Completed A Girl and the Sea

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Nathaira

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It was mid-morning when the pair made it to Vel Termos. It was a quiet coastal town, barely more than a hundred people, and it was built almost entirely of blinding white marble. The air was thick with salt and ocean spray and the sky was dotted with gulls, terns, and the occasional pelican.

The road had gone from cobblestone, to gravel, to dirt, and finally to densely packed sand the closer they got to the sea. Nathaira and Rumer, her apprentice of sorts, had made this journey like almost every other: on foot. The Forsaken were rarely permitted the luxury of horses or, heavens forbid, carriages. Their place was in the shadows, on the margins of society. When speed was not paramount they were expected to make their own way, unseen.

It had taken almost four days to make the trek from Vel Anir, a bit longer than had Nathaira been on her own, but the girl’s endurance had been growing. This was good. ”Sstay close,” Nathaira reminded her ward as they approached one of the only two-story buildings that the town had, its singular inn. A wind-worn sign swung in the morning breeze and read “The Pelican’s Nest.”

It was a stark adjustment from the bright coastal sunlight to the dim interior, and Nathaira’s slit-pupils widened dramatically beneath her cowl. Her hood was pull up as far as it would go, and she had wrapped a plain scarf over most of her face. Her appearance would draw attention, and there was no reason to reveal herself when she had a pretty, innocent-faced girl to do the talking for them.

They had been granted a very meager stipend for the trip, and Nathaira had given Rumer enough of this to book a room for the night. She gently nudged the girl towards the innkeeper so that they could be seen to their room at once.

While the girl took care of this, the half-naga’s eyes scanned the room. A small smattering of people, a few hon-humans, nothing out of the ordinary for a small border settlement. It would do.
 

Rumer

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Rumer was a mixed emotion of excitement and confusion as they made their trip to the coast. She had never seen the ocean, and Nathaira had made it sound so beautiful ~ but the child could not shake the gnawing in the pit of her stomach, that there would be more learning along the way. Her legs were getting stronger as she grew more used to travelling, and although they ached from walking, she no longer lost balance and was a little less of a hindrance now that she was able to keep up.

She had ran a few steps ahead as they reached the shore, her face a picture of childish wonder as she gazed out for the first time at the unfathomable expanse of water. The ocean seemed to breathe, her surface rising and falling with rhythmic ease, her sensitive ears soothed by the sound as it gently rolled over and kissed the golden shoreline. She loved the ocean, and she smiled at the mocking cries of the seagulls overhead, fluttering around like tossed parchment in a storm. She pulled in a deep breath of salted air, and returned to Nathaira's side, and followed into the inn.

Rumer's hood remained up as she peered over the desk, so high she could barely see over it.. "One room..please." she asked politely, and slid the payment onto the counter toward the older man. "Can we have a window please?..." she requested with a small smile. The man looked at her and rose a brow at the odd question, but he gave a warm smile and nodded anyway.

"Naturally..." he chuckled, and handed her a key in exchange. "Just upstairs, first door on the right." he told her, his eyes moving between her and her hooded companion curiously, but he said nothing more, and so Rumer tugged on Nathaira's cloak, and climbed the stairs to open their room door, and went straight to the window. She'd never had a window in her room before, let alone a window with the whole ocean to look at.

"I can't swim. Can you swim Nathaira?.." she asked, a hint of excitement in her voice as she forgot for a moment who she was with, and she stopped asking questions.
 
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Nathaira

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Rumer’s tugging hand brought her attention forwards, and she followed the girl up the stars and to their room. As soon as they were in and the door shut and locked behind them she pulled off her scarf and put her hood back, fluffing up her tangled cords of hair. ”Ahh… better…” she breathed. It was awfully stuffy under all that fabric, and the fresh sea air beckoned to her.

She stood at the window as well, sucking in the salt, her tongue slipping out from her lips to taste the air. Nothing like the city.

Rumer’s question took her a bit by surprise, she had thought the child was still too timid to speak freely. It seems that Rumer had forgotten this herself, for she looked rather sheepish after blurting it out.

Nathaira smiled at the girl’s fluster. How adorably awkward. ”Yesss, I can. All Forssaken learn. While we are here, you will learn as well.” She hadn’t even thought about swimming, to be honest, but it was unacceptable that Rumer could not. One could not be a master assassin if throwing them off a boat was all it took to kill them. It was also an excellent way into hard-to-reach places. No one suspected the water.

She returned to the front of the room and, after setting aside some of their traveling gear, she began to reapply her scarf and hood. Her face seemed almost giddy. ”Sstay here until I return,” she said, ”I will have food ssent up.” She fixed the last bits of her disguise into place, took the room key, and opened the door to leave. Just before she shut the door behind herself, she peered back through the opening. ”And dear… I will know if you leave.” The door shut, and she vanished.

Food was indeed sent up to the girl. A cold but refreshing fish soup and some flavorful pink juice. A local specialty, the innkeeper assured Rumer.

Nathaira was gone for several hours, and the sun was already well past its zenith by the time she returned. Her face was still covered, but from behind the mask her eyes gleamed with devilish excitement. ”Come, child. I have a gift for you. Put this on.” She held out her hand and offered a thin black strip of cloth to rumer. A blindfold.
 
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Rumer

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Rumer's expression briefly held a look of excitement at the prospect of learning how to swim, but the thought of being thrown in to swim or drown wiped the excitement clean and replaced it with a look of anxiety. Forsaken weren't exactly taught things with patience, it was learn fast or die. She nodded though, and chewed on her lip as she continued to watch the waves beating their drums against the wet sand.

She turned to see Nathaira preparing to leave again, and had stepped toward her assuming she'd be going too. At her words though, Rumer nodded and returned to the window "I'll stay." she promised. And she would, she was used to obeying this particular demand.

They had been the best few hours of Rumer's young life. Alone, with food that didn't taste grey and a pink drink that tasted like some sort of fruit, but she didn't know, she'd only ever tried apples before. She had opened the window to call in the cool sea breeze, watching the endless wall of blue and the little boats that sailed away, enviously wondering where they were going. She sprawled onto the bed nearest the window, so that she could still watch the waves when she lay down. It was lumpy, but still much more comfortable than the cot she currently slept in, and she gathered the blankets around her and curled up, unable to recall a time she'd felt this relaxed. The ebbs and flows soothed and lulled her, and she'd fallen into a much needed sleep when she heard the door open again.

Rumer sat up abruptly, unsure if she'd been allowed to sleep, and she tried to pretend she'd been awake by making her sleepy eyes wide. "Hm?...A gift?".... Rumer frowned, and looked at the blindfold with silent panic. The last time she'd been blindfolded was when she'd been brought to the Forsaken training quarters, which hadn't gone at all well for her. She glanced up at Nathaira and reached to take it from her.. "Can't, I just close my eyes?.." she asked quietly and instantly cowered, realising that it'd been a foolish question and that she didn't actually have a choice in the matter. She lifted the cloth to her eyes and tied it at the back of her head, before pulling her hood back up.

Rumer had quite literally never been given a gift in her life, she knew they were supposed to be nice things, sweets or a new pair of shoes, but confusion flooded her mind again. Was Nathaira really being nice to her? She stood, and reached her hand out for the woman to take. She'd have to find out, but she was afraid to feel the excitement a child should feel when faced with the prospect of a surprise.
 

Nathaira

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Nathaira's expression turned cold beneath her wrappings. Was the girl questioning a direct order? She liked Rumer, perhaps more than she should allow herself, but perhaps she had been too soft. Perhaps she should not have allowed the girl a peaceful afternoon. They were not "friends." One day, perhaps, but until the rune was burned into the girl's flesh, she was an apprentice.

Rumer seemed to realize her mistake soon enough, however, so Nathaira decided to let it go for now. Besides, this was a happy occasion.

She took the girl's small hand in her long, thin fingers. Nathaira's hand was not as cold as normal, showing she had been out in the sun. They made their way down the stairs and out of the inn, and down the street.

They walked for a long time. The hard-packed sand turned loose and deep, and the sounds of the ocean grew steadily louder until it was quite clear that they were right beside it. They passed through some low leaves and branches, Nathaira making sure to clear the way for Rumer, and then walked onto the beach proper.

When they were at their destination, she took Rumer by the shoulders and turned her so that her back was to the waves. There was a sound of a clinking chain, and something cold and hard was clapped around Rumer's ankle. Nathaira whipped the blindfold from the girl's face.

Nathaira was standing in front of her, beaming. Her curved fangs glistened in the bright sun, her pupils narrowed to near invisible slits. Beside her was a tall wooden stake. A chain ran from its base to Rumer's ankle, perhaps six feet in length. More notable, however, was the man who was tied to the stake.

His arms were bound behind it, his legs tied to the bottom. He was gagged, and his blue eyes were wide with terror. He had messy blonde hair, and long pointed ears. His pale skin was already turning pink from the sun, and there was a particularly nasty bruise near his temple.

After she was sure that Rumer had seen her gift, Nathaira stepped closer so that she could speak quietly. "You disssappointed me, child," she hissed. Her tone was not angry, but the quiet, calm way one explained to a child that something they had done was not appropriate.

"You did not kill on our last asssignment. You did not die, yess, but you showed... hesitation..." she walked behind Rumer, placing her hands over her shoulders and her mouth next to Rumer's ear.

"Sso I got you this! Do you like it? I picked it out sspecial," she knew that the girl would not truly appreciate her generosity, but perhaps she would look back on this moment and understand. She stepped back out in front of Rumer. "Forssaken kill, or they die. There is no simpler truth than thiss. And now, I have given that truth to you." She looked beyond Rumer to the lapping waves just a few feet behind her, then to the sun which was now half-way through its downward journey to the horizon, then to a nearby rocky outcropping, showing a water line well above where they stood now.

"The tide will come in by nightfall, and when it doess you will both drown," she said casually. "But! If you kill him first, I will sset you free," she dangled a key in front of the girl. She leaned her face in close. "Do you undersstand?"
 
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Rumer

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It was an uneasy feeling, being blind. It was even more uneasy being blind and being led to some unknown location by a woman who was supposed to hurt you. A clammy palm betrayed the fear she felt as she walked, and she tried to listen to the calming sound of the waves, offering herself silent reassurances that it would be a nice surprise, life couldn't be all bad..

She was wrong, and her body stiffened bracing itself for pain as she felt the iron clamped around her ankle. Her eyes remained closed for a further moment of darkness as the blindfold was removed, as though holding on to the blissful oblivion of not knowing what was actually going on. She didn’t want to look, but her eyes slowly blinked open to look upon the sheer excitement of Nathaira’s face.

Confusion. Rumer frowned, tugging at the chain with her ankle and crumbling at the rising panic in her chest as she saw the elven man tied to the post. Her skin crawled with the sudden realisation of what Nathaira had intended for her to do as she spoke of her disappointment, and her eyes watered as they transfixed on the hopeless man.

Her stomach churned over as her task was explained, and the sound of the sea was not so calming anymore. She understood, but she didn’t answer. She fell to her knees and gripped hold of the wet sand in her fists and squeezed tightly. She couldn’t. Could she?

She tried not to look at the elf, but he was muffling what she assumed were words of plea to her and she lifted her sandy palms to cover her ears from the sound, closing her eyes tightly as she sought reprieve from her immediate reality. Her mind was a battle, let him live for them both to drown anyway, or deal with the harrowing guilt of taking an innocent man’s life.

Water licked at her toes in a cruel reminder of her predicament and she looked up at the man who was screaming at her through the rag in his mouth. His eyes were no less wracked with terror.

“I can’t...” she broke and shook her head, dying would be better, the life she had was worse than death, and her training would only seek to turn her into one of them. They’d kill her soul and let her live as a murderous husk bid to serve until she died.

“I won’t.”
 
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Nathaira

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Nathaira's expression hardened. She had expected some resistance, some apprehension, but the outspoken refusal angered her. She felt a rage brewing in her gut, and she exhaled slowly to calm it. Norris was right, the girl was willful, but it was that willfulness that had made her so interesting. It made her a challenge, something to be overcome and molded. The ones that didn't put up any fight were so boring.

If she couldn't overcome that willfulness, though, she would prove herself a fool. Maybe the Handler had been correct, that Rumer was a waste of time. A child so old could not be broken, and one so adverse to violence and death would never make it to their ranks. Nathaira had risked much by insisting to train her. This trip alone had taken considerable finesse to convince their masters that the experience would be worth losing one of their top agents for over a week. She had promised results. She would get results.

Her lips thinned, and the ire within her simmered. She brought her serpentine face close to the child. "Then die," she hissed. She stood back up, and on a dime, her face softened. She turned from the pair and walked some distance down the beach where she could still see them but was well out of the way. She promptly stripped off all of her clothes and lay down naked on the beach, soaking up as much of the sun's warmth as she could with her skin, the sand hot on her back.

She tried to enjoy the blissful heat on her body. Tried to find one of her very scant happy memories. Maybe that time she rode a shadowy spider. Maybe the campfire on their way back from the Baron assignment. Do not worry, she told herself, the girl will come around. Heroes did not exist, there was little one wouldn't do to spare their own lives. Once the cold water engulfed her legs the girl would bend. Do not worry...

...She worried.

She didn't want Rumer to die, after all. She was prepared to let the girl drown, of course, she may as well if she couldn't do this simple task, but she did like the child. For fuck's sake, the elf was doomed anyway! What good did it do not to kill him? The guilt resided with Nathaira, not Rumer, should she open his veins and drain his life away. Either way he died. Nathaira suddenly realized she had actually made the task too easy.

No. She would do it. She just needed time.

Her sunbathing was not as relaxing as she had hoped.
 

Rumer

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Rumer's gaze lifted to Nathaira, flinching at the coldness of her words - was she really going to leave her here to drown? .. Of course she was, why wouldn't she? She watched her leave and her panic rose much faster than the tide.

"Shut up!!". The elven man wouldn't stop screeching and struggling and she slammed her hands over her ears again. "I can't help you!." she growled back at him through gritted teeth. Either way, this man was going to die.. She'd be putting him out of his misery, but then she'd have to live with hers. She didn't have the stomach for it.

The waves continued to roll in white tipped, spreading themselves like fine lace over the beach after they crash in their soft way. Water slithered around her waist now as she sat, no longer soothing her and instead threatening to strangle the air from her lungs as it crawled further and further up her back. Rumer hated the ocean.

"Nathaira!! Please!!" she pleaded with the woman as she enjoyed soaking in the last heat from the setting sun, the waves shoving at her roughly now so that she had to stand. The man was sobbing, and she found herself glad again of the sound of the waves, the sound being the lesser of two evils. Another wave crashed into her back as the edge of the ocean crawled further and further up onto the sand. More sobbing from the elf.. She couldn't stand it. "Nathairaaaa!!" . The girl was screaming now, though she held out her arms in front of her, palm up, and looked at her wrists thoughtfully before lifting her eyes to the sunbathing snake.

A drop of blood... She winced. ‘Do not worry’ she told herself. ‘She won't let you die, the woman will come around, do not worry’...

She worried...

Another few drops of blood, and she closed her eyes, the tide now reaching the man's shoulders from his seated position. They'd both succumb soon. Her wrists were bleeding but the wounds were not deep, it was more a desperate attempt to make the woman realise just how unwilling Rumer was to kill this man for no reason... A journey wasted.
 
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Nathaira

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The sun on her skin, the sound of the lapping waves on the shore, it was soothing despite her worries. As she dozed, she had a rather strange dream. A red naga appeared to her… but it was hazy and flickering. It was clearly speaking but she could hear no words. It extended its hand to her, and she wanted to take it, but when she reached forwards her arm simply passed through the creature as if it were mist.

She awoke suddenly to Rumer’s screams. Propping herself up on her elbows she could see that the tide had risen a couple of feet. At first she thought that the girl had completed her task, and was trying to wake her up so that she could set her free, but when the slumped elf moved his head her heart sank. The deed was still not done.

The tide was coming in steadily, and the sun had started to fall low. This was not going as planned, and frustration took hold of her. Her patience was being tested by this child, and her shrieking was unbearable.

She gathered up her clothes and stalked back to the pair, the water lapping at her feet. The child looked distraught, and the elf was whimpering. ”Shut up,” she said harshly to him.

Perhaps she should talk to Rumer, help her calm down and focus. There was still time, the tide would not swallow them for another hour at least. She was about to speak, when she caught a flash of red from Rumer’s wrists.

She tossed the bundle of clothes further up the beach and stomped into the water, grabbing at Rumer’s wrists roughly. Fresh cuts, not deep but clearly deliberate. Had she… was she…

Fury swelled. Was Rumer trying to kill herself before she could drown? Would she take her own life before that of a doomed man?

Let her drown. A voice inside her said. Rumer clearly did not have the stomach to be Forsaken, so she was already dead. Assisting her further would be a fool’s errand.

Yes, a fool. A fool and a failure. Another voice replied. Nathaira’s cold eyes glittered in the setting sun, her face tight with rage. No. No. She would not be made a fool. Rumer would succeed in this task. She needed to raise the stakes, she needed to make it clear that the choice was an illusion. Rumer would never have a choice again, she needed to know this.

Teeth gritted, she splashed back to the elven man who looked at her in terror. HIs face was sheet-white, certain she was going to kill him now. Instead, she tore the gag from his mouth, and he sputtered and spit.

”Do you have a family?” Nathaira asked him in a harsh, cutting tone.

”I… y-yes, please. I have a family. I have a family!”

”A wife? Children?”

”Yes,” he continued. ”A wife a-and a daughter.”

Nathaira’s rage receded just a bit, but the cruelty only grew.

”How old is your daughter?”

”She… she is just a child. Please…”

Nathaira promptly told him to shut up again, and waded back to the girl and knelt in the chilly water. Her eyes had never been more reptilian, less human.

”Rumer,” she began in a tone both sweet and icy, stroking the girl's hair. ”The Forsaken kill to protect the people of Vel Anir. I know it ssounds sstrange, but if we did not kill our targets, so many more would die.” This was what they were told, at least. They were servants of Vel Anir, fighting for its people (its human people anyway).

She gripped Rumer’s hair at the back of her head, forcing her to look her in the eye. ”If you do not kill this man by ssunset, I am going to leave you here to drown. And while you’re dying, I am going to go back to hiss home, and I am going to kill his wife and daughter. Iss that what you want? Would that easse your guilt?”

”Wh- no!” The man yelled. ”Kill me, don’t hurt my family, please!”

Nathaira released the girl roughly and stalked back up the beach, striking the man and hissing ”Quiet!” before putting her clothes back on and then sitting a few feet behind the bound elf, just out of reach of the tide.
 

Rumer

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Rumer's muscles seized as she watched Nathaira charge toward her and grip her wrists. She'd hoped, though it was a silly thing to do, that the woman would rather concede than let her die. She didn't want to die, but she knew the guilt would break her more than any beating could. "I'm not ready for this." she begged the woman with a look of desperation. She'd rather another dose of venom than this.

Whilst the man likely hoped that the woman would show him mercy if he spoke of his family, Rumer knew different. She knew her cruelty well enough by now, and she knew why she was asking these questions. Her eyes filled as she shook her head at the man, but it was too late, he'd dragged them into this.

Her head continued to shake slowly back and forth as Nathaira stroked her hair and spoke her poisonous words.. "He..he's not a target-" she'd protested before her hair was grabbed and she silenced and stared fearfully back at her eyes. There was not a word of it she didn't believe, and a sense of nauseating inevitability gripped at her chest and tightened it.

The was never a choice. She'd only worn Nathaira's patience too thin. She stared at the man with a look of desperate apology as Nathaira returned to sit on the beach. The waves pushed at her and she stumbled, gripped by salty formless arms that dragged her under and threatened to swallow her whole. Arms and legs kicked out to find her footing again, she tried to breathe but only pulled in salted water, and after a moment her feet found land and she emerged coughing and gagging and gasping for air. Her heart pounded hard in her chest and muffled in her ears amongst the desperate pleading of the man who now sat neck deep in the cruel embrace of the sea. She didn't want to die like this.

She moved toward him and reached for his shoulders..She hesitated and words caught in her throat, but she swallowed the painful lump and stared at him "You are going to die." she told him, and let the words take hold. "Or, we are both going to die, and then your wife and child will die...and I'll have three deaths on my conscience...I will make it quick.." she told him and tears fell from them both.

Another crash of waves battered her down and submerged the man entirely for a brief moment and he spluttered. She found her feet quicker this time and returned to the man.. "Let me save them." she asked as quietly as she could. Nathaira had obviously known that such an incentive would have Rumer do what she had to do, but it also gave the task a purpose and a justification.

"Forgive me..." she frowned, and her body shuddered as she focused, turning her face away from the man, and she looked at Nathaira. The woman who was causing her this pain. She drew the rage she felt for the woman, for Norris, for all of them, and she screamed a sound of fury, and the man's throat tore open, turning the sea around them red.
 
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Nathaira

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Rage. Fury. Nathaira had not seen these from Rumer before, never heard her cry out like that before. There was hatred in her face, hatred for Nathaira. The shower of blood from the elven man’s throat was a dramatic backdrop for the moment.

It hurt, of course, that hatred. The loathing and resentment, but she knew it would come. The child did not understand why these terrible things were being done to her, or if she did, had not accepted their necessity. Perhaps in time she would appreciate the efforts Nathaira had made on her behalf.

She stood and walked forward without a word. She moved slowly this time. Rumer was upset, and her magic was not something that Nathaira wished to feel again. A quick glance at the girl’s handiwork was all it took to know that the elf was dead. A deep red gash ran across his throat, and his eyes hung open and lifeless against the salty spray.

She produced the key and, feeling beneath the surf, released Rumer from her bonds. ”Come,” she beckoned, ”You will get cold if we do not return soon.” She herself was already feeling chilled, as the sun had nearly set.

She kept quiet for most of their walk back. Rumer needed time to reflect on what had happened, to make her peace with it. The deed had been done, and that was the most important step. ”The first one is the most difficult,” she said after a time, the sky a deep purple. Lights from the town could be seen in the distance.

She remembered her first kill. They all did. She had been very young at the time. Perhaps six? Still, the images from that day burned brightly in her mind. It had been another child, another “student.” He had pointed ears, white hair, red eyes, and pale skin. They had been placed in a room together with a knife on the floor in between them. There are too many children, they had been told. Lose this fight, and you will not eat. She had been hungry, it had already been days since her last meal. She hadn’t really understood what she did until she saw the blood trickling from his mouth, his eyes staring up at the ceiling. She never knew his name.

When they reached the town they would not go to the inn. Nathaira had a different destination in mind.
 
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Rumer

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Hot blood had sprayed over her face and quickly raced downward and dripped from her chin. The ocean seemed to calm at once, as though it'd been shook by her panic and fury and was now pleased with it's blood sacrifice. Other than her persistent shaking, Rumer couldn't move, she simply stared through Nathaira as she came to free her, her face expressionless and broken. She didn't look at her as she spoke, her words barely registered, and she slowly forced herself to look at the elf. The blood that'd given him life still pulsed in flowing waves from the deep slash in his throat. At least his expression was no longer filled with panic and terror...she wouldn't forget that expression.

She turned back to Nathaira, and trudged lazily back out of the now erubescent water without a word, and the legs that had earlier ran to greet the ocean with such excitement, buckled under the weight of guilt and trauma as she left it. She couldn't cry. She was too numb to cry. Her mind was ablaze with too many emotions for her to pinpoint one and focus on it and she clutched desperate for a memory. A good, warm, welcoming one she could smile to, but she had none.

Rumer pulled herself back to her feet and followed mindlessly after Nathaira, too disorientated to know where they were going, too shattered to care. The cracks in her mind were starting to show.
 
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Nathaira

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They walked in silence, the lights of the town now glowing dimly against the inky night. The ocean could be heard, and a faint glittering to their left revealed its presence through the darkness. There wasn't so much a city border as a place where houses simply started to spring up, and gentle candlelight illuminated their path through the thin streets.

They took a winding path, turning down side alleys and footpaths through the sandy soil. Finally, they arrived at a quaint marble building. Warm light ebbed from the open window, and smoke, smelled but not seen, wafted from a chimney. Nathaira led Rumer near the window, close enough to see the inside of the house clearly, but not so close that the shadows would not conceal them.

Within the large singular room were two figures. A tall, waif-like woman floated from stove to tabletop, delivering plates of steaming fish to a small child on a high stool. The woman was fair, raven-haired, and beautiful. She wore an expression of mild concern, looking up at the door and window from time to time. The child had bright blonde curls and was fussing with her fork. Both of them showed noticeably long and pointed ears.

Nathaira and Rumer stood watching for a couple of minutes before she spoke. "He was a target, you know." She did not take her eyes off the family. "We do not kill indiscriminately. We are precise, surgical." She drew one of her daggers from her waist. "These are the lives you saved today. They will mourn for a time, and they will not know that they were spared, but you saved them all the same." She turned the blade over in her fingers, admiring its carvings in the firelight.

Then, with a practiced motion, she flipped the knife so that she held it by the blade, and aimed it through the window at the pair. She turned to look at Rumer over her scarf. "But your hesitance endangered them, child." The knife was held poised, ready to be released. She stared hard at the girl, silently reading her.

Suddenly, without taking her eyes off of Rumer, she let the knife fly. It sailed through the air in a flash, whipping in between the mother and child and embedding itself in the far wall. The woman screamed, dropping a plate. The child started to cry. Nathaira leaned in close.

"You will never. Disobey me. Again."
 
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Rumer

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Rumer's mind remained filled with crimson water and the shock on the elven man's face. The dead man in the ocean.. She turned the thoughts and replayed the sounds over and over again and her brain failed to find a firm grasp on reality.. That was until they stood at the window, and Rumer slowly realised where she was.

The familiar grip of panic, her breathing became more rapid, more shallow. Her own personal little hurricane raged again and she shook her head as she looked between the mother and daughter and the blade that Nathaira turned in her boney hand.. "I am listening. I won't hesitate again." she whispered fervently, looking back at the curled head of the young child in the window. "Please. I'm sorry. I promise I won't." she pleaded. The woman's cruelty knew no bounds it seemed, would she really kill this child because of her mistake?...She reached to curl her hands around the woman's robes, her knuckles quickly turning white as she silently pleaded.

The knife flew and the woman screamed.. She flinched, and looked away, an invisible hand clasping over her mouth and adrenaline unloaded into her heart in an instant. She felt her ribs heave as if bound by ropes, straining to inflate her lungs... The child was crying. Her gaze snapped back through the window, wild eyed and trembling before Nathaira demanded her attention, and she recoiled. "I won't.." she promised quickly, realising that her shaking hands still gripped the woman's clothing and she let go. "Can we go please?" she asked, desperately wanting to be as far away as she possibly could from the crying and screaming family of the man she'd just murdered.
 
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Nathaira

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Satisfied with Rumer’s response, Nathaira nodded. ”Yes. Go back to the inn, buy us one more night.” She handed Rumer another coin. ”I will meet you there shortly.” Without another word she vanished on the spot, the only indication of her whereabouts the subtle impressions of her feet in the sandy road.

Her little demonstration had been effective. Good. She had put a great deal of thought into it after all. Unfortunately she needed that dagger back. It could be replaced in Vel Anir, of course, but she would be punished for losing equipment. She stole into the house silently, no one in Vel Termos bothered to lock their doors (although they may after the man’s body was found). The mother was tending to her sobbing child and trying to sweep up the broken clay from the shattered plate at the same time. It was easy for Nathaira to pluck her dagger from the wall. It vanished as soon as she freed it, and she turned to leave.

She meant to go right away, to catch up with Rumer, but something stopped her. She looked at the elven woman. Beautiful of course, but with features worn by time and hardship. There was something... hypnotic about the way she soothed the child. The way she held it. The love in her eyes.

A sharp inhale brought Nathaira back to reality, and she left the house without a trace. There were very few people on the roads, and no one looked twice at her in the dark even with her invisibility down. No sound but the surf and very faint voices from the homes.

She returned to the inn, eager to rest and watch the moonlight on the waves from their window. There would be plenty of jobs that required them to sleep in the streets, so why not make the most of this rare chance.

She decided that she would teach Rumer to swim tomorrow, or at least begin the process. They needed to head back to Vel Anir, but there would be time in the morning.

She opened the door to their room.
 
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Rumer hesitated with a look back through the window at the pair, though she was sure they’d be in more danger if she didn’t obey Nathaira’s word quickly enough. She looked up at the woman, bloody faced and dark eyed and nodded before rushing off and fighting the urge to look back.

She rushed past the inn keep at his desk and kept her gaze downcast under her hood in fear of rousing suspicion, and she ignored his “Good evening little miss!” as her feet thudded up the stairs and she slammed the room door closed behind her and stood with her back against it, her chest heaving as the weight of the day suddenly crashed down on her.

The sound of the softly rolling waves were of no comfort any more, she could only think of the dead man beneath its surface. She ran to the window to slam it shut, before leaning herself against the wall and sliding to the floor. Now she would cry. Now there was silence and time alone to think. Now she’d use this rare opportunity to torture herself.

Her hands pressed against her ears and her forehead rested against the top of her knees, squeezing into as tight a ball as she could. But the sounds wouldn’t go away and they swam in her mind, growing louder and louder in the silence. Ocean waves smashing against her, the muffled cries of the elf, how he’d quickly fallen silent, the screaming of his wife and sobs of his daughter.. they’d be screaming and crying when they found out. What she did.

‘Then die’...Nathaira’s voice slithered into her mind and she clenched her jaw. ‘Don’t get her hopes of survival up... she’ll probably die’ Aila’s voice. ‘She was a degenerate too..’ Norris.

The girl screamed at them all to shut up, and a few of her scars opened, calling her attention to the pain... the voices stopped, and all she heard were her own breaths and pounding heart.

She wouldn’t look up as the door opened, she stared sleepily at the floor, and if left alone to remain there, she’d sleep.
 
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Nathaira

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Nathaira did not speak as she removed her tight scarf and loose hood, as she took off her boots and mussed with her hair. In truth, she didn’t know what to say. Her own training had been horrible, her life was horrible… but it was all she had ever known. By the time she was old enough to weigh the ramifications of taking a life it was already second nature to her. Rumer had just started, and she was not adjusting well. Norris’ warnings echoed in her mind again, and her brow furrowed at his sickening voice. Too old, too willful, too weak.

Fuck off,
she thought, although even thinking the words gave her a jolt of fear. She was only mostly certain the man couldn’t read minds.

She sat on the bed and looked at the broken child in front of her. Soon she would be back in Vel Anir, back in the clutches of the handlers and proctors. Perhaps, until then, she should be given a chance to rest.

You are too soft, hissed an internal voice. When were you given rest? If she cannot cope she cannot survive.

No, you are too cruel. You will kill her before she has a chance, came another voice.

Since when do you care about cruelty? You were ready to devour that boy guarding the councilor.

He was an enemy, this is different.

She shut her eyes, banishing the thoughts. She stood, stepped quietly to where Rumer sat in a ball. She almost reached out a hand to comfort her, but thought better of it. Instead she simply said ”You take the bed. I cannot sleep on something so soft.”

She would sleep on the floor, in front of the door, as she always did. Her daggers would be at her waist, as they always were. Before she could get there, however, the was a knock at the door. She froze, her hands instinctively going for her blades. No one should know they were here.

“It’s just me,” came the voice of the innkeeper, softly through the door. “You ladies were out late and, well I thought maybe you’d like some food. I’ll just leave it here by the door.”

His footsteps receded back down the stairs, and when she was certain he was gone, Nathaira quickly retrieved the food and relocked the door. It was a simple wooden platter with two plates. Warm, steaming fish with pink flesh and two cups of a yellow juice. Nathaira realized she had been very hungry.

She set the tray down on the floor in front of Rumer and began to eat her own plate, a few feet away. She did not command Rumer to eat, instead saying ”It’s very good. You won’t find fish like this in Vel Anir.” She took a sip of the juice and nearly choked. ”Bah! But this is far too sweet.” She smacked her lips distastefully and tried to drown the sugar in another bite of fish.

If Rumer did not wish to speak or eat that was fine. Nathaira would finish her meal and go to sleep on the floor.
 
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The child was glad of Nathaira's quietness as she returned to their room. She doubted her mind would have the ability to string a coherent sentence to send past her lips, her mind was static and she merely stared. Still, silent and numb. Her heart was still beating, she thought, but against a chest that felt hollow.

Nathaira had given her instruction, and she immediately got up and climbed up onto the bed to curl up instead, her limbs moving as if some inexperienced person was controlling them remotely, her eyes blinking but not seeing. Her mind began to shut down, unwilling to think anymore. Perhaps it was shock, or she was permanently broken, she wasn't sure.

Rumer didn't react to the innkeepers interruption, nor did she bother to look up as Nathaira praised the food. The thought of eating caused her stomach to swirl and she felt queasy. She still wore the elf's blood on her face, she could still smell it mingled with the salt from her still damp clothes, but she couldn't summon the energy to lift herself from the bed to wash. The young girl wanted nothing more than to lay down and be enveloped by the warmth of silence. Whether she wanted to rest permanently or not, she did not know. She never would have thought silence would be considered warm but there she was laying in her bed prepared to be swept away by the hope that her sleep would bring her some peace.

~​

She woke early before the gulls and her eyes blinked, squinting against the dawn sunlight that had only just began to warm the skies. Much to her surprise, her dreams had not been as disturbing as they ought to have been. She'd dreamt of butterflies and she woke with Kasimir's voice on her mind. She lay for a short while, and pulled herself out of bed to kneel by the pale of water to wash the dried blood from her face, and she pulled her hair back and knotted it before she crept toward the door and slipped out of the room. Being as light as she was had her benefits, and she snuck slowly downstairs without a creak..

She was as quick as she could be for fear of Nathaira waking to an empty room, and the floorboards creaked in protest as she rushed back up upstairs, and she opened the door carefully, balancing a tray of breakfast foods for them both. Her hunger had returned..
 
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Rumer did not eat, did not leave the bed. No matter. Nathaira placed the uneaten food outside their door and snuffed the candles. Rumer had closed the window, which Nathaira appreciated. It kept the warmth of the room inside, and she lay on her back just in front of the door, sighing a hiss of relief that the day had ended.

It had been a good day, a productive day. Yes, Rumer had hated it, but she had done her job in the end and that was what counted. With time her resistance should lessen... hopefully. She thought about the scene in the water, the screaming child, the rage and hatred she showed when she opened the man's throat. Perhaps she could channel that anger, use it...

Wait a second. Opened, not reopened. Nathaira's eyes flashed open. Their target had not had a scar across his neck, an old wound for Rumer to pry apart. She had created something new, torn into virgin flesh and ripped it open. Was this new, or had she always known she could do it? It made her abilities several times as potent, several times as deadly. She wondered... did Rumer have any other secrets that needed to be teased out?

She smiled, closing her eyes again. Things were never dull for long.


Rumer's stealth was impressive. There were few people who could creep by Nathaira while she was sleeping and live to talk about it. She awoke to the sound of the door opening when Rumer reentered, and saw the girl come in with... breakfast?

She pushed herself up to a sitting position. "My, what a lovely ssuprise," she hissed, eyeing the tray. It was indeed a very kind gesture, and although she would have to think on Rumer's stealth potential later, she was more curious as to why the girl had done this. It was appreciated, obviously, and Nathaira was very happy that the girl had taken it upon herself to get them ready for the day... but it was a very abrupt shift from the last night. Perhaps sleep had put things in perspective for her.

She got up and opened the window, sucking in the salty morning air and letting the sounds of surf and village activity fill the room. She sat back down with Rumer to eat. "Thank you, dear," she said sweetly. "I hope you slept well. We have a long walk ahead of us." She took a bite. "But before we head back, I think we should have a sswim, yess? You don't get to the ocean every day."
 
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Rumer decided that she'd try to use Kasimir's advice and split herself into two parts. Right now she was trying her best to pretend that last night hadn't happened, and she was playing the part of a brave and happy young girl in her very own play. The old Rumer, the real Rumer, she tried to push to the back of her mind, and she'd hopefully remain there and allow her to survive this with a little of her humanity intact. She masked her broken spirit with a smile that appeared mechanical, and set the tray down on the table, an array of smoked fish, bread and fruits and some pink juice for her and water for Nathaira. "You're welcome. I hope you're hungry." she answered in what she believed to be a cheery voice. It wasn't a voice she was well practiced in using so it was a little rusty.

She tried not to eat too quickly despite how loudly her stomach growled at her in protest, but she decided she would savour every mouthful before she had to return to bowls of grey matter and stale bread. "I slept well, thank you.." she answered politely, and lifted her gaze for a short moment in consideration of her offer, fear tickling at her spine, but swallowed a mouthful of bread and nodded. "Yes... a swim sounds fun, I'd like to learn." she agreed. Keep her happy, and maybe she won't drown you or anyone else...

"When we return, can I start my training with Kasimir?" she asked, as though enthused by the prospect of learning how to use weapons to kill people rather than mere magic. Oh, how the thought was a delight to this Rumer. How bad could it be?! Still.. Kasimir had shown her some kindness, it made her hope that his training wouldn't be so hard on her, then again hope was a silly notion and she let go of it immediately. "Will you be there?".. she asked, lifting her brows to the woman with a small smile as she sipped her juice.
 
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The breakfast spread was marvelous, and while she favored the smoked meats, the fresh fruits were novel and the bread was warm and fresh. She chewed little, simply savoring the food in her mouth for a bit before swallowing bites whole. Every now and then her tongue would flick in and out of her mouth to take in the appetizing aromas.

Rumer appeared to be in good spirits, all things considered. She looked rested, although there was something different about her eyes this morning. Perhaps it was just the light. Nathaira chose not to question it too much. The girl was no longer crying, and that was a step in the right direction.

"Yess... I ssuppose that would be a good time," she answered Rumer's question about her training. "If hhe iss around when we return I will ssee about it." She swallowed another fruit. They would need approval from the handlers, but it was likely to be received. The humans cared little about specifics, so long as the teachings were effective.

She thought for a moment on the next question. "I will be there perhapss, but only to watch. Kasssimir does not need my help." She smirked a little, the shadowmancer was more than capable of training Rumer on his own, she just wasn't sure how he would do it. The tiefling continually surprised her in more and more interesting ways.

"Right," she said as the food was finished. "Bring these back to the kitchen and meet me out in front," she said softly, indicating the empty dishes and standing to stretch. Her back arched and she pushed her arms up and over her head, rocking from side to side. She couldn't sleep on soft surfaces, but some floors were harder than others.

She set about gathering up the few supplies they had brought with them and began wrapping the scarf back around her face, adjusting her hood so that once again only her eyes showed through. As she descended the steps and approached the bar she could hear faint utterings of "missing" and "still hasn't returned." News traveled quickly in a small town. Nevertheless the innkeeper gave her his trademark warm smile as she returned their key.

"Off to an early start, eh? Well, you and your daughter will be welcome back any time, don't be strangers!"

The word "daughter" caught her off guard, and she was dumbfounded for a short moment. An odd sadness ebbed forwards and receded. "You are too kind," Nathaira recovered, replying in a honeyed voice. "Thank you for your hos-pitality," she clipped her "s" deliberately, and proceeded outside to meet Rumer.



She led them to a secluded cove on the opposite side of town as yesterday. It took some navigating through dense foliage and prickly oceanside shrubs, but it ensured the pair some privacy. Nathaira pulled back her hood and freed her face from the scarf. The waters here were gentle and shallow, shielded from the waves by a rocky jetty, and the surf was gentle. Soft white sand extended before them and for some distance beneath the surf, this would do nicely.

The sun was hot already, and Nathaira was grateful for this as she started pulling off her coverings. "Right," she said, eyeing the line of white foam at the shore. "Off with those, unless you want to walk back in wet rags." Her tone was light, eager almost. It had been ages since she had been in the sea, and although she could not tolerate the cool water for long, it would still feel nice at first.

She stepped into the shallows. As expected, the water was tenfold colder to her, rapidly sapping what little heat she had gathered on their walk. She waded in up to her waist, and checked to see that Rumer was following. "Firsst things firsst, you need to be able to float! It's really quite easy, come." She held out a hand for the girl to take. The plan was to have Rumer slowly lie back and float with her face to the sky. Nathaira would support her at first, and slowly move her hands away. "The key iss to control your breathing." She had to figured this out on her own when she was a child, and she would have been so much less afraid had she just known that she could float effortlessly whenever she wanted.
 
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The child smiled at her, she liked Kasimir, and although she expected there to be some pain involved, the thought of some training with him didn't frighten her so much. Not unless Norris was there, that was.

She finished the last of the fruit juice and cleared the table to take the tray back downstairs ~ if she could forget almost drowning and murdering the man in the ocean, well she had actually enjoyed her stay at the inn. She did as she asked, and took the tray downstairs where she was warmly greeted by the innkeeper who bid her farewell and patted her head, tousling it into a mess and she smiled and gave him a quick hug. She liked him. He was kind, and kind people liked hugs. "Goodbye! Perhaps I'll be back one day." she sighed and shrugged. She hoped not.

Rumer drew in a deep, salty breath and let the sun warm her face whilst she waited on Nathaira. She appreciated being outdoors, having spent so much of her life cooped up in her hovel in Vel Anir. The coast was vast and open and peaceful and the air smelled nice. The sound of the waves however, cast flashbacks on her mind and she cast them away quickly. This Rumer loved the ocean, and she skipped now and then as she followed Nathaira to the beach.

She kicked off her boots and took off her outer garments, and stared at the waves for a short moment as Nathaira made her way into the water. It wasn't red anymore. It never had been, it had been an awful dream and she had to forget about it. Another deep breath and she walked in behind the woman, she had a thin vest and some short leggings that she didn't mind getting wet, and the clothes quickly stuck to her as she walked deeper. She faltered and froze as it reached her waist and her toes curled in the sand, making sure it was still there. She nodded quickly at Nathaira's words, noticing how quickly she'd been breathing.

You're safe..

She watched as the ocean breathed, it's surface rising and falling with rhythmic ease and the waves slowly became her pulse. The way the sun shone off the rippling water, its golden light warped in the twisted, glass waves. It was clean and soft and gentle, she was safe in a cradle of brine and Nathaira was happy.

Her eyes flicked back and forth between Nathaira's face and her offered hand, but she took it and allowed her to guide her. Her eyes closed as she eased herself into the water, and she breathed out as the cold nipped at her skin. The floor was still there, she could stand if she had to. She gripped the hand a little tighter as she lifted her feet, and she breathed as calmly as she could, and floated on her back, free of gravity.

It felt, strange. Weightlessness. As though the ocean took hold of her and all of her emotions an cradled and rocked them into calm, and the child smiled and relaxed. The ocean muffled in her sensitive ears, and she heard every grain of sand sliding back and forth in tandem with the waves that played with them, and she tried to ignore the drowning screams of the man in her mind.

This Rumer loved the ocean..
 
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Nathaira smiled, looking down at the girl floating effortlessly in the water. She had taken to it so well! She had expected some sputtering, some dips below the surface as she got the hang of it, but instead Rumer lay back quietly and let the water buoy her up.

"Very good!" she applauded, and beckoned Rumer to stand back up. "If you ever find yoursself tired where you cannot sstand, you can always float." She omitted that actual, full exhaustion would lead to drowning regardless, but figured now was not the time for that little detail.

"Ssometimes the water iss too rough, so you need to support yourself, keep your head above the water, like thiss." She braced herself and dipped down to her shoulders the water. She moved her arms and legs to keep her head above the surface, treading in place the shallows. It was a little awkward, keeping her legs curled up so that she wasn't actually standing.

She stood slowly, the cold swept over her. She did her best to show Rumer the figure eights she had done with her arms, and explained the scissor kicks that would keep her afloat, before saying, "I must go back to sshore... I am afraid the water iss too cold for my blood. I will keep watch while you practice, jusst make sure to come out before you are too tired." This particular lesson did not call for extremes or brutality. Pushing the girl beyond her limits would only drown her and make her fearful of the waves. She should see the water as an ally, a tool. It had taken Nathaira years to overcome her fear of the cold, stinging darkness of that horrid underground lake.

She turned to walk out of the water, her movements now slow. It took great effort to swing her legs through the water, and her arms were heavy.
 
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Her feet found the floor again and she watched Nathaira, a small smile on her lips at the praise. It was an unusual thing for her, and it offered her pride a slight boost and encouraged her to learn. She watched the woman for a moment, and let her shoulders sink back below the water and tried to pick her feet back up from the sand, kicking them gently as she did and moving her arms in the same way. Her head sank below the surface but she didn't panic, the ground was still there and she pushed herself back up and grinned as she managed to keep her head above "Like this!?"

She watched Nathaira return to the shore and chewed nervously on her lip for a moment before deciding to try again. She kicked her legs harder and she moved forward, thrashing about clumsily as she tried to both stay afloat and propel herself at the same time, her head dunking under every so often but she'd emerge coughing and try again.

The sun was rising higher now, and the heat was starting to penetrate the waves. She watched the light display it cast on the white sands on the sea bed as she played, chasing shoals of tiny fish that separated and darted away only to reunite again. Was she having fun?.. She laughed, and pressed her face into the surface of the water and opened her eyes, reaching to try and catch one of them for Nathaira. She liked fish.

She turned as the shoal moved away, and her eyes settled on the man, who wasn't really there. He was looking at her with dead eyes, still bound, still gagged. At once he screamed a muffled sound under the water and Ru panicked and lost her footing, she'd bobbed a little too far and she couldn't touch the bottom and keep her head above at the same time. She went under, and desperately clambered to pull the surface down toward her. "Nath-" she went under again, and she realised how quickly her limbs were tiring, and how fast running out of air she was.
 
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Nathaira sat back on the beach, drying herself with a corner of her shawl and letting the warmth from the sand and sun soak into her skin. Though her muscles ached from the chill she did not shiver. She never shivered. What good was twitching your muscles when they would not produce their own heat anyway?

She looked down at herself. She was thin, with jutting knees, elbows, and a collarbone that could cut glass, but she was not skin and bone. Quite to the contrary, her entire body was lined with lean, wirey muscle. What it lacked in bulk it made up in compact strength and quickness.

Still, a part of her did not wish to look. Monster. Half-breed. Abomination. The words echoed through her head. Her pale green skin, thicker than a human's but softer than snakehide. The few tracts of scales that ran down her arms, legs, back and chest. They all called her hideous. Disgusting. Something that rightfully should not be. She knew they were right.

She pulled herself away from these thoughts, just skirting the edge of the pit she would be swallowed by if she continued, by watching her ward splash in the waves. "Yes, like that," she called back. The sun had gotten quite warm as the child practiced, and she felt her energy returning.

Then Rumer went face-down. She was still paddling... and then she went under. Her feet sunk below the waves and she flipped vertically, trying to stand on ground that was not there.

Nathaira bounded to her feet, her legs giving their last protests as they were not quite finished warming. "Float!" she called, "Float!!" It was no use, the child was panicking.

She dove into the shallows, scooping up the girl and finding her feet in the soft sand. "I've got you," she said breathlessly.

That was enough for today.