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Where the Skeletons Dance

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The glimmer of sparks faded as they flickered off the steel edge of the knife, failing once again to catch on the tinder Aelyria had worked so diligently to prepare. With an exasperated sigh, she adjusted the flint in her hand and struck again in the direction of the dry bundle, willing it to ignite. When it failed again, she nearly tossed her instruments in frustration but instead clutched them tighter in her palms to resist the temptation. 

The journey with Caliben to Methzaluen so far had been a miserable one. The first night it had snowed, a pestering light flurry that didn’t stay long enough to stick to the ground and instead made the terrain slurry and icy beneath their feet. The second night and nearly every night since, the spring rains poured, bearing down on their heads with freezing drops while the plains provided little protection against them. Gratefully, the rain proved useful to cover their tracks out of Union City and any concern of being followed had all but been eliminated from her mind, but it had also slowed their progress considerably. Today, the rains seemed to be offering them clemency from their drenching oppression, but the ground was still moist and it had proved difficult finding dry tinder and kindling for a campfire. 

However, Aelyria’s frustration didn’t originate solely from the rainy conditions; she had grown tired of being so damned useless in the wilderness. She had never been much of a hunter to catch game, and though she knew how to set traps, they scarce had time to wait around for a hare to stumble unwittingly on tripwire. Even if she did have a bow to shoot, she was no master archer, and catching them by hand was out of the question for she was not nearly fast enough to be successful. Thus far, Caliben had been their primary provider for their meals, Aelyria merely supplementing it with shoots and berries as she stumbled across them in her search for dry wood, but even those were far and few inbetween as the season provided little vegetation until spring was in full bloom. To make matters more frustrating, her search for dry wood had been a mostly fruitless endeavour and more often than not, they had been forced to resort to Caliben’s fire magic to provide them a suitable campfire since her own fire ability had perished when the shadow magic took over--not that he had been aware it anyway.

Eventually, the guilt of her helplessness wrought itself into self-contempt as she struggled to be become a burden to him. She had already been convinced he was better off without the loom of death that seemed to accompany her wherever she went, but yet she clung to hope that perhaps she would be needed--that he would want her to stay. 

While lost in her thoughts, she idly struck the flint again. With the turbulent emotions rolling through her mind, she almost didn’t notice the flicker of orange as the tinder began to smoke with the whisper of fire. Spotting it in time before it died from neglect, she gasped and hastily crouched down, blowing softly on the embers until it caught flame and spread to the kindling. A heavy sigh of relief burst from her chest as the campfire burst into life, and she continued to feed it with fuel until it was a satisfactory source of warmth. All she had to do now was wait for Caliben to return from his hunt so she stood and nestled herself against the base of a tree in the small woods they had retreated into when the sun began to set. 

Aelyria took a moment to soak in the landscape of the small clearing they had settled in, the gnarled branches of each tree entangled with those of their brethren, leaves boasting a youthful vibrant green as spring had stirred them from their slumbering buds. It was enough to provide an adequate canopy, shielding them from any expected rain, but Aelyria’s appreciation stemmed from the sense of security under their reaching arms as the campfire’s light reflected off them, much like how a mother’s arms feel when protecting their child from the terrors of the night. Or, at least, that’s what she thought it was supposed to feel like. 

When night started to envelope their campsite in darkness, she began to worry for Caliben. She knew it was unwarranted as he had proven to be self-sufficient unlike herself, but small threads of anxiety tended to unravel in her mind during long periods of wait, and she knew he had still been recovering from his wound though he scarce showed it bothered him. To distract herself from such restless thoughts, Aelyria pulled the ribbon free from the end of her braid and slowly began to comb out the weave with her fingertips, silken threads of fine tawny hair cascading freely over her shoulders, freshly liberated from their tight bonds. Against her better judgement, she had let her hair grow without restriction, the furthest tips reaching the small of her back. She knew it was a crutch in combat, but a selfish desire to retain her femininity stopped her from cutting it short, even though logic dictated her to do otherwise. 

With her hair now free of knots and tangles, she anxiously sought another task to distract herself with as nothing else could be done until Caliben returned with game. Typically by now, he’d have returned only to see her still struggling to get a flame going and be forced to help her, so it was unusual to find herself with time for leisure. So, she pulled her satchel from the ground beside her onto her lap and began to peruse through it, organizing bits here and there of the collected herbs she had found on their journey thus far. 

That was when she spotted it, the gilded spine of a small book she had long forgotten was stored within one of the isolated compartments. Her hand froze, as if frightened that touching the book would singe her fingertips if she dared. But, as if magnetized to linen surface, she ran her finger along its spine, tracing the letters that of a foreign alphabet she had not seen in what seemed like ages. With nostalgia bolstering her courage, she pulled the book free and flipped it over to its cover. 

The Sigh of Winter
A Book of Poems
by Ashinaii Kelv

And, as always, against her better judgement she opened it and began to read.

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Caliben stood underneath a tree that sheltered him from the constant rain they have been blessed and/or cursed with these days and nights since they had left Union City. He channeled The Fire, taking in the view before him. Noticing the intricate beauty that is the night he used to be blind to before. The life that emerged from the safety of night, and the prospects of hunt for some, was nearly breath taking. But, Caliben had no time to take in the beauty, as he spotted many possibilities before him. An occasional fox tip toeing to it's prey, letting it's nose guide him. While the wild cat sits atop a branch, listening for movement within the grass below. Caliben was a new pioneer, and the nights before have proven that a certain approach was different in this world as opposed to the one in the daylight. As he studied the field, he saw movement within the grass. A deadly mistake. Caliben readied his dagger, awaiting for the right moment.

And it came, a Owl swooped in to catch it's prey grasping it within it's talons. Caliben flared The Fire in his eyes, burning the image into his vision as he switched to Aether, slowing down time so that he can take aim at where the owl will fly too. With all his strength, he flung the dagger into the guessed position, and heard the screech of a bird of prey fall to it's soon demise. Caliben positioned his body to where the owl had fallen, guessing where it was by sound alone. He switched to The Fire once more, and walked straight to his kill. 

Still an opportunist, not achieving anything with my own hands. Relying on other's success to move up, and make something of myself. Caliben sighed, gripping his hand into a fist from the criticism of his own self. Knowing he still is taking the easy way out, not trying to exert himself to be anything more than what he is. You have no where else to go, you are only using Aeylria as a compass. A tool for your own selfishness, to fill in the void that engulfs you. Caliben shook his head, trying to be rid of the thoughts that dagger into his neck, but when one in shaken, another is stabbed in further. You have nowhere to go, you are nobody. Caliben cursed under his breath, as he pushed forward, looking still. And you'll drag her down with you, into an abyss. 

"No, I won't." He said aloud. awaiting for a retort from his subconscious, but silence was what replied. Which somehow struck just as hard as anything else that could've been said. Caliben breathed out with a long breath, and saw the owl before him on the ground. And beside it, a wild dog that had awoken from the sound and was curious of the smell of the kill. Caliben narrowed his eyes, and walked closer. The dog hunched over, too afraid to bite without it's pack, and skittered off from where it came. Caliben knelt down, and picked up the owl, pulling the dagger out of it's body and placing into his belt. He smiled to see the rat was still clutched within it's talons, as well as his stomach, making a rumbling in agreement. He turned to where the fire should have been, and made his way back.

Maybe she'll need my help starting the fire once more. Caliben smiled, happy to see his use of fire magic was as useful as he had hoped out in the wilderness, and in combat. He trudged through the grass, varying in size from his waist to his ankles, praying to the gods to not be bitten by a snake or stung by a spider or scorpion as he made his way through. He started to dry pick the owl, pulling out feathers to prepare it for cooking when he returned. 

He made his way closer, and noticed the campfire finally became ablaze. The light's intensity attacked Caliben as he channeled The Fire, and switched to Aether for the time being. As Caliben finally reached the campsite, he whistled a familiar tune, to let Aeylria know it was him returning, and not a would be thief. Although, if one did come around, it would waste it's time as their provisions were becoming scarce. Aeylria turned her head to Caliben as he came into view from light of the fire, and placed the owl into the pot they were luckily able to "borrow" as well from the farmer they had borrowed the horse. In which they did send it back on it's own. He collapsed to the ground, his feet remembering the travels they had done the day before nightfall. He reached forward, rubbing his soles, sighing in the relief it brought. 

"I don't see why we couldn't borrow the horse just a bit longer, all this walking is a pain. Literally." Said Caliben. Shortly after, he pointed towards the owl in the pot.

"Lucky for us, I found a two for one special tonight. So, we'll eat a bit more comfortably." Caliben continued to massage his feet, his shoulder still ached, but the walking had proven a good pain reliever. He looked at the fire, and back to Aeylria. 

"Oh, and good job on the fire. Must've been difficult how wet the wood must've been." 

Edited by RentedRed

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For once since the time he had started the habit, Caliben's whistle took her by surprise. She often could tell when he was returning back to camp without his warning, but stuck in the lulling reverie the book offered, she had completely forgotten the outside world. Embarrassed, she set the book down in her lap hastily and looked up at him, trying to appear nonplussed by his arrival. However, she couldn't help but quirk an eyebrow at his catch tonight as he tossed the owl in the pot that she had already filled with rooted vegetables to go with their meal. She couldn't necessarily complain about the oddity of the game since they had settled down for camp at a later time than usual, considering they had spent a majority of their daylight trying to catch up on lost time due to inclement weather. At the mention of a secondary catch, her curiosity was piqued, so she set the book down and crawled over to the pot to peer inside. An involuntary grimace twisted her lips and she picked up the dead rat by its tail, the rodent spinning in place before coming to a still.

"Perhaps we should just roast this separately from the rest," she muttered and laid it next to the pot to be pitted through later. She sat back on her knees and unlatched the waterskin from her belt, pouring its contents she had reserved specifically for the stew into the pot, seeing that Caliben had already prepared the foul appropriately enough to cook. She did give it a quick once over with the water outside the pot, but then set it in with the vegetables and herbs for a slow cook. It would take some time before they could actually eat, but such was the price to pay for progress. She set the pot to the side for now to rise to her feet and propped the branches she had reserved to tepee over the campfire so they could suspend the pot over the flame without burning their food.

"Thanks, I suppose. But the weather had been a bit kinder today, so I can't really take all the credit," she said with a shrug, though admittedly the compliment bolstered her dwindled confidence. With the contraption in place, she tied a wire used for her trappings to the pot and then to the apex of the tepee with just enough room for the flame to lick the bottom of the metal to cook the stew evenly through. "But you know as well as I do that we wouldn't have made it much farther on that horse than we had anyway. We would've been in Mezthaluen by now if not for the rain." 

Aelyria took a step back to inspect her handiwork and ran a hand through her hair, tousling it without so much as a forethought to doing so. It was an ancient habit for whenever she kept her hair down, an unconditioned response to feeling she had performed a job well done. With all there left to do was wait, so she turned to return to her spot at the tree when a thought crossed her mind. She whirled back around and pointed towards him.

"How is your shoulder doing, anyway?" Aelyria had noted him rubbing his feet, feeling sympathetic for her feet felt much the same. But aching feet was a minor thing and it merely brought her attention to the wound at his shoulder. She had been able to suture it closed after some intensive cleansing when they had the time to stop, but it was crude compared to what she could've done in a much more suitable environment. She skirted around the campfire and came to kneel beside him, tapping him lightly on the arm of which he had been wounded. "Let me see. I want to make sure there's no signs of infection."

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As Aeylria ran her fingers through her hair, he remembered the times before where she had attempted to start a fire. Each time he cut in and used The Fire to light the campfire, even through the dampest of wood she had collected as he hunted. Each time, he would beam for a response, but he had gotten no more than a thanks for his help. Had she seen fire magic before? He hid a frown, as he was amazed by the Pyromancer's ability when he had witnessed them. Was he that easily amused by anything flashy?

Caliben turned back to Aeylria as she began to speak to him. He stopped rubbing for a moment, to try and feel how his shoulder was doing by rotating it slowly. He went back to work on his feet, not noticing Aeylria scooting closer.

He tensed up, not from the pain in his shoulder, but from Aeylria casually touching him. "I-I am fine. Don't worry, the first aid you gave me helped heal the wound much quicker than what I could've done. Which would've been alcohol for both arm and stomach." Caliben smiled, as he attempted to push away his nervousness within him. He WAS familiar with her, but he didn't really know her all too well. Only by name. Caliben looked over her, as she continued prodding at his arm as she continued to inspect him. Trying to find out if she had gotten hurt as well from the venture within the city. 

"I've should've asked this earlier, but.. How are you?" Caliben looked into her eyes, trying to show her empathy he knew he lacked when it came to social interactions like these. 

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A quizzical eyebrow tweaked upwards as he made attempts to fend her off from inspecting his shoulder. He had been less objective to her prodding when she first tended to him, probably out of necessity to treat his wound, but she still found his behavior perplexing. She had long ago observed his nervous quirks around women and even teased him on occasion for it, but she hardly thought he saw her in the same light as others. After all, they had fought and battled the wilderness together, and such closeness bred a sense of familiarity that often than not dissipated such awkward boundaries. Was his anxiety around her the result of something other than her sex? She had seen him interact with other women before, a charismatic picture bolstering with confidence and airy aplomb--or, so she imagined. Was he frightened of her for a particular reason? Perhaps her fears of bringing misfortune to those around her were not wholly unfounded. Perhaps he feared she would bring his ruin too. 

Aelyria tried to ignore the discomfiture that forced her muscles to tense and began to peer downwards, when she was suddenly taken back by his question and forced to flicker her eyes upwards at him. He held her gaze which made her instantly turn away, unable to bear the attention. As casually as possible, she played off her abrupt evasion and looked down to her side, patting it gently as if to inspect her own wounds. A light wince twinged her lips, but she shrugged in response to his question.

"I'm alright I suppose. My chest still hurts like hell, but I guess that's expected with a few broken ribs," she said while rising to her feet. "But there's not much I can do for that except let it heal on its own. I'd take something for the pain if I could, but a lot of what I had burned down with the orphanage and I'm saving what I can for emergencies. You, on the other hand," she began with a finger pointed firmly at him. "As soon as we get to Mezthaluen, those sutures are coming out. I can't keep them in there forever and at the first sign of tenderness, you let me know so I can check your wound. "

Deciding it was better not to push him further on the matter, she returned to her spot by the tree and sat down, placing the book back in her hands while the stew came to a languid simmer. Like most nights, they often went to tend their own personal duties while the food cooked, each taking turns to see that the meal was properly made. So, expecting much of the same, Aelyria flipped through the pages until she found her mental bookmark and began to read, or at least she tried, her mind still buzzing with uncertainty.

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Her looking away so suddenly after offering up empathy made him feel as though he as given a rock to swallow, and swallow he did. He couldn't gauge her reaction as to being good or bad, but why did he care? He just wanted to make sure she was alright, right? Soon after she replied, and cut off any chance for Caliben to comment by pointing out his own wound, and how it needed to be looked at when they reach their destination. Caliben looked at his shoulder, remembering how it looked this morning when he took a peek. It wasn't getting any worse, but it wasn't 100% either. He looked to her to mention his ability to fully use his shoulder has nearly returned, but she had already returned to her spot by the tree to sit down. Caliben sighed, and followed her lead to get himself comfortable aswell.

Caliben looked towards the fire as it danced underneath the pot that held a treasure worth more than his weight in gold. He was practically salivating at the thought of the taste, wanting to tear into the flesh of the bird already. He held his primal thoughts at bay, as he looked to Aeylria, who showed better control of her desires than he did. And was surprised to see her reading a book. She is pretty classy isn't she? He looked downwards to his feet, not having anything himself to pass the time as she had. His usual past time was sleeping, and eating. And with no interest in the former right now, and the incapability of the latter. He turned to Aeylria and decided to be selfish.

"So, I haven't seen you read that book before. Is it any good? Must be if you packed it, and kept it all this time." Said Caliben. As he opened his hand, palm facing upwards and emitted The Fire from his hand. Snuffing the flame when formed a fist, and re igniting it when he opened it again. 

"I've never had much of a past time in my life, I've been lucky to just sleep the days and nights away, when I am able to of course. Sometimes hunger makes that difficult." He smirked to an unseen audience at the ground, as he balled his fist one last time. He looked to Aeylria.

"Also doesn't help I haven't really learned to read anything besides the common tongue, and the book you hold there looks pretty old."

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Aelyria tried to keep her focus on the book, but her thoughts kept weaving in and out as if it were a needle stitching a long neglected hem, never able to rest until the job was finally done. Curiosity compelled her to peer up, but when she realized Caliben had been looking at her, she immediately looked back down to the pages and tried not to squirm uncomfortably, self-conscious under his gaze before it turned elsewhere. However, the damage had been done, her mind no longer concentrating on the words before her as she read the same line at the of the prose for the fifth time. Frustrated with her inability to focus, she was ready to retire the book from her hands when he spoke, breaking the silence to inquire about it. 

She lowered the book to her lap to listen to his musings, her eyes entranced by the magic play of the fire in his hands. Though she was well aware of his new powers--or, she guessed they were new--she had not quite yet asked about how he obtained them. He was fairly vague about the details back in Union City, but seeing them now, she felt her curiosity prodding her incessantly for answers. 

"I've never had much of a past time in my life," he said and she sensed a trace of regret behind his tone, but she couldn't be sure if it were just her imagination. "I've been lucky to just sleep the days and nights away, when I am able to of course. Sometimes hunger makes that difficult." Solemnly, she nodded in response though he didn't seem to be looking her direction. She remembered bits and pieces about what Caliben had told her about his life, but just as with his powers, he had been vague and evasive. Her eyes traced his features as he talked, trying to soak in the details and lines of his face as if seeing him for the first time. Aelyria hardly knew him, but there had been such a strange magnetizing kinship between them that she had forgotten that he was still a complete stranger to her. Yet, when she thought on how difficult it had been to reach even remotely friendly terms with Auron's crew in Union City, she couldn't help but wonder why Caliben had been such an intense exception to her life.

However, he wasn't the only one, she mused. Another had stumbled into her life--or rather she stumbled into his--of which she had felt so completely tethered to beyond all reasoning. However, when they last spoke, it was not on good terms. Since the event in Valjer, Renkor and her had had a falling out and yet... the bond still teemed with vexatious life. She frowned thinking on it, the pit of her stomach sinking to a nauseating low when Caliben looked up and locked eyes with her.

"Also doesn't help I haven't really learned to read anything besides the common tongue," he continued. "And the book you hold there looks pretty old."

"Old?" Perplexed by his description, she snapped the book closed and flipped it in her hand from cover to cover, inspecting the state of which it was in. "Well... I suppose you could say it looks old. It's been through one heck of a journey for sure, but it's only about 10 years old or so." She paused and then it occurred to her what he might have meant. "Oh! The lettering?" She pointed at the title of the book with its collection of markings and dots. "You think it's ancient writing? No. No, no. You had probably forgotten--and I don't blame you with all that has been going on--but I'm not originally from Genesaris. My home is oceans away from here, on an isle much smaller than here." She smiled and ran her fingertips along the etched golden lettering, a flood of memories drowning her thoughts. Turning the front cover, her eyes gleamed over the handwritten lettering on the other side, her heartstrings being tugged at awkward angles at the last line. Forever yours, Kaede.

"I brought this with me from my homeland," she continued, forcing her eyes to peel away from the book and flicking it closed again. "It was a gift from someone very close to me... It's just filled with a bunch of silly love poems. If you ever need a past time, I can teach you to read this--but it'd probably be a pretty useless skill, unless you really enjoy sappy poetry." With that, she set the book down beside her open satchel, though for the briefest moment, she was tempted to toss it into the open fire. She wished she had, but as it would turn out, she wasn't ready quite yet to let go even after all these years.

Turning her attention back to Caliben, she shifted her legs from underneath her and stretched them out, feeling a dull ache in her calves. "So... you never really did tell me what it is you really do. When we first met, you said you procured goods but after our last conversation on the matter, especially about Mr. Lyles, I have a feeling that's not really the whole truth." She cocked her head to the side, waves of silken hair cascading over her shoulder carelessly. "I mean, if you didn't have much of a past time, then what is it that you did?"

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"Old?" Aeylria she snapped the book closed and flipped it in her hand from cover to cover. "Well... I suppose you could say it looks old. It's been through one heck of a journey for sure, but it's only about 10 years old or so."  "Oh! The lettering?"Caliben looked over to see she pointed at the book with its collection of markings and dots. "You think it's ancient writing? No. No, no. You had probably forgotten--and I don't blame you with all that has been going on--but I'm not originally from Genesaris. My home is oceans away from here, on an isle much smaller than here." 

Oh, that's right. She's from somewhere else, an isle? Caliben tried to imagine what an island would look like. He's only heard about islands through stories, and from what he had heard. There were many flora to be seen with delectable fruits to eat, as well the constant warm temperature was something Caliben had been interested in. "I brought this with me from my homeland," she continued, "It was a gift from someone very close to me... It's just filled with a bunch of silly love poems. If you ever need a past time, I can teach you to read this--but it'd probably be a pretty useless skill, unless you really enjoy sappy poetry." she set the book down beside her open satchel. I may very well just take you up on that offer.

Aeylria looked at Caliben, she shifted her legs from underneath her and stretched them out. "So... you never really did tell me what it is you really do. When we first met, you said you procured goods but after our last conversation on the matter, especially about Mr. Lyles, I have a feeling that's not really the whole truth." She cocked her head to the side, "I mean, if you didn't have much of a past time, then what is it that you did?"

Caliben sighed, Well, if you were ever going to find a friend. Or at least have someone to talk to. He looked down, and placed his hands on his knees, seeing a hole in his pants. The leather outfit he had received from Valjer were somehow still  holding together, if not becoming ridden with holds and tears from his adventures. "As you guesse. No, I do not travel and sale wares. Although that job does sound interesting, I am actually self employed. I have the fun time of being an agent for myself, finding odd jobs to make it from day to day." Caliben stands up and walks over to the fire to stir the pot, making sure the food does not burn at the bottom. "I usually follow a strict risk vs. reward personal guideline." Caliben steps back to his corner of the campfire, and leans back on a tree. "I met Mr. Lyles through a series of channels, and before I could reject the job, I had already been too deep to get out. And before I knew it. I was hitching a ride with a Pyromancer heading to Valjer." Caliben stared into the dancing flames, as he remembered each event up to the burning orphanage. He shook his head, and continued. 

" But past time? Well, When I was young I had helped my father. He would work, and I would re-organize the room. He was something of an inventor, and when he was busy working, I would clean up after him. When I left my dad, I threw darts. It was the only "work" that earned me money. As well, helped me hone my skill with throwing daggers." Caliben looked back at Aeylria. "Why are you here in Genesaris? I'm sure that island you lived on was a paradise."

Edited by RentedRed

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"Why are you here in Genesaris?" Caliben asked. "I'm sure that island you lived on was a paradise."

Aelyria snorted derisively, a delicate little sound that came unbidden, much to her embarrassment. Sheepishly, she diverted her eyes away for a moment and twirled a lock of hair around her finger, smoothing down its length until meeting the ends. Idly, she twisted the ends with her other hand and returned her gaze to him.

"Paradise is not really the term I would use for my homeland," she mused, pursing her lips in thought as her eyes flitted away. "Perhaps for some it would be if you like cold, clammy and rainy weather, but compared to the places I've been so far... No, not so much. It doesn't even come close in comparison to Genesaris or all the other lands I've had to visit just to get here."

Scrupulously, Aelyria inspected Caliben, locking eyes with him for a fleeting moment before returning her gaze to the fire, the pleasant aroma of their meal wafting its way to her eager nose. Some of Caliben's answer to her question, she had expected. Based on the information she had gathered about 'Moss' in Union City, she knew he was a bit of a freelance. Of course, she hadn't quite made the connection that Caliben had indeed been the very same person, but afterwards it had become clear. But she was surprised to hear more than what she had anticipated, expecting him to be vague and dismissive as he had been in the past. His father? An inventor? Now that was interesting. She wanted to pry more information out of him, but she couldn't just ignore his question. Habitually, she licked her lips and locked eyes with him with a sportive smile. 

"How about this," she purred, drawing her knees back down to sit crossed legged, hands pinned to her ankles. "We go back and forth, asking each other a question of their choosing, no matter how personal or invasive it might seem. You can always refuse to answer, but you give up your right to ask another question for one turn and the other can ask two more questions instead of the one refused that you have to answer. Otherwise, your answer can be brief as long as it does address the question. We can always pry with more questions." She raised a closed fist to her lips and cleared her throat exaggeratedly before settling both hands in her lap primly, as if ready to engage in an austere meeting. 

"I'll go first and reply to your question since you already asked," she went on, though admittedly, she found it difficult to find the right words to say. After all, her reason for leaving home and coming to Genesaris wasn't a simple matter. And it was, by all means, not an easy one. 

"I'm in Genesaris... because I gave up trying." Her bubbly exterior quickly phased away, golden-flecked eyes downcast on the flame. Hazy memories flooded her mind and for a moment, she thought she could smell him, the sweet scent of something so pure and beautiful. "I had a son and for a long time, I thought he had been taken away from me. I chased a trail of shadows searching for him and eventually it led me here to Genesaris where it suddenly went cold. So, I had given up searching, but being so far away from home, I didn't know what else to do... So I stayed, though I always hoped I'd still find him, grown into a young boy." 

Anxiously, she bit her lip and toyed with the idea of looking up at him. She was frightened of the expression he might give her. Aelyria had never told anyone this before, fearing their contempt and disapproval. After all, what kind of mother lets her children get stolen from her and then give up trying to find them? Even now, she hated herself. Still too nervous to look up, she shook her head and continued.

"Turns out, I was never meant to find him. Turns out I had lost him long... long ago," she lamented, returning her hands to toy apprehensively at the ends of her hair. But, fearing her silence would be mistaken for a desire for pity, she quickly looked up and flashed a half-hearted smile. 

"But speaking of family, you said you had a father who was an inventor," she exclaimed, interjecting before he could speak. "So my question to you is, what kind of inventor was he?"

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A wave of information flooded Caliben's mind, as he tried to organize his thoughts and feelings from what Aeylria was telling him. The back and forth idea was a good one, he had many questions to ask her after the door was open to her past. But how much would he be okay with showing her? As well, she came to Genesaris because she was searching for her son. And the trail turned cold, and she made this continent her home. Caliben couldn't meet eye to eye with a woman who was showcasing her sorrowful past, not because he would be seeing the face of a mother torn from her son. But because of his own expression would show similar truths he had in his own closet. He played with his thumb by circling it around the tip of the pointer finger, feeling the callouses from their travels. As he was about to speak, Aeylria interjected. 

"Turns out, I was never meant to find him. Turns out I had lost him long... long ago," She said, quickly looking back up to Caliben with a smile. 

"But speaking of family, you said you had a father who was an inventor," she exclaimed, interjecting before he could speak. "So my question to you is, what kind of inventor was he?"

Caliben blinked. He's never been asked about his family since he was a kid. And back then, the mere thought had him forcing back tears. Today though, Caliben just gripped his right hand into a fist. 

"My father.." Caliben took a moment to recall the memory. He didn't want to lie, there was no reason to. "Was a inventor of Magic Technology.. Err, Magi-Tech as some would call it. His specialization was bridging technology and magic together, so that the technology could be used to further advance our quality of life." Caliben looked up, and closed his eyes, opening them slowly as he talked. "He was not a genius, but he understood the basics to help others with their research." Caliben shook his head and laughed. "To think, I wanted to be someone like him. Stuck in a office all day." 

Caliben stood up and walked towards the pile of sticks they both collected, and tossed one into the fire. 

"But, I do believe I answered your question. So tell me, Why did you think your son was taken? And, how did you lose him long ago?" Caliben turned back to his resting area, and leaned down to pick up a bowl and spoon, turning on his heels to partake on some owl, before Aeylria had taken all of his favorite parts again.

Edited by RentedRed

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The concept of magitech always fascinated Aelyria. She had experienced but a handful of encounters with the technology and never in depth or at length. It was not that she had the technical skill to wrap her mind around it, but she was curious how magitech worked since her own homeland lacked anything nearly as advanced. There had been some research into alchemical magic, but she had left long before having seen any results substantial enough to be worth the attention. So, upon hearing Caliben's roots being somewhat founded in it, she eagerly wanted to pick his brain on the matter. That was until he shook his head and laughed with what she gathered to be cynical undertones. 

"To think," he mused, "I wanted to be someone like him. Stuck in a office all day." As he stood and gathering more fuel for the fire, she tried to imagine Caliben in an office setting. While he had his attention drawn away from her, Aelyria jumped on the opportunity to scan him over. Though he may have not been a particularly brawny fellow, she gazed at him appreciatively, his toned musculature likely developed from years of physical labour, whether that involved simple 'day-to-day jobs' as he aforementioned, or more nefarious opportunities that she had heard spoken of 'Moss' back in Union City. Either way, not many scholars shared such a well-bodied aptitude as he, so imagining Caliben as scrawny and pasty from days spent indoors with a nose glued to a book proved a rather difficult endeavor. Before long, she caught herself staring at him, soaking in the sight of him with little to no shame. 

Velmesh, Aelyira! She darted her eyes away, trying not to look embarrassed for the invasion of privacy and the ill-timing of it. Get it together! He's obviously upset about something to do with this father and doesn't need you leering like some predatory animal. A deep sigh cooled her lungs and restored some control to the emotions that were scattering across her face. It that hadn't been enough to assuage her, then his next question surely did.

Aelyria had expected as much as a follow up, but it didn't make it any easier to answer. But, with a wry smile on her lips, she wagged a chiding finger at him. "Nu-uh. One question at a time, that's the game of it, Master Cal. But, seeing as you're being a good sport about this, I'll cave this one time." Languidly, she stretched out her legs in front of her, rubbing her hands along the top of her lower thigh and knee to idly massage the dull ache of a day's travel away. 

"Well... I had just given birth to my son, many... many years ago. I was still a young, naive girl then. Nineteen summers I think?" She shook her head, realizing the fact wasn't that important. "Anyway, the father was a man of considerable means. I guess you could say he was a 'noble' in Genesaris terms, from an prestigious bloodline and in a substantial position of power. Lord Damis Flouren was his name. I suppose it's important to understand my son wasn't born out of love," she conceded rather flatly, as if she had long ago come to terms with the ordeal of her child's conception. "I was taken advantage of by this man and despite post-precautions that I am not... particularly proud of admitting to, I conceived." 

For a brief moment, Aelyria fell into silence, the memories that the Urge had unlocked for her during her near-death experience with a potent poison now flooding her thoughts. So much blood... An involuntary shudder snapped her from the reverie and she refocused her attention on Caliben, attempt to bite back the wave of nausea rolling in her stomach. 

"But to actually answer your question now that you've some context," she continued. "I had originally thought Lord Flouren had come the day I gave birth, after months of successfully staying in hiding from him, fearing he would take my son away from me, claiming him as his own. He had been adamant in marrying me long before the...incident...so I figured he'd coerce me into finally accepting his proposal by holding my child hostage." 

"I was wrong," Aelyria croaked, not realizing the clench of her esophagus and threat of watery heat behind her eyes. She quickly cleared her throat and blinked to push back the tears. "He came to kill him. He succeeded and... well, long story short, I was pretty good at deceiving myself into believing otherwise."

"But," she exclaimed suddenly, bolstering herself against the tidal of repressed emotions and focusing her attention solely on Caliben. "There has been something bothering me ever since we left Union City. See, Auron--that big muscular baldy guy that was leader of my crew if you remember--had pinned down your location when I met up with them after you left the orphanage. You were in this house in the Pits and when you stepped out of it... it was in flames. I can only assuming you're the one who set it. But why?"

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Caliben just stared blankly at Aeylria as she told her tale of woe of her son being torn from her arms. His heart felt the pressure of having someone you loved just taken away from you.. Just like what happened to me before.. But that's behind me now.. He sniffed, trying to break the dense atmosphere after what she said, and attempted to chime in with empathy, but was cut off.

"But," Aeylria said as she looked towards Caliben once again. "There has been something bothering me ever since we left Union City. See, Auron--that big muscular baldy guy that was leader of my crew if you remember--had pinned down your location when I met up with them after you left the orphanage. You were in this house in the Pits and when you stepped out of it... it was in flames. I can only assuming you're the one who set it. But why?"

Caliben raised his eyes, surprised how easy he was easy to follow. Well, the flames would  have grabbed anyone's attention. But, I need to remember there are people who are extraordinary trackers. He stared back at Aeylria, as he clenched his jaw and swallowed a rock. Well, my story isn't as bad as the one she told. Right? He relaxed his shoulders and looked to the floor.

"I used to live in Union City, under the protection of a crew called "Spider". A simple name yes, but the crew worked as a network. Spreading information from one location to another, to aid anyone trying to hide or leave from Union City." Caliben looked back into the flames, seeing the house burning before him once more. "They were successful with hiding me from the Thundermasters that chase me everywhere. And, in being successful, I was able to live an actual life there, at that house. Without trying to run from anything, and being able to grow attached to something I thought would be impossible. But, they made it happen." Caliben looked away from the fire, and back towards Aeylria, smiling at the golden flecks shined from the flickering light of the fire. Her pursed lips gave the perception she was caught in his tale.

"The reason why, was because the night I had left home, was the night the crew that was protecting me had died." Caliben kept his focus on Aeylria, not breaking his gaze as a way to show the intensity of the night that happened. "Someone, or something. Had attacked our crew after a short scouting mission with the crew leader and I. The attacker took C-..Cerise and Hughes from us. As though, he had torn their essence, or soul right from their bodies and enslaved what was left for his own use. The leader, Velyn tried to save them, but was cut down by his own friend. And Cerise, was no longer herself. Just a body twisted into pure instinct of whatever that thing placed into her." Caliben broke his stare, and looked back into the fire.

"I got away cause It let me.. Saying how I'll always be on the run, and I'll never find a home. As though it's always keeping an eye on me, just observing me." He shuddered. Sounding worse out loud than what he's been thinking in his head for so long.

"I returned weeks later, to find Cerise was still there. Tossed aside like some doll, that was no longer played with by it's owner. I moved her upstairs, and had kept her there. She never decayed, so I just used her as an anchor for my own excuse. Never seeking another home, always moving from place to place to avoid the wave of conflict that would surely come crashing into me." 

Caliben sighed, and looked back at Aeylria.

"So, that's why I burnt down that house... OH, and also to obtain my magic." Caliben put forth his hand palm up towards Aeylria, and emitted a small flame outwards. "It seemed the past had wedge itself into my heart, so deep that I couldn't channel magic into my hands. Which makes things much more convenient." He smiled. "I'll teach you magic if you want to learn, it's pretty simple if you are a natural." He puffed out some more fire, enjoying the sensation and view. Before he stopped instantly, and looked over his palms to be sure no damage was done.

"So Aeylria, what will you be doing after we reach Aelindra?" 

Edited by RentedRed

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Quietly, Aelyria listened to Caliben's story unravel, the tears of what he left unsaid being patched together by what information she already knew. She knew a little about the Spider crew. Unfortunately, it was hard to gather information about the crew that not many spoke of, as if somehow a mere utterance of their name was synonymous to inciting a curse to any whose ears had the misfortune of hearing. Even Tye had been uncomfortable with the topic at his most vulnerable moments and eventually she left the matter alone. But as new information flooded her mind, she found only more questions stirring, prodding her for answers. Thundermasters? She had never heard of him mention those before and as she scanned her memory for any trace of information, she frustratingly came up empty-handed. Aelyria had to know more about what he meant. Who were these thundermasters and why was he running away from them?

Yet, she held her tongue and listened. He held her gaze but she had the impression that perhaps he was not really looking at her. As he recalled the morbid events that led to his crew's downfall, she recognized the deadpan look of his eyes of one getting lost in a memory... a memory bereft with so much pain that the only way to suffer through it was to learn how to numb oneself to it by envisioning it over and over again. But there was a slight shift in his expression--perhaps a pained look at the mention of a woman's name. Cerise? When he choked on her name, she felt a strong tug at one of her heartstrings, the melody a somber, dismal thrum. Her heart ached for him and she wanted so desperately to tear her eyes away from him, unable to take the pain that he tried to hide behind them. Fortunately, he was the first to return his gaze to the fire, yet no relief came to lift the sinking pressure in her chest.

A chill rolled up her spine as he continued recalling the memory. Never decayed? Just what in the world did that monster do to her? Aelyria shook her head subconsciously. What did it do to him? For the first time since they had met, she had got a real glimpse of who Caliben was. She drew up her knees and hugged them to her chest, resting her chin on the tops of them as she watched him from across the campfire. The stew was still kept warm by the fire, and although it had been completed and suitable for eating--as Caliben had already determined--she no longer felt hungry. Or rather, what she was hungry for was something entirely different. She wanted to get to know this man inside and out. Aelyria was frightened that perhaps she might be pushing her luck with him and at any time he could clam up and shut her out, but she couldn't help but feel the need to know him more.

His eyes returned to her and she almost felt embarrassed for staring, but instead she offered a smile, watching with masked jealously at his fire play. She was by no means envious of how he had been forced to unlock the potential, but it seemed so natural to him to flicker the flame in and out without much forethought. It had taken her years to even learn how to boil water hot enough to scald, and now that her magical power had been corrupted, she go no longer hope to ever light a fire so effortlessly ever again. True, there was something dark and powerful about this new magic of hers... but it just felt wrong. It felt so out of place in her hands yet when she wielded its chaotic energy, she couldn't deny that the sensation was marvelously... exquisite. Almost sensual. It was that kind influence that darkness had over her that terrified her.

"So Aeylria," Caliben began, coaxing her for the next question. "What will you be doing after we reach Aelindra?" 

Aelyria frowned. She honestly hadn't thought about that much though she had been the one to suggest they go there. Pursing her lips, she glanced to the side, trying to imagine what Aelindra must be like and what she might do there. And as if on cue, the Urge prodded her. It was nearly time for another kill, another soul to steal. Slaying mere rodents and various aves was not nearly enough to satisfy the appetite of the Urge, and despite the handful of fresh kills back in Union City, it hungered quickly. She tried not to let the disgust mark her face so clearly, but it was difficult to accept the cowardice that had led her to such a macabre arrangement. 

"Find work firstly, but that's a given." Aelyria sat up and ran a hand through her hair, as if somehow rearranging the locks on her head would set her mind straight. "But after that? Well, Aelindra is a city of magic and magi-tech combined, isn't it? Maybe...maybe I'll finally find some answers to explain my powers... To maybe even help figure out what is happening to me and how...how to make it stop." She clenched her teeth. Why was it so hard to talk about? The shadow? It was like as if any time she wanted to explain the darkness that had consumed her, something was reeling her back from speaking. Was it the Urge? Was it controlling her, trying to manipulate her from seeking help?

Twitching her nose dismissively, she focused her attention back to Caliben. "What about you? I know Aelindra was my idea... But you say you've got these...Thundermasters chasing you? Are--are they still chasing you?"

Edited by Phaedara

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"They've been chasing me for 12 years, I don't doubt they will ever stop chasing me." Caliben said bluntly, as he channeled The Fire through his palm once more, letting it grow fiercer as he let out his anger, the initial confrontation ran through his mind, but was once again buried deep within. 

"But, they aren't anything I can't handle. If anything, they are just a bunch of flies that warn me a pile of shit is building up around me." Or, that you have remained in a place for too long again. Caliben looked to Aeylria, noticing her locks of hair had been arranged differently. She certainly give obvious signs for when something is bothering her. Caliben had a devious thought, and stood up.

"But, Aelindra does sound very interesting to visit. If not the magic, the magi-tech will help me solve some questions I had about my fathers research.." Caliben started to move slowly towards Aeylria's area, doing his best to not look at her as he approached. For any sign of shock or nervousness would pull a hidden string that would change his inscrutable expression to one of mischief. 

"You see, with the help of an invention my father created. It had changed my life forever."  Caliben moved over almost beside Aeylria and found a pile of leaves to sit down on, still avoiding eye contact with her.

"But that's a question for another time.. I'm more interested in you.." Caliben paused, than interjected. "And your skill with the rapier, seems like something no girl.. Would be taught normally."

Caliben finally turned to Aeylria, his face no longer able to hold back his inner laughter. 

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Twelve years? Aelyria traced the lines of Caliben's face, inspecting the crinkles of his eyes that softened whenever he became somber, lost in a memory. Twelves years of being chased and from the sounds of it, he always on the move. Such a thing would wear anyone down to the point of exhaustion, but yet he persevered and even more admirably, he did so with fervor. As she examined him from afar, she wondered exactly how old he was--Hell, how old exactly was she? So much time had passed since her departure from Eotis, and there had been instances when the days, weeks, and even months had just melded together, lost forever in the ever evolving scope of transient time. One thing was for certain: she had wasted too much of her life being tethered to a leash, of being controlled by someone or something. It would seem that Aelyria and Caliben in the end had maybe the same objective.

To be free.

As Caliben rose to his feet, she had expected him to help himself to another bowl of owl stew. Her own rumbling stomach told her it might be time to do the same, but there was something off about the way he moved. He was moving towards her, but not quite looking at her as he continued speaking. She looked around her as if wondering if there was something he need nearby, but couldn't put her finger on it. The fire had been stoked and he had already had all he needed to eat his stew, so was there something he could see with his unique vision that she couldn't? 

"You see," he continued, still avoiding her gaze as he stood beside her. "With the help of an invention my father created. It had changed my life forever." Invention? But before she could inquire about what he meant, he settled down to sit nearby, almost uncomfortably close. What exactly was he doing? Was the fire just not warm enough over there? Was there a chilly draft where he had been previously that couldn't be felt over here? She quirked an eyebrow at him suspiciously.

"But that's a question for another time," he dismissed as if able to read her thoughts on the matter. "I'm more interested in you." 

Aelyria froze. He paused as if contemplating something he wanted to say, but the way of which he said the words instantly made her break into an uncontrollable blush. Wait, what?! She saw the way his eyes were still drawn away, and she could only conclude what he wanted to say might be embarrassing and personal in nature. Her mind, working a in whirlwind of misguided information, panicked for words to say if he should utter what she feared he might confess. How... exactly would she respond?

"And your skill with the rapier," he pondered. "Seems like something no girl.. Would be taught normally." 

What? She blinked with confusion as he turned back to face her, his lips grinning from ear to ear. Dumbfounded, mostly by her own ridiculous train of thought, Aelyria coughed as air finally returned back to her lungs, though she had was unaware she hadn't been breathing. She laughed with relief then, running her hand through her hair again nervously and feeling so naive for thinking he had any intention of... Well, it was stupid. It was so stupid then why do I feel a little disappointed? She shook her head and then shot Caliben a disparaging but teasing glare.

"What are you, five years old?" she jeered, throwing a soft, playful punch to his shoulder. "Well, at least now I know you do see me as a 'girl'. Because, you know, I was seriously concerned those special eyes of yours were screwed in backwards." Aelyria turned her eyes away from him as she grinned, desperately trying to forget that sinking feeling she had in her chest just a moment before. But as she thought on his statement, she shook her head. Was it really that strange? She didn't think so, considering how many women of skill she had seen in her travels, but perhaps it had been a little strange for someone of her circumstance. 

"You're somewhat right about that," she concurred with a light nod of her head. "Except you're missing some context there in front of 'girl'. In my homeland, a girl of my station wouldn't have been taught skill in weaponry. We're taught to avoid combat by all means--our jobs is to care for a household and birth children. Not fight." She peered over to Caliben and offered him a meandering smile before turning back away. 

"But I never really was a good daughter, according to my father, so I thought--hell, fine. I won't even bother trying to be." She scoffed, flicking away a piece of dried leaf from her shoulder. "So with the help of my eldest brother, I learned how to use the rapier. It was a decorative weapon to be sure, its sole purpose for dueling back in the olden days when it happened regularly, but I learned a few basics at least through him even though I was poor at the fine art of it. However, it did help me pick up things a lot quicker when I actually started to learn how to use a real sword for combat on the battlefield during the wars."

Aelyria shook her head as if to shake away the memories that came with those dark, bloody days. Days she was glad to have seen come to an end. She shifted herself to face him, pressing her shoulder against the tree she nestled beside and letting her head rest against its smooth bark languidly. 

"But what about you, hm? The last time I had seen you in Valjer, you said you could slow your perception of time to account for your crazy reflexes. Then, in Union City...see through walls and channel the magic to your hands--something you said you had to 'unlock' by letting go of your past. What exactly happened to you while you were out there between Valjer and Union?"

Edited by Phaedara

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