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On the Tenuous Nature of Friendship Bracelets

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((A day after Negotiating with a Battering Ram.))




Antimony wasn't entirely sure why she'd chosen to take D'edy Nunh's invitation. Parties were not exactly her thing, least of all parties hosted by a tribe whose members had been almost uniformly hostile to her - with a few exceptions, or really, just one - and then there was the added awkwardness of it being more than just a party. By all rights she should steer clear of such things. But D'hein was going to be there (he had to, because of that certain awkward point that made it more than just a party), and she could not shake the need to speak with him after everything that had happened. This seemed like a reasonable opportunity, then. And perhaps it wouldn't be so bad...?


So Antimony made her way up the spiraling staircase that led to the Dodo tribe's commune, dressed in her usual plain get up, though she'd put a bit more effort than usual into making sure her hair was nice. There wasn't much to be done for the livid bruising that spread across one cheekbone and in a starburst pattern across her nose and into the corners of her eyes, unfortunately. She'd managed to reduce the swelling significantly with a poultice of her own making, but the rest would have to fade with time. She just hoped it wouldn't damage whatever sway she could muster too much.


At least her nose wasn't crooked.


She made it up the last of the stairs only mildly out of breath, and a minute later - after regaining her composure and making sure her hair hadn't gone wild - she opened the door that would lead out into the commune's courtyard, preparing herself for the guard that was sure to greet her. And possibly turn her away before she took even another step.


The woman who apparently was in a habit of standing with her back to the door that Antimony was guarding turned half-turned to look over her should as it opened. Her dark eyes looked down through her dark hair, ash-gray skin of her face twisting at the sight of the woman. The massively tall woman -- at least for a Miqo'te -- glared at Antimony with barely restrained hostility, recalling the anger she'd shown the previous day when she'd tried and failed to turn the woman away.


Past her, the courtyard was alive with music and movement. The Dodos evidently weren't against bringing paid servants into the commune, as there was live music being played by a troupe of Lalafell in black business suits. The tune was lively and loud, not exactly aligning with the dreariness of the suits, but at least one of the Lalafell was moving his little legs happily in an attempt to compensate for this. They didn't seem accustomed to playing happy music.


Servants were orbiting the fountain with trays covered in drinks and food, all of them Lalafell. There were dancers, but these were Miqo'te, and they were dancing in the fountain instead of on any kind of dance floor.


The tall, dark woman, continued to glare at Antimony. More specifically, she was glaring at the woman's glasses, at her hair, at one part of her face and then another. Eventually, her gaze moved to the bruises on her features, and lingered there for a few seconds before her hostility was transmuted into a strange, unfriendly amusement. She smiled. "Maybe you should have been a smidgeon more careful yesterday."


Antimony's ears shifted back and she clasped her hands low at her waist in front of her. "Yes. Well." She cleared her throat awkwardly, flicked her tail, and then made sure her posture was straight before meeting the huntress's gaze with a slight frown. "D'edy Nunh," she still only half believed that klutz of a miqo'te was a nunh, "informed me yesterday that I was invited to this... celebration. If you'll let me pass, then...?"


The tall woman rolled her eyes and reached into a pouch on her belt. She plucked a small string of colorful beads out and tossed them at Antimony's chest, muttering, "Sorry." Then she stepped aside and gestured towards the courtyard. "Get going."


Antimony's hands fumbled to catch the beads, and she blinked down at them in confusion as she stepped through the door. "These are for..?"


The dark woman only stood taller, eyes wide and snapped, "I said go! Stop blocking the door!"


Ears flicking up in surprise, Antimony bounced forward and then hurried away from the door. Once she'd put a comfortable distance between herself and the surly guard, she slowed to take in what had become of the courtyard. Her hands idly twisted the beads around her fingers as she listened to the upbeat music from the lalafell. There was no doubt it was a celebration, she thought, though one very different from the kinds she was used to. But music and dancing were a commonality, at least, even if the details were keenly different.


Wandering towards the middle of the courtyard, near the fountain, and lingered there for a moment as her eyes searched the milling crowd. She felt horribly out of place, in a way similar to how she'd felt in those weeks after first setting foot in Limsa. One of the lalafell servants carrying a tray of unidentifiable but very strong-smelling finger food paused by her, lifting her burden in offering. Antimony gave the tiny woman a friendly, only somewhat nervous smile and plucked one of the items from it with a, "Thank you." This earned her a confused look before the lalafell hurried off, presumably to care for the hungers of other folk.


The Dodos were wearing most of their plumage. Except for the sparse handful of huntresses who were stationed about the courtyards, likely watching the bridges to make sure none of their Lalafellin servants went wandering off, the Dodo women were dressed in silks. They idled about as though the party had already been on for hours, but they had settled into it as though it were a normal day. They ambled about with drinks in their hands or sat on the benches as though they were decorations themselves, mostly brown-haired women in pastel hues with seemingly every limb, join, finger and toe bearing polished metal and gemstones.


A very thin woman appeared before Antimony. She wore a single layer of soft pinks and blues that seemed less like a garment and more like a few yards of expensive cloth draped and tied around her body, and a puffball of blonde hair above her head. She stood there for a moment with a near-empty wineglass in her hand, redness on her face and glass on her eyes, staring at Antimony's face for a long quiet moment before her mouth split open and her head pitched back. "Hey, she showed up!"


At once, a general murmuring rose up from the many silk-clad women, and the huntresses, as they set their drinks and lances aside and dug into pockets to produce small beaded bracelets. Even the dancers in the fountain -- wearing pastel silks of their own that, wet, didn't do much to hide their bodies -- pulled bracelets from somewhere on their persons.


The first in the crowd to throw a bracelet at Antimony was the puffball-haired woman, just kindly tossing it at her head as if she was trying to get the loop of beads around one of her ears. "Sorry," she said as she did so.


Then the rest of the bracelets came, from every single woman in attendance, each one saying a simple "Sorry," as they threw them. Some tones were mute, some sincere, at least one playfully melodic. The bracelets were not thrown hard or maliciously, but over two dozen of them rained down on Antimony over a long moment. One of the Lalafell servants ran for cover as a poorly-aimed bracelet smacked him in the face.


Antimony ducked her head, flicked her ears at the first set of beads, let out a muttered, "What?" at the second, and then just froze in confused silence as more clattered noisily over her. Her tail stuck straight out behind her, completely still though not bristled. When it seemed as though no more beaded bracelets were going to come her way, Antimony shifted her feet anxiously, felt her toes knock against beads that had fell to the ground, and gave a wide-eyed stare to the dandelion haired huntress.


"... I'm sorry," she mumbled, shook her ears, blinked. "I... am afraid I don't understand what this is about..?"


The woman laughed, the sound sluggish and heavy on her lips. "D'edy had us all make friendship bracelets for you and told us to say sorry and give 'em to you so we made a game out of it." She lifted her glass and used it to point at the place where her ears would have been if they weren't concealed by her massive hair. She succeeded in spilling red wine on her head. "First person to get it on your ear gets first night with the new Nunh." She tapped her head with the wine glass and reached for Antimony's ear, as though she couldn't tell whether or not anyone had won just from looking.


Antimony leaned her head away from the woman's clumsy hand, and her ears shifted back. "That, ah--" Her own hands reached up, patted at her hair to reassure herself that she hadn't become some living ring toss target. None of the women had managed to find their intended mark, luckily. "Ah, well, that is... that's very nice of all of you... I think. Yes! I appreciate the gesture."


"Good! Hey, why you dressed up in all that wooly stuff?" Dandelion-head shoved her glass indicatively at Antimony's robe, pouring out her wine on ti, but she didn't even seem to notice. "You cold or something? Or you just don't have any good clothes."


In the fountain, the women had resumed their dancing. Very few people were actually watching them, but the women seemed to be enjoying themselves.


Jumping back with a short yelp, Antimony batted at the front of her robe before realizing that really wasn't doing any good for the wine that had already sunk into the fibers. "These are my clothes," she stated a bit defensively, green eyes turning an unhappy frown down at the red stain. Her tail flicked. "I... could ask you why you are wearing... what you are."


"What? It's pretty!" She spun, then stepped forward suddenly so that she was mere ilms away from Antimony, her puffy hair brushing the woman's forehead. "Hey, we're friends now. Come on! Let's get you nicer clothes!"


Antimony almost protested that tossing a "friendship bracelet" at someone because your nunh told you to did not necessarily make you friends with said someone, but she was already on rocky ground with the Dodo tribe - or at least she had been so far. She was hesitant to risk even the sliver of good will she'd managed to uncover, at least because she didn't want anyone threatening to throw her off bridges or hitting her in the face again.


She protested instead, "That's very kind, but I like my clothes as they are."


"I'm offering to give you free things." The danelion-headed woman pushed her glass at Antimony's face. "Stuff for free. You don't gotta wear it, just catch it and resell it if you don't like it. You at least gotta let me make up for throwing you in jail that one time, Miss Sagolii Witch."


Antimony winced at that, leaning her head away from the wine glass. "You could begin by not referring to me by such a name," she suggested coolly. "My name is Antimony Jhanhi."


"Ya can't live down a nickname!" She flipped her glass carelessly and finally dropped it. It broke into a number of large pieces against the stone floor, and a servant quickly raced over to collect them; most of these women were barefoot after all. "Like, people call me... I don't have a nickname. Woops." A Lalafell presented her with a new glass of wine, which she took without question, placing it to her lips immediately and spinning away.


Her hair shifted, hinting at the movement of her ears inside of it, as she looked back towards the fountain. She lifted her glass and shouted, "D'edy! She's here!"


The Nunh had appeared in fountain at some point, his formally fuzzy ears now sleek with water and his very thin tail sleek and dripping. His body, practically just bones and skin, shone with water from head to toe. There were no clothes to obscure the sight, except for what honestly looked like women's underpants, and scanty ones at that.


Evidently trying to dance with the women, though it was painfully clear that he had no idea how, he stopped a moment after being noticed and jumped out of the fountain as though summoned. "Hello!" The tiny Nunh trotted over to Antimony, his bare feet slapping the ground.


Stifling further, annoyed protest at the unwanted nickname, Antimony turned to follow dandelion-head's gaze towards the fountain. She startled, blinked rapidly at the sight of the mostly naked, soaking wet Nunh, and then looked firmly away. There was a heat in her cheeks, but the bruises mostly hid it. "Hello," she offered stiffly as the Nunh approached, wringing her hands in front of her. Then searching for anything that would be appropriate to say and not really having a clue, she tried, "It seems everyone is, ah, enjoying themselves tonight." It fell lamely.


"They are! Come here, puffball!" D'edy extended his wet arms towards the dandelion-headed woman.


But she turned away from him and moved so that Antimony was between them. "Oh no, you don't. I'm going to have a new Nunh tonight, but it's not you!"


"Ah." D'edy's arms dropped to his sides. "Everyone keeps saying that. I mean I know he's got that tail, but-"


"It's not the tail I'm after!" She put the wine to her lips again.


"Huh." D'edy blinked, and looked at Antimony, and his smile burst forth over his thin face. "Well! I'm am just thrilled to the gills that you showed up! Surprised a bit, too."


"To the gills," Antimony echoed in a mutter and then shook herself, focusing on D'edy's face. "Well. Yes. I..." Her hands worked around themselves for a few seconds as she sought a suitable explanation. With all these women around her looking forward to the "new nunh", she felt suddenly supremely awkward in her intention to speak with D'hein. "It seemed the proper thing to do," she tried, winced. "That is, not that I would let my work be influenced by personal favors or anything--no, nothing of the sort! Just that, ah, it was such a mess what happened yesterday and... it seemed.. fair? To accept! I suppose."


"Seemed fair to me that you'd take legal action against the tribe for professional abuse and seek monetary restitution." D'edy said, smiling. Then he slapped his sides again. "Not that I'm telling you to do that. Party's good too!"


Behind Antimony, the dandelion-headed woman crouched, picked up a beaded bracelet, then stood and slipped it over Antimony's ear. "I win!" Tossing her hand in the air and spinning wine everywhere, she spun and shouted, "I winnnn! You girls better try harder next time!"


D'edy Nunh clapped and smiled, nodding, "That's good, very good. I love a business-savvy woman. Now we just need D'hein to actually show up and then we can all rip his clothes off."


Her ear twitched at the unexpected weight, but as her hands reached up to paw it off, she choked at D'edy's words, hand freezing on the bracelet around her ear. "We... What?" She coughed, pulled the beads off and let them hang in limp fingers. "That, ah--" What kinds of rituals did these Dodos have, she wondered a bit shrilly. No wonder Aijeen had grown up so... Clearing her throat again, Antimony twisted her tail behind her. Well she may as well say it, even if she was obviously intruding - did it count as intrusion when she was invited? - in a tribal affair. "Er, I had.. rather hoped to speak with him, actually," she forced out after a moment.


"Then you shoulda stuck some beads on your own ear." The dandelion-headed woman closed in on her and said, "He's mine tonight. You'll ahve to wait your turn."


"Okay, hey look! It's the winner's turn to dance!" D'edy reached over, grabbed the woman by her arm and pulled her away from Antimony, pushing her towards the fountain. "Special winner dance! Go make everyone jealous."


"Yes, winner dance!" The woman stumbled towards the fountain, not for a moment doubting that the winner dance was an actual thing.


Letting out a sigh as though he'd been relieved of some ponderous weight, D'edy spun back to Antimony and leaned towards her. "Well I can tell you're not interested in competing with the me and the ladies for his attention. So either the rumors are wrong and you're not interested, or the rumors are true and you can take him any time you want!"


"Rumors? What--" She grimaced then, recalling D'themia's angry, nasty words suddenly. She sighed. "... No. They are not true. They're just--ah! Who started those rumors anyway?? Certainly not Aijeen. No."


D'edy lifted his arms and joined them behind his head, knitting his fingers together with his elbows pointing upward. "Iiiii don't know. The women do get pretty jealous sometimes. Anyway, hey." He ducked his head forward. "The girls think I'm hiding D'hein away so that he's full of energy to have fun all night. Or something. But between you and me he's been moping since yesterday morning and I can't even get him to acknowledge there's a party going on at all."


Green eyes blinked once, and then her ears pressed back in acknowledgement. "I see." A pause, and then uneasily, "Because of... D'ahl?"


The Nunh pursed his lips, biting down on them and looking off towards the sky as if the thought were only just occurring to him. "Huh. Y'know, maybe. He has been haunting D'ahl's apartment. I just thought he liked the mirrors."


Antimony recalled those dizzying mirrors and thought no one but that twisted woman could enjoy such things, but she kept that thought to herself. It wouldn't do to think ill of the dead anyway, especially when her spirit likely lingered if it hadn't been given a proper hand off to the sun... Shaking her ears to dispel distracted thoughts, Antimony looked away from D'edy briefly, then back to the nunh. "Where is he now? I would speak with him."


"Probably still there. Just don't tell any of the women. They'd go down there and make him a Nunh on the spot!" He luaghed.


Antimony nodded, hesitated, and then admitted reluctantly, "I don't recall how to get there."


"Uhm, okay." D'edy looked one direction, and then the other, and then pointed Antimony towards one of the bridges. "Just tell the huntress over there that I told her to tell you where D'ahl's apartment is. And try not to let it get all awkward."


"Of course." Antimony looked past D'edy for a moment, towards the fountain where dandelion head was performing a rather uncoordinated, if suggestive, victory dance, then grimaced and bowed her head towards the Nunh. "Thank you. I hope you enjoy your party." She then turned, stumbled backwards as she barely dodged a lalafell servant who had been maneuvering with a delicately balanced tray of wine, and then righted herself with a flustered flick of her tail before making to cross the courtyard.


None of the other women stopped her on her way, thankfully, though she did end up accepting another bite of food from one of the servants before she finally approached the guard D'edy had indicated. Clearing her throat and folding her arms to try and hide the wine stain dandelion head had given her, Antimony stepped up to the woman. "Excuse me. D'edy Nunh has said you are to show me to D'ahl's apartment. Please." She spoke as straight arrowed as she could manage, hoping to avoid any questions as to why.


The woman she spoke to, a huntress dressed in the typical all-white armor of the commune's guards, snapped her gaze from the party as though she hadn't seen Antimony approach. Her short off-red hair hung about her face in great clumps, rigidly poking her features like flower petals. Her eyes, yellow as pollen, widened, dark lips twisted. "What in the seven hells?"


A whole five seconds passed, where Antimony blinked back at the woman in startled silence. Then she straightened suddenly, clasped her hands in front of her (one of which still held one of those silly friendship bracelets), and repeated firmly, "You're to show me to D'ahl's apartment, at D'edy Nunh's request." A brief pause and then an added, "Please."


One of the woman's eyes narrowed. Just one. The other twitched, and glanced away, and then back. "Wha... I mean, why? I mean, that's... But you're the..." Her gaze dropped to the bracelet in Antimony's hands, and she bit her lips and closed her eyes. Breathing deeply as if to calm herself, she snapped her head to one side and then the other. Her neck cracked loudly. "Fine. D'edy's the boss now, right? Everything's turned crazy overnight. The kid's the boss and the Witch gets a tour."


Antimony frowned, opened her mouth to protest their continued insistence in referring to her with that abominable name, but perhaps wisely reconsidered a moment later. "Not a full tour. Just to D'ahl's apartment," she reminded. "But thank you."


The woman's shoulders tightened and her arms shook, her ears slamming flat against her head. "...Yeah, sure. No problem." Her tail shivered as she led Antimony across the bridge and into the opposite tower.


Antimony followed quietly and did her best not to look down as they crossed the bridge, or even think about looking down, or consider that there was a down to be looked upon, or just... well, she kept her eyes glued to the red-head's back until they were safely inside the tower.


The woman took Antimony to what might've been a familiar door, with the decorative engraving on its outside still defaced just like it had been last time. "Here. Why?"


Stepping up to the door, Antimony lifted a hand as though to knock, but hesitated. She pursed her lips at the guard woman's words, rolled over a number of potential replies, trying to keep D'edy's request and her own desire to avoid embarrassing conflict in mind, and finally just settled on, "Private matters."


With an audible crack of limbs and armor, the woman snapped her head down towards Antimony. "Hey! I know D'edy said we should all be friends, but it's a little creepy that you of all people need to be escorted to D'ahl's home, alone, in the middle of the party, for 'private matters'. You sure you don't have some more specific purpose you want to volunteer?"


Antimony flinched, her tail curling as she half turned towards the guard, and then leaned away when the woman's face loomed startling near. "That... I am sorry for any appearance of, ah, creepy! I promise it's not like that. Only... well, family matters and it's.. all rather awkward for me to discuss and a long story nonetheless and--" She cut herself short, her ears shivering, and then just finished quickly, "Ask D'edy, if you must."


The woman leaned back from Antimony, one hand on her hip. "Careful. He might just tell me, and I'm sure he knows plenty."


"Yes, well," Antimony fidgeted. "I suppose he could. About some things. Ah--" She glanced back towards the door and then to the huntress. "... If I could have some privacy...?"


"You want privacy to open the door?" Her white-armored arms crossed. "I'm not going in there. The mirrors are unsettling. Especially now that she's dead. And with what happened to her body, a bunch of us suspect she'll end up haunting the place."


Green eyes widened at that. "To her... body?" She hadn't really learned what happened to D'ahl specifically, aside from that she had died an apparently horrible death. The guard's words settled heavy in her stomach, and her fingers itched for a few key ingredients that could at least help cleanse the...


"Ah, right, so. I will, uhm, be going inside now," she blurted out, turned, opened the door, and then slipped inside.


Watching Antimony slip into the apartment, the guard smiled. "Watch for her face in those mirrors, Witch. You've been warned." And then the door shut her out.


Inside, D'ahl's apartment was just as it had been when Antimony left the previous day. With so many of the mirrors broken, their confusing affect was lost. No longer a labyrinth, the entryway was just a hall covered in mirrors, with a few glass tables and a small number of doors. It would be one left turn to the apartment's main foyer, where there would be a single small window and most of the useful furniture.


Leaning her hands back against the door a moment, Antimony glanced around the entryway, eyes skittering over the mirrors cautiously and trying to ignore the numerous, bruised faces that blinked back at her. If D'ahl's spirit had not been properly released, the guard's words were entirely possible, she thought grimly. The apartment was unnervingly quiet, but she didn't let that dissuade her. Tail twitching close by one leg, she pushed away from the door and began to make her way down the hall. A crunch beneath dropped her eyes to a shard of glass that was now broken into a number of smaller fragments beneath her shoe, and she grimaced. Nothing had truly been touched since...


"D'hein? I know you're in here," she called out, taking her foot off the glass and pushing the shards off to one side of the hall. "Perhaps we should talk."


There was no answer, though there was a rhythmic click of glass from further in the apartment.


Antimony's ears flicked about, both unsettled by her surroundings and annoyed at the thought of the Tia (Nunh?) ignoring her. She followed the click of glass down the hall, into the main foyer.


Dhein sat in the foyer, one on of D'ahl's large, red suede sofas. He feet were up on a footrest in front of him, his head back and staring at the ceiling. More specifically, he was staring at a mirror on the ceiling, bearing a reflection of himself. He held an empty bottle, clicking it against a mirror-topped table to his right. The man's ears and tail both hung limp, his lips a neutral line, his eyes-half lidded and glassy. His red robe was bundled tight around him like a blanket.


Well, that was certainly moping, Antimony thought, pausing partway into the foyer to watch D'hein quietly. The beads of the friendship bracelet jingled as her hands began to fidget unconsciously. "I heard about D'ahl," she offered, then winced, recognizing that was likely a horrible place to start. She shifted her gaze to the mirrors about the room, sighed, and then pressed her lips together before speaking a bit snappier, "How long do you intend to remain here?"


The clicking of the bottle stopped. D'hein blinked. "I have also heard about D'ahl. I was asked to identify the body. It was difficult to judge." The clicking resumed.


Her hands continued to fidget distractedly as her brow lowered behind her glasses, lips turning down in a somber frown. A heavy silence followed D'hein's words for nearly a minute, and then Antimony let out a faint breath before speaking quieter, "Everyone--well, D'themia and... they thought I had done it." She blinked then, a suddenly worried look crossing her face as she eyed D'hein sideways. "Ah, you--er, you did not agree with them, right? I would never..." Her face twisted and she tried, "I worry for what it's done to Aijeen."


"I don't think you killed D'ahl, no. You couldn't." He set the bottle on the table, directly in the center of it, watching his movements in the mirror above him. "What are you worried about?"


She pulled a bit more roughly on the bracelet than she'd intended and she jumped as the string snapped, sending colorful beads scattering to the floor. Antimony blinked at the cascade helplessly for a moment before shaking her ears. "Ah, well, that--they were... close." Her brow furrowed as the beads, their numbers multiplied by the mirrors, bounced and rolled beneath D'hein's seat.


One of D'hein's ears twitched as he watched the beads in the mirrors. "Close is a way to say it, yes. Though I'm guessing they have terminated such intimacies. Otherwise this wouldn't have happened."


"What?" Antimony's brow furrowed deeper. "I'm sure there was nothing Aijeen could have done to prevent... it was a horrible thing, but to suggest she had anything to do with it..!"


"Nobody actually believes an animal attack killed D'ahl. It's not like something escaped from the coliseum without being seen."


"Yes, but... Aijeen?? No, that's not possible." Antimony set her mouth and tone firmly at this.


D'hein's tail swished beneath him. "How do you figure?"


"She is not a murderer." Her certainty lent an icy crispness to her voice.


"History disagrees with you."


"Excuse me?" Green eyes narrowed with affront. "Aijeen has done some questionable things in the past, but she has not killed anyone. She could never. That you would even consider thinking such... how dare you!"


The Tia blinked at the mirror three more times before finally dropping his gaze to look at Antimony. His brow dropped immediately, his lips turning down. "What happened to your face?"


Antimony's ears flicked back, and she crossed her arms defensively at the question. "Don't change the subject. It's unrelated--ah, mostly. But regardless! You--" she frowned at D'hein, tail curling up, "--should not be thinking such horrible accusations about the girl you claim to think of as a daughter."


Pushing his lips out, D'hein shrugged and looked up at the ceiling again. "D'aijeen has killed two people that I'm sure of, in the past, when she was still young. So you can't say she's never killed anyone."


Antimony paled. "What--what are you talking about? She's certainly never killed anyone under my watch."


"Well you weren't watching there for a while."


Her ears set back flat, eyes narrowed as her tail shivered. "Further evidence you--this entire tribe has done nothing but corrupt her!"


One of D'hein's ears lay down on his head, his other just twitching to the side. He closed his eyes and joined his hands over his stomach, taking in a deep breath. When he exhaled, the breath shook in his chest. He opened his eyes again, blinked them, and just stared at himself.


Antimony balled her hands into fists against her arms, practically vibrated where she stood in anger, and then turned half away from D'hein with a huff. "I refuse to believe she would have a hand in D'ahl's death. Have you seen her since?"


"No." He lifted one hand in a neutral gesture. "Nobody has. I'm assuming she's run off."


Her tail drooped. "And has no one gone to look for her?"


D'hein chuckled. "Everyone kind of figures she had something to do with D'ahl going crooked and then dying. So, no. Nobody has gone looking for her."


"That is not funny," Antimony snapped, then made to pace forward, found herself face-to-face with her own... face, spun around to pace the other way, only to meet the same, and then just whipped her tail back and forth. "This is absurd. You are--you're... no! I do not know why I came here. I'm going to look for Aijeen." Then she spun on her heel.


"Why did you come here?" D'hein suddenly sat up, dropping his face to look at her. "You didn't ask me anything that you can't figure out by asking anyone else."


Antimony hesitated, kept her back to D'hein while her tail shivered with a nervous energy. "You... I may not like it, but you are... personally involved in matters regarding Aijeen," she spoke with some reluctance.


"Personally involved. That's a word for it." One of his ears twitched again. "I think I know her better than you do."


Antimony's posture tightened visibly. "You certainly presume a great deal," she bit out.


"You don't even think she's capable of killing anyone, when as a matter of fact, she's unsettlingly good at it." D'hein stood, his tail immediately swinging back and forth behind him. "I didn't expect her to kill D'ahl, but you heard her when she ran out that door. She said she wasn't going to let D'ahl get away with hurting you. That's how she said it."


"She was angry, and those words could mean any number of things!" Antimony shook her head, dug her nails into her palms. "If Aijeen was involved in this murder at all - and there is no reason to think she was! - it was as a witness only, I'm certain. Which means she is out there alone, likely frightened, and--and I must find her." She again made to exit the foyer.


"She wouldn't be alone. She'd be with Airos."


"All the more reason to find her!" Antimony huffed and turned on D'hein. "Be quick to condemn her if you will, but she is my daughter. I know her and I will not shirk my obligations to her. I almost hope D'ahl does come haunt this place, so that she can tell you how wrong you are!'


"I'm not condemning her." D'hein spread his stance and crossed his arms over his chest. "I'm saying that D'aijeen ran out of here as mad as Halone at the wrong time of month, saying she was going to find D'ahl. And then a few hours later D'ahl turns up dead from an animal attack, which is exactly how the other two people D'aijeen 'didn't kill' ended up dead."


"Listen to what you're saying - an animal attack? She's a child! Even if she were to--to--" Antimony couldn't bring herself to say it and so pushed on, "--she could not do such a thing as that! No, you're mistaken. It's not Aijeen."


"When Aijeen kills people she makes it look like an animal attack." D'hein ducked his head forward and spoke harshly. He pointed off towards the center of the commune, at nothing really. "The last Nunh made D'themia look like a kitten, and we all had to sacrifice a bit of ourselves to get rid of him. Aijeen had to kill two of his women, and they came out of it ripped to shreds. She took credit for that!"


"What...?" Her ears flattened out in confusion even as she felt her stomach twist. "Why would you say--that's nonsense, she... No." She gestured sharply with one hand, cut through the air in front of her. Then she turned away again. "You're wrong."


"I'm not wrong. It's history. It happened." He took a step forward, broken class cracking under his red shoes. "I'm not telling you she's a murderer. She killed in self-defense then. But you can't run off pretend she's not capable of hurting someone, or that she didn't kill D'ahl. She did. There only way around that is delusion."


"It's not delusion, it's--it's reason! She is physically incapable of it!" She thought back to how her daughter had clutched at her in the bathroom of her inn, how weak her gestures had been; Antimony's throat tightened.


"Incapable?" His ears went askew, and he shook his head. "If she can hold a scepter and a twig and tribal -- beads, I guess? -- then she can do anything that can be done with magic." He pointed at Antimony now. "You'd know better the strange magic she brought with her from the desert tribe of yours."


Antimony flinched, ears lowering further against her head. She furrowed her brow at a nearby mirror, at the bruised face glowering back at her, and then breathed, "She never hurt anyone deliberately." A pause, then reluctantly, "She only became truly dangerous when she created that monster."


Snapping his head back, one ear lying flat on his head and another standing straight up, D'hein blinked several times. He then spread his palms, "How can you keep doing that? Saying she doesn't hurt anyone and couldn't if she wanted to, and then 'Oh, by the way, everything went downhill after she summoned the monster'."


"She did it to help us!" Antimony all but shouted, then hesitated. Those were the excuses K'aijeen had made when they'd found her, at least. Antimony had believed her, but it hadn't changed how threatening the whole situation had been. Reaching up, she made to squeeze the bridge of her nose anxiously, then winced and pulled her hand away quickly when her face gave a painful reminder of why that wasn't a good idea.


"To protect you." D'hein squinted, his lips curling downward. "You're the only person D'ahl hurt at all. You're the only one who she could've been trying to protect. Wrongly."


"Are you going to try and claim she is using that monster again?" Antimony snapped. "It's gone, fled into the Sagolii. And likely died when whatever dark magics she used were no longer maintaining it."


"Used it? She used it?" His tail flicked behind him, whacking the furniture loudly, though he showed no sign of noticing. "So not only can she apparently summon monsters, but use them! What kind of monster?"


"It doesn't matter because it's dead," Antimony insisted, and her tail shivered.


"If she summoned one, she can summon another, can't she?"


Antimony was silent at that, posture tense and drawn in. Eventually she spoke in a quiet voice, "She... stole meat and bones from our stores. The monster was..." Grimacing, Antimony didn't finish the thought.


"I don't know who you're talking when you say that she can't hurt anyone, but it's not my daughter." D'hein pulled himself back into a straight and composed posture, turning his face towards the mirrors. He saw Antimony in them, but he mistook her for D'ahl briefly. "Then again, I wouldn't think D'aijeen would ever hurt D'ahl either. So I guess we're both wrong about her."


Though she bit down on her tongue to keep quiet the remarks she wished to make regarding how entitled D'hein was to calling K'aijeen his daughter, Antimony couldn't stop the short huff at his words. "I am sorry for your loss. But I refuse to believe it until we've spoken with her," she replied tensely. One ear shook.


"Now might not be a safe time to go looking for her, Antimony."


"Don't be absurd. Nothing will keep me from seeking out my daughter, especially after such an incident."


Crossing his arms once more, D'hein looked at her sideways. "And where do you plan on looking?"


Antimony pressed her lips together a moment, arms tightening against her sides. "I will ask after her... And Airos. Someone in this forsaken city must have seen one or both of them. Or perhaps they've gone to Drybone."


"And you don't think the Sultansworn is looking? Meanwhile there are four more deaths out there, and we don't know what killed them. Maybe that was her monster, too."


"Unless you've told them of Aijeen," a certain threatening venom entered her voice in those words, "then they would have no reason to search for her. It matters not, however."


D'hein blinked, "She's the one who turned D'ahl's body into the Sultansworn. They're involved because of her."


Antimony blinked, her ears flattening at that, but then she only said, "It doesn't matter. I am going to find her." She made for the hall she'd entered from then, tail flicking.


"Fine. Don't let her hurt you if you find her." One of his ears lay down, the other turning an unrelated direction. "I'll just be here. I've got nowhere to be."


Antimony paused at that, half turning back towards D'hein in the doorway. "You're not interested in the celebration they're throwing for you outside? The title of nunh is nothing to toss sand at."


D'hein snapped his gaze to the single, tiny window in D'ahl's apartment. "The only reason I was trying to get rid of D'themia was for D'ahl and Aijeen. The word 'Nunh' sounds kind of stupid to me right now."


For a moment her expression softened, then shifted away before turning back towards the hall. "I... may be able to gather the necessary things to usher D'ahl's spirit on to the light, if you wish it." She hesitated then, and finally added, "If you wish to help Aijeen, you should help me find her."


D'hein's ears spasmed, standing upright, then slamming down, one sliding forward while the other slid back and then changing positions. His tail pinwheeled. He looked to the mirror but there was only his own frustrated expression and Antimony, with her back to him. "D'themia had D'ahl's body thrown outside the city to waste away alongside those of starved refugees, as though she were not even an Ul'dahn, much less a Dodo. I had considered..." His tail went still for a moment, and then shivered. "Searching for her."


Antimony swallowed. "It is easier to care for the spirit if one can also care for the body." There was no love lost between her and D'ahl, but she couldn't deny that it bothered her to think that the woman was so damned in her death. She wouldn't wish that on anyone.


"Can it be done without. In case we can't..." There were more words to the sentence, but D'hein ran out of breath before he could speak them.


Antimony took a deep breath and wondered how much power her prayers could have when she'd spent years vehemently denying the religion they were attached to. She didn't voice this concern to D'hein, however, instead offering a simple, "Yes. It just takes certain arrangements."


D'hein Tia turned his gaze back to Antimony, inhaled deeply, and then spoke with a heavy breath. "Well. Aijeen will be with K'airos, and K'airos has obligations. If she's gone back to Drybone, she will have duties there. We can check with the Brass Blade offices here by foot, and there by missive, and see what's become of her."


Letting out a short sigh, Antimony's tail relaxed just a hair. "That is something. A place to start." A pause, while her hands fidgeted with the sides of her robe. "I don't suppose you have access to salv--ah, that is... Sagolii sage?"


Blinking, D'hein's brow popped up and then dropped. "I'm not sure what... Are you asking if I can change what people call you? Because the huntresses are sort of stubborn around here."


"What?" Antimony blinked and turned a second time, giving D'hein a confused look. "... I'm speaking of the plant. A short shrub. Purple flowers. The leaves are... essential."


"Oh." One of his ears canted violently. "Is it rare? If it's something that can be bought I'm sure I can buy it."


"It wasn't particularly rare back... with the tribe." Her fingers twisted a bit in her robe.


"Then it probably won't be rare here." Both his ears snapped forward in rare cooperation, then one of them screwed it up by drifting off to listen to a different part of the room. "Don't let my lack of mindfulness disturb you. I'm no horticulturist."


"I will need it for the ritual." She pursed her lips, tail curling. "And a few other things. Something of D'ahl's."


D'hein gestured broadly, "Pick a mirror," and then pointed towards a mirror that sat ajar from the rest; a perpendicular flat plane that pivoted outwards. "That's her room over there. She's rather spartan, but what she has she is protective of. I'm sure anything you take would work."


Antimony hesitated, wavering in the hallway with an indecisive shifting of her ears for several moments before turning to move towards the door D'hein indicated. "Given a mirror's properties, I don't think it would be the best choice," she murmured and looked about the room.


The room inside would be bare bones, as though no one had ever intended to live there for more than a few days. The bed bore a luxurious spread and a single pillow. There was no closet, no table, just a plain wooden wardrobe that hung open and probably contained most of D'ahl's possessions.


D'hein took a single step to follow her, but went no further. "Is there something specific that has... better properties?"


Antimony glanced over the bed but rather quickly crossed the room to the wardrobe. She closed her eyes a moment, muttering a low apology to the dead for disrupting their home, and then began to sift through the contents of the wardrobe. "Something that was near her frequently, or physically on her body would be ideal," she said as she moved. Her tail hung low as though in submission while she searched.


"She should have at least some jewlery," D'hein answered from the living area.


The wardrobe would indeed have jewelry, though not a great deal. It would seem expensive to Antimony's eyes, but by Dodo standards it was humble. Even the four elegant dresses that D'ahl possessed in the wardrobe would cause the Dodos to suspect the woman had taken some vow of poverty, set as they were beside a far greater number of more reasonable wools and leathers. Deep below the clothes would be a book and pen. And then weapons: knives in leather sheathes, elegant and lethal. No small number of those.


Antimony gave an uncomfortable look to the weapons, considered the jewelry for a few moments, but then pushed aside some clothes to take up the book and pen. She opened it to a random page, hoping it was what she thought.


A journal! It opened to a page depicting the layout of a room, its furniture and occupants, windows, doors and light sources all labeled. The opposite page provided incredible detail about the outlined setting; oddly so for a journal. It seemed to be a description of every possible detail of the room, with interesting insights into the the depth and thoroughness of the shadows and the way that the sound of the room's occupants echoed in the corners.


D'hein shifted in discomfort, spun a couple of times on the broken glass, listening to it crack beneath his feet. "Unless... Do you need something that burns? Are we going to do some kind of bonfire thing?"


"No," Antimony shut the book, stepped away from the wardrobe and turned to D'hein with it in hand. "There would be fire for the body, but this is more symbolic. I will need to burn the sage, however."


D'hein's ears shifted back on his head when he saw the book. One twitched, and slowly fell. His eyes looked over the journal as though something aberrant. "That's fine. I'll get the sage, and we can send off that missive to Drybone while we're at it. We can ask the Brass Blades concerning K'airos, and then we'll do the ritual. Sound good?"


Tucking the book in one arm, using her free hand to carefully adjust her glasses, Antimony gave a slight nod, the gesture more realized in the bobbing of her ears than anything. "Alright." A pause, and then she was moving to walk past D'hein towards the door. "I am certain all of this will resolve itself quickly once we've found them."


"All of this?" D'hein's voice carried annoyance as he followed the woman toward the door. "All of what? What about this is going to be 'resolved' just by finding Aijeen?"


Her tail quivered, pulled close to her legs as she walked. "We will know better what happened to D'ahl. And Aijeen... she will need my--" she paused, winced, "--our help." Glass cracked under her foot as she crossed the foyer, but she didn't stop, making for the hall and then the door she'd come in.


D'hein Tia continued on her heels. "That doesn't sound like much of a resolution at all. It sounds like you just want to turn the page, and are assuming that once you do everyone will be on that page with you. But what if you're reading out of a completely different book?"


"There is only one book." Antimony blinked, huffed, flung open the door. "And that is a ridiculous comparison, anyway."


"Really? Because apparently in your book, Aijeen did not kill D'ahl." He followed her through the door, his footsteps quick and heavy, his words the same way. "And in your book, D'ahl being dead is just a footnote. IN mine, that's the end of the book. We're in the epilogue now."


"Life does not end with the death of someone you care for." The words were surprisingly bitter to Antimony, and her ears set back against her skull as she began to retrace her path through the hall of the tower. "I am doing my part to help her."


"Not just one person. The last person." As they stepped out of the tower, the sound of the party hit them again, the event having continued uninterrupted.


Antimony halted a few steps down the bridge and spun suddenly on D'hein, glaring. "The last? Does Aijeen means nothing to you, then? You claim her as a daughter, but D'ahl was the last person you cared for?!"


The only person who noticed Antimony's shouting was the huntress that stood on across the bridge, the same who had guided Antimony to D'ahl's door. She looked over at the pair on the bridge, her features wavering between alarm and confusion, but definitely surprised.


D'hein stopped on the balls of his feet, tail whipping behind him. "She killed D'ahl." He dropped his head, glared hard at Antimony. "She. Killed. D'ahl."


"You don't know that," Antimony hissed, tail twisting about. "And even if--even... You have a responsibility! That never ends. Ever. You can't run away from it!"


The Tia's head canted to one side, crags etching into his face; his family relation to D'themia Nunh became visible. "Don't lecture me about the responsibilities of a parent. When I met Aijeen she didn't have any parents. I didn't need to take care of her. I chose to, and I haven't said anything about running away."


"She has always had parents; she just never--gah!" Her tail lashed as she turned around, and she glared at the narrow stone beneath her feet, her grip on the journal tightening. "Mourn your loss as you wish," she finally muttered. "I will do what I can to ease it." Then she began once again to cross the bridge, paying no attention to the guard on the opposite end.


D'hein kept even pace with Antimony as she walking, practically stepping on her tail. "I remember a time when you were so inconsolable that it took a month of plotting just to convince you that your daughters were alive. And you lecture me about running away."


The huntress guarding the bridge stepped far back from the pair, watching them with a blanched expression as they proceeded into the courtyard where the party was. The women dancing in the fountain noticed D'hein's entrance, waved at him, and began to call attention to him. D'hein, on the other hand, appeared blind to his surroundings.


Again Antimony froze and spun on D'hein, tail bushy and green eyes glaring wide as her hand closed the short distance between them to jab at his chest. "That is precisely it, D'hein Tia!" She did not look at her surroundings, and did not notice the crowd they were slowly drawing. "I lost everything. My daughters, my--my nunh! Azeyma failed them. But it wasn't the end. You are wrong."


Without realizing it, D'hein had become the center of attention. Half of the women dancing in the fountain had jumped out of it upon noticing him, and the others had begun to dance all the more. D'edy was shouting a loud greeting to D'hein, just one of many who had stopped what they were doing to acknowledge him. Even the music had stopped, as the musicians noticed a change in the atmosphere but were unsure what kind of music was appropriate for it.


D'hein gestured to the stalled party around him. "This was supposed to be for them! All of this was for D'ahl and Aijeen, and now it means nothing. I'm glad your daughters came back, but D'ahl's not just going to turn up if I'm patient, and Aijeen can't take back what she did."


A wet-headed dandelion with a long, soggy tail slammed into D'hein's side bodily, wrapping ehr arms around him. Her clothes had almost slipped off her body by then, mostly stuck to her because they were so wet as to be transparent. "I've got you now, my Nunh!"


The Tia, though, didn't even seem to feel her, shifting only subtly under her weight. He shook his head at Antimony. "No matter how many more pages I turn, this is still where the story ends."


"You don't know what happened," Antimony insisted, features drawn. She leaned back suddenly, blinked at the woman who'd wrapped herself around D'hein. Her ears twitched, going lopsided in a conflict of emotion. "You can't know until we find Aijeen." Then, tail shivering, she snapped unthinkingly at the woman, "Leave us be."


The soaked-through woman, cheeks bright red, inclined her head towards Antimony. "Ah, fah. It's a party. Have some fun, Witchy."


D'hein began to extricate himself from the huntress, eyes still on Antimony. "I know what happened. You're in denial, and that's a lot more like running away than what I'm doing."


"Oh! Heeeeeey!" D'edy arrived, just as naked as he had been before, glowing with cheer. He stepped up alongside D'hein and Antimony, but addressed himself to Antimony. "Good, you got him! I knew you would. So I set up a mock Nunh-battle between D'hein and a pile of Lalafell: two on the bottom, and one on top with a stick!"


Antimony's ears splayed outward and then back, almost disappearing in her grey hair as she stared wide-eyed back at D'hein. At D'edy's voice she flinched, glanced towards the Nunh, and then snapped perhaps a bit harsher than necessary, "We're leaving now."


D'edy's fluffy ears lay flat. "Wha-"


"D'edy." D'hein found he was able to extricate himself easily from the drunken woman who was stuck to him. "D'ahl died yesterday. Why are you celebrating?"


"Uhm." He smirked, paced over to D'hein, and sort of received the sopping wet dandelion-head, who was too drunk to stand on her own but very capable of complaining about her mistreatment. "D"themia's gone. You can be Nunh now. This was our plan, right?"


D'hein pushed himself away from D'edy and the drunken huntress. "The plan is ruined. I'm not doing this." He turned, then, to stomp away from them, marching out through the party.


"Hey!" With her puffball hair flat against her head, the dandelion's ears were actually visible, thin and pale. "But... I won and..." She suddenly pushed D'edy away from her, violently enough that the man toppled. "Hey! D'edy's no real Nunh! What're we supposed to do without a Nunh? What kind of tribe doesn't have a Nunh?"


D'hein answered with a swat of his tail through the air and a shout over his shoulder. "Mourn!"


Antimony stood frozen for several moments as D'hein stomped away. Then without a second look to D'edy or the dandelion head, or the rest of the party, she spun to follow after the Tia, tense all the way from the tips of her ears to the tip of her tail.


The women in the fountain had long since stopped dancing. The guards stood as slack and wide-eyed as anyone. D'edy sat on the ground and stared at D'hein's receding back. The lalafell with the musical instruments shook their head at one another.


And thin woman, puffy hair sticking to her face, stood weak-kneed and shivering by herself in the middle of party, her clothes only barely clinging to her body. She swayed and rolled her head in an attempt to stand up straight, and then shouted at Antimony's back. "What did you do to him, Witch?"

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"I would recommend the ritual be done outside the city's walls," Antimony spoke somberly, looking down at the small pouch of fragrant sage and simple bone necklace she intended to repurpose that sat in the palm of her hand. She had kept largely silent as they retrieved the items, the words spoken between them and towards the Dodo tribe weighing heavy in the air. Shifting her tail in small curves, Antimony glanced sideways at the Tia.


"The Dodos have a burial ground in Thanalan. Where she should have been sent in the first place." D'hein muttered, his voice nearly silent. One of his ears hung tiredly down the side of his head, matching the sagging of his eyes and lips. His other ear, restless, twitched about like it was listening for something. As though that one ear of D'hein's thought it would be able to hear the moment the return missive from Drybone reached Ul'dah. The Brass Blades in the city did not know what had become of K'airos, so odds were those in Drybone would send word of her return.


"If that's what you wish." Closing her hand around the items, Antimony looked north along the Sapphire Avenue Exchange, past the anonymous crowds that filled the broad street. Her ears shifted back and forth as she began to walk, in small, uncertain gestures. When she spoke again, it was with some reluctance, "Do you... expect to return to the commune?"


"Yes, that's what I wish. It's where her son's ashes are. Despite the fact that the previous Nunh attempted to conceal his body as well." D'hein ignored Antimony's question, taking off in long strides that threatened to surpass the woman or lose her in the crowd. "Their souls should rest together. One day my soul will rest there, too."


"All spirits may rest together, so long as they are guided through the fire properly," the words slid across her tongue without thought, as familiar as breathing, and yet they left Antimony with an uncomfortable weight in her gut. She did not think her own forsaking the Twelve should alter her ability to conduct the souls of the dead, but she couldn't shake an uncertainty, and a touch of bitterness.


She hurried a bit to keep up with D'hein, frowning briefly at his back as they approached the Gate of Nald.


As he walked, his tail swung behind him, occasionally whacking people that he walked past. A lalafell took it to the face and objected loudly, but D'hein was well on his way before he had a chance to notice. "Not everyone believes as you do."


"Yet you're accepting my help." Her hand tightened around the pouch and the necklace. Even contained, the scent of sage reached her nose, and it brought with it a wealth of memories long ingrained.


She thought then of the last time she'd gotten into a spiritual argument, and how it had not ended well, and sighed. "Regardless, what's important is her spirit is shown the respect her body was not." Even if her body in life had been a rather distasteful woman. None of that mattered in death.


"Which is why I'm accepting your help." The gate of Nald loomed above them. D'hein did not slow down as he broke from the Sapphire Lane crowds. "Our Elders are bureaucrats. They swear by Nald'Thal. The Dodos forget their spirituality until someone dies."


A towering roegadyn merchant, carrying a crate that was likely larger than her, blocked Antimony's path for a few seconds, long enough that after she'd extricated herself from the crowd, she had to trot to catch up with D'hein. The constant, intently quick pace was beginning to wear on her, but she stifled the urge to pant as she came up alongside the Tia once more. She was quiet for a time as she considered D'hein's words, and how starkly different the Dodos were from the family she'd long left behind. Every moment of a Hipparion's life was steeped in the blessings of Azeyma and the wisdom of their Elders. It had been almost impossible for Antimony to imagine a life led otherwise - until she'd forced herself to do just that.


The woman let out a short sigh as they passed under the massive Gate of Nald. "I will need fire. Please keep an eye out for tinder and wood."


"I have fire. Unless your rites forbid magical flame."


D'hein's words brought an unexpected twist in her chest, and her steps slowed a moment unconsciously. There would be no firedancer for this rite, she thought bitterly, and tried to ignore a returned ache of loss. The one responsible for such things had left, returned to the tribe, and she had no right to want to stop him.


"... That will be fine," she spoke after a moment and picked her pace back up once more.


"Then we don't need to worry about wood and tinder." In his purposeful haste, D'hein did not notice Antimony's hesitation. He gave no glances towards the height of the gate, nor the people around him. He didn't appear to look at anything, as though his eyes had shut to all light. The Tia stomped out of the city like a blind giant that had memorized the way, curving west once out of the city.


At this point, Antimony let him lead the way, as the Tia would know the location of the burial ground - a strange concept to her, burying the dead all in one place; it didn't seem healthy - better than she. When nothing but silence passed between them for a time, Antimony thought to try her earlier question again, "Do you intend to return to the commune after this?"


Following a narrow path up a hill, the only easily-walked route between the rocks, D'hein paused a half an instant to glance at Antimony, and then continued onward. "Eventually. I don't think I want to be there right now."


"Ah." She wasn't certain if she should feel relieved or disappointed - relieved that he hadn't made the same terrible decision she had years ago, disappointed that... he hadn't made the same decision? She chewed on her lower lip as she worked her way up the hill, joints beginning to protest in uncomfortable ways. At the top, she set one hand against a tall rock and paused a moment to rest her weight there.


D'hein as well paused at the top, finally waiting for Antimony. He stood with his arms over his chest, scowling at a flat rise not far off where a number of carved pillars were set in a broad circle. The ground there was paved with stone, though sand had blown in and covered it, and there were ornate blocks that might be sarcophagi or the doors to underground crypts, if such a thing was the practice of the Dodoes. They could also just be for decoration.


"I say that because I still think of it as home." He looked back towards Antimony. "I think of it like that, but I don't feel it. The place feels empty to me. The people feel empty. D'edy won't produce children, but do I even care if they do not have a Nunh?"


She'd caught her breath quickly at least, though her limbs still expressed their displeasure at the unexpected hike and climb, and Antimony had to wonder when she'd gotten to feeling so old. Lifting her head to meet D'hein's gaze, she pressed her lips together, shifted her ears back and low to the sides of her head, then looked away, towards the stones a short distance off. "The tribe lost its meaning to me when Tha--they did not return from the Calamity." Her words came slowly, almost unwilling, things she'd never wholly spoken. "The family I knew was gone. It didn't matter that I would be leaving them without a shaman, without a spiritual guide. Even... even with so many of them still..." She pushed away from the rock, unable to fully voice that particular shame. The point was that, "I understand. Perhaps you will care later. Perhaps not."


It was a shame that Antimony had waited until now to say anything meaningful about her past. Had D'ahl still been alive, D'aijeen and K'airos close at hand, D'hein might have taken the thread gently, drawing on it and smoothing it out as he went. He might've cared to smooth her. But it was like his capacity for empathy had been thrown out along with D'ahl's mutilated corpse. He didn't care anymore for the game of flattering anyone. He didn't care where Antimony had come from, nor that she would still exist tomorrow. He didn't care.


He knew he should, though. Maybe if he was just able to mourn D'ahl like a civilized person, he could get past this. And past it to what? What does civilized grief even look like? He'd never seen it. He'd learned how to mourn by watching D'ahl mourn for her son, a thing she had never done. She'd chosen instead to replace him.


The Tia watched Antimony move, like an older, weaker version of D'ahl in costume as D'aijeen's mother. If he had any faith in Azeyma at all, believed that Althyk had so much as a shred of power, he might think that Antimony's similarities to D'ahl were a sign. But they were not. D'aijeen and Antimony had killed D'ahl. If Azeyma had guided them here, they had made a mistake.


D'hein Tia did not want to replace D'ahl.


Still. "It's selfish, though. Just because everyone I care about is dead, does not me that there are not still others who care about me. Even if I don't care about what happens to the Dodos tomorrow, what if they care about me?" He wasn't convinced he had that kind of clout with anyone, but the Dodos did need a Nunh, didn't they? "At the very least I suppose they've invested value into me that I owe a return on." The words tasted strange, accurate, and he smirked at them as he walked towards the flat circle of stones.


Her tail curled along with a stiff regret for thinking to share those words with the Tia. Selfish. Yes, perhaps he was being selfish. Perhaps they all were. But then so was everyone else. Drawing a deep breath, she followed D'hein once more. "Think what you wish, then," a bit of a bite snuck through her tone, and her ears fidgeted at it. She shifted D'ahl's journal from under her arm to her free hand.


Stepping past the stones that rounded the circle, D'hein said, "I'm starting to think I won't actually go back to the commune."


Antimony did not respond to that. Instead she moved to a spot amongst the stones where sand had gathered thickest and with some effort dropped to her knees there. The journal she set in her lap, the pouch of sage and necklace atop it. Bending forward wordlessly, she set her fingers to the sand and let the rhythm of decades of practice settle into her arm as she drew out an array of symbols.


D'hein paced over towards one of the great, ornate slabs of stone can crouched down next to it, touching his fingertips to it. "When a Dodo dies, their body is burned and their ashes interred beneath these stones. There used to be more ritual to it, when we had shaman to perform such."


More ritual. Perhaps this would be enough to satisfy, Antimony thought. A stylized representation of the sun, made from a fluid spiral and a number of radial "rays" took shape in the sand, followed by a few, more obtuse symbols to either side of it - relics of an ancient time and an ancient language. The last time she had done this, she'd been forced to rush through out of necessity, as other, desperate patients needed her care that still lived. Antimony's throat tightened, kept her voice from her while she worked, so she mouthed the prayers that were supposed to go along with it.


Pulling her hand away from the sand, she took up the necklace and, with a sharp motion, snapped the thread that linked the bone beads together.


D'hein Tia lingered where he was, watching Antimony with a neutral expression. One of his ears twitched.


Letting the bones slide off the string into the palm of her hand, Antimony then began to scatter them in a loose circle pattern about the sun. A representation of the body they did not have. Clearing her throat, her voice was still a bit thick and strained when she spoke, "I will need that fire soon." As though on cue her fingers worked open the tie of the pouch.


His scepter was concealed in his robe, so he stood to reach for it. The thing was near his belt, and he pulled it loose with slight difficulty, as its bindings had tightened from all of his movement. "Fire's easy to do. Just tell me when and how much you'll need."


In a small, cup-shaped ditch she'd carved out of the sand, Antimony deposited several pinches of the sage. Another pinch she rubbed slowly between her fingers, closing her eyes, breathing in its savory, bright aroma. She wasn't wearing the proper clothes, or carrying the right fetishes (or any of them), but it would have to do. Holding her hand out, the rubbed sprig of sage poised between her fingers, Antimony said, "A very small amount." She hesitated, her mind drifting back to the steady rhythm if fire swung in careful patterns at the end of a staff, and then added, "Try to put emotion to it."


Emotion? What emotion? The emotion burning through his arms was enough to blast away her little sand drawing and leave a sheet of glass in its place. Lifting the scepter in his gloved, numb right hand, D'hein muttered a spell in a neutral tone and gave the scepter the slightest flick, his gaze and mind target the spell at the sage in Antimony's hand. A small fleck of fire shoot out of the scepters tip, little more than a lightning bug, and cut a straight line through the dry air to the sage she held. It crackled to life dully.


Bowing her head, Antimony kept her eyes fixed on the small flame held between her fingers. She forced her posture to relax, forced herself to tune out the gravestones around her, the Tia at her side, narrowed her focus until all she saw was the dull red-orange glow, all she felt was the heat growing closer to her skin. When the flame had consumed enough of the sprig that it was practically burning her, she set it to the rest of the herb in the sand, curved her hands around it to ward off any dangerous breeze.


The dry herb caught easily, and she reached into the pouch for more, though she held it poised in her fingers for now. "As the Warden consumes, so does she shelter," she intoned in a low voice. She heard herself repeat the phrase several times, a slow mantra that came in time with the flickering of the flame. She cast another pinch of sage onto the pile, and then she heard nothing but the hum of the innate aether in her own body, felt it pulling up from her gut and running down her arms to the tips of her fingers. One hand set atop the journal in her lap, fingers splayed, while the other began to retrace the lines she had already drawn in the sand. To one sensitive to aether, they might notice a stirring in the energies of the earth there, a ripple echoing the pattern.


D'hein slid the scepter back into his robe and crouched once more. Fire seemed prerequisite for death. The Thaumaturges used it to cleanse the dead. Others used it to guide them. Where was the lightning and the ice? If he'd been able to find D'ahl's body -- if he'd known what vengeance D'themia would take on her for the crime of dying without permission -- then he would have been able to prepare her as he had been taught to. Could Antimony really equal that with just a book, some bones and weeds?


Antimony's ears drooped as her body relaxed into a pseudo-meditative state. To outsiders, nothing else visibly changed. The bones lay still in the arrangement the woman had set them, in an arc about the sun in the sand that her hand slowly moved over. To her mind's eye, even as she closed her own eyes, however, she saw a white fire following the pattern of the drawings, following her fingers in a thin trail as they moved through the sand. She saw the light on the journal, too, at the five points where her fingers touched its surface - like stars, the Warden's innumerable glimpses in the night. A surge of doubt nearly pulled her from the vision, a bitterness that those eyes had cared so little for those who had shown Her such love and respect, a doubt that the eyes were even capable of caring at all.


Then another sprig of sage was pulled from the pouch, held to the burning pile until it lit. She bent low, nearly doubled over her lap so that she could feel the heat of the flame on her face; her braids hung down close enough that much more than a twitch to either side could catch her hair on fire. "From birth, to Hunt, to love, and to death," she murmured, and her words made the smoldering herb flicker. "From first breath to last. From destruction to renewal. Her Flame welcomes and protects," a moment's hesitation and her hand shifted across the surface of the journal, "... punishes and brings an end. Into the Warden's warmth I send you, to be reborn, to rejoin with those waiting, and to wait for those yet to come."


She straightened then, eyes still closed, and took a small handful of sand from the center of the sun. This she cast across the journal, and then she went still and silent, waiting for when the time felt right.


D'hein waited. He listened to Antimony's words, watched her hands and movements. he tried to think of her as a shaman, a guide of spirits. He tried to imagine that she cared one way or another whether or not D'ahl was reunited with her son. But her movements were strange and unexpected; if it was a ritual, he'd never seen it. He waited for the lightning and ice, but it did not come. Breath and sand and fire were all well and good, but it wasn't what he was looking for. It wasn't what D'ahl needed. How could the spirit follow that which it did not recognize? No Flame had guided D'ahl's life, or D'hein's own.


The Tia reclined from the balls of his feet, tail shivering, dropping back on his haunches beside the ornate stone slab as though it meant nothing. He watched Antimony's tail, just her tail, unsure what to make of the rest of her.


Her tail lay across the stones behind her, at rest save for the occasional, slow shift across the ground, almost a metronome to the beat of her words. When she went finally quiet, so did it, falling still in the middle of the vague arc it had spread in the sand.


Minutes passed. The sage burned out until it was nothing but shriveled, blackened plant matter and a few, smoldering sparks.


When Antimony lifted her head, she found she could not say for certain whether the ritual had succeeded, and that awareness left a hollow ache in her chest, of something long lost, never to be regained. Her tail twitched but remained otherwise limp in the sand, and she opened her eyes to smooth stone monuments, rocky cliffs, blue sky. Her hand on the journal brushed across it, in almost a caress, pushing the sand off until it was clean. Perhaps she wasn't meant to do such things anymore, she thought with something that could have been grief, could have been the familiar bitterness.


She said nothing of this to D'hein, however, instead dropping her gaze to the journal. Silence stretched for a while longer before she murmured, "I've done what I can to bring her rest and comfort." There was a pause, and then she added out of old, almost forgotten habit, "May she know it long and well, until the last light fades from the sky."


"Longer, perhaps. Light slips away so easily." D'hein's ears twitched, one of them more fervently than the other. The lazier of his two ears turned towards Antimony, listening to her breath and movement. "D'ahl's son is dead. Do you think he grows wiser, more mature, as he rests? Or will he remain a child's soul forever?"


Antimony hesitated. She was not sure what she believed now, she thought, but she at least knew what she had believed back then. A sigh pulled on her shoulders. "It's another life, in the arms of the Warden, but a different one. I can't say, though... there were days I wondered."


D'heins head drifted to one side, one of his ears seeking to maintain equilibrium while his other swayed like a leaf ready to fall from his head. His tail lifted from the ground, curled and fell. His face offered no expression. "Azeyma did not return all of your daughters to you, did she?"


Her ears shifted back, head turning towards D'hein, though she didn't lift her eyes to him. "... No, she did not," she breathed, unsure why he would ask such a thing.


"I'm sorry. Both for the event and for asking." Both of D'hein's ears laid down toghether, momentarily symmetrical. "I might have challenged D'themia directly were I not too much a fool. I was not eligible for Nunh except by a process of elimination. D'ahl's son was also my own, you see."


She did see. Antimony had witnessed Tia ambition stretched too far on more than one occasion herself, including from her own brother. The memory dropped her ears lower. To more violent ends.


"I... am sorry, as well," she muttered and briefly wondered if the son's death had been more than an accident. No Hipparion would have condoned such a thing, even if the father would have seen punishment. She swallowed, dropped her eyes to the journal again. "Losing a child was... not uncommon to us." The desert was ever cruel in that way. "But that fact never eased the pain."


"As suffering goes, losing a child is only rare among the Dodos, for the children of the Nunh -- since several generations past -- have known more books than hunts." His tail shifted in the sand behind him once more. "It is not something I mourn. My own son, however, would have known hunts."


Setting one hand to the ground, she pushed herself up, knees creaking in protest from their prolonged position. She turned then towards D'hein and extended the journal towards him. "Keep this, if it brings you comfort, but not if you'll lose yourself in it." She licked her lips, ears shifting wearily. "My daughter... would have rose to lead the huntresses soon, my Nunh an elder, if..." A sigh, her eyes moving away. "... We must hold on to those who are left."


D'hein did not take the journal. He'd never seen it before. "You did not know D'ahl, but she was similar to you. I think you would have better luck understanding her thoughts than I would."


Her tail swung slow and sluggish down by her legs, and she shifted her weight, caught off guard by his refusal. She almost thought to say that she didn't care to understand D'ahl's thoughts, but that seemed blasphemous in its own way, unforgivable, so she just tucked the journal back against her side, ears twitching unevenly.


Watching the journal as though it were D'ahl's own receding face, D'hein at length looked up to Antimony. "So, here's a hypothetical for you. If the Brass Blades in Drybone said they've not seen K'airos, where would you go from there?"


Antimony's ears started upward briefly before setting back down against her head, and she turned to blink at D'hein. Only a stiff silence answered him for a time, until, "... There... is only so far she could have gone." It was a weak hope, but she had to offer it.


"There are ways to track a person down. It isn't my specialty, minf you, but at least one of your daughters is rather memorable. And, here's the hint: it is the one that is also mine."


"I will send word or travel to every town necessary, if I must."


D'hein shook his head, one ear swaying out beside his mane, the other standing tall. "That won't be necessary. We'll be able to discern a general direction at least." D'aijeen tended to strike people as either pretentious or ill, either of which was enough to secure her in their memories.


"I will hope so." Sighing, she glanced back towards the monument stones, then down to her own offering in the sand. The herbs and bones and the crude drawing seemed so simple and humble, and she was keenly aware that these were things people could judge her for, as archaic, nonsense. It was why she'd done her best to hide such habits in Limsa - to blend in, thinking perhaps if she appeared less alien, she would... feel less alien. Antimony wondered if D'hein thought that of her, if the rest of the Dodos thought that.


She didn't speak any of this, though, instead shifting her feet in the thin film of sand and looking over towards D'hein, past him towards Ul'dah. "I suppose we wait for now."


Silent, D'hein dropped his gaze to Antimony's feet, watching their movement as if it were somehow abnormal. When he stood, his shoulders sagged away from his chest and his arms swung at his sides as though they hung from ropes. "Unless you can think of something productive to do, I'd rather not so my waiting in on the burial ground." The place felt emptier to him than the commune had.


Antimony bent then, took up the leather pouch with its small amount of remaining sage. She wanted to continue looking for D'aijeen, even if such a search would end up a waste should the missive return from Drybone with good news. If it didn't, then...


"Ulanan has always been good at finding people," she spoke suddenly, moving her eyes back to D'hein, watching his ears within hair that bore a striking resemblance to dandelion head. "I would seek her help."


"She did find K'airos and D'aijeen once for you. Although, I had told her where to look. Do you know where to find the..." D'hein paused here, trying to remember if he liked or disliked Ulanan. Overriding most of his memories of the lalafell was the sight of her chasing D'ahl from the woman's own apartment, the last time D'hein had seen her alive.


His eyes shivered in their sockets, and he looked at the ground. "Do you know where to find her, then?"


Her brow furrowed, tail twitching in some half-realized discomfort. "She... always seemed to find me. Perhaps the inn, but..."


"But there's no guarantee of it." One of his ears twitched, his tail shivering. "Didn't Ulanan say she was going to follow Aijeen? Maybe she saw something."


Antimony sighed. "Perhaps, but that doesn't tell us where Ulanan's gone off to now."


"I'm surprised you never bothered to discern her place of residence or some method of contact. Am I the only friend whose home you haunt?"


Tail arching in some distress, Antimony fidgeted with the journal. "What? No... That... You're... were.. are? My employer! And," she huffed, "Much of my time at the commune was for business reasons, you know this."


"I'm your employer? Yes. I..." D'hein shifted his weight to one foot. "I suppose it was in error that I used the word 'friend'. You'll have to forgive me."


Green eyes widened as minor alarm bells rang in the back of her head, chiming of some unintentional misstep. Her arms tensed, pulling the journal a bit closer as she stammered, "Ah, that is--I didn't mean... Er, I was only saying that... that was why I knew where to look for you! That--that is all." Her ears twisted, one up and one down, then the opposite. "It was only that.. oh dear. I didn't mean to... say anything hurtful. Ah! Also, Ulanan doesn't live in Ul'dah. At least I... don't think."


One of D'hein's ears fell back, noting how upset she'd become. "It isn't that I don't want to be friends anymore. I certainly hope you don't think that I hold anything that's happened against you." Although he did, but he at least intellectually realized that she hadn't caused these events deliberately.


"Oh. Well... good?" Her mouth twisted in confusion. It wasn't as though she'd thought of D'hein as a friend before - at worst an invasive and extremely annoying employer, at best the adoptive father-figure of her youngest, wayward daughter. There were times when she even resented him for the latter, and she couldn't say she wouldn't resent him for it in the future. But it was also the latter that leaned into some sort of... camaraderie, a common affection and concern. Aijeen.


D'hein's tired features twisted into a frustrated expression. "Good, yes. I hope." He sighed, let his head droop forward. "If Ulanan does know anything, she is likely to seek you out. She would look for you at the inn?"


One ear twitched, and she pursed her lips. "I suppose... yes. That seems most reasonable." Her tail shifted uncertainly, and she made a slight gesture towards the remains of her ritual. "Would you... like to say any last words?"


"Last words. It's too depressing a concept." He closed his eyes and shook his head. "No, I wouldn't."


She dropped her eyes, took a step away from the stones, then hesitated. "I... am sorry. I would never wish this on anyone."


Dhien took a quick step sideways and pivoted on his heel, walking down the way they had come, back through the burial ground. "I appreciate your empathy. For the latter portion, I assumed you would not wish this on anyone. That would not be like you, I don't think."


Antimony lingered a moment longer, glancing back towards her small offering to the dead, then towards D'hein's retreating back. Then she dropped her ears and made to follow. "We can eat while we wait to see if Ulanan turns up," she offered quietly when she'd caught back up to the Tia. "A bit of food does the mind good."


"... It does. More than the mind, there is not a single part of a person, or a pair of persons, that is not improved and more focused by food." He spoke as he walked, pausing only slightly to look over his shoulder. "You must not complain when I order you extravagant food, though. Not today." And then he moved on.

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D'hein Tia -- or was he Nunh now? He hadn't been payingattention at the party, but now that he thought about it he did make appearance there, so may technically be... Well, regardless...


D'hein Nunh-until-someone-told-him-otherwise-because-hey-why-notthought that the Quicksand was an appropriate name for the place that here was going, as the weight of his legs and feet made him feel like the streets were made of clinging sand. He would not admit to an inability to sleep, or maybe he would if asked, as he thought he had become unpredictable since D'ahl's death. He did not feel psychologically stable, and he was unusually numb.


Taking a deep breath as he prepared to climb the steps,D'hein Nunh-as-far-as-anyone-could-say forced himself to stand straight and lift his shoulders, putting his hands on his hips. Dodoes do not plod, no matter how little sleep they've had or how tragic their lot. As heavy as his ears and eyelids were, he forced them to open and rise. One of his ears was a laggard, but he failed to notice.


He looked back on Antimony, having said nothing for theentirety of the walk back from the desert. "I apologize for my dire behavior. If I've said anything offensive, I pray you forgive me as I am not myself. If I've said anything heartfelt and sensitive, I pray you'll see it as my being charmingly vulnerable and unusually honest."


This city really was horribly filthy, Antimony thought asthey returned to Ul'dah's walls and approached the Quicksand - and not just in appearance. Its very spirit was stained, and it seemed to stain everyone who spent time within it. She wondered if that was why D'ahl had behaved as she did, why all the Dodos behaved the way they did. Were they just victims of Ul'dah's inescapable corruption?


Antimony watched the back of D'hein's head as they walkedand was so lost in her thoughts that she didn't catch most of his words, or really notice he'd stopped. She managed to pull herself short before colliding, however, and then blinked rapidly at him. "Ah, well..." Her lips pursed. Quickly, respond! "Don't... worry about such things."


One side of his lips curled upwards, in more bemusement thanhumor. "If you say so." His tail swung idly as he turned away, brushing her arm, though he failed to notice. He began up the steps to head inside. "Is there a place where she will look for you?"


Antimony fidgeted a bit at the bottom of the stairs, earstwitching about, before following hurriedly. "Perhaps... we've had meals in the main hall a number of times?"


"Perhaps you have? Where else might you have hadthem?"


She scratched at one ear, then stilled her hand by foldingit deliberately over D'ahl's journal. "Ah, well... my room, I suppose."


D'hein Nunh-probably-but-maybe-not turned to face her,walking backwards up the stairs. He spread his arms, "So there are two possible locations. Does she only find you at places you've shared meals? How then did she find you in the first place, before you'd ever shared any meals?" His heal hit a step and he fell backwards, but turned and took the last few steps like nothing had happened. then they were going inside.


Antimony sputtered a bit as D'hein tripped, then twisted hertail in thought. "Of course those aren't the only... That is, we've met at other... Well, she found me on a bench outside the Quicksand. And in the courtyard near the Drowning Wench in Limsa. And at the fountain here in Ul'dah. And at the Arcanists' Guild. And at Black Br.. er, well that one doesn't matter. And..." She trailed off, wringing her hands. "None of those are very likely, though!"


As soon as they entered, the first thing they saw was allthe adventurers that always crowded the tavern. The second thing, though, might have been a small blond figure sitting in the closest table to the entrance, wearing white, with a white hat as big as its owner resting on the table right next to a large plate of meat with a side serving of olives. Or, rather, olives with a side serving of olives with some meat below it.


D'hein didn’t see the figure. He smelled the olives, but thoughtthem unpleasant and turned away from them with a shiver of his tail. "Well if we chose to wait in your inn room at least we could take a nap. It's difficult to know to rest during the hard parts of life, but important."


Her ears laid back as she cleared her throat, eyes shiftingaway from D'hein in part because  of the Tia-turned-Nunh'ssuggestion and in part to scan the tavern's open seating area. She, too, caught the scent of olives almost immediately, but they were happily familiar, so she let her eyes follow it to the white-robed figure. A faint, relieved smile crossed her face. "Ulanan!" Lifting one arm to wave it in greeting, she turned to angle towards the woman, flicking her tail at D'hein in gesture.


The lalafell answered by raising one hand and waving itslightly, smiling but saying nothing as her mouth was busy munching on her meal. She gestured to the empty chairs around her table.


The Nunh-like Tia continued walking, stretching his armshigh to keep himself awake. "I haven't forgotten about Ulanan. We may just have to hope she has not forgotten about you, though."


Antimony halted, grimaced in a way that made her bruisedface ache, spun towards him, "D'hein, she is here!"


Ulanan stared between them, swallowed and, understandingthey were looking for her, she said out loud: "Hello, Antimony!"


D'hein paused. One ear twitched, and then the other. He backpedaledthree steps and then spun on his toes, spreading his arms dramatically and whacking some poor lalafell in the ear. The tiny person dashed off as though he'd done something wrong; maybe he was a pickpocket or something. D'hein didn't notice what he'd done.


"Of course she's here." he could only musterenough energy for half a grin. "She's always present when we have need of her most."


"Yes, it's a wonder." Antimony sighed, brushedsome hair from her face, and then turned to continue over towards Ulanan. There was a brief worry over whether or not the lalafell would ask about her face, but there wasn't really much to be done about it. She would just distract her. "Ulanan," she walked up to the much smaller woman. "I never got to ask after you when you left after... Aijeen."


"I lost her not long after leaving the commune."came the answer, flat in tone. "Are you alright? You both look...tired." she asked with some diplomacy.


"There have been some unfortunate events." D'heinapproached the table that Ulanan occupied. "Aijeen killed D'ahl that night. Are we sitting?" He dropped himself into a chair.


Antimony winced. "We haven't yet--" She cut offher protest, though, not wishing to restart that particular argument, and then just furrowed her brow at Ulanan. "You are fine, though? I worried for you, when I heard what happened."


Ulanan stopped all movements for about three seconds,holding a handful of olives in her hand. "Yes, I am." she answered, glancing at her food. Then she looked at the man, letting her head drop slightly. "I'm sorry, D'hein."


His mouth opened to respond, but D'hein found an absence ofwords. Instead of letting it hang vapidly open, he clicked it shut. His mane of blonde hair shook as he simply nodded back and turned his gaze to his shoes.


"I..." Antimony hesitated, fidgeted with the bookin her hands, and then sighed, eyes shifting at a downward angle towards D'hein. "Sit, and we can get something to eat." There was another pause, then towards Ulanan, "I suppose... you've no knowledge as to where Aijeen has fled to?"


She shook her head. "No." There was a pause as sheate another olive. "But K'airos went to Horizon in a rented chocobo and later left towards Vesper Bay on foot."


One of D'hein's ears twitched, though his expression didn'tchange. He leaned an elbow on the table and closed his eyes. "I suppose we can expect a negative response from Drybone, then."


Antimony's own ears drooped to either side, furrowed browdeepening. "Vesper... Vesper Bay?" Worry leaked into her voice. "Why?"


Another handful of olives got in the way of Ulanan's speech,though she stopped chewing to roll them to her right cheek. "Nobody there saw any Miqo'te Brass Blades arriving when I searched for her there." She found that way of speaking very unlady-like, so she swallowed. "She either got into town without the uniform, went south to Crescent Cove or set up a camp somewhere along the way to wait for D'aijeen."


"They left, when?" D'hein leaned forward, shookhis head, glanced around. "We need to get food."


"And why?" Antimony murmured again, earsshivering.


"The chocobo keeper wasn't very precise about the time,but it was sometime before meeting in the commune." the lalafell replied. Then she shrugged. "I don't know why. K'airos was crying loudly when she rented the transport, and that was the only reason the keeper could identify her."


"Crying. Excellent." He massaged his forehead."But that was before Aijeen had cause to be upset about anything, wasn't it? This is all stemming from her fighting with D'ahl... We need to get food."


Ulanan's offer was inevitable. "Olives?"


Ulanan's words only served to further distress Antimony."Crying," she repeated. And she could do nothing to assuage it here... The thought of her daughter hurting made her heart wrench. She swallowed. "Is there... Aijeen is with her surely... aah, we must go to her immediately!"


"No," D'hein frowned. "As I just said, weneed food. You can't care for anyone if you don't care for yourself. That is simplicity itself." He flicked his eyes to Ulanan. "And, no. Olives will not fill our bellies. We need actual, honest food."


"I think they are perfectly honest." Megiddoreached over Ulanan's shoulder and plucked an olive from the pile. The old man was particularly dilapidated. "Thank you, Ulanan."


The lalafell didn't have time to protest to D'hein's words,and then barely had time to shake and look behind her with a stabbing glare.


Antimony flinched, performing some strange backwardstwitch-hop, her tail fuzzing out, at Megiddo's unexpected entrance. "That--they--olives are... Where did you come from??"


Megiddo gestured in a general unspecific direction,"Oh, somewhere over there."


D'hein just groaned at the man's presence.


Ulanan frowned. "Who taught you to intrude rudely atother people's conversations?" The frown was followed with some squinting and smiling. "Wait, this is actually great! You can go keep an eye on K'airos while these two rest."


"What? No, I've rested!" Antimony protested."Now I can't speak for D'hein, of course, but... I can't just sit by while something is upsetting Airos, and while Aijeen is still missing...!"


Megiddo frowned at Ulanan. "And I suppose you have away to get me to Crescent Cove in the time it takes for two Miqo'te to take a nap? I find it unlikely." And then, to Antimony, he said, "The more problematic of your two daughters has gone to Crescent Cove as well. At least, she left for the Silver Bazaar, which has a ferry going that way, if I remember correctly."


Eyes widening, Antimony lashed her tail about behind her,whacking the chair D'hein sat in. "Then you... that... Ah, thank you, Megiddo! You are always such an incredible help to me, I don't..." She spun on D'hein. "There is no telling how long she'll remain there!"


Ulanan turned around and looked at the Duskwight as if hehad just personally insulted all of her family at once. Then she turned back at her plate, huffing. "Don't act as if you didn't know what an aetheryte is, or as if you didn't have the wealth to pay the fees."


Much calmer, she looked at the two Miqo'te. "CrescentCove only has two exits. Meggido and me will be enough to cover both. One or the other will eventually run into them if they leave."


Finally, D'hein spoke up. "Old man, I suppose the firstperson you told about this was that demented roegadyn friend of yours?"


"No. She threatened Antimony's child, and so has notbeen informed. However, I'm afraid that my skills for observation are matched only by my necessity for inaction. I cannot help in the way that Ulanan imagines, for you see, I am currently incarcerated."


"Of course you are." D'hein hid his face behindone hand again.


Antimony twisted back to Megiddo, blinking in confusion."Incarcerated? But you're here."


"It's jargon for 'I should be in prison but I'mactually not'." Ulanan explained with a huff. Her tiny arms crossed over each other and rested over the table. "Did you hire him to look for D'aijeen?" she asked D'hein.


D'hein lifted his gaze to Ulanan, sounding offended, "Iam well above employing the homeless to search for my daughter! What kind of terrible parents must you have had!"


The Duskwight ignored the exchange between the two,answering Antimony instead. "I took your chiding regarding my granddaughter to heart and have made myself helpful. She killed four men yesterday morning and was arrested. Therefore, I turned myself in for the crime, securing her release. Theoretically, I am currently in jail. Though I confess I am wandering a bit."


Antimony's mouth dropped slightly, ears shifting back."Oh," she murmured. "Why is everyone..." Her tail shivered and then she dropped her gaze. "That was very... kind of you. But Miss Loughree? She killed... ah. This whole city bears a terrible curse!"


Ignoring Antimony's outburst towards the city, Ulananoffered an alternative. "You need to rest. Do you still have that Agency linkpearl? If D'hein can lend me one, I can go to the Cove from Horizon right now and keep you informed. Will that tranquilize you enough to rest?"


Still glaring, D'hein growled, "I'm not sure I want youaround Aijeen considering what you did to D'ahl." One of his eyes was flat on his head, both twitching. "That kind of violence is exactly what started all this."


Ulanan didn't waste time to growl back, except hers was amuch higher, pathetic pitch coming from a tiny frame. "I wasn't asking you."


"IF!" Antimony shouted very suddenly, throwing herarms up between the two, one hand still clutching the journal. She paused, cleared her throat, shrunk a bit and repeated, "If... everyone can stop killing--or... talking about killing.. or thinking about killing, or hurting or--just stop, for more than half a second! I am... going to get D'hein some food." She didn't wait for a response, giving a distressed huff and spinning on her heel to hurry towards the bar.


Watching Antimony retreat with wide-eyes, D'hein spun onUlanan and said, "That's no way to talk to a woman! You're much too rough with her! Attacking people all the time, bringing violence into her family."


Ulanan threw her hands to the airs "Who suggestedviolence!" she asked, though it was more of an exclamation. She followed this by pointing at him rudely. "Maybe you forgot that D'ahl threw a dagger at her. Maybe you also forgot you stood uselessly while she had all the intention to murder her."


D'hein slammed his hands on the table and stood to his fullheight. "D'ahl intended no such thing! If she wanted her dead, she would be dead! D'ahl would never murder someone undeservedly!"


Taking another olive and stepping back, Megiddo watched theexchange with mild interest before turning to follow Antimony.


Antimony's tail bristled as she wove her way through themild crowd. She caught D'hein's shouting, his words setting her ears flat against her head, but she didn't alter course. Once at the bar, she waited for some ambitious patron to finish his drink order, and tried not to think of K'airos crying, or D'aijeen killing anyone, or Loughree killing anyone, or D'hein defending D'ahl's attack on her, or any such thing.


Ulanan also stood up, but she did so on her chair and with ajump. Her feet stomped on the chair in imitation of the man's slam. "It was a dagger! She threw a dagger. Not a slap to the face. Not mean words. A dagger!"  She jumped again, thistime to the floor. Another stomp accompanied her. It was louder this time. "I won't sit here while you justify D'ahl's action. I'm sorry she's gone, but her actions weren't justified." She stood on her toes and swept her arm to take her huge hat with her. In the same movement, it was on her head.


"Have a good day!" and she walked off to followMegiddo. Or perhaps to follow Antimony.


D'hein shook his head, dumbfounded. "How in the sevenhells am I supposed to have a good day? Are you paying any attention to what's going on at all?"


Megiddo ghosted behind Antimony, his small footsteps andunsteady balance allowing him to keep up with her against all reason. After she had paused for a time at the bar, he ventured, "My condolences for your experiences. But days such as these do pass."


Antimony jumped for the second of Megiddo's appearances thatafternoon, then sighed. "I would believe that, I think, if these days did not seem to happen with increasing frequency."


Ulanan threw some words at D'hein while she left him behind"It's a manner of speech. And I'm still sorry about this!"


She zig-zagged between the patrons and usuals of theQuicksand before reaching the other two, walking past the Duskwight and standing next to Antimony. Looking up, she wasted little time in speaking. "I'm sorry," she started. "I did not intend to harm anyone. I just wanted to help."


"Even when helpful, violence is regrettable. It doesnot mean that you should regret it." Megiddo wedged himself between two patrons so he could relax against the bar. The patrons seemed put off by the sudden intrusion of the filthy man, and vacated their seats. The Duskwight gestured to them, "Perhaps you should sit."


Antimony spared the lalafell a brief, anxious glance beforereturning her attention to the bartender. "I'm fine, thank you," she murmured to Megiddo. "This should only take a moment."


"D'hein is currently a sad man." Ulanan said,looking back towards where she left him. All she saw were many legs of tall people. "I still offer myself to go ahead to Crescent Cove while the two of you rest. I can use the aetherytes to come and go if they rest at Horizon or if they decide to come back to Ul'dah. Or to Drybone."


A pause. Then she added: "That way we won't losethem."


Megiddo stood where he was, his eyes half-lidded and staringat nothing, listening. D'hein evidently had remained at the table.


Resting the journal on the bartop, and her hands on top ofthe journal, Antimony leaned forward slightly, frowning. "I... suppose I can't object." Her ears shifted out, tail curling against one leg. "That Airos was so upset, over... I can't fathom, but I must get to both of them as quickly as possible." She hesitated, glanced towards Ulanan. "Can you... take people along with you on the aetherytes?"


"No, that's not possible." she shook her head."You'd need to be attuned to Horizon's aetheryte. And even then it isn't that close to Crescent Cove. So make sure to rest. I'll let you know if they move."


"In the meantime," Megiddo spoke with a quietbreath, but the grating of his voice made it audible. "Antimony, if you see my granddaughter, be considerate. She is in a bit of a spiral, I'm sure you can imagine."


"Considerate," Antimony echoed, lifted her handdistractedly as the bartender finished with his ambitious patron. Considerate of a woman who had murdered four people? She'd tried to support Loughree when the young woman was troubled, but this... She felt herself deflate as the bartender approached. When he asked what she'd like, she found herself unable to settle and so, in rush of anxiety and a wish to just make things better again, hastily ordered a bit of everything.


She could share it with Ulanan and Megiddo, if need be, shethought faintly.


"I... worry what drove her to such acts," shefinally managed, after the bartender had left looking bewildered.


"I wonder if she actually did anything." Ulananpondered.


"Worry and wonder." Megiddo stood away from thebar, looking sideways at the two. "These are the proper emotions. Worry and wonder are what she would need. That you feel such is why I am confident asking you thus." His shifted her head away, greasy hair laying over his features. "I need to return to my cell before my absence is discovered."


Antimony really wasn't sure what to make of Megiddo'simplications - arrested for murders he didn't commit, somehow sneaking out to walk the streets as though he were on a midsummer stroll. Still, she had to admire the old man for what he'd done, even if thinking about Loughree now left her stomach churning. "I... will do what I can for her," she muttered, bowing her head.


Ulanan tipped her hat in no particular direction. "Ishould go, too." she said. Afterwards, she added a confident smile and looked at the woman. "Don't worry! I'm sure K'airos was just crying over fighting with her boyfriend or something like that. I'll let you know where they are!"


Antimony looked unhappy at the prospect of letting Ulanan goon without her, but her protests would continue to fall on deaf ears she knew, and there wasn't much else she could do. Silently she vowed to make haste to Crescent Cove as soon as possible, and then just forced a smile to first Megiddo and then Ulanan.


With a smirk on his placid features, Megiddo walked ontowards the exit. "I wish you better luck, Antimony. And Ulanan, I recommend you be more on the cautious side than the blunt side. But you will do as you will.



Ulanan huffed, walking towards the exit with him."People need to stop thinking I'm blunt. I'm not!" She stopped halfway to turn around and head towards another, different exit. Good thing the Quicksand had three. "Actually, it's best if I leave that way. Goodbye!"

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