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Falling off the Wagon [ooc welcome]

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((Follows immediately after On the Tenuous Nature of Friendship Bracelets))


Antimony remained by herself at the bar, occasionally sneaking weary glances across the open tavern towards where D'hein brooded at the table. The place gradually began to fill more as time dragged on, the pre-dinner crowd arriving. Right when she was beginning to wonder what was taking the food so long, a barmaid hustled through a swinging door that led to the kitchen, burdened by a large tray that held at least five times too much food for two people. At least the Quicksand's menu was not particularly broad, so there weren't /that/ many different dishes, but it still amounted to way too much food.


Her ears shifting back in embarrassment, she lifted a hand at the barmaid and accepted the tray from her. It was surprisingly heavy, and she nearly dropped it as soon as she had it in hand. The barmaid didn't look particularly sympathetic, so Antimony struggled to regain her balance and then began the journey back to D'hein.


She set the tray down on the table with a heavier thud than she'd intended, rattling the plates noisily. Then she took up a seat near the Tia (Nunh?), set her hands in her lap, and said firmly, "Eat now."


D'hein was not to proud to admit to himself that he'd been dozing, though he thought he was proud enough that he'd maintained his outward composure. Like a priest, D'hein had learned to sleep sitting up, with his eyes closed and his hands fixed coolly in his lap, and though it was not his intention to fall asleep, he at least had the good sense to do it properly. As a gentleman must. He dreamt that Antimony and D'ahl had met under different circumstances and not hated one another. He didn't dream about a single image or that other than that, just the one passing delusion.


And then the food slammed down, and D'hein snapped his head off the table and swung himself upright and back further than the chair wished to permit. The back of the chair intersected his shoulder blades unkindly before the chair leaned. In his attempt to stop himself from falling backward, D'hein fell to the side instead.


In the next moment, he was on his feet, having completely forgot whatever he had been dreaming about or however long he'd been dozing off. He straightened and dusted himself off and appeared composed within seconds. Yes, quite like a gentleman or a priest.


"Thank you, Antimony." He turned his eyes down at the massive amounts of food, and one of his ears stumbled about drunkenly atop his head. "Well, it's good to see that you intend to make sure we eat our fill. Have your visitors gone then?"


Antimony's tail fluffed in surprise as D'hein took a ungraceful tumble off the chair, followed by an admittedly swift recovery. Then she looked sharply away, grey ears shifting. "Yes. Well. I'd thought Ulanan and... I didn't realize they would be leaving so soon." Leaving and leaving them to chase after should they want to find D'aijeen; the thought was infuriatingly helpless.


"Those type always do. There's a reason that poor people are poor, you see." D'hein placed his chair back at the table and moved to sit in it, looking at the food with a fake smile. His appetite had not returned yet, though he was incredibly hungry. He felt like he deserved to continue experiencing pangs of hunger, one of the few kinds of pain he could still feel. He thought that was stupid, though, and forced himself to think of the nutritional value of what had been put before him.


"Wait, did you pay for this?" One of his ears popped up and he turned his exhausted eyes on the woman. "The working class can't afford to go purchasing the food of the upper class! Except through taxes."


"Ah..." The older woman hesitated, wincing, frowned and began, "I am not that p--" then cut herself off with a short huff and a flick of her tail, closed her eyes, and then managed a bit more evenly, "You did say you would pay for our food."


"I did, and I intended to. Which is why I'm concerned that you've paid for it." D'hein allowed this to distract him from the food, fully aware. "If you have, then it's an err of mine that needs to be corrected."


Setting D'ahl's journal down and wringing her hands together, Antimony hesitated a moment before shaking her head, "I haven't." A pause, then a gesture at the plates. "Now, eat."


"You eat as well." D'hein chose a plate at random to pull towards himself. They all seemed to be complete meals.


Antimony watched D'hein intently a moment longer, with an instinct that came as naturally as breathing, and then took a plate for herself. It looked to be some kind of root vegetable dish, and she made a face before pushing it back and taking something with more meat. Even after all these years, it was hard to shake a diet so long learned. Grabbing a fork, she snuck a quick glance towards the Tia, then looked down at her food. Silence.


D'hein watched Antimony. He watched her watching him, intrigued that she was doing so. Was she away that she was always instructing him to behave in certain ways? He wondered if she would change that behavior when he was Nunh. Was it based on the fact that he was a Tia? Did her tribe treat Tias as lesser? What, was she waiting for him to eat, as though that was prerequisite to her eating?


Experimentally, he took a bite of his food. He was shocked to find it was something squishy, wet, and hot, and looked down to discover that he was eating some kind of grease-boiled onion or something. What was it? Why would anyone cook this?


Satisfied when the Tia (Nunh... they would really have to settle this soon, as it was starting to confuse Antimony horribly) began to eat, Antimony gave a slow flick of her tail against her chair and jabbed her fork at the... pile of shredded meat?


Well, it was something, even if her nose couldn't quite pick out /what/ it was.


She took a slow bite, chewing carefully. The ruckus they'd caused back at the commune pestered her at the back of her mind, left an ill worry in her belly, but it was nothing compared to the worry she held for K'aijeen. And K'airos. What had befallen that dearest of her daughters to make her cry? What had Aijeen done? She thought about broaching these questions with D'hein again, pestering him about how he had raised D'aijeen, about how he may have treated K'airos, about how he couldn't be any more wrong about his assessment... and yet so frighteningly right.


But she didn't. Instead she just ate in silence. When she finished her first bite, she hesitated on seeing D'hein's hesitation, and muttered firmly, "Eat your food."


D'hein took several more bites very quickly. "I am eating." And so he did. He ate the onion thing. He would conquer it, as it had been placed before him, by himself. Then they would nap and then... He would see what he could do about D'aijeen.




Escaping from Uldah had been pleasant, even though Illira knew thats what it was, an escape. Leaving the city behind without a word to the few people that she knew and the only one that she cared of was nothing to be proud of.


She'd left Amaury to rot in the city's jails once and left him again out on its streets. How she would look him in the eye this time, she didn't know, but it was time to come back. The business up in Coerthas that she'd taken upon herself to deal with, was done with. Uldah had been twisting her up in its sick game. It was run away or snap in two. But she couldn't run away for forever. At least needing to be sure that Amaury wasn't destitute as a result of her actions before she ran away.


The streets were just the same as she'd left them, unfortunately. Dust kicking up with the slight breeze. This was the last time, she told herself. Maybe if Uldah really did get eaten up by a sandworm would she tread its grounds again. Illira frowned as she knew that was probably only a lie that she told herself in order to soothe.


Turning off of hastings strip to the Quicksand to gather the gossip and get a room, she gave a sidelong glance to the bench outside where a pair of humans were busy gazing into each others eyes. Sickening, they were.


The wooden doors opened easily enough as the elezen pushed them open. Busy as ever, the tables were all full, with various adventurers checking in with Momoji.




"Good," Antimony sighed then, returned to her own meal. The meat was tough and stringy, but she chewed through it thoughtlessly. Chewing made the livid bruising across her face ache, but that was easily ignored. She didn't look up from her meal, focusing on how the thick, brown gravy that filled in the spaces between the meat fibers pushed around on her plate. It sunk into a crack in the clay. The silence weighed on her ears too much, however, and sent her tail into uncomfortable contortions, so she searched for some harmless question to ask. Anything.


Her mind was stuck on her daughters, however, and she didn't know enough about D'hein on a personal level to ask of anything else. So after a lengthy silence she blurted out very suddenly, "Aijeen! When--ah, when was she... happiest under your care?" She cringed, ears laying back at her words, and she promptly sought to hide in her food.


Illira's hand was on the railing as she walked down the ramp. It stilled though as she stopped, stiffening, her ears having just picked up a familiar voice, shrill in its nervous intonation. Nails digging into the stone as her grip tightened, she looked out on the room proper, sure that there was a Miqote with greying hair and spectacles somewhere in its midst.


D'hein paused mid-bite, caught of guard by the question. He did not choke. He swallowed prematurely, wincing at the unpleasant sensations in his throat. But he didn't choke. After taking a deep breath to think, D'hein answered, "I think. Either when we got her new clothes, because she liked that. Or when I agreed to allow her to study in the Ossuary. Or when K'airos recovered from her wounds at Cartenau."


The last one made Antimony's tail still and then hang low towards the floor. "I am glad she... none of the wounds seem to haunt her." Then she went quiet, bowed her head. She wasn't certain why she'd thought to ask such a thing. It was a silly question, and it just made her chest ache to think of all the times Aijeen /hadn't/ been happy. With her.


Illira felt almost as if she'd been here before. This exact place, at the rail, Antimony falling under the alluring spell cast by D'hein. The rage collecting in her chest, knotting up inside. But no. She was better than this, could try to be. That didn't mean that she wouldn't go check up on the pair though. Make sure he hadn't fallen any deeper. So she made her way over to them, pulling an empty chair from a table as she did so.


D'hein, ever oblivious, thought neither that someone was about to interrupt them nor that what Antimony had asked might be a source of sadness. He caught the thread that Antimony had left him and pursued it, "Aijeen was always happiest with K'airos, even though she would come back to the commune for awhile every now and then. Her studies were important to her, so I think the Dodos and I were mostly just tools to pay for them. But I didn't mind. I just wanted to give her and K'airos everything they needed."


"Wh--" Antimony's word cut off short, and she jumped in her chair as the Wildwood joined them unannounced and unexpected. Her tail frizzed against one leg of her chair, and she sputtered for several seconds before managing a weak, "Miss--miss Carceri...!"


Planting her chair down by the table, Illira unceremoniously joined them, raising a brow at the sheer amount of food that was between them, "Still showing off D'hein?"


At first confused by Antimony's reaction, wondering what he'd said and what she was talking about, D'hein's ear twitched towards Illira and his face followed not long after. "What?" He looked back to Antimony, and then looked at Illira again. "What? What?" Then to Antimony again, one ear flopping down and the other bouncing up. "What?"


Antimony wasn't much help. She just kind of stammered silently at the elezen woman.


"Oh, so you'd forgotten me. So glad to hear that I leave faint impressions. I didn't mean to interrupt your little gathering, but I've just come back into town. And who are the first people that I find? You two. Just as I left you. ... practically." Her traditional braids had been taken out, her dark hair long and loose, giving her sharp features a slightly softer look as she reached for a small branch of grapes.


"Ah. I..." D'hein snapped his gaze back and forth a few times before shaking his head. "Forgive my rudeness. I am exhausted and easily confused. And you've changed your hair." He thought she had changed her mannerisms as well. If it was possible for a woman like Illira to be any more direct, she'd managed it. "I'm just very easily confused, you see. Simple to vex."


"Simple to... ah," Antimony almost squeaked, then cleared her throat forcefully. Her fork was still clutched in one hand as she cast an anxious, sideways glance at Illira. "Apologies. I was--we just...er, weren't expecting you. That is all."


"No. I suppose you weren't. My apologies. I am merely unhappy to find my way back to where I left things." Grey eyes cut sideways towards Antimony, "You didn't take my advice. Obviously."


The older woman flinched. "Your... advice? I've--well, I've--I have made all decisions to the best of my ability!" Antimony tried to sit straight at that, to give herself some semblance of authority.


Frowning, D'hein nudged a plate of food towards Illira. "She successfully closed the investigation with the Brass Blades and the Dodos, if that's what this is about. Ul'dah is cleaner now."


Illira was silent for a moment, digesting the overly broad information that he'd presented. Her head jerked up to his head of blonde fluff though, when she realized some of its implications, "Antimony had quit. You went against my direct advisement to not mix personal affairs and business didn't you?" She decided to take one piece at a time. Chronological order, of course.


"I had a job to get done and took the necessary steps to get it done, which included postponing my personal affairs so that I could employ Antimony in a strictly professional context." D'hein narrowed his tired eyes, confronting this challenge dead-on.


"I--ah, I volunteered for it, Miss Carceri," Antimony interjected suddenly, green eyes worried. "I was already familiar with all of the details and paperwork, and it... seemed... like a fine, productive idea."


"I'll let the matter sit then. For the sake of conversation. What was the fallout? I hope that Tyremandu got his due." A deep breath was taken to steady her anger at her associates cloak and dagger routine.


Antimony blinked and then seemed to shrink in her chair.


"I'm not yet privy as to the details. I know the Nunh responsible is in jail and all the documents have likely been seized by now." He leaned back in his chair again, poking at his food so as to avoid awkward gesturing. "I'm keeping a distance to avoid conflict of interest, so I don't know more than that."


"That was... not an answer, D'hein. Not even a weak one. You can do better than that. Plus, we have its executor right here." Illira's attention turned back to Antimony, "I would say that I'm sorry for not trusting a word of what D'hein is saying, but I'm not. What happened?"


The miqo'te swallowed, her tail curling up around one leg. "Ah. Well. It's... all extremely complicated, and... certain discussions were necessary once it was found that the, er, Dodo commune was so difficult to enter. He--ah, D'hein is correct in that D'themia Nunh has been arrested!"


D'hein Nunh-more-likely-than-not crossed his arms. "You're under no obligation to answer her. You're a contractor, not an employee, and she'll have access to a report on the situation once it's been processed."


Illira snorted at that, "Why not tell me now, unless you're hiding something? D'themia was -not- my concern. With his departure, another will just take his place as Nunh. What happened with the Blades? Do not tell me they escaped from your investigation intact."


"I--ah--that is, Captain Tyremandu helped--" Antimony's mouth shut with a click of teeth, and she swallowed her words for several seconds before choking, "You'll receive a report soon."


The elezen's thin lips purse together, "So they did. Charmed you, just as D'hein did, did he?" She seethed inside, what was accomplished then? Nothing. Tyremandu and his office still intact. D'themia knocked off the tower but soon to be replaced by another Tia. Perhaps even... "Wait. Who is replacing D'themia? You would know, wouldn't D'hein... Tia? Or is it Nunh now, by chance?"


"You're so disappointingly transparent, Illira." D'hein sighed, leaning forward in his chair to look sideways at the woman. "The man next in line to be Nunh is named D'edy. He is primarily interested in sex and alcohol, just as a Nunh should be."


"I also know you quite well. And you were the one to bring the to me to manage. It would fit your agenda quite well."


Cringing, Antimony just muttered a faint, "It's not as you think."


"You do not know me at all, Illira, or else you would not be surprised by my actions and make wrong assumptions concerning them." He'd forgotten his food now, just leaning forward to glare at Illira. "The fact is that you're a bureaucrat, well-adapted to seek the failings in your peers in hopes of furthering your agenda. Just like the rest of them."


"No. I am just tired of this sand-pit and its never ending web of lies. And more so each time I return. I see that I should have stayed away again. But I had to make sure that Amaury was not left to scavenge on the streets." Looking down at the pile of food that hadn't really depleted at all, she took a grape off of her little branch of them to eat.


"As if the lies stop here." D'hein watched the grape in Illira's fingers, eyed it all the way to her mouth.


"I'll admit, they don't. But this is by far, the cesspit." Delicately popping the grape into her mouth, Illira turned towards D'hein with narrowed eyes.


Antimony continued to look uncomfortable and utterly incapable of saying much aside from a sputtered, "I assure you, I did--ah, everything necessary to thoroughly complete the investigation."


D'hein's eyes snapped to Antimony long enough to say, "Your work was flawless, Antimony. Above the expected caliber." Before he returned his steady glare to Illira. "Maybe you just can't handle work on the front lines."


The knot in Illira's chest tightened as another insult to her person was added to the collection. She took in a deep breath, angry at herself that the relative calm she managed to achieve again had been shattered just as soon as she'd returned, "I just can't stand rats," she said, her voice calm, despite herself as she met his gaze.


"And in a war against rats, that's a terrible thing." He shrugged. "Especially when some of the best weapons we have to use and throw away are the rats themselves."


“I apologize, Miss Carceri," Antimony spoke, bowing her head forward.


"Its a pity that rats have learned to use fancy words and twist other around their little fingers. I should speak to Ildur about all this. I had been hoping that some time away in Coerthas would clear everything up, but its obvious to me that hasn't happened." Illira bowed her head, "But you didn't happen to hear of what Amaury is doing, did you D'hein? Since you were the one who'd let him out, after all."


"Your approval of my rat-handling skills is not one of my goals, Illira. You may waste your time speaking with Ildur if you wish. He's not so staunch as you are. As for Amaury, I made sure to find him gainful employment." D'hein said this proudly, casting Illira a weary smile. "After all, when the incarcerated are released, they tend to return to confinement if they do not find work quickly."


"I think that you misunderstand who I'm referring to, D'hein. I'm surprised that Amaury went back to you seeking employment. I'd advised against it, having revised my initial thoughts on such an idea." No smile found its way over her, the thin lips still pressed into a frown.


"Perhaps. You shouldn't be. Many who run afoul of the Syndicate do so because they're a bit /too/ good at taking care of themselves, remember." He looked at Antimony, checking to see if she was still eating. But then he noted her distress and when ear popped up. "Ah, Antimony. You don't need to be so formal. You're done with the job, so neither Illira nor I are your employer anymore. Relax."


Antimony jumped again in her seat, green eyes bouncing between D'hein and Illira before settling on some point in the middle of the table. She cleared her throat, swallowed, cleared her throat again, and her tail shivered. "Ah, well. That doesn't mean I shouldn't... I mean, I wouldn't just--that is--Miss Carceri deserves as much respect as any."


"That you have to say that means you only feel an obligation. Don't. You're little lalafell pet certainly doesn't," answered Illira, still recalling her last exchange with Ulanan.


At that, Antimony cringed and did a horrible job at hiding her mortification.


"It's good to know you have not lost your poignant absence of whit, Illira. As you are still as bitter as ever, I must conclude you are in good health. Therefore why do you not seek your brother and ask him how he is doing himself?" D'hein chuckled lowly. "He cannot be more difficult to find than we. Perhaps it is simply less fulfilling to talk down to someone who has more right to be bitter than you have, and yet is better composed."


Her head snapped around at that, her voice raising, "You have no right to speak about him. Or our relationship. Simply because you asserted your syndicate connections to arrange for his release, doesn't mean that you have earned anything."


Pursing her lips, grey ears setting back into her hair, Antimony managed to lift her head towards the elezen. A frown wrinkled her brow. "Very well then," she huffed, looking a little terrified of what she was about to say. "You are--are an incredibly rude woman, ungrateful to those who have tried to help you, and--and I am not sorry for completing the project originally assigned to me!" The last burst out of her rather forcefully, and then the miqo'te froze, eyes wide.


D'hein congratulated Antimony with a small clap.


Illira's jaw tightened as she swallowed down the feelings of humiliation that threatened to overwhelm her. A small part of her supposed that she deserved it for not being being a pleasant smiling individual. But wasn't it better to stick to your convictions and not abide by the liars, manipulators, and sycophants of the world?


Her pale cheeks flushed, as she practically shook in anger, unsure if she should speak in that moment, yet feeling the unquenchable desire to lash out at the pair. One of whom was a failure, the other a liar and traitor.


Humming as he leaned back, D'hein said, "Illira, have you ever asked permission to speak on a subject, or hesitated at any insult? No. You will call someone a pet to their back and pretend it is honesty. Do not torment if you are not prepared to be tormented."


Her voice was quiet, almost deceptively so, "I've called her that to her face. Because its the truth. I am rude." She stopped to eat a grape, chewing on it for longer than she should have, "But I'm not ungrateful to those who tried to help. Because it wasn't help," Her clear grey eyes snapped to D'hein, voice raising into a strained pitch, "It was undesired and unwanted interference in personal business. And one that bypassed the law."


"Bureaucratic technicalities. Shame on you for not desiring it. Shame on you for twisting the law until I've broken it in your view, just so you can continue looking down on me." He reached over and plucked a grape from Illira's bunch.


She watched as he took the grape, but didn't say anything about it, "There was no new evidence. And you don't know him. Know me. Know us. He could have done it. And do you know how I know that D'hein?"


Antimony had shrunk progressively as D'hein and Illira fired back and forth. When the Wildwood delivered her almost smug question, the older woman winced, pressed her lips together, and tried to straighten again. "You can never be certain about even family," she said quietly, and then bolder, brow furrowing, "But that does not change the fact that you do not condemn family in such a way! It's abominable that you would leave him as... as he was!"


The Nunh-though-maybe-Tia turned his gaze towards Antimony briefly, and then away. His tail shivered.


Illira sat back, seemingly a little calmer, "And that is my own shame to bear that I stopped visiting, and then sending letters. I can barely look him in the eye, Antimony. But that doesn't dismiss what he might have done, and what D'hein did."


Shrugging and grabbing another grape, D'hein said proudly, "I looked into the issue as best as I could and decided that for the crimes he was accused of he'd served enough time. I asked around with my connections and they agreed, and they in turn had a little talk with the parole committee, who also agreed. No crime was broken. Not even in spirit." He smirked, "Unless you think your interpretations of law are the standards to which all others must stand. To which I say, you have not been elected to such an office."


"I understand exactly what you did. You behaved as if you were the law's executor." Illira set the grapes down at that, so that she could turn her full attention to the shorter man. She could almost feel her fingers wanting to move of their own accord, to choke the self-absolving smug grin off of his face, "Which you are not. This is why I hate the syndicate. Its not up to us to take the law into our own hands. Or I would do so now. I'm all too aware of the temptation too. Amaury was the one who taught me that."


"The final word was the parole committee. They are the law. You're picking and choosing technicalities to fit your preconceptions." One of D'hein's ears twitched.


Antimony brought her hands together, wrung them anxiously. "Should you not value the time you have with him now?" Then she winced, her tail curling into her lap. "This entire conversation... I can't fathom--be happy for your brother and leave us be!"


"I came back to make sure that he wasn't simply roaming the streets because of my neglect and D'hein's actions. Apparently he is not. So I've done my part."


"Good! Then we're done with the subject and you can stop obsessing over it." D'hein leaned comfortably on the table, trying to return his attention to his food again. "Antimony and I have plenty of problems of our own to deal with today."


"I'm not done with subject, but for now I will not press it. Not without more evidence, unlike you. You're a happy couple now, I understand. I should leave you to this very... extravagant meal." Illira made to push her abducted chair away from the table.


"A... a what?!" Antimony sat up in her seat sharply, the fur on her ears fuzzing strangely. "Ah, Miss--Miss Carceri, that is... not... That is to say, don't make--well, it's not how it looks, entirely...!"


Entirely?" D'hein blinked at Antimony, suddenly confused. "What, is it what it looks like approximately?"


"And, that I think, is my cue to leave," said the Elezen, fully standing now.


Antimony coughed, shrunk back a bit, and muttered, "We are... eating."


D'hein laughed. "We are eating, that is true. Approximately." Then he turned his gaze to Illira's back. "Tell me, Illira, is believing that I have another woman the only way you can stomach the fact that I am not pursuing you? You do realize that were I to become Nunh, I would not be relegated to a single woman, correct?"


She stopped in her tracks, "What?" She sputtered, turning around, "And what has your mating habits to do with anything? The idea of touching you in that way is rather repulsive, D'hein Tia."


Kicking back in his chair slightly, D'hien put his hands up behind his head, smiling. "Then why are you so obsessed with your pet theory that I'm trying to bed everyone? I'm a family man!"


Antimony just shifted uncomfortably in her seat.


Illira let a short bitter laugh out at that, "A family man indeed. One who steals another's children and gives out jewelry to all the women he know at holiday."


His brow dropped. "Women like jewelry. Men do not. And I did not steal any children. What would your hollow Elezen womb know about the life of a Tia or the responsibilities of a Nunh? Your only family obligation was to wait until I saved your brother for you and then to hate me for it. You fled from him before you even knew if he had a livelihood."


"I did leave. Because of what I might have done if I had stayed. And what I still might do, now that I'm back faced with the same things that I left. I'm not much good for him anymore, I know that and don't need anyone else telling these things."


Antimony brought up both hands suddenly, gesturing in rapid, placating movements. "Now--ah, let's not--I don't think such words are--truly, there's no reason for any of us to be speaking to one another in such a.. manner...!"


For once, D'hein ignored Antimony, keeping his attention on Illira. "And what might you do, Illira? Hm?"


She let her eyes run over him, "Its nothing you should be worried about. Enjoy your meal," she said, spinning on her heel to go talk to the innkeep.


D'hein remained in his seat for a long moment, watching Illira go, and then groaned. "Seven Hells." He stood and looked at Antimony. "Finish eating and then take some time to rest. I'll go by your inn room very soon." He walked in the distant wake of the Elezen. "Illira!"


Antimony's hands hovered in the air for several seconds as D'hein walked off, eyes wide, mouth hanging open slightly. Then she just shrunk back down into her chair and looked confused.

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She heard her name being called out over the din of the tavern. The voice brought on a shudder even as she walked, It was almost worse that fingernails being dragged over slate. Illira was the only one about to have that reaction though, as nobody else even bothered to glance up at it, much less react so violently. Quite honestly it made her want to vomit, but luckily for all those about, she kept a tight reign on herself and had forgone food that day as she'd had to endure a long airship ride.


After the brief pause, the elezen kept going, as if she hadn't heard the Tia, Nunh, whatever he was these days.


D'hein noticed the delay, and one of his ears slammed down in annoyance when he was ignored. Too tired to even feel the people he was brushing past, with his tail sliding along the ground, and even his cheeks heavy, D'hein still trudged on and found his voice. "Illira! Don't pretend you can't hear me!"


The woman did stop at that, turning on her heel and asked loudly with vitriol practically dripping off of her tongue, "What? I thought you wished to be left alone. I am merely abiding that."


D'hein continued forward, fixing Illira with a disapproving glare. He approached her until he could speak softly and still be heard, but he did not speak softly. He growled, "Yes, after hinting at dubious consequences. 'Fine! I'll leave, but I'm going to do something horrible!' Such behavior doesn't work well in adult relationships."


"I haven't done anything. And I won't. I can manage my own self and affairs D'hein. But that isn't a concept that you grasp." She smirked, thin lips pulling tight with the expression, "Thats important to understand in 'adult relationships'."


"Don't pretend you've ever had a healthy relationship in your life, nor that you would know what one looked like if you saw it. You're far too transparent to fool me in that case." D'hein crossed his arms in front of himself. "Stop talking crooked if you're capable. This is the straight of it: you do not appear emotionally stable or healthy, and I believe that you intend to make unwise decisions. Do you expect me to let you just walk off into the city with such a dark cloud about you?"


Illira hands shook as the man in front of her proceeded to try and strip her down. The fingers knit their way into the palm, white-knuckling in an attempt to keep them at her side, "Then what do you want of me? To take me under your feeble arms, pat me on the head and tell me everything is fine? Like you do with the rest of your collection?" she scoffed at that, "Because thats healthy."


D'hein shook his head, one ear popping up, eyes squinting. "Why do you think I have a collection? What of?"


"People. You gather them up about yourself, tell them pretty words, give them expensive things and favours. Its all lies. I have no wish to be apart of that." Illira cold grey eyes stared down at the man, her smirk having long faded into a stern frown.


D'hein gestured behind him, "I buried my best friend yesterday, my daughter's run off and today I'm sitting at a table with a woman who only tolerates me because she's obligated to. If I am a collector, I'm not a very good one, for today I have nothing."


Not seeming affected by the mournful news, Illira continues on without acknowledgment of his admissions, "It doesn't mean that you don't try to do so. You embody Ul'dah too well, D'hein."


"This is stupid. You're an infant at best and an adolescent at worst. Explain your grievances and intentions in their entirety."


"Why? I have never been anything but forthright with you D'hein. It is not my fault that you do not listen."


Leaning slightly back, D'hein said, "Because I believe that you are going to take harmful action and I am professionally required to ensure that you do not. Don't take it personally."


"Oh really? And do you think I'm going to do? And why, oh why in the void, would I ever talk with you about my own struggles, D'hein? You are merely flattering yourself."


The man shrugged. "It's a requirement. Don't think this is a conversation I desire. There's nothing more unpleasant than an aging woman's midlife crisis. Or whatever this is."


"Its not requirement, D'hein. I present no clear and present. And even if I did, you are not a blade, a flame, or a Sultansworn." Her jaw tightened into a stubborn set.


"See that, right there!" D'hein pointed at Illira's face. "You say you don't, but you do! You even have victims in mind. Do you think I'm deaf? I am certainly not, but perhaps you are."


The woman's eyes flicked down briefly to hand that had locked into a fist, wound so tight as it was. Then to the crowd that was around them. Mealtime was waning, so as stragglers hung back at their seats, they stared off at anything remotely interesting. To at least a couple individuals, that was them. She lowered her voice as it gained an almost strained quality, "There aren't any victims. Merely people that I am not allowed to touch, by law. But my patience wears thin. As Amaury's did."


"Amaury," D'hein blinked. "Who was arrested for... You see? Perhaps we should speak somewhere more private."


She shook her head, tight braids swaying with the motion, "I shouldn't."


"I'm not walking away from you unsatisfied."


"Its good then, that I'm not here to satisfy your needs."


D'hein rolled his eyes, and one ear. "You aren't even talking about what I'm talking about. Are you listening to this conversation or just having relapses to childhood arguments with your parents?"


Her brows arched, a small crease forming between them even as Illira continued to avoid D'hein's gaze, "I'm telling you to back off, for both our sakes."


D'hein shrugged, putting his hands behind his back and smiling. "And I am saying that I can't back away from you. So, we'll just have to deal with that."


lllira turned from him at that, eyelids shutting, a deep breath forming within her chest "Then let me get that room." She stepped away and towards the clerk, hands visibly shaking as she counted out coin onto the counter.


At this, D'hein waited patiently, and silently. He stood with his hands behind him and his eyes half-lidded. One ear twitched. His sleepless exhaustion could not have been more apparent in his drawn features, his darkened eyes, his lazy breath. But his gaze was unwavering on Illira's back.


Focused singularly on her interaction with the innkeeper, to fight down those overwhelming parts of herself that told her to do many other things than obtain a key and talk to a Dodo. D'hein, of all people. And not her own brother, who would understand more than anyone. Raising the key towards miqo'te, she walked out of the bar area and to the inn rooms.


D'hein followed behind Illira with the same demeanor. Internally, he was surprised that she was capitulating, a thing he could not remember her ever having done before, but externally he was perfectly stoic.


Slipping the key into the lock, Illira left the room door open. Torn and overwhelmed by too many undesirable options while the one thing she did want, wasn't on the table. She glanced around the sparsely furnished room, before claiming the bed, sitting up against the headboard. The mattress created forced distance, which was the best she could get right now.


Taking the open door as an invitation to enter, the blond-maned man stepped just slightly into the room. He felt himself pressing against Illira's substantially fortified personal space, something he thought was necessary but did not particularly desire. So he took only one step into the room and then closed the door behind him.


He had closed it on his tail, which was not painful, but did pinch oddly and confuse him for a moment. He reopened to door and removed his tail from it as proudly as he could manage. It shivered in his hand, but looked fine. D'hein let his tail fall limp behind him once more, turned to face the room and attempted to resume his stoic demeanor by closing the door behind him again.


After another short pause to free his tail from the door one more time, he took an extra step in before making sure the door was closed behind him.


Steely eyes roved over D'hein as she blithely commented on his little mishap, "You should be more careful." There was a chair tucked away in the corner that she assumed he would take, hoped really.


"Eh," D'hein stated his thesis, argument and conclusion in a single syllable. He then pivoted and shuffled to face Illira, standing with his hands behind him, and he inclined his head towards the woman. "So."


Illira dropped her gaze to the thin, spindly fingers that she splayed out against the beige coverlet. She didn't know what she should say. But she should say something, nothing else worked. If she didn't she was going to spend the rest of her days in jail, to be forgotten, just as Amaury was. There wouldn't be any doubt with her though, if she deserved it; had overstepped that line that she would not cross.


Honesty and truth were her companions, even if they weren't this man's, "I know why Amaury might not have deserved release. Because I feel the same frustrations that he once did."


"They're not uncommon frustrations, I believe," D'hein spoke slowly, allowing his tired mind the time it needed to struggle over simple words. "Don't you think?"


"No one should act on them though. Not without law on your side, even as everyone about flaunts their egregious disuse of it. Either abusing it, or believing they belong outside of it. But you are a member of the syndicate, I should not need to tell you of such."


As D'hien stared at her blankly, not even seeming to comprehend what she was trying to say, the bile started to rise again in her throat. "I think about you all the time. In all those ways that I shouldn't and don't want to. You're not even that little gnat in the back of my thoughts." She grits her teeth, speaking through them, "You are a constant reminder of everything that I cannot abide in this world. And my hands want nothing more than to adorn that pretty neck of yours with a garrote."

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  • 3 weeks later...

One of D'hein's ears flopped down, then up, then down again. He looked around the room distractedly, made a bemused face. Then he snapped his head up and looked wide-eyed at the wall. "Wait, me?" He dropped his gaze down to Illira. "You mean, like, ME?" He turned on the window. "It sounded like you were talking about me just now."


Illira's hands clutched tightly at the coverlet below her, staring out at the man as she slowly drew her knees up towards her, "Yes... D'hein. You."


Bringing his hands in front of him and pulling on his numb right fingers, D'hein muttered, "I'm not sure what... Why myself?"


The inner tremor of rage that she felt only grew with the question. For all that he blamed her for never listening, he was surely deaf, "You may as well be Ul'dah. Thats what you look like to me."


"That's not a reason. I've never done anything!" D'hein gestured in a random direction. "Every time I ask you why you hate me so much, you say it's because you hate me. I ask why you think I'm a bad person and you say it's because I'm terrible. Those aren't arguments. They're emotions. You're just being emotional!"


“You would not leave, for wish to listen. But all you ever do is talk. Talk. And justify. And manipulate. Always for your own ends. When have you ever thought about another besides yourself? Never. Its always about you.” Her voice was like a coiled spring, ready to let loose given the right provocation, “You left your duty to this filth-ridden city because your ego told you that abiding orders wasn’t worthy of you only to complain that I threw out you milk when you returned a month later! You lied and went behind my back, to bring that poor woman back underneath you. Even worse, after you’d been warned about your behaviour and actions towards her. -And dont!- you dare say it was for her own good. There were many, better, simpler ways to have told her that her children were alive. But no. You had to play your void-sent games with her head to give you the best chance to take her for your own because your a tia and aren’t allowed to have a Dodo woman.”


Illira fell silent, seeming to have run out of steam. But then she continued, quieter, but now less vicious in tone, “You pried into my family business. There was no reason for you to have. And you pulled your twelve-forsaken strings to let him out before he was due. The syndicate put him there, and let they let him out on one of their own’s whim. As if law, and sentences, and penance meant nothing. Exceptions can’t be made. Because then it all means nothing, and where will we be then? Living only at the mercy of games and whims, D’hein. And Ul’dah is already drowning in those.”


As D'hein listened, he certainly made no movement to interrupt. He did shift uncomfortably, though, and begin to pace in a small, irritated circle with his hands behind him. He was doing his best to stay awake and lucid, with his tail dragging on the ground behind him and his ears popping up in turn to listen to Illira. Finally, he turned towards her, set his stance, and put on stoic features. he spoke slowly. "So except for your philosophies concerning law, you are angry at me for," he held up three fingers on his gloved right hand, "Leaving Ul'dah to try and contact the Gilneans, asking that your brother be freed prematurely, and for my dealings with Antimony?"


"You-" the elezen snapped, gripping the covers tighter still to keep herself in place, "Did you not listen to what I said? Still, you only see your actions as they only directly pertained to you? And not what was left in their wake?"


D'hein spread his arms, "I'm just trying to find out what I did that's made you so upset! I'm thinking cause-and-affect here!"


The woman's teeth ground as she admit, "Among other things, yes."


"If I know what's got you so angry I know what to apologize for, or at least to explain, since you seem immune to apologies." His ears canted crookedly, one high and one low. "Though I do not think these are things that I can make better. I believe that if you really understood why I did what I do, you wouldn't hate me. You may still be angry, and it may be right of you to be -- I am certainly not very happy with the outcomes of my actions -- but I do not think you would feel any need to harm me. At least because there is little left of me to hurt."


Illira took a gasping breath, "I dont... I don't... I'm afraid of myself, D'hein. Because I know empirically, that what I want is wrong. That our laws don't allow what my hands desire and thoughts clamor for. Thats why I left, you understand? So that I wouldn't lose control. Like Amaury, except worse." The lanky woman's knees were rightly drawn up against her, almost a shield against the world. "Please," she asked, clear grey eyes shutting, "please, try to explain yourself."


"The difference between a good person and a bad person, is that a good person only fantasizes about committing terrible crimes. I don't think you would do what it is you fear that you would do." He sighed, looking at the floor. "Ah, but you don't think I'm a good judge of that kind of thing."


When he raised his face again, he was smiling, albeit tiredly. He took a few steps towards Illira. "I think time has showed that my choice to leave Ul'dah in search of Garleans was a mistake, especially considering that I was absent far longer than I had prepared for. We can call it oversight or incompetence if we like, but I call it a bet that went bad. Had I succeeded in contacting our superiors in the Empire, we might have been able to turn aside the fall of the Castrum. Maybe. It is not impossible."


"You are a terrible judge, and its good that you admit it. You do not know me well enough to know what I can and will do." Illira tried to press further back into the headboard as the Miqo’te stepped forward, "You cannot simply leave your duty. You left no word, discussed it with no one. Simply vanished. That is unacceptable."


"I told people I was leaving. If I was only gone for the single planned month everything would've been fine. It didn't work out that way. You can say what I did was unwise, a mistake, but it was not /immoral/."


"Saying vague and cryptic things that you want to talk to the higher ups, isn't telling people what you are doing. You left the rest of us to pick up your slack. Me, really. And I hate Ul'dah."


"Well I'm sorry you got stuck with Ul'dah. I hate it too, you know." He crossed his arms and appeared dour. "Still. Being upset that my warnings were insufficient is not cogent with thinking that I am evil."


Illira's nostrils flare at that, "Thats not what I... -This-. This is what you do. Twist words and spin tales to show you just as you wish to be. Intention means nothing though. Only your actions can be brought to bear."


He threw up his hands. "I'm not twisting anything! All I'm saying is a mistake isn't a wantonly evil act! That's twisted? It's a simple statement of logic!"


"There. Even now, you're putting into my mouth that were never there. You don't even know when to stop, its so ingrained in you. I don't care that you didn't give good warning. I care that you abandoned your duty and orders so readily because your goals and ambitions and ideas were taken over what was decided to be best for all."


"And you want to run everything like the military. I didn't abandon my duty; I took a leave of absence, which is something businessmen do all the time. And I wasn't under orders. I acted within my authority."


The woman's head shoots up as her nails dig into her calves to keep from moving, "Thats because the CRA -isn't- a business, D'hein. For us it is a mission, a duty to right what is wrong in this world. Apparently, us does you include you though."


The Miqo'te rolled his eyes. "You're the kind of person who needs everything she disagrees with or doesn't like to be objectively evil. You don't need to destroy things just because they are annoying."


"And you're one of those people who insists that everything is grey because if you were forced to make a stand and be judged, you would not like how it looks. There is a reason I make no apologies for anything I do. Because I stand fully behind every action and its consequence." The pant linen that she wore was thin, so as her nails drew blood through it, small dark stains began to appear around her fingertips.


D'hein frowned and shook his head. "I have never refused to answer for any action I have taken. Before the gods and before my conscience, I have done only what I believe right. You are not my judge."


"No. But should not be you be your own judge. I am not mine, that is the purpouse that the law serves. If I were to kill you now, I would turn myself in so that I face that judgement. The same for any crime I could commit. You would not do the same. You've already broken that judgement while I've known you."


"Have not. I've done nothing illegal. You just don't want to admit it." He blinked, and then amended. "Except contact the Garleans. But you and I are both guilty of treason."


Illira's jaw clenches, "And if the Empire fails, I will gladly die with it. And you did interfere with judgement when you made deals to have my brother released, he did not face his full sentence."


"Those in authority decided that my asking to let him go was enough to reconsider his disproportionately long sentence, as I've said." He shrugged, then he balked and lifted one ear at her. "Or do you think that when I say I 'asked' I'm implying some sort of compensation?"


The elezen let go of her legs at that, letting them slide off the bed as she stood, "There was no appeals process," answered Illira. "People are not set free from jail because someone asked nicely."


He quirked his lips to the side. "There's an appeals process for everything. There is nothing in any society that is beyond the authority of SOMEONE to legally strike down or reconsider."


Stepping towards the man, Illira answered, "I would have been notified if there had been a proper one."


Giving Illira an unrelenting look, D'hein reaffirmed the cross of his arms over his chest. "Calling it improper is just your way of refusing to admit that you're wrong. Nothing improper happened, and you can't seem to handle that."


Looking down her nose at the man, she said, "And you're either you're a liar or an idiot. You forget that I am more than familiar with Ul'dah's legal system."


"Alright, then. You tell me who has the authority to petition for release without a formal appeals process. Because it wasn't done off-the-books." He spread his arms. "Look, as long as you keep looking at systems as unbendable, you're never going to be satisfied. The real world doesn't work like that. I'm sure it's true even of Garlemald."


Laughing bitterly, Illira just shakes her head more sure of herself now than she was if that was possible, "You're just excusing yourself. A stamp from the Syndicate doesn't mean anything. It was off the books. Thats how all of you operate, little tricks and loopholes everywhere so that you aren't bound to answer."


"So what you're saying is you didn't even look at the books. You just want everything to be wrong so badly that you won't even look."


"Did you not just hear what I said? A stamp that you bargained and talked into existence isn't right. Its why Ul'dah is a cesspit. Because you all consider -that- law and right and just. When it all it does it is beget more of the same."


Raising his eyebrow, D'hein shook his head. "More of what? People talking and appealing to higher authority? I'm not saying nothing illegal or questionable happens in Ul'dah. That's why I'm working so hard. But it's absolutely impossible to satisfy you because you're immune to the truth. Nald himself could walk into the room and you'd accuse him of dodging taxes."


Ignoring the man's mocking, she answered seriously, "If Nald took in an income, which I suppose he does after a fashion, and he did not pay taxes, which he doesn't... Then yes. I would do so."


"You're insane." D'hein turned away, whacking the woman with his tail but not feeling himself do it. "Your problem isn't that you're too rigid or untrusting or that others aren't honest. Your problem is that you are disconnected from reality."


"I am, am I? Because I've never had issues until I met you." A long fingered hand reached out to touch the Miqo'te's face, "All I hear from you are lies and excuses. Tell the truth for once. Anything will do for now." Her hand drops down to feel the pulse at his throat.


Stepping back and swinging an arm to knock the hand away, D'hein snapped, "It is the honest truth. You refuse all evidence. You vanish without word. You avoid family. You obsess over inconsequentials. Fantasize about violence. Wound yourself. You're insane, and you need to be treated as such."


Her steely gaze widened at that as she turned her hand back to herself. It was easy to see the smudges of blood that had dried on the fingers and under the nails from when she had dug into herself rather than loose control. Illira brought the hand up to her own face, leaning into it heavily even as she drags it away in a gesture not unlike that of tearing.


The woman took a heavy breath, words dragging out of her mouth, "I suppose most of that is the truth."


"Most of it." D'hein repeated, taking a step back from Illira, eying her behavior warily. "Sure. We can find someone for you to talk to. A practitioner of... some kind of faith, or healing."


"I'm not... I'm not crazy. All I want is a better world for everyone. Is that really so much to ask for?" She grimaced, running her tongue over dry lips, "I... I shouldn't have ever come back. It was stupid of me. I knew better," she said, sounding rather defeated.


"Wanting a better world isn't crazy. There are some problems in it. But you're seeing shadows where there aren't any, and when you want to destroy them, there's a problem." He showed Illira his palms. "I think if you just take some time away from work, maybe read a few books, make some new friends."


She laughs at that, body curling inward as it wracks its way through her, "That won't fix anything."


"It... might not seem like it now. But... I mean." He looks to the side and then back. "By make new friends, I meant... Well. Professional friends. The kind of people who can help you see the light in the shadows, instead of the shadows in the light."


"Oh, so worried aren't you? Even after everything? I'm sure you're just trying to save your own wicked hide." The elezen motions her lightly blooded hand towards the door, "Go then. Save your hide. Its what you're good at, isn't it?" Her head turns up towards him, thick eyebrow raised.


His brow falling, D'hein muttered in annoyance, "If I was just out to save my hide I would've left the moment you started going on about your psycho murder fantasies."


She motions once more, "You should go. Right now. Before I change my mind."


He shakes his head. "I didn't come in here just to find out that you're dangerous and then walk out knowing that. Whether you're crazy or not, the way you're feeling and the thoughts you're having need to be dealt with."


Illira turned away, not wanting to look at D’hein any longer. She waved her hand as if to dismiss him, "Just... do what you want. You will anyway."


"What I want? All right, then." D'hein dropped his hands to his sides and took several steps towards Illira, stopping beside her and looking at her sideways. "I'll stick around. I don't think that you'll actually hurt me. There must be something we can do to smooth out that righteous fury of yours."

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So close, she could feel her hand aching to jump up and find their way around that delicate throat. It wouldn't take much. But it wasn't the right thing to do, as good as it might feel to hear no more from him. So Illira stayed her hand, turning to look at him out of a glance. But all it made her do was shiver and feel as if she were about to retch. Her eyes rebounded to look at the empty wall on the other side of the room, not able to say anything.


Smiling, D'hein gestured with his open palms once more. "See, I think deep down it really is self-apparent that I mean well. Things just get too big when we take them in all at once. We should take things piecemeal and confront them together."


The tightly knit braids that kept hair in neat order worked against her now, unable to provide a drawn curtain between her and D'hein, "You should stop talking now."


"Fine, I'll give you time." He stepped back very slightly, a mostly symbolic gesture, and waited.


She was in limbo, with the man watching. Inaction had never suited her well, but neither had self pity. So she deflected, "You said your best friend died, didn't you? Why are you not out mourning them?"


"I am presently in mourning." He answered, plainly, then gestured vaguely to the outside. "Antimony conducted some kind of ceremony on my behalf, although I don't understand its purpose. That's really all I have time for. My daughter has run off under dubious circumstances and must be found."


"Then I will say again, though for different reasons. You should not be here. I have lasted a long time D'hein. I will not wilt like a flower because you aren't here hold me, I do better without you."


"Say it however you want, I'm not leaving you alone. Don't mistake this for coddling. You're dangerous, so I'm not letting you out of my sight."


A heavy breath left the Elezen's chest as she looked to almost crumble inward, "Then perhaps I should join you in your search. If I am not already as crazy as you claim, I surely will be if I sit in a room with you refusing to leave."


"Ah, well, you see." he joined his hands together in front of him and looked down at them. "The daughter in question is also Antimony's daughter that I had adopted a long time ago and I'm not sure that Antimony does not loathe you presently, so I thought I'd just... I'm not sure... We're leaving Ul'dah, and..."


He popped up his head and smiled at Illira. "And you sure could use a break from Ul'dah! That sounds helpful, doesn't it?"


"No. But it is better than staying in here with you blathering," She turned slightly towards the man, "I do not idle well."


"That's a virtue," D'hein held up a finger, forcing himself to beam through his tired features. His weary tail even shifted. "Now, then, the plan is to leave as soon as Antimony and I have had a nap. Unless I've used up all of that time." His expression dropped into one of critical concern. "Oh, no, how long have we been talking?"


"I would have no idea. But please, go take a nap, it sounds like such a useful thing to do with your time," a slight smirk found its way onto Illira's face.


"I haven't slept in two days. Lest you think I haven't mourned properly." He turned, then, stepping towards the door. "If you really intend to tag along, I'll give you an hour to prepare yourself. I'm like to spend the time talking Antimony into it."


"Just go," she said, "No need to continue dithering about here."


"I'm not dithering. I'm telling you I'll be back in an hour." He opened the door and spun to step out of it backward. "So, I'll be seeing you then."


Illira just made a noncommittal grunt, turning away from the door and walking towards the room's desk.

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