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Experts on Voidsent and Comfort

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((Somewhat simultaneous to Falling off the Wagon, while D'hein and Illira are having their argument.))




Antimony had lowered her eyes when she saw D'hein approach Illira across the tavern. If she strained, she could pick out bits and pieces of their conversation, but that would be rude, so she did her best not to do such a thing. It would only bring her more frustration, after all.


Turning her focus to the food sprawled across the table only exacerbated the issue, however. Though she felt worn from the string of recent events, a part of her had actually begun to settle into enjoying the thought of sharing a meal with friends - or... well, people who were close enough one could consider them friends. Certainly Ulanan counted as such. And Megiddo...? D'hein was a bit more complicated, but she did find herself feeling sympathetic towards the Tia, even if she was simultaneously resentful.


But now she sat alone, and the suddenness of the situation, combined with the roller coaster of emotions prior to it, left her feeling the loss much more keenly than was perhaps reasonable. She was tired of being alone. Sinking back against her chair, Antimony's ears drooped and she poked at the partially eaten slab of meat on her plate, glanced towards the half a dozen other untouched plates, and then just frowned.


 "Menphina's greetings to you!" said a red robed man that seemed to materialize from just outside her field of view. He bent his body forward slightly in a bow and smiled, golden eyes staring at her. He straightened after a pause. "I hope you don't mind my intrusion, but I have an urgent matter to discuss with you."


"Aah!" Antimony yelped, sitting up straight and rocking the chair back with the suddenness of her movement. Ears shifting back, her own green eyes darted towards the unfamiliar face, then towards where D'hein and Illira had been... conversing only to find the pair gone. Her tail curled up by her side as she returned her gaze to the strange man - a Keeper, she dumbly thought. "That is... an urgent... what?" Her ears shook, and then she sighed. "I apologize. You must have me confused with someone else. I've never met you before, so there could not possibly be anything to discuss."


"I do get confused, but never so clearly!" the man chuckled, then shook his head as he realized that didn't make much sense. "But do not let that confuse -you-! Or...something like that. Let me introduce myself! I'm Qion'a! And you do not look like a witch of the deserts at all."


Antimony's ears fell at the Keeper's words, her expression following the gesture as well. "Oh. I see." Her eyes dropped to her plate, and she was quiet for another moment before she let out a short, sudden huff. "I should hope I don't. It is not my name, nor should it ever be."


"Of course not. I've seen witches, and they don't sit alone at tables overflowing with food. Which remind me, mind if I join you for a short while? I'm sure your past company would not mind, the charitable fellows!"


Antimony furrowed her brow. Given how he'd referred to her, she wasn't certain she felt up to entertaining this Keeper fellow, Qion'a. His words carried a great deal of weighty implications, many of which sought to send her off hiding within her inn room, never to return.


But then, perhaps any company was better than none, in these dire times?


Letting out another sigh, the older miqo'te gave a slight nod towards the chair D'hein had recently vacated. She hesitated, considering. "... Antimony Jhanhi, is my name," she offered after another moment and tried not to let her somber resignation to the situation show too much.


"Excellent! Menphina favors those who do not hide their names." said the jolly man, taking a seat. He lost no time to select a plate and start taking small careful bites out of it, whatever it was. He didn't seem to be paying much attention to what it was. "We should speak about the inevitable, now. I heard you are mother to a certain person called D'aijeen. Am I right?"


She felt as though someone had punched her in the gut. Though she'd half been expecting a question along a similar vein, the bluntness of it left Antimony breathless. For several seconds following Qion'a's words, she just sagged in her chair, tail twisting in distress by one leg. Finally she managed a low, "I don't know who you are or how you came to know such things."


Qion'a munched on his newfound meal. Some kind of vegetable, he figured. "Let's remedy that! I'm Qion'a, which I said already, and one of my brothers was uselessly murdered." His tone was bitter in the last part. He quickly recovered to smile again. A weak smile. "Not by your daughter, though! She's just... coincidentally related."


"I... what?" Antimony paled and dropped the fork she'd forgotten she had still held. More death... why was there always more death? And connected to Aijeen... She blinked, furrowed her brow deeply, and felt something slam down around her thoughts. "... No. You must be mistaken. Aijeen is not associated with... Keepers!"


He raised an eyebrow, and then dropped it. Instead, he raised both hands and held them open to the woman. "Oh, no! I don't mean she knew my brother, or any other victim! Or any other Keeper, for that matter. I meant that it's a coincidence that she seems involved in anything!" 


The man tilted his head, squinting at his plate. What was he eating? He didn't know, and was starting to doubt it had been a wise idea.


"Ah..." A confused noise caught in her throat as her tail tried to curl up into some impossible knot. "I'm sorry. I... still don't understand... how you know of Aijeen, or how she could possibly... You /must/ be mistaken!"


"Well, I'll find out when I can actually speak with her." the man nodded. He leant forward, placing his elbows on the table and crossing his arms over it. "What's her full name, though? Maybe I -am- mistaken!"


Antimony frowned then, pressing her lips together. "I'm not going to discuss my daughter with you until you explain better who you are and why you think she is connected to... anything so horrible." A pause, fidgeting. "... And how you found me."


"That is fair enough." the man nodded again. "I'm assisting the authorities in my quality of Conjurer and voidsent expert. One of the murders was likely made by one, and your daughter might have seen it. We need to talk to her to find out what kind of creature we are dealing with."


"V-voidsent," Antimony echoed faintly, leaning back into her chair. Murders. Was this Keeper talking about... no, it couldn't possibly. It would be too much of a coincidence...


Had she ever really believed in coincidence, though?


Pressing her hands against her lap to hide their shaking, Antimony found it difficult to meet Qion'a's gaze. Her heart hammered around words she'd exchanged - bitter, angry words - with D'hein. Of Aijeen. And voidsent. The girl's tendency towards dark magic... She felt suddenly ill, perhaps even looked it. "I... may know of it," she managed weakly. "But Aijeen would never have deliberately tried to hurt anyone with... it." The same argument as she'd had with D'hein. She wondered if Qion'a would also try and counter it, wondered if she even still believed herself.


"I do not believe your daughter is the one who summoned it." the man said, sounding strangely reassuring. "But you seem to think otherwise. What do you know?"


"Aah, not--only that it is some terrible magic best left forgotten," Antimony insisted quickly, worried eyes blinking. She added in a hurry, "But it's as you say. I'm certain Aijeen had nothing to do with it." She wasn't. In fact, if she dug deep enough, she was quite certain Aijeen - or at least that awful bone beast - had quite a lot to do with D'ahl's death. But there was no way she could bring herself to wholly admit to such a thing aloud.


"Anything you can tell me about this could be useful." the man said, leaning back and letting his arms fall to the sides. He smiled again. "Why don't you just speak me of your daughter? Forget about what we were discussing, and just tell me about her. Anything you like! Starting with her full name, for example, and how you decided to name her that! It's something that gets the happy thoughts rolling."


"I don't want you bothering my girl with such things," Antimony shook her head hard, ears quivering with a nervous energy.


"I won't bother her with her past. It's just field knowledge." the man tried to explain. "If she meddled with that kind of magic, it is best to know how. I know: I'm the expert, after all!" He added a chuckle at the end to show how jolly he was.


"An expert on... voidsent. That seems like a..." She trailed off, shifting uncomfortably. It seemed like a very dangerous thing to be, and not just for one's own self. Antimony grimaced, curled her fingers into the thick cloth of her robe, tried to find something calming to think of, or look at, or listen to, or smell. Ul'dah was not very accommodating to such efforts, however, least of all the Quicksand. So she fidgeted, felt her stomach twisting with an old ache. "D'a.. Ai..." She shut her eyes briefly, then, "K'aijeen Th... Thalen." Her voice shook only slightly.


"Ah! That's the..." Qion'a paused as if he had been interrupted, but he kept smiling. His head shifted to a side and he raised one hand to rub a twitching ear before straightening himself again. "I'm afraid I'm not very knowledgeable about Seeker tribes. How did you choose the name?"


The question brought visible confusion to Antimony's features, slackening the anxious worry for a split second. "We take the name of the nunh who fathered us." A pause, a confused blink. "I don't see how that's relevant."


Qion'a looked away to a side of the table, his ear twitching again. "I'm sorry, I must be suffering of a slight cultural confusion." he said. "But if you want to tell me something you consider relevant...then I'm all ears!" And so he smiled again.


"Relevant to... voidsent?" Antimony fought back a shudder. "I... know only that Aijeen once used a book to... to..." Her brow furrowed and she gave Qion'a a firm, if also pleading, desperate look. "You are not to pester Aijeen with this! She's already distressed enough, so I won't stand for it."


"I see. Well, I will respect your wishes and not bother her about this matter, if I do find her." The Keeper stood up, still smiling. "And I think I have bothered you enough about this. I ask you to apologize me! It is the...sad reality of my job. Pestering people about uncomfortable things. But you have been very helpful! I thank you for that and will take my leave!"


He paused. "Unless you wish me to stay to keep you company while your friends come back." he added, looking at the plate of food he had claimed before.


Opening her mouth, Antimony nearly accepted that offer, and then felt immediately shamed. Was she really so desperate for some form of companionship that she'd turn to someone who was an expert in voidsent? "See... see that you do. Ah, leave her be, that is." She also wasn't entirely certain how much help she really had been - none that she could see, but if it was enough to keep him from bothering her daughter...


"It was a pleasure talking with you," she fumbled automatically, stood, bowed her head towards the Keeper. "I should perhaps, ah, rest. Yes. But, ah, you're welcome to the food."


Qion'a let out a surprised "Oh!" at those words. He was actually taken by surprise by something she had said, but he never clarified. Instead, he recovered his friendly grin and bowed his head. "That's most considerate of you! Menphina will surely bless you with a fine rest!"


"Menphina." Antimony bit back a grimace. "...Yes. Well. Ah. Best of luck." She stepped away from the table then, with its still impossibly large amount of food and turned to begin her way towards her room.


The man sat back on the table and made a point to finish the meal on his plate, even though he couldn't really identify what it was.

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Antimony took her time walking back to her inn room, steps shuffling, hands clasped low at her waist and worrying over their joints. As the noises from the Quicksand's tavern dimmed, her ears and tail drooped further until the former sought into her hair and the latter dragged its tip across the floor. The Keeper's questions dogged her with a persistent worry, which merged unhappily with her keen isolation until she was just all around miserable.


She needed to find Aijeen.


She entered her room like this, head down, thoughts inward.


As Antimony entered the room, a figure on the floor twitched upright. Sitting against the far wall, looking every bit as tired and troubled as Antimony appeared, Loughree's ears didn't even rise all the way up before falling against her dirty, disheveled hair. Her face was smudged with dirt, and dark circles had been carved beneath her eyes. The woman, broad and large for a miqo'te, was curled up with her knees against her chest, her muscular arms wrapping them. Her tail shivered and went limp, and she did not speak.


Antimony took a few steps into her room before noticing anything amiss, and when she did notice the pale miqo'te opposite her, she barely had the will to react with more than a faint sound - hardly even surprised - and an upward knitting of her brow.


She processed the whole situation rather admirably as far as Antimony went, still and quiet for only a minute before one ear twitched. Hands flexed around one another as her mouth dropped open, tried for words, failed. She frowned, closed her eyes, did her best to pull herself together and recalled her brief talk with a certain Duskwight. "You... are a very lucky woman," she finally managed.


Loughree's gaze dropped to Antimony's hands. She lifted her tail and lay it down, but there was no other gesture. Then she looked back at Antimony. "I remember how I left last time. Is it okay that I'm here?"


Was it okay... You murdered four people, Antimony wanted to accuse. Instead she  pursed her lips until they ached. "That... is generally something one asks before entering," she sighed, shifted her gaze to one side, nervously adjusted her glasses. The frown was making the bruising along her nose and cheeks throb, so she stopped but didn't smile. "I... suppose you are looking for asylum."


"I don't know." She lifted her gaze to Antimony, and blinked very slowly. "What do you mean, I'm lucky? I'm not."


"You're lucky you're not in one of those Twelve-forsaken cells, or worse," the reply came a bit snappier than Antimony would have liked, but she was worn thin, her patience for trouble fraying rapidly. And what else would Loughree be doing here if not to cause trouble? Considering what she had done so far...


Her ears found enough energy to snap back on her head, and she ducked her face slightly away as if to hide it from Antimony. She was silence for a time, and then she buried her face in the back of her knees and muttered something unintelligible.


Antimony let out a sigh, locking the door behind her. "Megiddo spoke to me of what... you've done," she began cautiously.


Loughree snapped her eyes up, gaze narrowing. Her tail lifted and shook, fuzzing out until it was thicker than both of her legs put together. "He's a liar! I haven’t done anything! How can you talk to him?"


"He has been nothing but truthful to me." She was frowning again, but this time she ignored the ache it brought to her healing bones. This was too much. She didn't want to deal with this young woman's problems, not now. She felt horrible for thinking such, but she could barely hold herself together to go after Aijeen. Pressing her hands together to still their slight trembling, Antimony drew a careful breath. "I have no wish to condemn you, Miss Loughree. But you must understand..."


Crossing her tail over her ankles, Loughree reach one hand down to grab it and pull it between her knees, up against her chest and wrapping it around her neck. She buried her face in the tufts of blonde fur that stuck out comically from her cuddled tail. She stayed like that, with her ears flat and her powerful muscles tensed, quiet.


For several, long moments Antimony just watched the clearly upset woman. The sight of her, Loughree's body language, her few words, all made Antimony's chest ache, stirred instincts far too ingrained to ever shake, even if she wanted to. But... she couldn't. She just couldn't.


Ears drooping, Antimony crossed the room to her bed - still broken, but at least useable. She eased herself down onto it with the care of one with far more years than even she, gave Loughree's profile a sad look. "I am tired," she murmured, and though she'd protested at Ulanan not long ago, Antimony found that now she truly was. "I will not remove you, but please... ah, just don't... do anything rash."


After a long moment of unmoving silence, Loughree muttered, "Don't worry. I'm tired too."




After a few hours of sitting, unmoving, Loughree rose from the ground in sudden silence and walked to the room's bathroom, shutting it behind her. The door was not so thick that she could not be heard on the other side of it, crying loudly, though she likely thought herself inaudible. She was in the for maybe a half hour before emerging again, the dirt on her face streaked with smudged tears, dirty hair pouring over the dingy leather and frayed linens she wore.


Instead of returning to her place on the wall, she collapsed on the floor alongside Antimony's bed. She didn't lie down or curl up or make any effort to get comfortable. She simply collapsed and lay there.


Sleep had claimed Antimony rather quickly, despite - or perhaps because of - her prior stress. She did not hear Loughree's crying, or even when the young woman returned and collapsed near her bed. She woke instead on her own time, some minutes after Loughree had laid on the floor. It had not been a restful sleep, despite how much her body had demanded it, and she blinked blearily through crooked glasses for several seconds before both resolving the inn room and recalling that she was not alone.


Several seconds more passed before she thought to search the room beyond what she could see in her immediate field of vision. Her body protested as she pushed herself up, as though she'd ran for hundreds of miles in a great migration before dropping to the bed though she'd done not much more than a tiny fraction of that, but her eyes settled quickly on the form beside her bed. Tail shifting to lay across her lap, Antimony felt her posture droop.


"Speak of it, if you wish," she murmured at last, resigning herself both to the situation and her instinct to listen. To care. Despite it all. "What brought you here."


Loughree wasn't asleep, though she'd willed herself to go to sleep, or to fall unconscious, or to die. She exhaled, "I don't know." Her tail shifted on the floor. Her ears and eyes were stationary, both pointing towards the ground in front of her. Her hands, pale fists, lay on either side of her head with her elbows out. "I think he took her away. I don't know how he..."


Shifting so that her legs hung over the edge of the bed, Antimony looked down on the top of Loughree's blonde head. Her eyes felt impossibly heavy, her body and thoughts sluggish. But still her chest ached and she traced the younger woman's thoughts. "Her... the child," she whispered, held back a sigh. Did she truly have the energy to deal with another's problems? When it involved a child, and someone she had begun to know... Her ears hung low. "Have you thought perhaps to speak with him?"


"I hunted." Loughree spoke without moving, her tone a hollow one. "I used to be good at hunting, in the Shroud. He moves quietly, in the shadows. But he stinks. I hunted him and found him near the Ossuary. I heard... screaming."


Letting her eyes fall shut, Antimony closed her hands around the curve of her knees, focusing for once on the aching of her aging joints there. Screaming. "That... may not be unusual, given... what abominable dealings that place engages in," she murmured reluctantly. It occurred to her briefly that D'ahl had supposedly died near the Ossuary. It was an unpleasant thought.


"No. People were dying. I was arrested for killing them, and then I was let go."


Her ribs ached when she drew in a breath. Too much. It really was... "Who am I to believe... the man who has helped me from many a crisis, or the woman who..." She hesitated, struggled with the desire, the outright need to help the woman, to understand her. To guide her. "I'm sorry. This is all.."


"You don't need to talk me through this." Loughree rolled onto her side and pulled her knees up to her chest. "I don't think I came here for that."


Antimony watched the set of Loughree's ears and found herself asking despite herself, "Then why are you here?"


"I don't know." The large woman reached up and took hold of her ears again, pulling on them. Her tail curled towards her face. "He took her away. I don't even know how he... How I'm... Why?" She shivered.


"I don't know," Antimony murmured, and she truly didn't. She didn't know if Loughree was telling the truth. She didn't know what Megiddo may have done if she were. She didn't know what she could do to help. She didn't know how to help anyone, it seemed. Even her own daughters...


Loughree was silent for a time, and then she muttered, "I don't know how to hold on to anything. Everything always falls apart. I tried to protect her and I couldn't. She cried when i sent her away but it didn't do any good. I don't even know if she's still alive or not."


Antimony's hands clenched around her knees and struggled to breathe against a vice that suddenly wanted to clasp tight about her ribs. Loughree's words were familiar. Painfully so. "I... understand," she breathed out and couldn't find anything else for her to say for the moment.


Pulling her tail against her face, hiding in the fur, Loughree muttered, "I tried waiting to feel something other than scared, or angry. And now I'm just cold. Maybe I was just looking for somewhere comfortable to freeze to death."


Opening her mouth to speak, Antimony found that she knew no words to comfort. There had been no words for her, either, back then. Instead she just leaned forward and reached down to rest one nervous, uncertain hand on Loughree's shoulder, in silence.


Loughree stared at the fur of her tail, the appendage shifting about but held stationary against her face. She was silent for a time, and then she said, "I saw something strange near the Ossuary. A monster made of shadow. He was watching it when I found him."


Her chest chilled, an icy touch that spread to her shoulders and down her back. Antimony resisted a shiver. "Made of shadow," she echoed lowly, swallowed. The question of whether or not she believed Loughree had somehow fallen away during the minutes passed between them. The way the younger woman spoke rang with a certain degree of truth to Antimony that she automatically acknowledged, that stirred a certain deep-held fear.


Her voice caught in her throat then, and when she tried to speak again, only a short, thin sound came out. A few breaths later, she managed, "Did you see... Aij--a... green-haired girl..?"


"... I think. She was screaming." Loughree twisted her tail in her hands. "Some men heard and went to look. Maybe they were going to help. But he killed them. I tried... But I couldn't..."


"Aijeen," Antimony murmured, her shoulders sagging. Screaming. She chose not to focus on Loughree's account that placed Megiddo as the true murderer of four men; if she was honest with herself, it didn't surprise her, given their past conversations, but she was far too emotionally tired to dwell on that and Loughree's worries and her daughters and a certain Tia's grief all at once. "She didn't mean..." she began, then stopped herself. The argument wasn't necessary with Loughree.


She wanted to offer to help find the younger woman's child - opened her mouth to speak again almost without thought. But something stopped her, and it left her feeling horribly selfish. Still, perhaps she... "I could ask him."


"Don't." Loughree twitched, fists tight, spine curling forward. "Don't ever talk to him."


Antimony wanted to frown, but she only had the energy for a slight pursing of her lips. "... You should rest. I can get you some warm food, and you will feel... more centered." Not better; she knew there was very little that would make one feel better in these situations.


Closing her eyes and shivering again, Loughree almost whispered. "I'm trying."


She almost didn't trust her legs to hold her up when she pushed up from the bed, but the exhaustion was more mental than physical and so they did. Antimony stood next to Loughree for a few moments and then bent to give the woman's shoulder another, light squeeze before stepping away, towards the door. "I will see what I can do," she said quietly, opening it.


The filthy woman remained unmoving on the ground, not acknowledging what Antimony had said to her or seeming to notice the touch.


When nothing further came from Loughree, Antimony slipped back out through the door and shut it quietly behind her.

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  • 1 month later...

Stepping backwards out of Illira's room, D'hein shut the door and forgot to stop walking backwards until his head hit the wall. He ducked forward, feeling a strange tingling rush from the back of his skull to his face. It was either pain or exhaustion, and the way his eyes fluttered told him it was likely the latter. He wanted nothing more than to walk down the hall, step into Antimony's room and collapse in bed for the next hour, and he was too tired to really understand why some part of him thought that was a bad idea. It must have been a silly part of him.


Lifting his numb arms over his head and then dropping them, flicking his numb tail back and forth and then letting it fall against the floor, D'hein urged himself away from the wall with some difficulty and turned to lumber in the direction of Antimony's room which was, after all, only a few modest doors away.


As one miqo'te began making his way down the hall, the door that was "only a few modest doors away" opened to allow for the exit of one Antimony. Looking weary herself, posture drooping, shadows under her eyes, and an expression dragging on her face that could only be described as despondent, the woman turned to head the opposite direction, intending to visit the bar long enough to order tea and bread.


She never got that far, nearly running right into D'hein on his way. She did manage to pull up short, however, sidestepping just in time to avoid a collision. "D'hein?" She muttered in surprise, having half expected him to have run off on his own after his "chat" with Miss Carceri.


D'hein continued walking several paces after nearly running into Antimony, having not noticed. Belatedly, one of his ears ticks up, and he pauses to turn very slowly. "Yes? Oh, hello." He smiled. "Well, you're a refreshing face to see. A reminder that beauty and sanity can coincide and magnify."


Antimony's lips pressed flat. "Yes." Well, not yes, not at all. "Well... Where are you going?"


With a sigh, D'hein shifted and shrugged. "I had a talk with Illira. It seems she's been harboring fantasies about murdering me. Therefore, I invited her to come along on the search for D'aijeen. We will have a merrily awkward time, and I'd like to take a nap before it occurs."


"Oh, that all seems completely reason--whaaat?" Antimony did a visible doubletake, green eyes widening significantly behind her glasses. Her eyes flicked down the hall to her room, then back to D'hein, then towards the way he'd come. "... No. Absolutely not. I will not have her involving herself with my daughter."


"She's a smart woman with decent connections and, besides, I just invited her on a walkabout so that she could have a few days' break from all this corruption and... well, death. Didn't you recently take one yourself?" His ears had both fallen over like men passed out, though in different directions. Rubbing one temple, D'hein tried to turn away. "I told Illira I'd be back to get her in an hour, so, if I'm going to nap, I'd best get to it."


For a second, Antimony just struggled with the fact that D'hein had invited a woman who had, in all past instances, expressed an extreme lack of caring for their personal problems on an outing meant to deal with said personal problems. It made her want to smack the Tia. But then she caught him attempting to head to her room, and her thoughts landed on another problem: "A-aah wait, one moment! Perhaps... perhaps it is not the best time to... rest there."


"Augh, by the twelve!" D'hein paused midstep and buried his face in his hands. "Why can't I at least try to sleep? Nald, have I not been honest in my paperwork?" He dropped his hands and slumped against the wall. "Oh, that's it, isn't it? As the Nunh, I must take on the punishment for D'themia's sins. The twelve know D'edy is too weak."


Antimony's ears shifted with a moment of guilt. She hesitated, thoughts careening between options. "It's only that..." Her tail curled, twisted, pushed against one leg. "There... is someone else in there, and..." Oh damn it all to the seven hells. She heaved a resigned sigh. "... and I'm not entirely sure what to do with her yet."


"What?" D'hein twisted, still against the wall but his arms dropping away so that his weight was leaning entirely upon his forehead. "Antimony, have you additional suitors? I'm not afraid of competition, but..." He paused, blinked. "No, you said 'she', and... Well, nowhere, I'm a modern Miqo'te. It could still be."


"What?" Antimony echoed and paled, briefly. "Ah, ah, no, not--nothing like that! She--" The older woman forced herself to stop, take a deep, slow breath with her eyes closed. Her ears shivered. "... No. An acquaintance who... I've helped in the past."


"That does not discount the possibility." D'hein lifted himself from the wall and took a steadying breath. "But, very well. I will... sleep on the floor. In the hallway. Over here." He lumbered on.


Antimony kept her eyes shut, tail fuzzing. She could not necessarily blame Loughree for piling on the trouble - though another part of her thought she very well could - but Antimony was getting rather sick of dealing with it. And D'hein, as much as he annoyed and infuriated her to no end, was far too much of a pathetic sight at the moment. She let out her breath in a sudden huff. "No, rest in the room," she spoke sharply and reversed her path back towards the door. "Miss Loughree will simply have to accept company."


"Ah, good." D'hein spun on his toes, losing his balance and thudding heavily against an adjacent door. He pulled himself off of it to walk back towards Antimony, though that may or may nt be the present direction of her room -- probably not. "I always do enjoy the company of a Miss."


A few steps later, the door that he'd fallen against opened and a curious Lalafel poked his head out just in time to get whacked in the face by D'hein's tail as the would-be-Nunh flailed it to try and keep his balance. The Lalafel spie, scowled, glared and disappeared back into his room.


"Although," D'hein muttered in ignorance, "That name sounds rather familiar."


Antimony only winced, grabbed D'hein by the shoulder, and turned him back around so that he would walk in the proper direction. "Perhaps," she muttered, recalling the first, and as far as she was aware, only time the Tia had met Loughree. It had not been pleasant. She opened the door when they approached, cringed anxiously, and then called out, "Miss Loughree, I don't have the warm drink and food yet, but... I must ask you to not make a scene. A... ah, friend is resting here briefly."


The largish woman on the floor hadn't moved since Antimony had left. She lay curled up on the floor, her knees close to her chest, her fuzzy tail bundled against her face. She didn't even react to Antimony's entrance, more than to sigh and mutter, "I won't do anything."


D'hein gave the woman a strange look, pursing and twisting his lips. He eyed Antimony as he walked in. "You need to sleep, too. You mentioned food? Hopefully nothing that will take more than a few minutes."


"No," she wasn't certain which statement she was saying no to. Regardless, Antimony gave Loughree a wary, surprised look that was quickly followed by relief. "Thank you." Then to D'hein, a sharp, "Rest." Then she turned and was out the door once more. She would only be gone for a few minutes.


As soon as Antimony left D'hein and Loughree broke everything, did drugs, got pregnant and raised their children to be Republicans.


As soon as Antimony left, D'hein spun to the center of the room and made his way towards the bed. As he walked around Loughree, he ventured a, "Good to see you again," but when he didn't get a response, he just muttered, "Well, good night then," and collapsed on the bed. He indulged in a small inappropriate smirk that the bed smelled like Antimony, his Miqo'te senses forcing him to notice and acknowledge that, then he just shrugged at it and closed his eyes.


((Not mentioned is the fact that the bed is missing its baseboard, having been ripped off to serve as K'luha's stretcher, and that the table and chair in the room are both still broken by earlier fits by Loughree.))


As promised, obtaining food and drink did not take long, though Antimony did suffer through several dubious looks from the bartender. She left with her head ducked in embarrassment, carrying a small tray with three mugs, a pot of tea, and a plate with crusty, likely stale bread and dried strips of meat. She hesitated outside her room, ears twitching, straining to pick out any sound of trouble, but after a minute all seemed quiet. A surprise, but a welcome one.


Letting out a faint sigh, she shuffled the tray oddly into one arm and pushed through the door. She'd opened her mouth to speak but kept quiet when she noticed D'hein across the room, sprawled across the bed that had definitely seen better days. Like the Tia. Mouth twisting, she swiveled her gaze towards where she'd left Loughree; the young woman did not appear to have moved and had not acknowledged her presence. Rather than greet her, Antimony just stepped over and carefully set the tray down next to her.


The click of the tray next to her seemed to startle Loughree, making her legs twitch and her tail shift in her hands. She lifted her head subtly and stared at the tray that Antimony had set down. She muttered, quietly, tonelessly. "I wish I could feel hungry."


"Regardless, you must eat," Antimony's tone was quiet but firm. She took the pot and poured out some of the tea before holding it towards Loughree. "And drink this. You will feel better."


Loughree stared at the floor. She released her tail from her hands and the furry limb arched over her to fall on the ground behind her with a soft slap. She pushed herself up to sit crookedly against the bed, and then took the cup from Antimony. "I know that I'm intruding by being here."


Green eyes flicked away with a wince. "Ah, that... not at all. No." Her ears shook, tail curling around her feet where she crouched. Then she just gestured towards the plate of bread and meat. "Eat, too."


"Did you catch Lamandu? The business with the Blades, the paperwork? You were investigating him, right?" She flicked her brown eyes, almost red, bloodshot, to look at Antimony through the haze of steam.


Antimony looked away again, fingers moving to touch the side of her face still discolored with bruise, though it had begun to shift more towards greens and yellows, giving the skin a sickly color. She took a breath. "The investigation is resolved, yes. You shouldn't worry over that."


Setting aside the cup, Loughree reached for the bread like it was something she didn't know how to eat. "You get beat up?"


Antimony coughed, returned her eyes to Loughree and watched the woman hold the bread. "Eat," she said encouragingly. "Feed your body and you feed your soul."


"I don't know much about souls." Loughree ripped a piece off the bread and forced it into her mouth with a look of distaste. She rolled it in her mouth for a moment and swallowed without chewing. "I don't know what he told you about me. I treat him like a monster, but he's clever. He lies. I've never killed anyone."


Grey ears dropped slightly at that. "There's no need for you to worry about him now." She pulled in a breath and then made to settle more comfortably on the floor, her tail curling into her lap. Her joints ached with the action, but it was something she felt she needed to ignore. "And whatever he told me... You've done more than enough on your own to tell me about you."


Putting down the bread, Loughree muttered sullenly, "Right. That's not much better."


Antimony pursed her lips. "Perhaps not. You do have opportunities to change that, though."


"I don't do well with opportunities." She took another sip of her tea, again expressing disgust at the taste. She turned her gaze away, to the rubble of the furniture she'd destroyed on a previous visit. "I don't know why you keep tolerating me."


"Ah, well, it's hardly..." Antimony wove her hands together, watched Loughree and then looked in the direction the Moon Keeper had. She couldn't hold back the wince at the state of the bed, and then immediately regretted it, ears flattening. "It would not be... very kind of me, to turn you away under the circumstances."


"You don't need to be kind to me." The near-red eyes turned back to Antimony, watching her carefully.


"Nonsense," Antimony huffed at that and, after a pause, poured herself her own mug of tea. She held it between her hands and let the heat ease the aching joints of her fingers. It soothed some of the strain in her mind, as well.


"It isn't. We're not family and I've done nothing to make us friends. Up here, trusting people is a good way to get hurt." She leaned against the bed tiredly, but her eyes had opened wider. Her neutral tone was growing bitter, but not agitated.


Lips pressing together, Antimony watched the dark liquid in her mug and the faint trail of steam leading up from it. "I am not going to argue this," she sighed after a moment.


A smirk found Loughree's face for an instant before disappearing. She pulled her knees up and let the tea sit limply in her fingers over her lap. "Where do you come from?"


Brows knit behind Antimony's glasses. "That is an odd question." She hesitated then, considering a nervous flutter in her gut. Or was that guilt? She wrestled with the answer for a moment - claim Limsa to keep secure many, private memories, or claim the desert? The woman sighed. Perhaps a month ago she would have answered differently. "A very long ways into the Sagolii desert," she murmured.


Loughree's head leaned forward to watch Antimony's hesitation, and then she ventured. "The man from whom I descended came from a tribe out that way. Did you have a tribe?"


A soft smile pushed at Antimony's lips when she looked up at Loughree, but it drifted away almost immediately. "I did, yes." Then she blinked, processing the younger woman's words. A strange sensation settled around her brain, like a thin silk curtain. "... The Drake tribe, perhaps?"


"It doesn't matter where that man came from. The Desfosse Clan -- my family -- butchered him when I was young." She leaned her head forward against her knees, the steam roiling over her pale features and clay-red eyes. "If you're from a tribe, you understand. I was taught never to trust anyone outside the Clan. Outsiders hated us."


That word - outsider - stung far more than it should have, especially since Loughree had not been using it to refer to her. Still, Antimony couldn't help how her heart clenched. "I do understand," she replied quietly, watching the blonde Keeper with a subdued expression. She tried for a smile, though it was small and somewhat forced. "But when you have so few, it becomes easier to accept others."


"I have no one." Loughree leaned her head forward, her tired ears finally lifting from their sad repose to turn towards Antimony. "The Desfosse clan was too ruthless; more so than even I could stomach. They have all died, now, but for the one responsible, and I will never again call him family. I need a clan to live, though, which is why I needed..."


She turned her face away, pressing her forward back against her knees. "I found her in the refugee camps. She needed me and I need her. But she is gone now, and I am alone again." With a slow and careful hand, she lifted the tea to her lips again.


Antimony's expression softened as the Keeper spoke, shifting to one of sympathy and a hint of understanding. To lose family in such a way, only to reclaim it way and lose it again... it was an awfully familiar story. Her heart clenched as she thought of K'airos, of D'aijeen, and even of K'ile. The need to reunite with them was almost overwhelming, but watching Loughree struggle with such a similar problem was nearly as painful. "I am sorry," she murmured, struggling with a want to help and a want to continue her own personal mission. "Perhaps--ah, if... there is anything I can do..."


"I kind of doubt it."  She spoke with her lips against the cup of tea, staring down at the surface, seeming to concentrate on keeping it sitll. "I'm tired. Maybe you told him about her and maybe you didn't. I don't care. I can't run away and I can't be close to anyone. I don't care."


Antimony's expression dropped, but only briefly. Her fingers shifted around the warm mug. "Then why did you come to me?"


"I don't know." She dropped the cup and set it aside, almost too quickly. A few drops spilled out onto the floor. "To everyone who knows me, I'm crooked. To everyone who doesn't, I'm just another refugee who's lost something. I-"


She stopped when a tail smacked her upside the head, D'hein murmuring and shifting where he lay. Taking this in stride, Loughree remained stationary for several seconds, scowling in a general upward direction, and then the tail moved. She dropped her gaze to Antimony and said, "you've never thrown me out before."


Silence passed for several seconds as Antimony watched D'hein's form. Then her eyes shifted back to Loughree with a sigh. It wasn't as though the Keeper hadn't given her reason to do so - destroying the furniture in the inn during a fit of rage, outright tackling her, being a potential murderer... But despite all that, it had never occurred to Antimony to toss the younger woman out. "I... do not like giving up on others, I suppose."


"Giving up implies there's something to work towards." Loughree's furry tail lifted up and dropped beside.


"Happiness? Family?" Antimony drew a deep breath and then let it out in a heavy sigh. She recalled then the pure bliss that had been seeing K'airos for the first time in five years that single evening in Drybone. She desperately wanted that back.


"Oh, I get it." The large woman lay her head against the bed and watched the ceiling. Her ears lay flat, though her expression didn't otherwise change. "Well, I think I give up on me. I was probably just looking for... I don't know."


Ears flattening, Antimony was quiet for a moment before setting her mug down with a sharp clack against the floor. She stood then, and took the couple steps needed to move in front of Loughree before dropping down to one knee, ignoring the way her joints protested the action. Her hands moved to grip Loughree's shoulders as she spoke in a sharp, firm tone, "Stop this." She felt older than she had in a while, kneeling before the Keeper, but she pushed on, frown deepening, "You will not give up on that girl, not if she means so much to you, as you likely mean just as much to her. To give up on yourself is to give up on her."


Dropping her gaze to Antimony's features, one of her eyes twitched: the one that had been stabbed with a needle previously. There were small scars around that eye from where she'd hurt herself, clawing at the needle with her gauntlets. Now, though, she turned her gaze away and bunched up her calloused, pale hands in front of her. "I sent her away to protect her and it didn't work. Even if she isn't dead, finding her would just make things worse."


"Don't be ridiculous," Antimony snapped. "You've no way to protect her if you don't know where she is."


Loughree actually flinched, however suddenly, when Antimony snapped at her. Her expression remained stoic, her eyes facing away, though her tail fluffed up a bit and shivered. "And I've got no way to find her, so what am I supposed to do?"


"You find a way." The older woman squeezed Loughree's shoulders. "Don't give up on her."


"Find a way? Are those magic words?" She curled tighter on herself, dipping her head forward to hide her face behind her knees. "I'm going to choke."


"Drink." Antimony pulled back, her ears shifting restlessly.


"Not like that." As Antimony retreated, Loughree pushed herself up to her feet, the movement jerky and coming with a slight stumble. She pressed a hand to her forehead. "I don't want to think about this. I don't want to talk about it."


Green eyes slid shut tight for a moment, tail shivering. She wanted to tell Loughree to not run away, to not make the same mistake she did. It infuriated her that Loughree had set herself in such wallowing misery. "That is not what someone who cares about that girl would say," she warned the younger woman, lips pursed.


"You don't get it." Loughree sidestepped out from between Antimony and the bed, knocking over her cup of tea. At the clatter, her tail fluffed out all the more, but she just shuffled away from it helplessly. "You don't get it! She's not just lost. The only reason this happened is because she was with me. If I go after her it gets worse. So whether she's dead or hurt or..."


D'hein finally stirred in bed, sitting up crookedly with a sour, half-aware look on his face, one ear down, the other folded inside-out on his head where he'd been laying on it. He stared at the air between the two women.


"I need to give up!" Loughree backed further into the room, gesturing with her hands. "If I give up, and I don't care anymore, then there won't be any more reason to hurt her!"


Antimony flinched away from Loughree as the cup went clattering, spilling still-warm liquid across the floor. Her hands lifted slightly towards the mess, a wince on her features as she opened her mouth to protest, but then the Keeper continued speaking and Antimony fell silent.


When Loughree finished, Antimony found she could only continue to be silent, at a complete loss for words. To abandon someone she cared for... that girl would surely be better off if she were directly under the care of someone who loved her. Ears pressing back, she shifted her eyes uncertainly towards the bed, only to flick away when they came across D'hein's waking form. Her mouth worked, tail twitching. "You are wrong," she finally said quietly. "You don't know that to be true. And you risk her life testing it."


"I don't know what else to do. I tried! You just need to tell me 'don't give up' so you can sleep at night, but there's nothing else I can do. Where is she? Is he alive? I've got no way to know!" Loughree spun as she talked, her tail large and flashing around vibrantly, stirring up an angry breeze in her vicinity.


Antimony's own tail twisted up behind her, writhing in conflicted emotions, while her eyes watched Loughree's. Then suddenly she sighed, and stumbled back until she was leaning against the wall. One hand lifted to press at her forehead where she could feel the beginnings of a splitting headache. "I don't know how else to help you," she spoke quietly.


"I didn't ask for help. I don't know why I came here!" The large woman spun, her shoulders, neck and back tight as rocks as she stomped into the bathroom at the rear of the room and slammed the door behind her. In the next instant, there was a heavy thud and scrape against the other side of the door, and the whole structure sagged from its hinges.


Several seconds later, one of D'hein's ears flipped and he flinched belatedly.

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Cringing away from the wall as it shook from whatever had damaged the door, Antimony pressed her mouth together tightly in an effort not to just explode on the younger woman. A moment passed, and then she noticed again that D'hein was awake, looked to him, and looked away anxiously.


D'hein's tired eyes roved across the road towards Antimony, and he muttered in a weary voice, "Why are people always yelling around you?"


She shut her eyes at that, ears shivering low by her skull, and then she moved to bend down by the tray she'd brought in earlier. Her hands shook slightly as she poured the third cup of tea, but she ignored it as she crossed the room to hold the mug, slightly cooler than it would have been had she poured it immediately but still quite warm, out towards D'hein. "I apologize for waking you."


Though D'hein's expression was still sleepy, one ear inside out and the other swinging as though limp next to his head, his hand lifted with a swiftness as though awake. Instinctively, he ignored the cup and placed his hand on the outside of Antimony's. "You're not the one who woke me. Is everything all right?"


"Ah, I wouldn't want--don't worry yourself over it. Everything will be fine." Her eyes drifted towards the bathroom door with a slight frown. "She's just... upset." And not in a state to listen to reason in any form, apparently. Antimony sighed.


D'hein's eyes looked down at their hands with curiosity, as if he hadn't noticed himself reaching out to touch her. "You know you don't have to take anyone else's troubles upon yourself now."


Lips pursing, Antimony's fingers fidgeted against the mug, beneath D'hein's hand, and then turned it so that the ceramic was pressed against his. "Drink," she said simply, then paused. "I already took on her troubles weeks ago."


"You have too large a heart for you own good, maybe." He took the tea, sipped it, smiled, and drank of it deeply.


Her tail curled, ears splaying in embarrassment. "Ah, well... I wouldn't say..." Stepping back, she coughed, glanced again towards the door, and then reluctantly stepped towards it, knocking first and then pushing on it experimentally. "Miss Loughree... are you alright?"


Watching Antimony, D'hein drank what was left in the cup of tea and then leaned over to set it down on the floor. He almost fell out of the bed in the process, and his tail whipped in the air, but he righted himself and rolled over to lay back down.


The door Antimony pushed about did not give, thanks to a significant weight pressing against the other side. There came the sound of shifting, and Loughrees voice replied immediately from the other side. "Yes."


"Ah." A sigh. "Well. That's good. I'd worried..." She brought her hands together, fingers twisting; the gesture made their joints ache. "How... long do you intend to stay in there?"


"I don't want to be in here at all!" Her fist pounded against the opposite side of the door. "Hiding in bathrooms from harmless people. This is pathetic."


Antimony leaned back slightly at the pounding, winced. "It's... alright, dear. You can... well." She fidgeted, tail shifting to press against one leg, curling around her knee. "I understand you're frightened and worried. You... can stay there as long as you need."


After a sudden shifting, the door snapped open, revealing Loughree's dirty, glaring features. "I didn't come here looking for mothering. You can't make this better with tea and hugs."


Green eyes widened at that, ears shifting back in sudden discomfort, and some hurt. "I am only trying to help you calm down," she protested after a moment, brow furrowing.


"It isn't working!" She punched the doorframe, drawing a painful-sounding crack. She shook. "That's... not your fault. This whole thing is my fault."


Antimony reached out suddenly to Loughree's hand. "Stop that. Hurting yourself won't help either." She hesitated and then added, "Neither will blaming yourself. Perhaps... perhaps it is my fault, for continuing to associate with Megiddo."


The hand that Antimony reached for suddenly opened and took her wrist in a firm grip. "Did you tell him?" Her nostrils curled and she leaned down to Antimony's eye level, clay-red eyes shining through her dirty hair. "Did you tell him about her? Is that how he knew?"


"What?" Her brow wrinkled deeply, and she cast an anxious look over her shoulder, then back to Loughree. "I... no! No, why would I do such a thing..?"


"I know you wouldn't." Loughree let go of the odler woman's hand, and her broad shoulders buckled. "I just don't know how he found out. I was so careful."


"I don't... Are you sure it was him? Perhaps... a coincidence... maybe she traveled or had to leave for some, ah, other reason..?"


The woman reached up to the collar of her shirt and pulled it down to reveal her neck, displaying fresh, heinous burns. Distinguishable in the burns, just barely between the hideously disfigured, oozing flesh, were letters inscribed as though with a brand. "It was him."


Antimony sucked in a sharp breath, leaned back, and then almost immediately moved forward, reached to touch the edges of the collar. "Miss Loughree, that--that needs seeing to..." One ear shook. "... But I don't understand?"


Loughree dropped her hands away and lifted her chin so that Antimony could have a better look. "I hunted him. I confronted him on the night I heard the screaming. I thought I could fight him, but... In the Shroud, when the Clan was falling apart, I used to find bodies with the names seared into them. Our ancestors' names. Children's bodies, burned."


The skin was in a horrible condition, blisters peeling back down to muscle in some small patches, and inching rapidly towards infection. One of Antimony's hands went instinctively to her own neck, but then dropped when she remembered she would have none of her old tools. "You need to... see someone for this, Miss Loughree," her ears drooped. "Even something this localized could become deadly." She licked her lips, processed the Keeper's words. "He... told you he'd taken her?"


Rolling her chin down and looking aside, Loughree muttered. "It's hard to worry about myself when she's..." Her gaze twitched towards Antimony for only an instant. "Yes."


Antimony drew a slow breath. "Oh." She blinked, pressed her lips together, and then finally turned towards D'hein. "She... needs medical help," she wrung her hands as she spoke. "I don't have any aloe, or anything else useful with me, but..."


D'hein burst into a sitting position, the bed keening underneath him. His head tilted oddly and only one of his eyes was open. "I can procure whatever you need! Or a healer."


The broad Miqo'te glared down at D'hein, letting her burned neck remain exposed as she crossed her arms.


For a few seconds, Antimony just blinked in mild surprise at the Tia and his sudden, if lopsided, reaction. "A..." She hesitated at asking outright for another healer. How could she be sure they would treat Loughree properly? And they could ask questions that would upset the younger woman... Antimony bit her lower lip briefly and then changed course, "Warm water, salt... ah, aloe, as freshly cut as possible. And dressing."


The Tia-or-Nunh rubbed his eyes with one hand. "Dressing? They make a really good seasoned vinegar at that place in Hustings Strip I took you one time..."


"I don't know how I feel about charity." Loughree turned her attention back to Antimony, no longer glaring, just musing. "The refugees can't afford medicine. Why should I have that luxury?"


"Anyone should," that answer came easily enough. "Don't be ridiculous." Then to D'hein with an anxious huff, "Not food - cloth, to wrap the wound in!"


"It sounded like you were describing a salad. A salted aloe salad. Oh, well." D'hein brought his feet around and hopped off the bed, landing directly on the tray of bread and tea, shattering most of the dishes with one foot and toppling directly forward without any motion to catch himself. He stood so quickly, though, that he almost appeared to bounce, rolling to one foot and positioning himself facing the door, shards of broken pottery stuck in his boot. "I'll be right back."


Antimony let out a very unbecoming squeak as D'hein outright squashed and shattered the tray's contents, hands moving to her mouth. She just watched him with wide, uncertain eyes as he made to leave.


Slipping out of the room smoothly, D'hein pulled the door shut on his tail with a heavy, boney thwack that caused the door to bounce back open. He continued on, though, not noticing that he'd failed to close the door.


Loughree watched him go with a an unchanged expression, but after a few minutes, she smirked. "At least he isn't hitting on me this time."


Antimony had taken a step forward, in part out of concern for D'hein's tail and in part to close the door, when Loughree spoke. She paused, blinked. "Ah... what?"


"I remember him. Sweet-talker. Always trying to get somewhere."


At that, Antimony sighed and closed the distance between herself and the door so as to close it. "Perhaps." She was struck with a pang of guilt then, for letting herself get distracted by Loughree's troubles, delaying attention towards those that dogged herself and D'hein, and almost immediately she felt guilty for feeling guilty. And then she just wanted to sink into the floor. She chose instead to look towards the crushed bread and shattered plateware, ears low.


After watching Antimony's silence some, Loughree followed Antimony's gaze to the mess on the floor. A moment later, wordlessly, Loughree stepped forward and dropped into a crouch over the shattered plates, piling the larger shards onto the tray, along with the ruined food, and her own spilled cup of tea. "Your room kind of gets abused by people, doesn't it?"


"I... imagine the innkeeper will not want me to return after this." Watching Loughree pull the mess into a more localized space brought a small, appreciative smile to her face though.


Loughree hummed at that. "I'm sorry. I don't know why I keep coming here and breaking things. You know you're the only person who even knows that I had someone I was taking care of."


"It is... better than going elsewhere and hurting yourself, I should think." She wasn't sure what to think about the last part. Honored? Saddened? Ambivalent?


"Maybe I could use a little abuse." She paused after she said that, staring at the shards of broken pottery in her hand, and then continued without another word. Her tail shivered.


"I'll have none of that," Antimony spoke sharply, but almost immediately regretted her tone. Her posture slumped with a sigh. "Let's... just focus on fixing that burn for now." All the while, Aijeen moved potentially further and further away... she couldn't think about that.


Loughree hefted the tray into her lap, its contents clattering. She rose to her feet and then shifted, just holding it, not looking sure what to do with it. Most of the furniture in the room was broken. Finally, she carried the tray over to the furniture she had previously broken and piled and set it in with the rest of the mess.


Shifting her head about, stretching the burned flesh on her neck but not feeling it, Loughree turned around to Antimony and said at last. "You can focus on whatever you want."


And yet Loughree had made it impossible to do just that. Immediately Antimony cringed with guilt at her own thoughts, and then forced a small smile towards the Keeper, who stood now by the remnants of her destructive tendencies. "Would you like another cup of tea?"


"No." Loughree looked away, an expression of disgust on her features. "Stop offering me things. Charity makes me feel like I'm being made fun of."


Antimony's tail stiffened at that, ears laying back, and she stammered a moment before, "Oh... oh, I didn't mean--that is, I only meant to offer... help."


"I know that. Just. Stop trying so hard. I don't need anything." The blonde, broad woman paced back towards the middle of the room. "I don't understand charity. I don't understand why you're helping. I know you are, but you don't need me, so I don't understand."


"Does it matter? As long as it's genuine?" Grey ears tilted, relaxing slightly. She hesitated for a moment longer. "After we address your burn, I... I can't stay here for very long." A pause, and her expression flashed briefly with discomfort before softening towards Loughree. "But you're welcome to, ah, remain, should you need a place to stay. Er--not to assume that you're homeless or anything! Only--you came here for a reason... I think! And I... will return here, hopefully in a few days. So." She wrung her hands. "Perhaps it's charity, but you're welcome."


"I have a home." Loughree's expression didn't seem able to soften, nor did her voice. "And no reason not to go back to it. I don't have a reason to have come here in the first place, either. I don't know."


"Well." She furrowed her brow. "That's alright, too, I suppose. I only want to make sure you're... ah, comfortable."


Rolling her broad shoulders, Loughree tilted her neck, the burns cracking illustratively. "Don't think that's likely."


Antimony didn't miss the hint. Tapping her fingers together anxiously, the older woman twisted towards the door. "Aah, what is taking that Tia so long? They weren't difficult supplies!"


"It hasn't been that long." Loughree righted her head, the burnt flesh sinking back into itself like folded paper. She winced slightly, but smirked. "Maybe he's getting you flowers."


Her head canted back towards Loughree, with what was at first a baffled and then a flustered expression. "Nonsense! I told him to get aloe, warm water, and dressing."


"So you think that doesn't mean he's not going to flatter you with anything. It's like you've never actually met a man."


Antimony frowned, huffed, and then gestured towards the bed, "Sit and rest while we wait."


"I don't need to rest," Loughree huffed, but paced towards the bed anyway.


There was a sudden thud against the room's door, then silence for a moment, and then another thud. Finally the door swung inward to reveal D'hein, his forehead reddened and his arms full of goods. He indeed had fresh cuts of aloe, a roll of long, thin cloth, and a jug of warmed water. He also held across his chest several bottles of milk.


Walking directly to Antimony as though in a sleepy daze, he deposited all of the medicinal items in the womans arms and muttered, "They had most of this in the bar already because sometimes people get burned I guess. I made them heat the water." He then placed one of the bottles of milk on top of the items in her arms. "Drink this bones. Gives you strong milk."


He turned and forced a bottle into Loughree's hands as well. "Cheer up. Strong bones."


Finally, he collapsed face-down on the bed, successfully taking it for himself before Loughree could sit down. He cradled the final bottle of milk next to him like he'd forgotten what it was. "Make sure you drink it..."


Loughree stared at the bottle in her hands like she'd never seen a bottle before. "Well it's not exactly flowers."


It took no small amount of effort not to drop the items that found themselves very suddenly deposited into unsuspecting arms. Antimony leaned back sharply as the bottle threatened to roll right off and managed to stagger towards the bed in time for it to drop harmlessly onto the mattress, by D'hein's feet. She blinked at it in a strange bemusement before Loughree's words brought her back to the present and she shook herself. The other items went to the bed as well, in a corner not occupied by D'hein, save for the jug of water. She held that between her hands and let its warmth ease aching joints a moment before turning towards the Keeper and giving a slight nod.


"Well, then. Ah... let's--come here and sit so we can take care of you."


Allowing herself to smirk in good humor, Loughree moved the bottle from one hand to the other as she paced over. "He gave me a bottle, too. Does this mean he's courting me, too? Giving me food is a lot more effective than whatever he was doing last time." She sat on the bed where indicated, carefully pulling her tail away from D'hein and up over her lap. The deteriorating bed frame creaked beneath her.


One of Antimony's ears twitched. "It's not any of my business if he were, but I highly doubt it." She eyed the bed warily when it groaned and bent slightly under Loughree's added weight. "Wait," she said to the Keeper, turning from her and crossing the short distance into the bathroom. She was gone only a few seconds, only to return with a small towel hung over one arm. "We'll need to remove your shirt so I can clean and dress the burn. Can you lift your arm?"


Loughree made a small show of stretching her arms to either side and then over her head, flapping them about a bit before pulling the filthy shirt over her head, cringing at the feeling but not uttering a sound. She was careful to keep the baggy shirt hanging over the front of her body, and snapped her arms down in front of her as soon as the shirt was loose. Only her shoulders and her naked back were exposed, both pale and carved with incredibly dense muscle. The fact that she was otherwise thin made the stressed muscles stand out all the more.


If Antimony noted anything else about Loughree's body aside from the wound it was that the younger woman was perhaps too thin to be healthy. She filed this away automatically as her body set to work on the burn along Loughree's shoulder. The skin was crinkled, peeling, dry in some places, wet with body fluid in others. Opening the jug of water, she damped the towel and then very carefully dabbed around the wound. She knew it would hurt but it was not something she could let stop her. Dirt washed away, along with dead skin.


"You are lucky, it is not very deep," she murmured as she set the towel across her  lap and then took up a number of the aloe leaves. The thick, waxy leaves had been cut in a way that told Antimony someone had known what they were doing. But then, burns were likely a common problem in a kitchen. She broke one of the leaves in half and squeezed out the gel-like substance all over the burn. "It may sting at first, but it should start to soothe very quickly." This imparted to Loughree, she then bowed her head and murmured a few low prayers as she worked - to cleanse and seal the burn from infection, to ward off spiritual ills that may invade the damaged opening, to hasten healing.


A few other aloe leaves had been cut lengthwise, and these she lay across Loughree's shoulder so that the gel-covered halves pressed against the wound. She then took up the cloth dressing and began to wrap them down.


The young Miqo'te did not complain about any of the pain, though her expression showed that she did feel it. She kept herself quiet and still, at first keeping her eyes turned away. When Antimony began to pray, Loughree's ears lifted and turned towards her, one twitching. Her blue eyes watch the woman, then. As Antimony began to wrap the burns, Loughree's tail shivered. "Thank you. I wouldn't have known to do this on my own."


Pulling the dressing across Loughree's chest and up over the woman's shoulder repeatedly, Antimony pressed her ears back in a display of humility. "I would not have let you go without seeing to it. If the creeping death had set in... well, let's not think on that." Her own tail shifted anxiously. A moment later, she was tying off the remaining dressing and stepping back from the Keeper."You'll want to change the aloe at least twice a day."


Loughree blinked at the woman and smirked. "Then I guess I'll be scrounging around the desert for wild aloe." She looked down at her hands crossed over her breast, holding ehr shirt to her. "Or I can make some money somehow. I don't need to be a Brass Blade in order to..." She left off the last of the thought and cast her gaze at the wall.


"You are a smart, strong woman," Antimony spoke after a moment before bending to gather up the remains of the aloe, bundling them in the towel. "I am certain you can make a life in any way you choose."


"I was only ever taught to live one way. And I'm starting to think that hurting other people isn't the best way to get what I need. Can I put my shirt back on now?"


At some point while Loughree was speaking, D'hein roused once more. Pushing himself up on his elbows, one eyes pinked and one eyes squinted around the wound. "What? What's going on?" His gaze found Loughree's exposed side and back and lingered there.


"Of course, just be careful not to shift the--" Antimony blinked, straightening with the bundle of aloe in her hands, and cast a bemused look towards D'hein.


Looking back at D'hein, Loughree frowned and elbowed the man in the leg. He didn't appear to notice, so the woman just huffed and pulled the filthy shirt back over her head, standing from the bed with her tail swinging around behind her. "Thank you, Antimony."


D'hein just sat up and appeared surly. "Has it been an hour yet?"


"What?" Antimony furrowed her brow, not immediately following D'hein's train of thought. She cast a brief, small smile that deepened the spidery lines to either side of her mouth towards Loughree and then returned her confusion to the Tia. "I... I'm unsure. It's impossible to keep track of in this walled off city."


"Lots of people keep timepieces." Loughree stretched her arms and her neck, wincing at the sensations. It was like she was testing how much pain she would feel, or how much she would endure. "I think it's been about an hour since you two came back in."


D'heing curled forward and stared at the ground. "I'm never going to get a nap."


"You've taken two already, haven't you?" She felt her tail curling unhappily and forced it to relax with a sigh. The effort didn't last long and soon the limb was twitching anxiously behind her once more. "There is some time for additional rest, I suppose.."


"No. No, there's not." D'heing brushed at his face and forced himself to stand, though he looked very unhappy about it. His ears were flat on top of his head, his tail limp behind him. "I told Illira one hour, and one hour I will stick to. If I leave her any longer she's liable to stab someone. Possibly myself."


"Wh-what?" Antimony paled, then shook herself, her own ears dropping back. "Now look--I still don't think I want that woman accompanying us on such a personal matter...!"


D'hein's entire argument was to look at Antimony with a frown on his face, arms at his sides.


"She--it--" Antimony sputtered, green eyes shifting around the room before returning to the Tia. "She has no care for finding Aijeen or Airos! And she certainly wouldn't care about protecting them from whatever has committed those murders."


"She has a strong sense of right. Too strong, to be honest. If she discovers some corruption of malevolence oppression Aijeen and K'airos, her first instinct will be to destroy it. You can trust that even if you don't like her."


Antimony winced. "It's not that I... she just... well." Her tail performed a number of contortions against her leg. "She's clearly... she has been nothing but belittling to me this entire time and I don't understand what--" Forcing herself to stop, Antimony shut her eyes, drew a deep breath, and let it out lengthily through her nose.


"If she's mean to you just call her ugly and mean like you did last time. Her feelings can be hurt if you decide you want to." D'hein turned to take a step towards the door, only to find himself face-to-face with Loughree again. The woman, almost taller than he was and just as broad, was watching him with arms crossed and a frown on her face. D'hein looked over her filthy appearance, the tattered old clothes, the bandages, the tangled hair. Then he turned to Antimony and said, "I'm confused why there's a refugee in your room."


"A ref... what?" She blinked at Loughree, and then frowned sharply towards the Tia. "No. Miss Loughree is no refugee, and she certainly deserves more respect than what you've given her." Perhaps an unexpected reaction, even to Antimony, given her earlier own feelings towards the Keeper's presence.


Loughree looked past D'hein to Antimony. "I don't think I need-"


"You're right!" D'hein snapped straight, his tail lifting and falling decisively behind him. He then inclines his head to Loughree. "Refugee, soldier, Dodo or stranger, all women deserve the utmost respect, and I apologise." He then reached out to poke the bottle that Loughree still held in one hand. "Drink your milk."


He shuffled into the middle of the room and went for the door. "I need to go collect Illira." He lifted the milk in his hand, only just realizing he still possessed it, and cracked it open.


Antimony went from looking satisfied at the Tia's apology to extremely unhappy at his announcement of retrieving the elezen woman. She just frowned though.


As D'hein left through the door, chuckling happily as though all were suddenly right in the world as soon as he pressed the bottle of milk to his lips, Loughree turned a deadpan gaze on Antimony. "You keep strange friends, Antimony."


The older woman let out a faint sigh. "I suppose so." She hesitated, and then held the aloe wrapped in the towel towards Loughree. "Will... you be alright on your own? You're still welcome to remain here while I travel."


Loughree accepted the towel and tucked it under one arm. "How long are you going to be gone? And... wait." She flicked her eyes towards the door, and then back to Antimony. "You're looking for someone. You're looking for someone who is... That's why you were asking me about the other night!"


Grey ears splayed out flat on either side of her head. "Ah, that..." Her fingers flexed uselessly around where they'd held the towel, and her brow knit with an anxious crease behind her glasses. "It... yes."


Loughree pivoted on one foot to turn herself directly towards Antimony and said in a very serious tone, "Tell me what's happening."


Antimony flinched back from the younger Keeper, brought her hands down to twist into the fabric of her robe. "It's... it's very complicated. I'm not sure I... can."


The broad woman's tone hardened. "I am sure you can."


Antimony quailed. "It's nothing but--just... old family troubles." Her tail twisted. "I apologize for suspecting your involvement."


"I'm involved. I didn't kill those men, but he did, and I went to jail for it."


Green eyes shifted to one side. "Well. Yes. But... and I am sorry for it..! Only, this is--it's more than... that."


Loughree's features scrunched up. "Why won't you tell me what's going on?"


Grey ears drooped further. "Oh, it's not that--I'm not trying to... it's only... it's a very personal matter and..." Antimony shut her eyes, wrinkling her brow, and tried to breathe in deep. "My... my daughter's gotten involved with something I thought had long been... it killed D'ahl. I'm simply trying to make sure she is safe."


"I don't know who D'ahl is. I don't know who your daughter is." Loughree's ears shifted back, her shoulders lifted, her stance loosening and her tone dropping. "Sorry. I just don't know where this connects with... him."


Antimony sighed, a weary look drawing deep lines along her features. "I am sorry. I wish I knew what... else to help you. I don't know what Megiddo has to do with... anything, aside from... well." Weaving her fingers together down by her waist, she gave Loughree a helpless furrow of her brow.


The broad woman turned aside, looking away. "Fine. I won't ask anymore. But whatever happened that night, he wanted it to. He wasn't going to let anyone get in the way."


Antimony looked down and away as well. "I can't fathom..." She couldn't finish that thought, perhaps afraid for how Loughree might push it. Instead she just sighed, dropped her head.


Gradually, Loughree's arms dropped from her chest to cross more casually over her stomach. She kept her gaze averted, though, her tail swinging behind her. "You're going to go looking for her, then? Is it going to be a long trip? Dangerous at all?"


One ear shifted forward, then backward. "She's my daughter. It... it shouldn't be." Her lips pressed together, but she hesitated on voicing her worry regarding the bone monster. "And long... I don't know."


"Sorry. Stupid questions. Look, just, make sure you..." The woman looked back at Antimony, ears lifting on her head, turning forward, and then the fell down again. Loughree lifted her palms. "Who am I kidding? It's not my business and you're from some Sagolii tribe, right? You know what you're doing and I'm barely holding together. You'll be fine."


Antimony couldn't quite say with confidence that she knew at all what she was doing. She hadn't managed to figure out how to handle K'aijeen in all her years with the tribe, so what hope did she have now...? "I am more worried about your well-being than my own," she replied with an empathetic look.


"Things can't get any worse." Loughree muttered in response. "If he killed me it would improve my situation, so he isn't going to. I guess he could burn down my apartment? There's nothing of value in there."


"You can stay here," she offered for not the first time.


"And then he could burn down your hotel room." Loughree snickered. "have you ever just fallen so far that you just stop caring if you ever hit bottom?"


Antimony's tail stilled for a moment. "... Perhaps." Her features softened into something sad and distant, and then she glanced up at Loughree. "I won't let him burn this room down, or do anything else to it or you. He... is supposed to be helping me find my daughter anyway."


The broad woman's muscles tensed, from her lower back through her shoulders to the very tips of her fingers. Her tail fluffed out and shivered, and she scowled. "Oh, he is, is he?"


"Yes, so you should not worry. Sleep here. Ah.." Her mouth twisted. "Should you want for food or water, put it on my tab."


"Shouldn't worry? He's supposed to be helping you find your daughter and I shouldn't worry?" Her arms snapped open, and she pointed in the general direction of the Ossuary. "He found your daughter! He found her the other night, and killed four people! While another died, if you're telling me the truth. Am I wrong?"


"And then she ran!" Antimony gestured somewhat desperately at Loughree. "She was frightened and... she is no longer here, so I must find her and go to her! And Megiddo has helped me in the past. I just... need to find her."


"He's not helping you." Loughree said sternly. "He found her, and let something... He let something happen to her, and then he just watched her run. He's manipulating you."


"You're letting your hatred for him color your perception," Antimony replied firmly. "I know what she summoned with her. He--he could not have fought it."


Loughree snapped back, one arm swinging around and a closed fist slamming into the wall with enough force to make the adjacent walls creak. "You'd hate him too if you'd buried as much family as I have, burned and poked and bleed out! If he'd taken as much from you, for no other reason than that he can!"


Antimony flinched bodily, lifting one hand anxiously towards the wall as though afraid it might crumble just like the rest of her borrowed room. "I didn't--that's not what--I only meant that... there was nothing he could have done..! Please, stop hitting objects.."


"Nothing he could have done." Loughree snarled, turning an angry glare on Antimony. "But he did do something. Or weren't you listening?"


"I don't know why he killed those men!" Her brow furrowed deeper, eyes widening. "I--I don't know what else I can say to you, Miss Loughree. I only know of my daughter."


"Fine. Take the killer's help." Loughree spun suddenly, her large body whirling and he tail arching behind her fast enough to stir the air in the room. She ripped the door open. "I just hope he doesn't take your daughter from you."


Antimony flinched again, ducking her head and ears for a moment before peering towards the Keeper. "I would not allow it." She hesitated. "And... it is nothing I can change now, regardless. He's gone ahead, with another friend."


"You will regret his involvement, Antimony. Good luck." Loughree left the door open as she walked down the hall, storming off.


The older woman lifted her arm towards Loughree, but then the Keeper was gone and she was left staring at the empty doorway. Her hand hovered in the air for several seconds, a helpless look on her face, and then she pulled the limb in, wrapped it around to hug herself. Her eyes shifted towards the bathroom, with its broken door. She let out a shuddering sigh.

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