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Winter's Tempest

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Caliben grimaced from the pain searing through his arm, trying not to let go of the hold he had on the people. He closed his eyes to steer the focus away from his arm, and to anything else he could focus on. He opened them for a moment, to see Aeylria getting rid of the thugs one after another in a grim display. He saw some of them start to move, and pushed for more Aether. Caliben only felt a drop of power through his arm, but it allowed a mere seconds for Aeylria. As he continued watching her, he tried to scream to her he was letting go, but the rush of exhaustion overcame him, and he closed his palm quickly trying to remain conscious. 

Caliben shook his head, feeling his whole arm throb as he took a glance to see that his arm was not shredded nor bleeding from the magic. He pushed himself to his feet and looked up to see two thugs whom Aeylria was not able to kill come running towards him. He got himself into a defensive stance as one of the thugs swung his hand axe hard downwards. Caliben crossed his arms and brought them up to block the attack, but his fatigue fell from the man's strength, embedding the axe into Caliben's right shoulder. Caliben screamed as he felt the cold iron dig into his skin and stumbled backwards towards the floor as the momentum from the attack knocked him off his feet. Caliben scrambled to get up, but his shoulder refused with the idea when he tried to put weight on his right arm. With luck, he dodged the attack of the other thug just inches from a sweep of the man's short sword. Caliben rolled to the side when he swung the blade downwards slamming into wood, and raising the blade to make another strike. Caliben reached for the blade in his boot, taking it in hand and deflected the attack. He knew he didn't have anything left in him to fight these two off. And that's when Caliben felt it.

The heat radiated against Caliben, and he looked towards the source, seeing the man who held his blade at Aeylria patting down flames that were on him like a den of rats. Caliben looked towards the two thugs, who watched in marvel at the spectacle before them. The fire was eating everything before it's wake. The rotted wood, and bodies fueled the flame to reach further and further. Caliben realized that the men who fought with him had ran away towards the entrance to escape the flames. Caliben pushed himself up against a wall, getting himself up to his feet as he put pressure on his wound as he heard many times before from people who had helped him before. He looked fore Aeylria, and saw her near the center of it all, staring at the fire as it started to burn at the ceiling above them.

"Aeylria! RUN!" Caliben yelled to snap her out of her trance. She didn't respond. Is she mad? Does she want to die here?! Caliben realized that there must be kids somewhere and yelled at Aeylria again.

"We need to save the kids! Where are they?!" Caliben walked over to her, trying to get any response out of her.

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The flames beckoned Aelyria to them, seducing her with its swaying curves and hungry tendrils as her perceived notion of time achingly slowed. What was it with fire that drew her in so indomitably? Was it her innate ability with fire elemental magic that provided the connection, like an incessant calling to never cease until she finally succumbed to its embrace? Could she even call the power she had now, the corrupted black version of her magic, as being the same as what she could wield before? It didn't matter for as the fire swarmed her, she felt its enticement growing stronger like a lover stringing honeyed words into a fine silken rope that reeled her closer, tighter. The Urge began to panic. It did not want to die here, not when there was so much more feasting to do. 

"Aelyria! Run!" A distant, familiar voice cried to her. Caliben? Oh, right, yes... He was here, wasn't he? He saved her, again. He had a terrible habit of always being there at the right time when she needed it most, didn't he? Her eyes caught of glimpse of something approaching her from the side and lazily, as if just now only waking from a sleepwalking haze, turned to focus on it. 

"We need to save the kids," Caliben shouted. "Where are they?!" 

She blinked and suddenly the world spun out of control around her. The orphanage was on fire and burning quickly. Caliben stood in front of her, worry and shock written clear across his face. What the hell was she doing just standing there? She blinked again, as if in disbelief of what was happening as the reality of their situation became clear.

"The children? They--they should be escaping right now, upstairs!" She almost dashed off to run for the stairs when her eyes caught sight of the wound on his shoulder from where the axe had dealt its blow. Her trained eye as a medic assessed the wound without much afterthought and she knew that any attempt to climb from the second floor window would be slow and cumbersome for him. She gripped his good shoulder urgently and turned herself out of the way to point to the front door. 

"Get out of here through that way," she said hurriedly. "Make sure the children that have escaped are safe! Who knows if those other two thugs that got away will leave them alone so I need you to go to them. I'll go upstairs and help the rest that haven't climb out yet." Aelyria yelped as part of the floor above came crashing down from where Caliben had come, sealing off their rear entrance to the hatch. "Hurry!" 

Avoiding a reprisal, Aelyria ran for the stairs and pulled on the railings to help her bound up a couple steps at a time for speed. As she neared, she could hear the children still trapped upstairs panicking as the flames erupted from down below and found its way upwards, invading their home. She reached the top and nearly threw herself into the room, finding only four of the remaining herd of children she knew of, one already on the move to climb down with a toddler clinging to dear life at the back of the youngster's neck. Flames had reached the room next door, but was quickly burning through the wood of the wall that kept them separated, threatening to entrap them.

"Is this everyone?" Aelyria scooped up one of the smaller children and moved to the window, peering out to the street below. What she saw there shocked her, wracking her mind with bewilderment and such alleviation she never thought possible when laying eyes on them. Her crew. The very crew she had distrusted and distanced herself from were below, helping the children get to safety and away from the burning building with a surprising amount of tenderness and care. They even seemed to have chased off the other thugs who had run away; one less thing to worry about there. She choked back the tears that threatened her vision, spotting Tye directly below who looked up in time to see her. 

"Lillian," he cried out, waving a hand towards him. "Quickly, send the next one down! We've got them!"

All she muster was nod and began assisting the child she held onto the window sill to climb down the rope ladder when a thought occurred to her. Caliben! They'll attack him on sight! As the child began climbing down, she stuck her head out the window and began to shout frantically without checking to see if he had already emerged from the building. "Wait! WAIT! Don't hurt him!" 

Edited by Phaedara

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Caliben looked towards the front that Aeylria had directed to go to. He nodded slightly and made his way to the door as the building moaned and cried as it splintered from the flames insatiable appetite. Caliben saw some kids already in the streets ahead of him, happy to see some of them took the initiative to see the danger and flee on their own. As he got closer to the door, he was able to see people taking care of the kids as they ran to them, seeking shelter of their homes burning away behind them. Caliben couldn't help but smile at the sight of it, letting his face let go of the strife from tonight's venture, and grinning as he carried himself towards them. As he made his way closer to the group, he felt the world come back in a instant. His shoulder flared with intense pain, and his vision blurred from the extensive use. Caliben grinded his teeth as he pushed himself step by step towards what felt like safety from whatever else the night could offer. As he neared, the people turned to Caliben and changed their stances to something aggressive. No surprise.. I am a walking ticket of opportunity to everyone.. Caliben raised his hands as high as he could. His right arm shook as his shoulder screamed against him, and his left arm only raised just above his head. His legs finally buckled from his own weight, throwing Caliben to the floor on to his rear. 

"Wait! WAIT! Don't hurt him!" Shouted Aeylria.

Caliben saw a man approach him with his blade ready to strike. He closed his eyes, ready to finally accept the peace that he hoped would come from the end of his life. 

"Here, take my hand." Said a voice, startling Caliben as he opened his eyes to see a man before him. "You don't seem like you can walk where we are headed, you may need some help."

Caliben nodded numbly, and took his forearm in his hand as he was hoisted up back to his feet. He leaned into the man's shoulder, and was lead towards where the others were waiting for the rest of the kids in the orphanage. 

"A long night for you Moss?" Said the man as he helped him walk back.

Caliben snorted. "It's been a long night indeed.." 

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Nearly forgetting the orphans still with her, Aelyria was ready to spring out of the window and intercept Anthar who approached Caliben with his sword drawn. But what the gruff man did next surprised her. He held out his hand and muttered something inaudible over the roar of flames and then helped the injured man up onto his feet, drawing him away from the building. If the current situation hadn't been so dire, Aelyria might have stood there gawking, but the high-pitched squeal of a child beside her as the burning wood cracked menacingly across the room rekindled her senses. Hastily, she helped the other children down the ladder with Tye below to catch them should they fall, and with the last child cradled in her arms, she climbed out the window, let go half-way down and landed safely on her feet like a cat with its innate reflexes. Carrying the child to the rest of the group, she set him onto his feet though he clung to her desperately, too shaken still to let her go. 

A quick scan over the group she could account for all the children, even Elsie who had apparently found her way back to the orphanage but remained outside when Mr. Lyle's men had first showed up. She was glad the young girl was safe even if she had been the one to out Caliben in the first place, and judging from the sheepish glances she had begun to realize her mistake. Hesitantly, she turned to observe the fire. The entire orphanage was nearly caught into a blaze now, attracting the attention of curious heads that had previously shied away into their homes when the crew battles first began. Aelyria counted the heads of the crew nearby, noting that Auron would have likely kept a few of them up on the rooftops to watch for other crews that surely were observing them from their own hiding spots. Auron's crew was small but notorious, its leader meticulous in his selection of members and himself being well known for his fighting prowess. No one would interfere. Not yet. It would only be a matter of time until they got anxious, especially as Caliben's head was now in full view in the middle of the street.

Gently, she pried the child from her waist and pat him gently on the head, ushering Mikya over who took him under her own wing. The crew began to huddle closer together, most of the men looking confused as the bearded Anthar continued to hold their bounty up on his feet, the exact opposite of what they had set out to do. Auron stood nearby, looking grim as always as he towered over the men, though still slightly shorter than Le'oshi who seemed perfectly content entertaining the children to help them forget their fears. He eyed her in his usual way where one couldn't quite tell what he was thinking. He nearly always looked angry and in this instance, she wouldn't doubt if he really were.

"You have thirty seconds to explain to me why we shouldn't just cut the both of you down right here, right now," Auron asked stiffly, jutting a finger at both her and Caliben. "I need to know everything."

Aelyria shot a glance to Caliben, seeing the wound on his shoulder and grimacing. It had to be taken care of soon and with the crews all around them, watching for an opportunity, she could feel the stress mounting on her shoulders. This wasn't the time to talk, but you didn't deny Auron what he wanted. So, she took a deep breath--which flared searing hot pain from her injured ribs, causing her to wince--and began. "I live here. Or, I used to live here at the orphanage. I--"

"Yes, yes, I know that already," Auron said, cutting her off with a startle. "Tye told me a couple of months ago when he found out. The bastard almost carried your secret to the grave and seemed determined to do it, but I promised I wouldn't interfere and I hadn't. We all live our separate lives and as long as it didn't hinder the crew's mission, I let your double-life slide."

Caught completely off-guard, she turned to Tye who, looking proud of himself, smirked at her. He knew he had won a tiny part of her heart then and even if she weren't ever willing to fess it all up to him, it was enough for now. Still stunned, Aelyria turned back to Auron, remembering that time was short until hell broke loose. 

"O...okay. Well, yes. My name isn't Lillian, thank the gods, it's Aelyria," she continued, unable to keep her eyes from peering back and forth between the crew leader and Caliben. "Years ago, I came to Genesaris. One of my first places I lived was in Valjer. That's where I met Moss." And Renkor. The name caught in her throat, but like a bitter pill, she swallowed it. "He was there on a mission from Mr. Lyles and...circumstances ended up with us working together. I knew little about Union City then and it wasn't until later that Moss told me how...unforgiving he was. We carried out the task he was given but, ugh!" Frustrated with her own ramblings, she stomped her foot to reel her thoughts back in. "Long story short, he didn't finish the task. He never came back to turn it in and you can say Lyles is trying to get back what was taken from him, but you and I both know the truth of it, don't we?"

Auron cooly lowered his arms from her barrel-chest, nodding solemnly in response. There was no denying the truth any longer. 

"Mr. Lyles is using Moss as a scapegoat for something bigger," Aelyria exclaimed, her voice rising and raspy from the pain. "The crews have gotten unruly and harder to control. He's trying to cull the masses by sending them into all out war over one man's head--that man there!" She pointed at Caliben and then turned to him, searching his face for what she couldn't say. Unwittingly, a soft smile painted across her lips and for the first time in a long time, she felt a spark of something that felt real. "He's my friend. He's stubborn and stupid as hell for coming back to save me at the risk of his own skin, but... I'd be lying if I said I wasn't happy to see him." 

Feeling the heat rise in her cheeks, she turned her head way and cleared her throat of the embarrassment then focused on Auron, who seemed a bit surprised by her confession as evident by the small rise of his eyebrow on his otherwise stony expression. "So, no. Killing him now wouldn't accomplish anything. The war has already started. Bad blood that had always existed between the crews is now gushing out and there's nothing we can do to staunch the bleeding. Lyles has already accomplished what he wanted."

For what felt an eternity, time passed, the awkward silence settling over them with such thick tension you couldn't cut through it even with a honed blade. The crew leader held her gaze, the reflection of the burning orphanage flickering in his eyes. All it would take was one simple gesture and the crew--her crew--would be on them in seconds. It didn't matter in the end if they had been 'comrades' or spent countless hours drinking in revelry, pretending to like one another. Auron always did what was best for the crew and if that meant the death of Aelyria and Caliben, then they would follow his order. So be it.

"Looks like we have our work cut out for us then, huh?" Auron grinned, an expression that Aelyria scarcely saw. It was an eerie thing and almost made him seem more intimidating, but there was no malice in his tone. "And so do you two. We'll hold them off--the other crews that is. I trust you know how to best escape the city? I wouldn't doubt you haven't already made plans to do so if the occasion ever arose... Aelyria." He seemed to be playing with sounds her name made, tasting it and deciding he didn't quite like it. "Lillian is better. It suits you."

"I beg to differ," she scoffed with a grin and for the first time since meeting them, she felt a certain kinship with the crew. Months of working with them and yet she never felt as close to them as she did now. She turned to the children and her heart sunk, the confused and saddened expressions burning their impression into her brain.

"Don't worry," said a familiar voice as a firm, reassuring grip found its place on her shoulder. She peered up to the half-elf who appeared at her side, Gareth smiling in such a way that she knew this was the end. "We will care for them. There's lots of space left at the hideout and I think Eldris would appreciate the help. He'll complain at first about all the extra mouths to feed, but you know him. For now, Junai and Le'oshi will look after them and see them safe."

"T...Thank you." The words came out as a croak as tear welled in her eyes. Why did she always realize how good she had it until it was too late? She looked over the children and wanted to run over to them, hug and kiss them all farewell but the clock was ticking. "Take care of them, Mikya. Both the children and these big oafs. Don't be afraid to hit some sense into them a few times too, they're pretty thick-headed and need a good shove every now and then in the right direction." The young woman nodded, still unsure about the men but considering their options, it seemed better to just go along with it for now than risk the cold night alone with so many young ones in tow. Aelyria slid down to Kitty who clutched onto Mikya's dress. The fierceness of the girl's eyes stung her, tearing a hole in her heart. In her eyes, she was an enemy now. She had brought this death and destruction down upon them and now she was leaving them to suffer in her wake. There was nothing she could say to change her mind now, and truthfully, Aelyria didn't want to. After all, wasn't it true? There was no denying the bitter truth that no matter where she went, misery followed her. The safest place in the world for the children was as far away as possible from her. Aelyria had been selfish to try to believe otherwise.

The grip on her shoulder squeeze and she nodded in response. Gareth was right. It was time to leave. She slipped away from his grasp and turned to Caliben and Anthar. "I can help you to the city limits," he said, shuffling Caliben's weight a bit to make it easier for him to support him. "From there, you are on your own."

"Understood."

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Caliben tried to keep in step with Anthar as they moved along the shadows of Union City. He was unfamiliar with his surroundings, but it seemed Aeylria did have the route already preplanned for such an occasion. As they squeezed through an alleyway, Caliben cleared his throat and gave Anthar a side glance. 

"So, I usually prefer to get to know one better before they get so close." Said Caliben, as he smiled. Trying to break the awkward feeling he had being held up for so long by someone he didn't know.

Anthar looked at him, and sighed before he turned to look back towards Aeylria as she continued to lead them further towards the outskirts of the city. Caliben sighed, and went back to watching his step. He grimaced at the pain in his shoulder when it flared from him moving his arm in just the wrong way, but he stifled any groan trying to not seem weak to the man next to him. Caliben looked at him briefly, seeing that Anthar wore a full brown beard that gave him a burly look. But his masculine face did not match his physique, as it was not bursting with muscles, but instead had a good looking tone. Caliben shook his head, and looked ahead, trying to not be caught studying him as the weaved in and out of the city. 

Aeylria had finally came to a stop, and looked back towards them both, and gave Anthar a nod as he slowly let go of Caliben. He looked at both of them, and than at Caliben.

"Don't make trouble for her." Anthar said roughly, looking straight at Caliben's eyes. Caliben knew not to reply but instead give him a stern look back, like a strong handshake, nodding to his request. 

A couple of troublemakers, where trouble seems to follow close behind. Caliben looked to Aeylria, slightly grinning. At least the road traveled is accompanied for once. 

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Each step closer to the edge of the city hurt like stepping barefooted on a bed of hot coals. Aelyria did not want to leave the children and the family she had made for herself here, but to turn around now would only irreversibly scald the fire-blisters on her feet, wracking them with such intense pain that she'd falter and be forced to crawl back, burning herself alive in the process. Even if she had the willpower to make the journey back, there would be no reprieve from the flames that chased her, its zeal for pain and desolation ready to engulf all those she loved. Although there would be no escaping the fire in its entirety, the coals would cool the further she was away from the children, and only then would they be safe from the gluttonous destruction that followed her. Leaving was the only right solution and the thought of it left her bitter. 

Eventually, the imaginary pain of her feel dulled and with it, so did the pain of her heart. Only the urgency to escape and tend to Caliben's wound propelled her forward, practiced habit traversing the streets and alleyways blindly leading them towards freedom. It took her a moment to break away from the emptiness that consumed her to realize she had involuntarily stopped. She blinked and looked around, recognizing the city's outer wall where she had previously found a break hidden behind brush and trees, just big enough to crawl through. The children had showed it to her long ago and it had taken her some time to discreetly expand the hole so she could fit through. She worried Caliben might struggle a bit to get through, but it was better than going through the gates where no doubt crews had stationed lookouts. 

Aelyria turned and nodded to Anthar, who in return released Caliben from his care. She had never spent much time with the older man who spent a great deal of time to himself, and a pang of regret struck her that she should've tried to get to know him. Even after all the trouble I've caused, they're still helping me. The entire time I've been with the crew, I've forced them at arm's length and never bothered to really...really get to know them. Yet...here they are. Here is Anthar and I don't even know his last name or what his favorite drink is. Anthar seemed to understand what she was thinking and he shook his head. 

"You owe us nothing, Lillian," he said. "Even if that isn't your name, I sti--"

Caught off guard by Aelyria's sudden embrace, Anthar looked taken back at first, but eventually he smiled and patted her awkwardly on the back, a chuckle rumbling under his breath. "That will do, Lil. That will do."

Aelyria felt she could spend the eternity in the man's bear-like hug, despite how uncomfortable it made him, but she knew the clock was ticking and Caliben's wound was not getting any better. Reluctantly she stepped away, turning her head sharply to avoid them catching the angry tears in her eyes, fueled by the hatred for herself. At the corner of her eyes, she caught sight of Caliben looking at her and the glimpse of that knowing grin was enough to comfort her now. A small comfort, but one that meant she wasn't alone. She turned to him and wrapped her arm under his and then behind his back, encouraging him to lean on her for support. But before they could break away from the buildings and reach for the wall, she turned to Anthar, remembering something.

"Tell Tye that I'm sorry," she said, unwilling to divulge any more details around present company. He responded with the rise of his brow, evidently unaware of her connection to the man, but he nodded all the same.

"You could just tell me yourself," came a voice from behind them. She turned her head, unwittingly inching herself away from Caliben as her eyes spotted the blond-haired man. He seemed to be combating a heaving chest, trying to hide the fact he had chased after them. "Not that it would do much good." The bitterness in his voice stung her like a slap to the face, but she knew well enough she deserved it.

"I know," she murmured, carefully letting go of Caliben to step towards Tye. "I wish this could've ended on different terms, but I have no choice."

"You always had a choice, Lil--Lyria," he grimaced, unable to bring himself to accept the name of the woman he had spent so long pining after. "I gave you a choice earlier, but you made one to stay here. Yet, here you are, leaving... with him." He shot a glare at Caliben and even Aelyria was taken back by the ferocity of jealously of which his eyes burned. The thought hadn't even crossed her mind that he might think that there was something between them, but then again, she hardly took the time to think about how he really felt about anything. "Even now, you have a choice. You could stay. You don't need to leave--we can protect you and the children...together."

"That's...That's not what this is about, Tye," Aelyria, still stunned by the idea, stammered out. "The only way to keep the children safe is if I do leave. I know you don't understand and there isn't time to explain it, but trust me."

Tye scoffed, throwing up his hands in disbelief. "Trust you. What a concept." Another deserved blow to the gut, Aelyria winced. He eyed her and she half-expected him to actually hit her this time--part of her wanted him to fight back and punish her for all the heartache she had given him--but instead he sighed and turned to Caliben. "Moss, right? Or whatever it is--it doesn't matter. You keep her safe or I swear I'll hunt you down and beat the shit out of you myself, got it? Don't make me regret taking the high road this time. It is very not me." The a forced tug of his lips into a grin was brief and without waiting for a response, he turned to Anthar, who had been waiting silently and awkwardly nearby. "Ready old man?"

A disapproving grunt followed by a stern nod was all he needed before the two of them slunk back into the shadows of the alleyways, neither of them sparing a last glance. They had said their goodbyes and there was still business to be done. Aelyria felt colder with their presence gone, but not to put their efforts in vain, she turned back to Caliben and nodded solemnly, taking him back under her wing.

"Let's go. There's a crawl space in the wall just over there by that tree. The sooner we can get out of the city, the sooner I can look at that arm of yours."

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Caliben raised an eyebrow after she hugged Anthar all of a sudden. Taken back from the friendships she made while he was gone. I used to have friends too, before I had to keep running again. Caliben looked down, avoiding the look of unease. As though he's a unwanted piece, that came in and destroyed whatever it was Aeylria had. After they finished talking, a man had announced his presence. The three turned to see Tye, or what he guessed to be him. Ayelria moved away from Caliben and made her way towards him. Caliben eyed Tye, as the two talked. He couldn't hear much of the conversation, but the man glared at Caliben which had caught him off guard. Maybe I hurt someone he knows?  After some back and forth, Tye looked to Caliben. 

 "Moss, right? Or whatever it is--it doesn't matter. You keep her safe or I swear I'll hunt you down and beat the shit out of you myself, got it? Don't make me regret taking the high road this time. It is very not me." Said Tye, as Caliben looked back at him with stone expression. Only nodding to what he had to say, hoping it wouldn't entice anymore from the man. 

Tye looked to Anthar, and asked if he was ready to leave. With a grunt to follow up, the two started to depart towards the alleyways they had come from. Neither one of them looking back, as though it was a expression of their ties had been severed.. For the time being. 

Aeylria and Caliben looked to one another, and she nodded to him as she moved to support him. 

"Let's go. There's a crawl space in the wall just over there by that tree. The sooner we can get out of the city, the sooner I can look at that arm of yours." Said Aeylria.

Caliben let out a over expressed groan as she helped him move towards and through the crawl space.

After getting through, Caliben was reluctant no one was on the other side to snatch him and take him away. He did trust Aeylria, but did not trust any hole he didn't know what was on the other side. As he moved out of the way for Aeylria to follow, he sat on the ground and let out a sigh of relief. I can't believe we made it out.. He turned to see Aeylria making her way through, after covering their trail he guessed. He smiled as he pushed himself back on to his feet, balancing himself from the lack of strength.

"So it seems we made it." Caliben said, as he looked around trying to find anything that he could remember. "Had a plan after this? Or was our vacation supposed to be pre planned by me?" He chuckled at his own joke, surprised by the sudden change of emotion he had, knowing he was out of the city. 

Edited by RentedRed

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Aelyria waited patiently for Caliben to make his way through the crawl space. It as a tight fit for him, but she had never planned to use it for anyone larger than herself or the orphans, so she had never thought to make it larger to accommodate a man of his size. He managed to wriggle his way through while she remained on guard, hunched low with her back scrapping against the tree as she looked for signs of anyone following them. The night had settled in firmly over Union City, the gray winter clouds illuminated by the pollution of light that spilled from the more affluent districts with their abundance of lamplight and well-lit interiors. She never did get to explore that side of the city and although Aelyria might have feigned indifference towards the wealthier districts, a part of her longed for the nostalgia of fine dining, fancy clothes, and vibrant atmosphere. But those things were in the past now and Aelyria sought to abandon anything from her previous life outside of Genesaris. 

With the coast clear and assurance they would not be spotted emerging outside the the city, she prone to the ground and slithered through the space with relative ease, emerging on the other side to rise back to her feet and brushing off her clothing of any debris. She might have smirked at Caliben's comment but she was in a somber mood. She was leaving the home she had made for herself and she was leaving it in ruins. Many men died today by her hands, but the most significant deaths were those that her hands did not strike down, though she might have as well been the one to sink the blades into their hearts.

Marshall and Gideon had died pointless deaths. She been ignorant and so conceited in her own confidence and desire to see them 'succeed' on her terms that she ignored the fundamentals of who they were. Life had already fired a cast to fashion their mold and by chipping away at the design to alter it's shape to her specifications, she compromised its integrity. When it was time for them to be unleashed into the world, she forced them into a mould that wasn't ready for them and it shattered. Now, they were dead. Maybe she should've support Marshall's enthusiasm for the crews from the beginning, and maybe she should've realized Gideon didn't want anything more from life than the bare minimum. She had sent them to their early graves and their blood, along with all the others she had killed, were on her hands.

Aelyria shied away from Caliben, biting her lip with apprehension. How long did he have until he died because of her? Would it be better to abandon him here now and let him fend for himself on his own, increasing his chances of survival? Or would leaving him be the thing that kills him? She could tell from her peripheral that he was weakening, but he seemed to be saving face, perhaps even for her benefit. No, she couldn't leave him now. They had to get somewhere safe. The crews might not follow them outside the city onto unfamiliar turf, but they were not officially outside the city. Technically, yes, they were past the wall, but there were houses, stables, and small outlying farms that surrounded the city and were a part of it. They were not safe yet.

"Well, the first thing is to get further away," Aelyria said, pointing just a ways where they could see a building in the distance. "There's a small stable. It's privately owned...but we could borrow a horse for now, just far enough to escape the plains and into more covered territory." She paused, pondering where their destination should be. A vacation? That gave her an idea. She turned to Caliben, trying to force a smile but finding it flutter out of existence as soon she attempted the tweak of her lips. Her heart was too heavy for that now.

"How about Aelindra? It's a capital, isn't it?" She turned her eyes up, searching through the clouds to trace for the stars but failing to find any. That was unfortunate considering she lacked a compass--they were too expensive and unnecessary in a city--so she'd have to use directional memory for now to lead them until the clouds cleared. "It's a ways northeast, but we could make it in time. I always wanted to go," she said, voice trailing with reminiscence. Above, she noticed the dusting of snowflakes fluttering from the clouds, light enough to leave no trace on the ground, but still an arduous reminder that it would be cold tonight and she was ill-prepared to handle it. With weary sigh, she returned her gaze to Caliben. "And you mentioned power, right? Aelindra is teeming with magical power. Mages, scholars, and architects of not just buildings but magi-tech. Sounds like to me we might find something of use there. What do you think?"

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Aelindra? Caliben reached into the back of his mind to gather any information he knew about the capital. He's never been there, so that's a plus. And it's a ways away from Stormward City, maybe Thundermasters will lose his presence if he went north? Caliben went over the risks and rewards of going north. But, going with Aeyrlia may increase his chances of remaining undetected. He's never traveled with anyone before, so could this be what he needed to succeed? 

Caliben nodded as he spoke. "Aelindra does sound promising. It's a large city that will shroud us from searching eyes. As well, the chance of obtaining new knowledge would be a tremendous asset in the time to come. It is a good idea, though the sooner we borrow the horse, the better." Caliben looked off into the sky as he saw snowflakes drop down from the clouds but melting away before touching the ground. He looked back at her, and smirked. "But, I'll need to rely on you once again. It seems I can't move as I used to." Caliben moved off the wall, and sucked in air from the pain. 

Caliben started to move past Aeylria as he pushed himself forward towards the stable. Thunder rumbled over the sky as the snowflakes became heavier around them. The winter once more gripped Caliben by the neck, but instead of shivering he remained calm. The warmth that he felt within held against the biting chill that had once washed over his body. He looked back at Aeylria, knowing he isn't alone. Which calmed the Winter's Tempest in his body and mind that had raged for so long.

"Aren't you coming?" He said, as he smiled at her, and turned back towards the stables.

 

(End of Chapter 3: Winter's Tempest)

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