something before now. Where are you? What has happened? Are you dead? Have you abandoned me? My heart tells me no, that you are safe out there and patiently waiting to bring me home, as you promised. Something tells me that you are at the side of your general, protecting him, and both of you have colluded the best way to bring me to you. If this is so, perhaps I'll meet your letter in route. I have decided that I will make my way to you. I intend to steal as much gil as is possible, and I'll travel as you did. Perhaps, if I'm lucky, I'll be with you in a month's time. Maybe two. Whatever it takes, I will be with you again, my love.


          Until then, be safe, my darling.

          My heart is with you. - Kathenna


That very moment, in a blink, her mind fractured and cleared as a memory broke through of a hard, angry face. Each kiss, each touch of his hand, the way he would sweep her hair from her eyes, and how rough those fingertips were were blinded by the hatred in his words. How she'd come to love how he'd stroke the birth mark on her cheekbone and call it his special kissing spot. How low his voice would get when sleepy, or how he'd laugh deep from his belly when pleased. Memories gone in a blink as she held her quill aloft. Insanity had set in and cleared her mind of every rational thought when he'd left, and now her mind was clear again. 


A spot of ink dripped from it onto the bottom of the page. Tears were wiped away, though now she couldn't understand their purpose. She stared at the paper, read what she'd written in deep confusion, then set it aside. Why had she written that? Who was she writing? Twice more, in the night, she left her bed to creep back to read the letter. Though it hurt immensely, she kept huddled against that table, finding the love letters to read. They were her handwriting, her creations, written to herself. Or had they been to someone else whose name began with K? But then why was she writing them? Why had she wept and begged this stranger, whom she hadn't seen for such a long time, for information? Why had she feared his death? He no longer feared for her.

Rationality, memory, was sinking in around the tethers of the insanity that had swept her mind up years before. Marius had left her, didn't want her to follow him to the new world. He was sick of this barren land of snow and ice. He was tired of her. He was leaving her to her own demise, he'd said, and had never loved her.

As the sun rose up on a new day, she finally folded the letter to put it aside with the others, all decision to leave her master gone. That pleading ache in her heart to be with the man she loved was now replaced with a desperation and fear of the man who she served as courier and torturer. She forgot all about the letters, and the man who had broke her heart and mind years before.

Edited by SPNoelle
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  • 1 year later...

Two Years Later:

Ul'dah was too bright, too hot, too ... well, it wasn't Ishgard, was it? She sat there, hands folded in her lap, staring at groups passing by with each other, talking about things that made no sense to her. "Did y' hear, I won big at th' Saucer!" "That stupid Ala Mhigan-" "-going down to the Bones and-"

She felt lost. She had somehow followed the others away from the airship's platform down to the main passageway, and was now tucked on a bench with her only belongings stuffed away in a meager satchel. With no map, and no idea what she should do, Kathenna sat and watched, trying to decide what her next steps should be. And those next steps turned her toward the darker hallways of Ul'dah in search of solitude. 


"Hey!" A shrill whistle sounded out and a hand grabbed for her arm. "Don't want t' go down tha' way, luv." A sandy-haired Miqo'te grinned down at her. Nodding toward the direction her feet had been taking her, he explained, "Nothin' but robbers an' murd'rers down 'ere." She flushed, embarrassed, feeling worse for unintentionally trying to unintentionally put herself in danger within minutes of arriving at what likely would be her new home. She pulled herself away from the stranger's grasp, trembling weakly. "Well, thank you very much," she retorted. The cold tone of her master had somehow become hers. "I don't believe I asked for your help." By the heavens, stop! sounded in the back of her head. She knew she was being rude, and yet couldn't stop. 


His response was to look amused and to suggest, "Y'might want t' steer clear o' tha Pearl Lane, all th' same, yeah? Been dang'rous f'r far too long. Got desp'rate folk livin' long it. Those type's'll do anythin' f' gil." His tawny eyes looked her over with interest as he asked, "Y'new here?"


"Is it that obvious?" Her cheeks had gone red, making her look like a massive raspberry with her bright red hair. "I-I was just looking for ..." she floundered, not knowing what it was she'd been looking for. "I was trying to find my next steps. What to do. Where to go. I'm lost," she explained, feeling weak and tired now. To her shame, tears were coming up. She  blinked them away hurriedly. "This is a long way away from Ishgard."


"Ishgard!" The stranger whistled again in shock. "Y'nae kiddin'. S'far away from 'ere, luv. Tell y' what, let's 'ave a look 'round, yeah? Get y' a decent meal t' eat, s'm place t' rest comft'bly." This time, when he took her  by the arm, she allowed him to. Her satchel was secured under her arm as he led her toward the Quicksand. "What brought y' ta Ul'dah," he asked, cheerful, polite.


"Um. I lost my fiance," she answered. There was a throb inside her chest, one of great misery. "He came here to look for a better life for us, and he disappeared. I thought maybe I could find him, but I wouldn't know where to begin searching for him. I thought, if I were lucky, maybe I would find something. If not, then I could build a better life for myself. Ishgard was miserable." A note of bitterness touched at her words. "And I was tired of being a mad man's servant." As soon as the words were out, she grimaced, ashamed. "S-sorry. Things are just now starting to settle in, now that I'm here. I don't have to keep moving, or looking over my shoulder. I'm pretty sure he'd have sent someone to arrest me before now, if that was his intent."


"Don' worry 'bout that, luv, yer protected 'ere," he assured her, then released her arm in order to offer his hand. "M'name is Tariev, by th' way."



They chatted for hours as he showed her the safer locations of Ul'dah, from top to bottom. He then took her to the fighting ring and explained how he was part of that ring. "Oh! The great Blonde Blur," she realized, finally clicking on why he'd seemed so familiar. "My master's son used to make trips here, and you were one of his favorites. He had a picture of you, along with a few others. He made quite a pretty coin off of your fights." 


"I ain' the best, but I'm up 'ere wi' em," he commented smugly, brandishing what she'd become to understand was his common smirk. "S'nae me ideal, but it pays th' bills." 


"Don't you ever worry about getting hurt, though? I don't mean cuts and bruises, but punctured organs and splintered bone does happen in the rings."


"Nah, m' manager patches me up," he explained, leaning forward against the railing to peer down into the ring from above. She joined him in watching two contenders practice with each other, sparring without doing any real damage. "B'sides, nae like I c'n leave th' life."


Her head snapped up, jaw tightened. The poor man was in a prison. It was one of his own making, but still a prison, nonetheless. Her heart ached for him, fingers so tight around the railing that they'd turned white. "I'm so sorry," she whispered, voice dripping with pity. He pulled a face in reaction, not pleased by her response. "I ain't. I enjoy it. C'm one. Y' must be hungry."


She remained silent, confused by his reaction, slipping from one mood to the other. For one moment, she'd felt a kindred spirit in captivity - and then it was yanked away, that shield of polite friendliness taking its place. She tucked her hands around her satchel, hugging it close to her side, face marred by a moue of confusion. When he asked what was on her mind, she shook her head, unable to put her thoughts into words. She was rescued from any further questions as he approached a merchant's stall to begin purchasing multitudes of each type of food, along with a pot and pan. Once everything had been stowed into the pot, he turned to happily offer it to Kathenna, who gazed bemusedly at him in return.

"I don't know how to cook," she stated. "And I don't have anywhere to try to cook, either."

"So y' learn how," Tariev responded, deciding to carry the pot for her as he steered her back in the direction they had come. "Y' get y'self a room at th' inn for th' night. T'morrow's goin' ta seem better w' some food in y' stomach, aye?" He ignored her gil, paying for the room from his own pouch when they got back to the Quicksand. "Y' good for a week's time. Y' let me know if y' need anythin' more, though. Y' can find me down a' the practice rooms mos' o' th' time. It was good t' meet ya, Kathenna."

She felt overwhelmed by his warmth and cheer, so used to a land of austere individuals who hated you for being born common. Feeling wobbly, she took her pot of food and her key from the keeper, and entered her room. It was twice the size of her former room, comfortable with a full bed, and with a fireplace for cooking. She dropped her satchel onto the bed, and her pot was set into a nearby chair as she took in the sandstone structure. With a feeling of complacence, she dug into her satchel to find the journal she had brought with her, and spread it out over her lap as she took a seat on the edge of the bed. Opening her pot of ink and with quill in hand, she began to write:

I'm in Ul'dah now, and may have already made a friend. His name is Tariev. He's one of the few miqo'te I have ever met. He's interesting. Nice. It's been a long time since someone was nice to me. I forgot that such a thing can exist, kindness. Tomorrow, I will look at the guilds around Ul'dah, to see what I'm able to do. I'm nervous, but excited. Most of all, I actually feel hope, and that's something I haven't felt in a very long time.

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  • SPNoelle changed the title to Letters and Life (A journal of sorts)

The four brothers paced around each other with relentless energy in their small bodies. They talked over each other, a habit that they'd annoyed others with for decades. As they spoke, their youngest brother watched, mopping the floors, sulking, because he wasn't allowed any part of the conversation. When the young red-haired Ishgardian entered, the conversation dribbled to a stop as the foursome became aware of her presence. Fiona regarded the Lalafell brothers with some unease. They way they sized her up made her as anxious as their silence did. When the quiet of the room began to fray her nerves, she cleared her throat, breaking through the tension. "I, uh. I was .... how would one apply to learn thaumaturgy," she asked shakily. 


"Pfah. This one-"
"She seems young."
"-doubt she can do it-"
"Give her the test?"
"The test!"
"Yes, the test," the patch-wearing one decided, displeased with his brothers. "She's sure to fail it anyway."
"Yes, likely."
"Show us what you can do."
"What?" She blinked, confused, trying to catch up between the garbled sentences.
Slower, as though talking to a simpleton, the patch-wearer repeated, "Show us what you can do."
"What I can do?"
The second one - third? - she couldn't make out which was which - clicked his staff against the ground and aimed it at her threateningly. "Show-us-what-you-can-do!" When she hesitated, the tip of his staff glowed warningly until she raised her hands and projected lightning at it in reaction, catching the tip on fire. It was snubbed just as quickly, however. "Hmm." He made as if to attack again and a bolt struck at his feet, almost striking him had he not jumped back in time. However, there was a trap behind him, one made of ice that made him almost slip and fall. "Hmm!" His brothers caught him and righted him. A strike of the staff and the ice melted quickly beneath him. "You show potential. How old are you?"

"Twenty seven," she answered reluctantly. "My birthday is-"


"Young enough?"
"Maybe, but twenties are-"
"-harder, the brain is-"
"It's harder to teach the older they are."
"If she had started-"
"If she had been younger, yes. Sixteen? Seventeen?"
"But she knows elements."
"Test continues?"
"Yes. Test continues."

They took her through different forms, different ways to draw the ether. She was put under hypnotism and talked with them. Apparently, while asleep, she caught one of them on fire, but they had anticipated something like that would happen and had shielded themselves beforehand. When she woke up, they all had strange looks on their faces, not quite fear, but not quite friendly, either. Guarded. Unhappy. Nervous. The patch-eyed brother decided, "We will teach her." 
"Are you sure-"
"Yes. There is potential."
"Yes. Potential." 
"Oooh! And I can learn with her," cried the youngest, who had been watching the tests for such a long time, and now ran into the room, face flushed with jealousy.
"You ask that every time-"
"We tell you no-"
"-too young-"
"Yes, not yet-"
"You need to be careful."
"But Cocobygo-"
"No, Cocobusi, not yet."
"Not yet," the others agreed.
The youngest gathered up his mop, sulking, and stalked out of the chamber.
"We will train you," the one with the staff told her. "I am Cocobygo, this is my brother Cocobuki, and that is Cocobani. And last is Cocobezi. You saw our brother Cocobusi, poor little brother. He is not strong enough to be a thaumaturge like us." He sighed heavily, pained to cause his little brother such pain. "However, it isn't for everyone. This can lead to darkness, the path you take. You must decide if you can touch that darkness again."
"Yes, there was much darkness in your mind."
"Not right, not fully."
"Something happened-"
"Wonder what-"
"Silence! Do you accept?"

Kathenna trembled at their words, but pasted on a smile as she asked, "What do I do first?"

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Water splashed warm along her legs, tickling at the backs of her knees as it rushed by, dropping down a small waterfall into the creek below. The sand was warm beneath her toes, even with the coolness of the creek. Damn Ul'dah. Damn sun. She slapped at a mosquito on her neck, cursing under her breath as she tried to balance the fishing pole in her grip again. Damn Lalafell and their appetites. She could be learning something better than fishing, but no. They sent her out in the miserable heat to catch them some trout. Buki claimed it was more to learn about the elements of life. The cold. The heat. How to sustain the two-

Her mind blanked out briefly as she realized something. She could cast a chilling sensation on her own skin to endure the miserable heat while she fished. She tried to concentrate and let the icy sensation coat her skin. She could feel the emanation of coolness, just thought about ice pelting over her body and-


"What y' doin?"


She flinched, the spell gone, her mind blanking again as she stared at Tariev dumbly. "I- uh. I'm fishing," she answered lamely.

"I c'n see that." He knelt down at the edge of the shoreline, watching her line bobble weakly in the stream's pull. "Th' question's why."

"Because I was told this was my first task to learn how to become a thaumaturge," she replied irritably. "And don't laugh at me." He still laughed, snorting at her while he worked his boots off to trail his fur-touched feet in the water, his tail swishing against the warm rock he sat on. Grumbling, she pulled her line from the water to survey the limp, useless worm attached to the end. "This is useless. How am I going to get five trout when they aren't even biting?"

"Sure 'ey are. Y' just in the wrong spot," he explained. Holding his hand out to her, he rose, helping her from the stream. He gathered their shoes up and led her down the waterfall to the other side of a steep rocky decline. "They're down 'ere in the shade," he explained, pointing to the large pool below, to the clumps of cattails that had survived the desert climate to grow in the murky depths of the water. "Eatin' off th' roots an' swallowin' down the minnows." 

The two made their way down to the edge of the pool. She almost stepped down in it again until Tariev warned her, "Y' goin' ta get caught up in th' roots if y' do that. Best y' stay up on the sand." She flexed her feet, the heat now causing her discomfort until she remembered her intent to chill her skin. She reached out, playful, and planted an icy finger on his shoulder, causing a chill to go throug him. He shivered, jerking back on a laugh. "What w's tha' for?"

"Trying something out," she explained, then brushed her hands along her feet, one after the other, brushing away the sand and at the same time, trying to fix her mind on creating a chilly barrier between herself and the sand. "There. Temporary fix. The sand can't burn me, but now I have to worry about frostbite. It's not a full-win situation, but it hopefully will last long enough so I can catch some fish and get back up there." She unfurled the line and dunked it into the water, along the edge of the roots. When silence threatened to fall, she said, "Thank you, by the way, for being so nice to me. It's been a while since I've had anyone to ... well, be friendly to me."

"Yeah? How come?" He folded his arms up, a fresh bruise marking his arm and shoulder, nearly black and looking painful. Wincing, she pressed her still chilly palm over the area in sympathy.

"Because Ishgardians are bastards. Well, most of them are. Mostly the nobility." She winced, looked around out of instinct. "You aren't supposed to talk down about them, otherwise you might be deemed a heretic. And to be a servant, it's even worse, because you're lower than the commoner. You're next to garbage. My master definitely thought we were, anyway. I ... I had to get away from him." Again, she looked about, instinctively looking around the stones for any sign of another person listening. 

"He hurt y', ey?" Tariev's cheerful expression had turned into one of solemn thoughtfulness. It made her uneasy to see him acting so serious. Of course, the question was quickly forgotten when a strong tug at her line distracted her. She yanked and pulled, finally wheeling in a trout as large as her feet put together. With a whoop, she held it up with pride. "How do you get the damn thing off of the hook?"

Laughing, he helped her not only yank the fish free, but also helped with the next six that came up. She offered two to him as a show of gratitude, though he waved the offer off. "Y'can cook for me t' show your gratitude, how's that?" When she nodded agreement, he added, "Come'n see me t'night, ey? I'm fightin' at the pits." 

Again she agreed, waving farewell, the seven trout dangling from the makeshift line he'd formed for her with some remaining hooks and with her shoelaces. "Either I'm mistaken, or I've been asked on a date. What do you know?" She grinned, pleased with herself, stinking of fish and exertion, hair a tousled mess. She never felt prettier.

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The competition was fierce. The two dodged around each other, then went in for a lock. The Roegadyn tossed the Miqo'te to the side only to have a set of lithe legs lock around his waist and twist. Those lower down could hear the angry yell of the tall fighter, and could see the blood that poured out of his ear where the Miqo'te's sharp teeth dug in. Cheers went up when the smaller of the two worked his arm around the Roegadyn's neck, yanking, while a knee jammed itself against the back, right against the kidney. A yank and a twist, and the Roegadyn went down on a yell, his fingers clamped down on the Miqo'te's wrist. There was an audible crack when he twisted the arm down and back. He shoved the Miqo'te off, and tried to plant him down only to land on hard surface when his foe rolled away from him, favoring his broken arm. The went back to circling each other, the taller now limping a bit while the Miqo'te drew further back, trying to lead his competitor from the middle of the ring. A few shuffling steps, and the Miqo'te unleashed on him, yelling, yowling, slamming his good fist into the Roegadyn's face, his chest, kicking his knee into the man's stomach. The Roegadyn grunted, doubling over, and got another kick between the legs. He went down, his lavender skin going puce. Blood poured down his face as he panted, struggling to get wind back in his deflated lungs. The Miqo'te didn't give him a chance. 

With a roundhouse kick, he knocked his opponent back, and effectively out. The crowds roared their excitement, gil traded hands here and there, and some waved homemade banners for the winner. Tariev stumbled a bit as he took his adulation in stride, a welt forming on his temple, both eyes black, nose and mouth bleeding. Raising his good arm to wave to the crowds, he allowed one of the medics to place a towel over his shoulders, leading him out of the ring so that his bruised body could be tended to. 

Kathenna clapped heartily with the crowd, adding in her own whoops and whistles until he disappeared from the ring completely. Then, uninterested in the next match, she pushed away from the edge of the ring to find her way to the medic's ward. She was stopped by two guards, whose staffs formed an X to keep her from entering. "Um. I'm friends with-"

"We've heard them all, honey, and we aren't interested. You can wait until the matches are done to get an autograph," said the taller of the two, a Hyur with a scar over his eye. He smirked down at her, leering at her outfit. "Though, if you want, I'll give you more than an autograph." She made a sound of disgust, turning away. She stalked back and forth, watching others enter and exit without any complications. A few times, she tried to slip her way past only to get blocked again. It was finally Tariev who helped her to get through, by telling them she was allowed. 

He looked a good sight better than he had when dragged away from the fighting pit. The swelling was down marginally, and the bruises were less purple and more a mixture of greens, blues, and reds. The bleeding had not only receded, but the cut on his lip looked days old, and his eyes weren't as black as they had been when she'd last seen him. "I thought you'd be out on a bed somewhere," she commented as she swung around the guards. She paused to stick her tongue out at them before following him down the hallway only to be slammed by the rich stench of sweat, blood, and unwashed bodies. "Oh. Phew, it stinks in here."

"What'd y' expect," he asked, groaning, hugging his side with his wrapped arm. "Fighters 'r all over th' place in 'ere." He eased himself down onto a chair, letting a short Lalafell look him over, his ears twitching as his head was examined. "Well, did y' like the fight?"

"Loved it," she breathed out. "Though, I was afraid you were going to get crushed by the ... uh... I forgot his name."

"Lav-leder," he answered for her. "Nae m'first time in th' ring wi' him, truth be told. I know 'is weaknesses. Bu' he knows mine, too." He tried to grin, winced when it pulled at his mouth. "D'ya win any gil?" He grunted again, pleased, when she nodded. "Used t' be I would bet on m'self, but I got told I'm nae s'posed t' do that. Sorry I din' get y' in here earlier. I din' know they w' going ta cause y' troubles. Only reason I knew y' were out 'ere was cause m' manager told me y' were out there askin' ta see me." 

"It's okay. Understandable. For all they knew, I was some fanatic coming in here to attack you and beg you to have my babies," she joked, watching him as he mouth tugged in a weak grin. "So, what are your plans after you've finished patching up? Want to get some dinner somewhere?"

"Yeah, th' sounds good. Where y' have in mind?"

"There's a tavern outside of the city. I'm sure you've heard of it. They have nice food and drinks. It's more quiet out there, the tracks run along it, so they have a slow stream of people at times. Otherwise, we could settle in, talk, drink, relax. Sound good?" For some reason, there was hesitation on his part, a look that was shared between him and his manager, who was still treating his wrist. "Yeah. Tha' sounds good," he finally answered, though the tension remained there. 

Once his manager said he was free to leave, Tariev went for a shower and a change of clothes while Kathenna sat around, talking to some of the other fighters, getting to know their on-the-floor personalities. It took him a good thirty minutes before he was ready. However, that silence stayed heavy around them as they made their way to the tavern outside the city. It was only when they had sat down, waiting for their drinks, that he finally addressed her. "I din' know if I told y' that I got som'un."

It took her a moment to comprehend. And when she did, her face flooded with color. "Oh... Oh. I didn't - sorry.  You must think-"

"I don't. Y' din' know. I wasn' sure if y' were even meanin' it like tha' but I had t' be sure." They both looked uncomfortably at each other, trying to ignore that uneasy sensation. Kathenna tried for a lighter tone by saying, "Well, she's a lucky woman, then, and I'm still glad to be your friend. I'm sorry if I caused any-"

"Y din'."

She sat there, toying with her fingers, uneasy with the change of the mood. She couldn't even look at him, not with this strange attitude of his. Finally, unable to bear the tension that had ramped up so thickly that it was clogging the air, she rose from her seat. "Well, I think I'm actually tired. I think I should go back to the city. I'm sorry I made the evening awkward. It wasn't intentional. I-I hope you have a pleasant evening."

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Two weeks flew by before Kathenna's head came up again, gasping for air. She'd been so immersed in studying thaumaturgy that everything else had faded away behind her need to learn. When she finally came back to reality, it was with dawning horror that she hadn't sought out Tariev or tried to bridge over the awkwardness she'd created. She did the only logical thing she could think of - cookies. Two dozen chocolate chunk wrapped up in a cloth and deposited in a basket to be carried in person, in fact. She was anxious about his reaction to her, but she stiffened her resolve, eager to make friends with him.


The pit was empty this time, no practices or cleaning. Only three or four males, and one female, wandered around the sparring room, half dressed or near naked, with bruises and cuts that were being tended to. None of them paid any interest in her. In fact, it was as though she didn't exist at all, which made her feel like she'd slipped right back into her former role. When she spied Tariev getting a massage, she waited, quiet and anxious, for the masseuse to finish. It was only after he'd robed himself again that she cleared her throat, the basket held out. "I, um, realized I hadn't been around a while. I thought I'd give you these as a way of apology, and also to say thanks for being a friend."

He adjusted the robe before reaching out for the basket and digging into it. pleased to find the cookies. "S'all for me," he asked, then took a hefty bite of two cookies at once. She couldn't hold back her urge to laugh at the crumbs catching in the wool robe crossing his chest. "Yeah. You suggested I should cook for you. Well, I baked instead, and they came out pretty well, I should think. I've been doing some research on baking, anyway, so you're my test subject, too. But don't worry, if you end up dying, I promise not to use that recipe again." Glad to see an answering smirk, she asked, "Do you think you'd mind doing me a favor in a few days' time? I need to learn to defend myself against incoming attacks, and I think you'd take it easy on me to begin with. Could you help me train?"


"Oh, yeah? Where y' goin' ta train at," he asked, already digging in and hauling five more cookies out, all of them shoved in his mouth. She wrinkled her nose delicately at his greediness. "There's a tree that provides a nice shade right outside of Central Thanalan. There's grass enough to protect the feet when it's cooling off in the evening. It's right outside the gate, about a quarter yalm. Meet me there?" He nodded his ascent, still scrabbling to pull more cookies out for munching. "Great! Three days' time work for you?" Again he nodded. "Enjoy the cookies. I'll be sure to bring another baked good for you in a few days. That is, if you survive," she teased. Waving on her way out, she took a deep breath, thinking That wasn't so bad.

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The storm rode on the horizon, heavy, thick, with spears of lightning slamming to the ground. Kathenna watched the impending storm with curiosity, enjoying the rough gusts that kicked the sand up to dust over her. She hadn't moved in over an hour, too caught up in the dramatic beauty of the heavy clouds looming, slowly moving in toward the city. She could watch the storm forever. 


"Hey. Idiot. You just going to sit there?"


She craned her head to peer up at the stranger sneering down at her. With a lazy look around for a reason as to why he would approach her, yards away from anything and anyone, her back to a tree while enjoying the impending storm's show, she finally stared back at him with a deadpanned expression once she found no reason at all. "Is there something I can do for you," she asked, making a point to harden her voice so he'd understand he was annoying her. It had no effect on him. He merely leaned against the tree with a disgruntled response, telling her, "I was going to come here and relax. I always come here."


"Well, I'm happy for you. However,  this space is currently occupied. You'll have to find some other tree to rest under, won't you?"


He stalked away from her, leaving her to mutter beneath her breath as she settled herself against the curve of the tree again. When she heard the scuff of his feet a second time, she ignored him, refusing to move. 

"GAH!" A bag of sand was poured over her head and into her lap, choking her as it tried to fill her mouth and gag her. She stumbled to her feet, coughing vehemently, brushing at her face to get the grittiness away from her eyes. They stung, making it hard for her to open her eyes so the tears could wash the sand away. Once she had spit out what she could, she attacked her eyes with hard scrubs until they were red, sore, and blurry. She could still make out the goading smirk he wore, though. Rage washed over her. Stupid jerk! Who does he think he is?


She rushed him, a spell on her lips. He responded with a grab for her arm to yank her around, causing her to tumble over. "Get lost, you stupid Hyur." He leaned against the tree, arms crossed, ready for her next attack even as she scrambled her way back up to her feet. This time, she projected a single bolt of lighting at him and instead struck the tree. It immediately caught on fire. "HEY! Stupid girl, what did you do that for?" 

"Why did you attack me? Jerk."

"You were in my place," he retorted as he tried to toss sand over the flames and quell them before they spread higher. "I got you to move."


"And you honestly didn't expect me to attack you in return?"

He finally was able to slap the flames down, using his tunic. Hissing in aggravation, his black ears laid back, he eyed her with open dislike. "Well if you had just left, then you wouldn't have been covered with sand."

"Or you could have just come back another day," was her equally aggravated retort. They came foot to foot, baring their teeth, his claws out and ready to attack. "You take one swipe at me, little cat, and I will electrocute you." His eyes wavered down to her hands and she bring them up in a threatening stance, forcing him to back off. "Walk away now. You can have your precious tree another day." He retreated from her, muttering a threat, she was sure. She waited until he was a good distance away, then glanced back to the storm, her enjoyment now gone, and a black mood in place. 

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It took two showers to remove what she could of the sand from her hair, along with relentless scraping of a fine-tooth comb along her scalp. She still felt the scrub of it in her mouth, and along her skull, irritating her to the point she was in a black mood when she finally deemed herself clean enough. If she ever saw that damning Miqo'te again, she would shove his face into a pile of sand and make him snort the whole of it up his snotty nose. A tremble worked at her fingers, forcing her to flex and calm them again. She knew that feeling, that tingle in her extremities. She wanted to attack something. More, she wanted to hurt someone.


The sensation left her feeling ill. It had been a long time since she'd caused anyone intentional injury. She'd also made a point to stay calm, friendly, and had done well to keep herself in check until today. Today, she had felt that hard tug of fury that was always beneath the layer of detached friendliness. It shook her deeply enough that she wanted to find Tariev and tell him "never mind" ... except that would be admitting defeat, and she couldn't do that. She had to get a handle on whatever this rage was.


The walk to the Quicksand cleared her mind and calmed the agitation almost to the point of no longer existing -- until she saw the same black-haired jerk standing at the bar, moodily slurping at a drink and glaring at everyone who dared enter his zone of comfort. She gritted her jaw, tempted to slug him. It took great effort on her part to instead seat herself at the furthest available table and hide behind the crowd. Luck was not on her side, it seemed. He had spied her and chose to slink his way up to the table, smirking at her in derision. "You're at my table."

Murder gleamed in her eyes. "Don't start up again. In fact, it's in your best interest to leave me alone completely," she warned him through clenched teeth. He ignored the warning completely, and instead slid into a chair opposite her, saying, "I think I can defend myself well enough against someone like you."

"You really want to test that out," she growled. His ears flicked back at the low resonance of her voice. Now that she was actually sitting across from him, analyzing him for weaknesses, she actually paid attention to his features. Willowy for a keeper, dark blue hair and eyes, periwinkle hued skin, and an upper fang hanging from between his lips. He looked weak, overall, with a mop of barely-brushed hair hanging lankly into his eyes. She wondered if she could take him, right there, and pin him to the table so she could give him a nice jolt of electricity. 

She blew out a deep breath and, straining for calm again, urged him, "You really should find another table and someone else to bother."

"I don't want to. Besides, I wouldn't  be bothering you at all if you hadn't tried to burn down my favorite tree." He settled back in his chair with a smug look. "Good thing I was there to dump sand on you and put you out." He slurped at his beer, watching her over the edge of his mug the whole time, then asked, "I'm Yen'to, by the way." 

"And I care?"

"You should. Tell you what, I'll forgive you if you buy me another drink."

She didn't remember coming out of her chair, or lunging at Yen'to. She only knew someone was grabbing her by the waist and hauling her out of the busy tavern, murmuring in her ear as he did, "You may want to calm down before you get worse than prison, Miss." She was yanked down the stairs and to a bench, forced to sit down. She ducked her head forward to rest against her knees, catching her breath and letting it back out from her nose. A hand pressed comfortingly on her neck and she closed her eyes, letting it ease the tension along her spine.


"I thought you were going to deck him," the friendly voice commented from beside her. The pressure of the calloused fingers was relaxing. When they pulled away, she made a sound of complaint. Then she looked into the sparkling blue eyes of the armored Hyur who had rescued her. His oak brown hair was short, barely dusting his forehead, and seemed as uniform as his apparel of a crisp, white tunic tucked into tan linen slacks. Even his belt, neatly knotted, seemed conservative. "I apologize if I upset you by grabbing hold of you the way I did. I was standing close by when the altercation began. There were a few unhappy individuals taking notice, too, so I thought removing you from the situation was the safest plan." He stuck out a rough, tanned hand. "I'm Wilhem, by the way, your unintended bouncer of this evening's debacle."


That killed the remaining tension immediately. With a snort and a laugh, she pressed her elbows into her knees and cradled her face, smoothing away the heat she felt in her cheeks. "Kathenna," she mumbled against her palms, then took the rough hand to shake. "Thanks for saving me from the idiot. Who thinks throwing sand on someone is a viable response to them sitting under a tree? He could have just joined me instead of trying to run me off." Shaking her head, she muttered, "Sorry. Had to get that off my chest."

"Understandable." He took a seat beside her, companionably watching as people passed by them. "So, not an ex-boyfriend situation. That's what I had assumed." He glanced at her stunned expression and chuckled. "Definitely not. I apologize. Usually those sorts of arguments come from -"


"Please don't say it."

He left the comment unfinished, raising his hands in supplication. "Well, your night at the Quicksand is destroyed. Care to go somewhere else for a drink?" He offered his hand to her again, his eyes bright and friendly. 

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Six hours had gone and they were still at the Coffer's Coffin, sharing a third pitcher of horrible ale, laughing, sharing stories, and watching the sun come up through the dusty windows. She got to learn about his staid life, and a family that supported his decision to seek something outside their usual farmlands. She normally would have compared her background, her life, to his, but found it so quaint that she couldn't. It did make her long for a simplicity she didn't realized she wanted in her own life. "How do you do it," she asked him, interrupting his lengthy tale of saying farewell to his lifelong sweetheart of six years. "How do you walk away from that life so easily and step into something so risque?"


"Because I realized that it was something I was deeply passionate about. I thought over my plans for six months before actually approaching my family about leaving." Wilhem eyed her speculatively. "It wasn't some rash decision for me. It was knowing I would have to work diligently to make something of myself, and enduring constant traveling. When I revisited the idea and it continued to sound exciting, I knew I had found my path, and I had to take it." He filled their cups up with the last of the beer. "This has to be my last one. I'm well on toward intoxication, and I still have to get an inn room."


"I'll walk you back when you're ready," she offered. "Not safe to wobble away from here without a fellow wobbler." She laughed, covered her face, shaking her head. "Okay, I'm a little more drunk than I'd care to be. And I was so careful to drink slowly. What made you come to Ul'dah of all places?" 

"I've seen the greens of Gridania and loved hunting in the forest," he explained slowly, pausing to sip at the watery brew. "I let it lead me to the heat of the desert, which I found fascinating. The rock formations and the animals are intriguing. There are encampments of people - Miqo'te and Au Ra and Ala Mhigan - who have acclimated to the heat in ways you'd never believe. Of course, some of the Au Ra are worth avoiding. I hear they eat the flesh of their own people." He looked unnerved by the idea. She couldn't blame him. "The more I got to learn about the cultures around me, the more I was intrigued with the area. Once I feel I've learned enough about the deserts of Thanalan, then I'll be moving on to the oceans."

Her head cocked, eyes blurring dreamily. "I hear they smell like salt. Is that true?" He chuckled, nodded, and commented, "The surface of the ocean can be as moody as a teenager. Flat and gray, moody and foaming white with rage, beautiful blue and sparkling like diamonds." Her expression was filled with deep longing. She had never seen an ocean. She had heard of it, sure, but never truly gone. He read the look on her face and suggested, "When I head out, why don't you go with me? We can explore the beaches together, if you like."

Color filled her cheeks up as she bloomed with excitement. "I-I would like that very much. When are you intending to g-go to the ocean, though?" In the back of her mind, she felt a twinge of regret as well, thinking of leaving Tariev behind. But it wasn't as though she couldn't travel back to visit him, and it wasn't as though he were fixed there in Ul'dah. If he truly wanted, he could always come see her wherever she went. How had this realization taken this long to pop in her head? She was no longer stuck to one place. "This week? Next week?"

"A month," he answered. "Hey, it's not that long of a time, I promise," he assured her when she leaned back, crestfallen. "I have some places out in Southern Thanalan I'd like to explore. Once finished, I'm traveling toward the ocean. Sound good?" 

"It does. You're right. A lot can happen in a month. It'll fly by before I know it."

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It was hard to pay attention to the sparring practice. Tariev and the Blue Crush talked tactics with each other, sometimes testing a technique out to take pointers. Kathenna sat, book in lap, eating and apple and listening to their conversation on random occasions. She was too busy in reading up in the technique of building a storm, something that she had found fascinating since that evening under the tree in Eastern Thanalan. Such power, such ferocity. It was beautiful and emotional, and once she understood the practicalities behind conjuring that much energy to create a storm of that propensity, she would test it. She had already tested lightning, had understood the emotional connection to conjuring it for the past seven years. But she had never understood that raw power that could ripple through the body until Cocobuki had worked with her to channel the lightning. If she could only learn to control ice, then she could have her revenge on-

"Hey. Y'ready?" She felt a thump against her foot and came out of her daydreams with a blink. Tariev towered over her, his sandy hair pushed back from his tan face. The hazel eyes were full of mischief as he grabbed her arm to haul her up just to give a pinch to her hip. "Y'seemed far 'way. Where were y' at?"

"Huh? Just thinking about storms," she answered, shaking free the last vestige of her daydreams. She tucked the book under her arm, letting him lead her through the tunnel and out of the building. "You two were involved for a while. I couldn't keep up with your plans. Did you get everything figured out finally?" Tariev nodded and went into detail about the tag-team battle coming up, but she couldn't seem to keep her attention on the conversation. Her mind kept drifting back to storms and power. When Tariev gave her another pinch to the hip, she twitched and banged against his side. "Hey! Why do you keep doing that?"

"Why d'ya keep wand'rin' off," he asked in retaliation, laughing at her. "Y' ready ta test y'self out?"

"Ready as I'll ever be." Their first sparring match had been dismal. She'd barely been able to ward him off, and had finally cowered in fear of being struck when he came close enough to punch her. He had intentionally missed, but she had still struggled to maintain any sort of combat stance. After three more attempts at teaching her how to avoid being struck, she felt comfortable enough to try sparring with him again. When they came to the tree, she removed her outer garments, having taken Tariev's advice that this was dirty work and a plain tank top and leggings was safer for getting dirty in than layers that would make her swear and wear her out faster. So, in nothing more than a chemise and thin, cotton pants, she faced him, her long hair twisted into a bun to keep it out of her face.

He drew a line in the sand with his foot lazily, watching her... And then lunged at her, full speed. She yelped, dodging out of his way, and rolling against the warm sand. She came back up to her knee, and tossed fire in his direction. It was off, missing its mark by a whole foot. He rounded, a foot swinging at her head, and she followed it, ducking and rolling away from him only to have his foot connect with her lower back. She winced at the light boot, twisted, trying to grab hold of it and give him a swift jolt, but he was too fast for her. She circled about, rose, and jogged back a few feet from him, hands swinging out in a circle, then inward to clasp before facing him. An electric ball formed, charged up and brilliant red, cradled in her palm. It was lobbed at him, full force, and made contact with his leg. He yelled as the charge with through his body, almost collapsing under the painful jolt to his nerves. Stumbling, he forced himself back up and again charged, this time punching at her chest. 

She reared back, but again, not fast enough. It caught her, was stronger than she'd anticipated and what he'd meant. It knocked the air from her lungs and sent her back a few firm steps. Struggling to catch the air again, she gasped, whey-faced, fingers grabbing at the emptiness around her until that first sweet and fiery pull of wind filled her lungs. Tariev watched her, concerned. "Y'aright?" She nodded jerkily, and send a splash of fire across the ground. He jumped away from her, then grinned as he went in for another punch, this time aiming at her stomach. She hadn't caught enough wind, so when he slugged her full-force in the diaphragm, she wheezed, then slumped, and went down to her knees.

Tariev knelt beside her, concerned, but still laughing. "Oy, din' mean ta do it tha' hard, luv. Sorry 'bout tha. Y' goin' ta be okay, aye? Get y' breath... there's th' way, luv. Think y' had enough f' a while. Y' rest, an' we'll have us a sit b'neath th' tree til y' ready ta lose t' me again, aye?" He hauled her up against her will, carrying her to the tree, and settled her down against the trunk. Her breathing was weak and shaky, but her color was slowly coming back. 

"... jerk," she hissed out, catching his attention. "Ey? Wha's that," he asked her, handing her a skein of water.

"I ... said ... you ... are ... a ... jerk."

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"-So when he goes to Limsa Lominsa, I plan to go with him. I've never seen the ocean before, but I've read stories, and I figure it's as good a time as any."

The two of them had settled down beneath the tree after four rounds of skirmishes, Kathenna being the loser each time. Tariev had pulled the stronger stuff out to assuage her sulky demeanor, and the two of them had enjoyed half a bottle's worth of plum wine when she began to tell him about Wilhem the paladin traveler, who lived on a farm once, and was now exploring what he could of Thanalan before moving on. Tariev had been silent through most of her chatter, with only a random question popped in here and there - where had she met this guy, and how long before they left out. They finished up the wine and sat there, the evening wind gentle on their skin. The complacent silence had shifted, turned tense, though she couldn't say why. So she nudged him and asked, "Hey, where are your thoughts?"

"Dinnae. Kind o' odd f' ya ta run off w' some stranger y' met aft'r one night. Y' ain't worried he's goin' ta kill ya, or some'in wild like that? Y' ain't known 'm long enough ta say 'e is safe, y' know." He sent her a look, but in the closing darkness, it was hard to read. "I ain't sayin' ya shouldn't go, mind y' now. I'm jus' worried 'bout what 'is intents w'd be."

She was touched that he was actually concerned for her and offered him a sweet smile. "If you met him, you'd see just how nice and respectful he is. He's sweet. And besides, we've been traveling a bit here and there, just short expeditions to some places where he asked for a guide. I've been alone with him for hours, and he has never made a move on me. Not that I'd mind..." She felt Tariev tense up beside her. "If you're that worried, why don't you meet him?"

"If y' trust 'im, tha's all that matters," he said tersely, pushing himself up and dusting off. "I'm goin' back t' the city."

"Wait. What did I do?" She had risen and had grabbed for his hand only to have it shaken off. "Tariev, are you that upset about me heading off with a stranger? If it bothers you that much, meet him! Come on, don't act like that." She got in his way, aggravated by his sudden attitude. "What's the matter with you?"

"I din' have a problem," he answered shortly, gathering his items up. She followed after him, gathering her own garments up and dressing hastily as she chased after him. As she did, she called out, "You're acting like a jealous jerk, you know that? It's not becoming of you." He jerked, stiffening up, then retorted, "I got m'self someone, y' 'member?"

"Yeah. I remember," she snarled back. "Maybe you should remember that, too, instead of throwing a tantrum because I'm talking about going with a friend to see the oceans. Not like you couldn't come there to see me, or I come back to see you from time to time. I don't have to stay in Ul'dah, and neither do you." There was a moment, a fleeting second of agony that disappeared as quick as it came, that she had to question if she'd seen it. "What? What am I missing?"


"Would you stop! Tell me!" She grabbed at his arm, refusing to let him shake her off again. "I'm supposed to be your friend, Tariev. Let me be a friend." 

And so he told her - he told her about the crooked fights, the debt, and how his manager had a tight grip on his contract. Tariev had left his tribe behind after his mentor, his Tia, had disappeared. Sickened at heart by the lack of caring from his tribe, Tariev had trekked after his old mentor and had come across an old, rusty sword that Tariev had known to be his Tia's. He'd tried to find whatever may remain of the body, but never found anything. There was no going back after that, not with so much rage inside of him. He'd gotten into pit fighting instead, and had found he was really good at it. The problem with it, however, was the gambling that got attached. He'd bet on himself, on others, and got deeper in debt with his manager. Now, he was basically owned, and would never be free of his profession until his death.

"You can't go to Limsa Lominsa, can you," she asked weakly. "Maybe for a day, but you could never leave Ul'dah in the end." The shake of his head said it all. The resignation explained the rest. He was tired of his life, tired of where and who he was, and he was stuck. "I'm guessing that your girl is the only thing keeping you living, then."

"I din' see 'er tha' often, ta be truthful. An' her brother hates th' sight o' me." Bitterness tinged his words heavily. "I din' know anythin' else ta do."

She reached out, first to stroke his arm gently over the tattoo of the tiger along his arm, then up to squeeze his shoulder. Then, because her heart was aching so hard, she couldn't stop, she was hugging him fiercely and trying not to cry at the injustice. Because she recognized and hated that his pain had opened her heart a little more to him. She was falling in love with him.

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Her eyes were glazed over as she stared at the empty field of sand. Nothing but sand. Hot, miserable, burning sand. Even the smell of it was miserable, and Kathenna had to ask again why she'd allowed Wilhem to bring out to Little Ala Mhigo. There was nothing to be found here but death, as far as she was concerned. Even with soft brushes of ice along her skin, it wasn't enough to combat the relentless sun beating down on them. But Wilhem was fascinated by the small oasis and the mountain formations and striations. He talked about the centuries of build-up, and how the horizontal coloring denoted changes in time periods. It had taken a great amount of effort to keep herself in check. After all, she had been the one to invite herself on this journey into South Thanalan. She hadn't wanted to stick around the city, and she had no one but herself to blame for that.


It had seemed necessary to escape Ul'dah, if only for a few days. She was hoping for a week's travel, so she could get her head on straight. Wilhem, sweet as he was, was not offering that distraction she needed, either. She found him interesting and, yes, handsome. But he was admittedly bland for her tastes. It made her angry, knowing she longed after the man who was already bound in a relationship, whereas the sweet stranger with the gentle manners did nothing to incite her interest. She hoped that time away from Tariev would perhaps remedy the complicated situation and that perhaps being in Wilhem's presence would endear her to him a little. So far, they were three days in, and there was no hope of that. They traveled through the early morning, paused for rest in the afternoon, and continued in the evening until the sun had gone down. Wilhem stayed distracted, writing in his journal, or studying the bits of objects he'd found along the way. Finally, she'd had enough. She'd sat for nearly an hour watching him turn bits of rock between his fingers, then catalogue his findings.


"Wilhem." He make an indistinct sound in answer. "Wilhem!" He finally looked at her, a moue of irritation forming. "Is this the whole purpose of your trip? Is there nothing else you intend to do, except explore the rock formations?"

"That was one of the main purposes of my trip, yes. I'm looking for certain deposits out here," he explained, then began a lengthy discussion of how certain deposits could be found by the discoloration of stone around it. Kathenna's eyes were beginning to glaze over again. She stood up abruptly, mid-sentence, and began to unbind the braided bun she'd woven her hair into earlier in the day. She no longer cared about the heat. She no longer cared about the trip. She was bored and frustrated and, more, she had hoped Wilhem would take matters into hand to make a move on her. Since he was unwilling to make the move, she would do it for him. He had stopped when she'd risen, gaped as she strode the six steps toward him and cupped his jaw to press her lips down on his. When she drew back to assess his expression, he was red-faced and uneasy. "Well, shi-" She gulped back her word as she rocked away from him. "You aren't interested, either."

"No." He took her hands as they were falling, and squeezed them. "I'm sorry. I thought you understood that. You're a nice girl, Kathenna, really. But I'm already interested in someone else, and I can tell you are, as well." She flushed with guilt as he released her. "Are you going to be okay?"

"Yeah. I ... I just think I need to clear my head, that's all. I thought your bringing me out here was an indication you wanted some intimacy. I kept reading everything wrong." She hiccoughed on a laugh, feeling herself fraying emotionally. "I feel utterly stupid for coming out here now." She gathered up a thin cloak to toss over her shoulders, telling him, "I'm going for a short walk," and ignored his called out warning to be cautious. Their camp was buffered up against a canyon, inside a small cave with a wide enough mouth, they could easy hear and see anyone coming. They had slept there two nights already without any concern. Why should she suddenly be concerned with caution? 

What was she doing, throwing herself at one man to get over another? Was she that pathetic? That desperate? She hated to admit it, but she kept having irrational thoughts of going back to Ishgard. That would mean returning to the Master and hoping he didn't punish her too heavily for leaving. As much as she tried to make a new life for herself, she felt awkward with everyone, outside of Ul'dah and the people there. The only place she truly felt at home was in her studies. She was excelling there, day by day, and with the help of the Lalafell brothers, she was getting past the headaches that seemed to plague her nightly. Dreams of darkness, mayhem, dread, they swirled around her ever since she'd come to the godsforsaken desert. Maybe if she resided just on the outskirts of the city, she could live a meager life with the commoners. 

The plan had fixed itself in her mind so strongly, she never realized she was being stalked until something heavy slammed into her back to knock her forward. A flare of pain in her shoulders and the hard rush of air from her lungs, and then blackness when her head struck the ground.

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Darkness ... it swirled around her. Screams rose up and ebbed away in discordant waves. She floated in the mayhem of the ink black world, unable to break free of it. Sticky, filthy, horrible essence clung to her and left her feeling breathless. Worse, it made her feel as though her very soul had been coated. She dared not speak, afraid of those screams, and even more terrified of the whispers that drifted here and there around her. They taunted her, those little voices, telling her of her darkest dreams, her fetid desires. 

"There you are..."


Something like madness gripped at her mind and made her want to scream. She barely held it back as something hard slammed into her stomach and 


- woke her up. She heaved hard, trying to get air into her lungs without success. Something tall hovered over her, muscled and stout. It swung upward with its weapon, slamming it into the ground beside her when she rolled, barely passing out of its reach. She gasped for air frantically as she stumbled, blood dribbling rapidly from the wound on her scalp. The beast behind her roared its anger. With heavy steps, it chased after her, catching up to her with ease and grabbing onto her injured arm. She screamed weakly as it yanked, pulling her shoulder further from its socket. Fire filled her palm, and was channeled at the beast's stomach, forcing it to release her. Instantly, Kathenna tried to conjure more without success. The beast again raised its weapon with another angry roar, and swung weakly. It stumbled forward, then crumbled with a howl of pain.  

Wilhem stood behind the beast, panting, pale. "Are you okay?" He yanked his sword from the animal's back and stabbed it again, making it howl as the sword cut through between its ribs, damaging its heart's lower valve with the angled thrust. He reached out for her once his sword was again freed of the dying animal's body. "Let's go. Others will come. The Amaalj'aa travel in groups, usually." She winced as he touched her damaged arm, but allowed him to help her past the beast. "I'm glad I decided to follow you after all. I was afraid they might attack you. I should have given you more warning than what I did."

She was damp with sweat, trembling, and on the edge of shock from the pain radiating through her. "S'my fault," she worked out through her chattering teeth. "Shoulda took it more serious." She yelped when he gathered her up to carry her. "What-?"

"You're going too slow. We have to get out of here fast before they track us," he explained. She grimaced with each jostle and bump, sweat pouring faster. She tried to squint her eyes shut to close the pain out without success. By the time they had reached their small encampment, she was shaking to the point she had to clench her jaw tight. Wilhem set her down with utmost care on her bedding, then knelt beside her. "This is going to hurt," he warned her. His hands closed around her arm, then slid up to her shoulder. She tried to jerk free of his painful grip, but he kept a firm hold on her as he wrenched her arm up and back, pulling at the shoulder at the same time. There was a click, white, blinding pain, and then she slumped back against him, panting heavily. When she began to laugh weakly, he wrapped an arm around her, pulling her into his lap. "Hey. It's okay. You're going to be okay." He rocked her slowly as she drifted through the degrees of pain. 

When she was finally through the fog of pain to a degree she could endure, she shifted herself forward again. "We have to go," she reminded him shakily. "Before they come, remember?" With his help, she eased to her feet, ignoring how sticky and clumped her hair was, and that blood had trickled down the back of her robe to make it cling to her skin stiffly. They gathered their items up as swiftly as possible. It was Wilhem who heard them first. He grabbed her hand and twisted a ring settled on his finger. There was a shift of aetheric distortion just as a javelin was tossed at them. It slammed through the distortion, but missed its target. 




They stood before the Aetheryte inside Ul'dah, Kathenna still shaking heavily. He again scooped her off her feet as she listed backward. "No. I'm fine," she tried to tell him, but speaking had suddenly become difficult to do. The javelin had missed, certainly, but it had still scored through and ripped at her side. Blood spilled at a faster rate down her side. Wilhem was talking to her, but things were fuzzy. Everything was fuzzy, in fact.

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  • 2 weeks later...

"Hello, Kathenna." 

She faced a mirror. Behind her, everything was black, still, and yet she felt as though eyes were fixed on her back and watching her every move. She felt that sticky sensation again. There were screams, pleas not to be hurt, begging for release. They sounded so much clearer than before. They warred with the dark whispers that fluttered around her ears, reminding her of all the cruel things she had done, the monster that she truly was. She trembled, naked, and stared at her reflection helplessly, while her reflection bore a cruel smile and spoke to her.

"I wondered when you would come back, my dear. You keep trying to fight me." The reflection's hand reached out, then through to grasp her wrist. "Give in to your true nature. This is what Master was training you for. Why do you deny yourself?"


"No. I am not like him." She tried to pull free of the grasp and felt smears of ink spread along her skin. She felt tainted. "Let me go."

"You can ever escape the void that is your soul, my dear. You became mine the moment you began slipping. Now you crave to hurt someone. You crave the screams." The alternate Kathenna moaned in delight and canted her head. "Hear them, those screams. Those are the people you hurt. They begged you not to do the Master's bidding. Do you remember those shivers of delight? The power that surged through you? You loved it." Her reflection snarled the words at her. "You were stained by it and you can never break free of what you truly are. Murderer. Torturer. Monster." Both hands reached through, grabbing Kathenna by the arms to pull her through. Glass exploded!


She woke on a scream and felt herself over instinctively to find any cuts or scrapes. All she felt was the sweat drenched sheets tangled around her. Breathing hard, her long hair tumbling around her, she struggled from her bed slowly. The wound on her side was mending, but the skin still pulled painfully. On a wince, she hobbled toward the dresser and poured day-old water into the bowl, then splashed it over her face and head. Though she dreaded what she would see, her eyes rose to meet her reflection and waited, waited for the figure on the other side to snarl at her. "Do it," she told the mirror shakily. "Try and take me. I'll keep fighting." 

When nothing happened, she straightened again and began to work her hair into a twisted bun, which she secured to her head with an ornamental hair pin she'd bought weeks before. It was the color of her eyes, a bright turquoise, and had rose-tinted flowers dangling from it. It had been her first real splurge expenditure and she prized it above most of her other belongings. She stared at the ornament, trying to feel normal again. How long had it been since she'd had these dreams? She doused her face with more water, trying to wash away the last of the abhorrent nightmare. It clung at the back of her mind, refusing to be drowned out. 


The knock at the door disrupted her thoughts, thankfully. Tariev stuck his head in, greeting her with his usual sly grin. "Ey, there sh' is! Y' look a sight better'n ya did b'fore. Y' still hurting?" He toted in a basket laden with food. "Brought y' some'in ta eat, so y' can rest." The basket was set on the bed and the food unpacked deftly. "Y look good f' some'un who jus' took a spear t' the side. Y' lucky it din' damage y' guts. Sit. Have a bite." He crossed the room to place a proprietary arm around her, and led her to the bed. He tucked her up against the pillows, then plopped a sandwich in her lap. "Eat, y' lookin' peckish." When she didn't move, he took the sandwich back and began to eat on it. "Y'alright?"


"M'fine," she answered slowly. "Wondering what you're doing here. How did you find out what happened?"


"I talked w' Wilhem," he answered, searching for a bowl of berries, one of which he pressed up against her lips. Only when she accepted it did he resume. "Nice guy, once y' get ta know 'im. 'E told me 'bout th' attack an' all. Y' din' do all tha' good a job protectin' y'self, did y' Kate?" She stiffened at the nickname and told him, "You've never called me that before. That's what he used to call me."


"Who? Y' master?" She shook her head. "Who?" She knew she'd already talked about her fiance to him before, but after the dream, she wanted no association with her past, not right now. Tariev seemed to clue in, though, and muttered, "Oh. Him. Y' former lover." He pushed another berry against her lips. "S'bother you tha' much f' me to call you that?"

"I don't know. It feels odd, is all."


"S'okay if I call y' that, otherwise?" 

"Takes a bit to get used to," she decided after a moment's pause. "Otherwise, it's okay, I suppose." This time, she accepted the grape he was offering readily. "So, you're here to check up on me and make sure I'm taken care for? I wish more of my friends were like that." She took another grape from him. "Come to think of it, you and Wilhem are my only friends." 

"Y' just been here a few months, y' know. Takes y'time ta make friends. B'sides, y' don't keep in contact w' yer friends back in Ishgard?" 

She colored and tried to fill her mouth to keep from having to answer the question, but he patiently waited her out until she had swallowed it all down. He stared pointedly at her, head angled, making her stomach give a little jerk of longing. His sandy hair was tossed forward into his eyes, his ears perked forward, and his tail brushing behind him along the bed, tickling her toes. She didn't know if it was intentional or not, but the intimacy of the situation made her nervous. Her color rose higher until she was almost a furious red, and she blurted out, "I haven't had friends in many years, not since my ex. They hated me, because of what I did to them." 


There was silence again as Tariev shifted his weight on the bed, making it creak. He patted her knee gently. "Guess tha' means y' need ta find y'self more friends and get stronger'n what ya are, so y' don't get waylaid again, aye?" The tension slowly went out of her shoulders and she dared to peek at him, unaware of the tears streaming along her cheeks. "I'll give y' a few days 'n then we're goin' ta start y' training 'gain." Another pat on her knee and he rose. "Eat. I'm goin' ta tell Wilhem y' okay."


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Two weeks later:


"Y' got ta swivel y'self more," Tariev complained. His light cotton tank top was sticking to his torso as sweat doused him, his pants drenched and clinging along his legs. They had been practicing for hours, running through different tactics. Kathenna was struggling with exhaustion at this point. The longer they had dueled, the more she was struggling to avoid the brunt of his sword. She felt bruised up and shaky, and she'd run out of creative swears over an hour ago, and was now just spitting nasty comments at random. He kept grinning at her, which irritated her more. "Givin' up too fast an' lettin' y' guard down. How many times do I got t' tell y' that b'fore ya actually guard y'self better?"

"How about I just throw some lightning at you and you leave me alone," she bit out. Sweat was dribbling into her eyes and she was miserable. Why couldn't he leave off already? Her palm formed into a tight fist, fingers then crossing, uncrossing, hand rolling as she tried to form up a good-sized snowball to run along her neck. What formed was a minuscule amount of ice crystals that melted swiftly. She growled in agitation. "Born in snow and yet I can't even make the damn stuff. Why can't I focus and get anything right?" Her gut twisted inside of her as she slid a glance his way, trying to be discreet in looking his form over. She already knew why, and it was infuriating her.

He'd turned his back to her, muscles flexing as he punched at the air a few times, testing his swiftness. There were times she'd swear he did it to leave her hungering after him. The more they sparred, the more her mind drifted to lustful ideas concerning him. She tried to shut them off, tried to focus on the here and now, and all it took was a flash of his chest when he used his shirt to wipe his brow to send her spiraling back into those thoughts. Realizing she was torturing herself and needed a reprieve, she tugged anxiously at her hair, forcing herself to turn her back to him. "I'm done. I'm sorry, but I can't keep on, not today. I need a rest. My muscles are aching, my side is burning, and my shoulder is still being temperamental."


"Y'want ta come back t' my place? I'll give y' a massage t' help y' muscles." He gathered his sword, walking up to her side to give her hair a friendly yank. "S'nae tha' far, jus' in the Goblet. Y' can get a bath an' relax f' a while."

"Oh, I..."

"I'm nae takin' no f'r an answer." He took her by the arm to steer her toward the city. "Goin' ta grab s'm bottles o' wine on th' way."



The apartment was small, quaint, and definitely not what she would have imagined for him.  There was a full kitchen that he kept stocked, though he complained that his girlfriend kept throwing his alcohol away. "Th' bathtub is through 'ere," he told her, pointing her in the direction of his bedroom. "Got a robe f' you ta put on after y' bathe."  

"Wait, I can't wear anything else? You don't have a ... a shirt or something I can wear?" She could tell he was amused by how hard she was blushing. 


"Nae like I'm goin' ta see anythin' of ya. Jus' put on the robe after y' take the bath. When y' done, slip under the sheets, an' lie on y' stomach. I ain't goin' ta see a thing, I promise." He smirked as he poured both of them a glass of wine, holding one out to her. She took it, staring at him anxiously. "Maybe tha' will calm y' down, yeah?" The comment mortified her further, but she did as bade, gulping the wine down swiftly and trying not to think beyond the bath. She took her time with undoing her braid while the tub filled, then made a point to sniff each fragrant oil that lined the edge of the tub. She had finally selected an earthy sandalwood with hints of cinnamon when there was a knock at the door. She jumped, almost losing the bottle. "Y' alright in there?"

"Yeah, um, fine. I'm just trying to decide what to smell like. You have a lot of bath oils in here, you know that?" She tipped the sandalwood oil into the bath, then helped to mix the warm water up with the fragrance. "Or do you just invite a lot of women over here?"

"I like t' smell good, nae anythin' wrong w' that." She heard him chuckle on the other side of the door. "Take y'time, goin' ta make myself some'in ta eat. When y' ready, jus' call f' me." She waited until she heard his steps retreat before she undressed and slid into the tall, wooden tub. Twenty blissful minutes later, she left the bathroom, her hair pulled into a loose bun, and the thick cotton robe enveloping her. The massage, as promised, worked out the remaining kinks, though she found herself stirred up and agitated to the point, Tariev accused her of having multiple knots. She tried to relax at his bidding, but found it too difficult with so many questions stirring around. Did his girlfriend often sleep over? Did he often invite other women over, and was it innocent like this, or did he seduce them? Was this innocent or was he intending to seduce her? Would she mind? And would his girlfriend mind knowing that Kathenna was in the same bed her boyfriend slept in? 

"Y' quiet. What's on ye' mind?"

Does she know? Does she know about this? About me? Does she think it's innocent? Does she hate me? Does she feel threatened? Is she used to this? Does she...? Does she...?


"I'm concerned about what your girlfriend might think of this," she admitted weakly. Her arms tucked tighter against her sides, almost protectively. Because somewhere that oily, nasty, filthy part of her was screaming I don't care! I don't care about the other woman, because he's mine! She tried to shut the voice off, but couldn't. The anger that was incurred due to its presence lashed out at him. "She can't like this. I know I wouldn't if..." if you were mine. "Aren't you worried about what she would think if she found out?"


"She's nae so close-minded." There was humor in his voice as he pressed his knuckles down at the base of her spine and followed it up toward the nape of her neck. "Why? Are y' worried some'in might happen?" She mumbled a no, which got a laugh out of him. "We got an understandin' between us. We both have relations wi' other people. So, if y' wanted ta do some'in with me, there's nae reason ta worry." He listed down onto the bed with a leering grin. "Do y' want to?"


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Their naked shoulders brushed as they slept, Tariev on his stomach and Kate on her back. Sated and depleted, she had fallen quickly into her dreams. Except this time, she was staring at herself instead of the dark, tainted version she usually stared at. She looked solemn, afraid even, which drew a laugh out of her. The sound was thick, growling, not at all like her usual husky voice. "Look at you. Frightened by the act and by him. How utterly pathetic of you. You could have him, you know, if you tried."

"No," her other self said, trembling. "You're ignoring that she had him first, and that he possibly loves her. Why should I rip him from that and make him miserable? That isn't fair to her, him, or me."


"Fair? All is fair in love and war, Kate," she taunted herself. "Haven't you ever heard that? He wouldn't be lured away if he didn't want to be." She growled at the trembling, foolish girl on the other side and demanded, "Take him for yours. You want him, you know you do. And if she gets in the way, you do what must be done."


"I will not hurt anyone else!" 


"Pathetic. Weak. The master always said you let your heart lead you. I thought that was your best characteristic, but apparently it makes you a coward instead. Tariev would thank you for rescuing him from such a toxic relationship. Didn't you hear him? Her brother won't even let him close. She's never around for him, not like you. You love him, don't you?" The figure wavered at the question. "Don't you," she demanded and slammed her fist into the mirror. A crack spread along its surface. "Then take him and if that little nuisance of his gets in the way, you take care of that, too." She leaned up against the mirror and saw for the first time that there was no one on the other side. There was only a screaming monster with blazing eyes of red fury staring back at her. It reached through to grab hold of her, its touch burning into her skin. She screamed violently, trying to twist away as she was dragged toward its inferno mouth.


She jerked from the dream, flailing with the covers until she realized she was in the calm darkness of Tariev's apartment. She stared around the room to focus herself on her surroundings, then slowly pulled herself away from his side to rest on the edge of the bed. She was drenched in sweat and trembling, in complete disbelief. Had she really tried to reason with herself to commit murder? She glanced over her shoulder at Tariev fearfully. Yes, she wanted him to love her, but at such a cost? She wiped her forehead off slowly. Maybe it was time to find somefriends and leave Tariev be for awhile. That way she could rationalize her thoughts.

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