Private Tales Of Sand & Dragonfire

A private roleplay only for those invited by the first writer

Seteta

The Dragon's Betrothed
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Rheinhard dropped his hand and stood, and Aetes sighed as he was told to let the wound heal for a few weeks. Ah, so he was shy. That was all right. Aetes wasn't in any hurry.

He followed behind Rheinhard a few paces, and the remaining guard a few paces behind him. Just as they came to the edge of camp, Rheinhard turned to him and said something about hunting. People would be hungry, yes but... Ah. Of course. Hunting.

Aetes grinned, then went to speak with Rehema, a lightness to his step that those who knew him well would see right away, though he faltered just briefly, confusion flitting across his face as the strange copper-haired man scowled at him.

"That's Chaceledon, Rheinhard's adoptive mother," Rehema told him, and Aetes nodded, but made no move to go greet the... man? woman? Something else? It was difficult to tell. But there would be time for that later. Aetes simply bowed his head in greeting, then followed Rehema away to begin the camp's move.



Seteta saw the glare that Chaceledon directed at Aetes and nudged him in the ribs with her elbow. "That's Aetes. He's a priest. If there's anyone who has the patience and gentleness for Rheinhard, it's him."

Please give this man flirting lessons before I die of shame. Nestor grabbed the bond to sneer at Seteta.

He seems to be doing just fine on his own, Seteta answered. Aetes is fairly skipping as he's walking.

Her mother waved for her to come over, then, and Seteta muffled the bond. "I'll be right back," she told Chaceledon.

Aetes was stepping away as Seteta arrived, calling for the illusionists in the tribe to join him. They would disguise the traveling caravan.

"You set the warning in the sands?" Rehema asked, and Seteta nodded. "How is your strength? Can you help Mesi change the landscape?"

"I can manage that,"
Seteta answered. "But others will have to hide our tracks as we travel."

Rehema patted Seteta's arm. "There are plenty here who can do that. It's just the larger work that is better suited to you and Mesi."

A few moments later, Ausar brought Mesi over, and once the caravan had begun to move out, Mesi, Seteta, and a few guards lingered behind the caravan. She couldn't help but grin a little at the sight of Chaceledon's dragon form bouncing alongside the camels.

Once the tail end of the caravan was some distance away, Mesi and Seteta knelt on the sand, facing each other. They pressed their hands to the ground, fingers crossed over the other's. Their magic was familiar, and as they called forth the earth, both women smiled as their magic danced together.

For long minutes, the two of them crouched there, the guards around them--one throwing up the illusion of bare desert where they stood, and they moved the sand.

When they finished, there was no sign of their campsite. No extinguished campfires, no indentations from foot traffic and tent poles, and most of all... no more visible entrance to the thermal springs. It was all wiped bare and clean, fresh dunes that appeared to be windswept covering all traces of their presence.

Mesi reached up to wipe Seteta's brow. "Good work, bitmu," she smiled.

Seteta smiled wearily as she stood, reaching a hand down to help her grandmother up. "I've missed doing magic with you," Seteta said, wrapping her arm around Mesi's waist as they slowly walked back to the caravan with the guards. Even with their tiredness, the large group traveled slowly enough that they would eventually catch up.

Chaceledon
 

Chaceledon

The Draconian Diva
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Chaceledon made a sad, choked noise at the sight of the springs being buried. But…those could save other lives! It was water in a place where water was rare and theyd just buried the cave. He approached Mesi and Seteta, and gently scooped up his fiancé with his tail. She got to ride him for a bit while he walked, though his stride was arguably more bouncy than the camels.

Rheinhard walked along, trailing the group in a back and forth pattern. It kept his prints from being too easily tracked.

Nightfall came, and Chaceledon was exhausted. He dug out a huge furrow on the sand, reared up, and blasted the bowl shape with flames. The purple fire scorched the sand, melting it and making a glass bowl he could crawl into. Rheinhard did something similar, making a furrow near Chaceledon’s radiating heat. He curled up on it, and pulled a length of canvas over his head. In a few minutes he was little more than a shapeless tan lump.

Chaceledon stretched his neck out toward Seteta’s shelter, knowing he could keep her warm.

__________________

“You blew the entire thing!”

Rosebury sighed and rubbed at the burns on his wrists. “I knew you’d be cross.” He hadn’t even had to tell the man. Persian knew iron burns when he saw them, and the chastened look on Oscar’s face plus the storm of activity at the camp had told the story. They’d gone gallivanting around and gotten caught!

“They were relaxed and settled! Now they’re startled like deer and it’ll take ages for them to calm down!” Persian raged. “How are we supposed to find them again?”

“The suture kit I gave them has a needle cored in gold.” Oscar said. “We’ll have to move, slowly, but we can follow.”


“Oh good, because-“ Rosebury winced and his mouth snapped shut.

“They made you promise. Well, we can at least get something out of this.” Persian muttered. “Let’s pack up and move carefully.”
 

Seteta

The Dragon's Betrothed
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Seteta was happy to curl up on Chaceledon, settling behind his head so that she could hold onto his mane. A dragon walking was not nearly as smooth as a dragon flying but it wasn't terribly unlike riding a horse or a camel. Once she figured out the rhythm of his steps, she was able to rest without being jostled too much.

After a couple hours of travel, Aetes dropped to the back of the caravan and gave Rheinhard a scarf. "Cover your head," he said. "So you don't get heat sickness." Then he moved back up the line, checking that everyone had water and wasn't succumbing to heat.

They were all weary by the time the sun set. The animals were tended to, fed and watered and burdens removed for the night. Each family of Inizae took care of their own hasty meals, mostly dried fruits, dried meat, and tea. Within two hours of stopping for the night, the camp had settled into a quiet lull. There were no tents to be seen, just small domes of sand like the one Seteta had erected the first night of Chaceledon's return to the desert.

Seteta had been surprised to see Keket and Hassani sharing sleeping quarters but was too tired to do anything further than note it was happening. Ausar took care of erecting a slightly larger sand dome near where Chaceledon and Rheinhard had settled.

Seteta was half asleep, curled up next to her mother, when Chaceledon stretched out toward her, and she reached over with a sleepy smile to pet his muzzle. "Good night, sehejib," she murmured softly.

The next day of travel was similar. Another set of illusionists masked their journey, and those with a stronger stamina for earth magic removed their tracks. At midday, though, the group began to split off into smaller ones. Rehema and Aetes and a few priests-in-training took some time to speak blessings of protection over the Inizae that were parting.

By the end of that second day, the group Chaceledon and Seteta traveled with was no more than two dozen in number, most of them her family and their servants, or those who followed Rehema and Aetes because of their status as priests.

"Soon, bit," Rehema said when she caught one of Seteta's yawns. It had been a while since she'd used this much magic this consistently, but it was probably for the best so that she would be ready for the nameday dance. "One more night, then we'll be there."

"Be where?" Even her exhaustion couldn't quell Seteta's curiosity.

"Somewhere where I can safely give you all the answers to the questions I've seen lurking in your eyes."

Chaceledon
 

Chaceledon

The Draconian Diva
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Rheinhard took the headscarf gratefully, wrapping it as he’d seen Seteta do. He watched Aetes, making sure everyone had water and wasn’t showing signs of heatstroke. He was a good caretaker, and strong. Thoughtful and empathetic, but not to the point of weakness or self doubt. In terms of choosing a mate, Rheinhard could do a lot worse. He thought to himself as he walked, though kept a close eye on the dunes for signs of Persian.

As they bedded down, Hassani went into Keket’s dome. Rheinhard wasn’t surprised. He’d bonded to Keket quickly, and Pedeons weren’t shy about making their desires known. Chaceledon bedded down with his muzzle next to his beloved, his tail wrapped around Rheinhard’s nest protectively.

The more they traveled the more small groups broke off. Rheinhard frowned, watching them. They got blessings of protection, but how safe would they be? Well, it wasn’t his family, but he was learning a lot about Abtati movements. He continued to bring up the rear, but he observed and he learned. Nestor was jotting down notes, and Rheinhard reviewed them every day in the Well. Absorbing more of the language and customs. Nestor took a particular interest in the protection spells.

The third night, Rheinhard set a portion of his rations outside of Aetes’ dome in the middle of the night. Chaceledon cracked open an eye and recognized the strips of chuma meat wrapped in waxed cloth. The dragon smirked to himself, and nuzzled closer to Seteta. She was so tired, but Chaceledon was doing his best to help her. He carried her without complaint.

The next day, Rheinhard came up to Aetes. He pointed out a man in the distance. “Watch. Don’t alarm. Just watch.” He said softly.

The man in the distance was dressed in extremely heavy robes for such hot weather. He knelt before a corpse on the sand, touched its forehead, and slowly picked it up. The robed stranger’s arms were white bone, the fingers featureless ivory. The skeleton carried the corpse as though it were a slightly inconvenient book, then simply…walked downward. As though heading down to a cellar beneath the sands no one could see. “A Detritor. A priest of the Autumn Court. They retrieve bodies of the dead to give them peace.” Rheinhard explained. He moved to catch up with the Abtati.

“Everything alright?” Chaceledon asked.

“A Detritor, picking up a dead traveler.”

“Rare sight outside of the faelands.” Chaceledon noted, and continued their walk.

They came upon a building in the sands. It was shaped like the carapace of a beetle, with a sloped, triangular roof no doubt built to withstand sandstorms. It seemed to come out of nowhere…but Chaceledon figured it was more illusion. The Abtati seemed to favor illusion to keep themselves hidden. Rheinhard instinctively hung back, looking at the temple distrustfully. Chaceledon seemed grateful for some actual civilization.

“Please, please tell me they have baths. My hair is suffering.” he mumbled. He had shifted back into his human form as they approached, despairing over the state of his hair.
 
Arrival at the Temple

Seteta

The Dragon's Betrothed
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Aetes stirred from his sleep when Rheinhard left the dried meat outside his dome, but didn't rise and coax the man to linger. He waited till Rheinhard was back to his... nest, then he got up and retrieved the packet, curious to see what it was.

He chuckled softly at the packet of dried meat strips and tucked it away in his bag. He'd make sure to snack on it where Rheinhard could see as they traveled.

When Rheinhard pulled him aside the next day, showed him the Detritor in the distance, Aetes watched quietly until the creature had vanished from sight beneath the sands.

"We see them, from time to time," Aetes said after Chaceledon spoke. "But always like this, from a distance. We don't get involved with the affairs of strangers, as a general rule."

Aetes lingered near Rheinhard for a few moments longer. "I've been waiting for you," Aetes said, a smile playing at his lips as he raised his stitched hand. "Don't you need to tend to this? Meet me after dinner tonight."


They reached the temple a few hours later. Seteta recognized the illusion of bare desert sands before they crossed through it, but anyone not familiar with Inizae magic wouldn't have noticed. The temple would have simply not been there, until they crossed the boundary and it suddenly was. She saw her mother pause and speak with one of the priests who'd come out to greet them.

Extend your perimeter. Let no one through the illusion after us until I say so. If so much as a flea from a chuma steps onto the sand within half a day's walk of here, I want to know. I want to know who is already there, when you reach out, as well.

"There's an oasis here,"
Seteta answered as she heard Chaceledon mumbling about his hair, nudging his arm teasingly as she eyed the temple. Quiet surprise hid in the depths of her eyes as she chewed thoughtfully at her lip. There were quiet murmurs of surprise from many of the other Inizae still in their party. Keket, for one.

"Most Inizae, unless they enter Abtatu's service, only come here once their lifetime," Seteta told him quietly. Reheme and Aetes were already splitting off from the main caravan, and it was easy to tell who served at Abtatu's temple by how they greeted or acknowledged Rehema: the same as Aetes had done back at the springs, with a fisted hand brought up, thumb pressed to their lips as they bowed their heads. Rehema and Aetes vanished inside the temple and wouldn't be seen again till dinner.

"I've only been here once myself," Seteta murmured. "When I completed my vision quest. We all come here then to be brought into the tribe, fully."

Ausar was beginning to direct the caravan to a large open area near the temple. "We'll set up camp there, I think," Seteta said.

She looked around for Rheinhard, gesturing for him to join her and Chaceledon. "Don't step foot into the temple unless my mother invites you in," she said. Keket would let Hassani know. "It is sacred, and not a place to be wandered into."

Chaceledon
 
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Chaceledon

The Draconian Diva
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Rheinhard gave Aetes a confused look. Tend to his hand? It looked fine. No swelling or foul signs as of yet. Surely any desert survivor would have had to nurse a bite before. He nodded, not quite understanding, and watched Aetes head into the temple in silence. He would meet him, even if he doubted this was about the man’s hand at all. He had invited him to hunt…perhaps that was the reason?

He trudged back to his mother and Seteta, giving her a nod. He had figured the temple was forbidden. Chaceledon wasn’t quite so keen; it was clear he’d expected a bit more hospitality.

“Vision quest..?” Rheinhard echoed. “Like what happens when one of us dies?”

“You’ve never told me about that before. Either of you.” Chaceledon looked between them.

“Until recently, I had been forbidden to tell you.” Rheinhard said, and headed off in Ausar’s direction before he could be summarily interrogated. He had to set up camp. His own tent, Chaceledon’s…and he supposed he’d just give Hassani his and see what the elf wanted to do with it. He’d been glued to Keket’s side. Wooing her in the Pedeon way with little touches and looks.

Rheinhard didn’t mind the hard work. He had his own tent set up in short order then worked on the small mountain of luggage Chaceledon had brought. Next time…less emphasis on clothing and makeup.

Chaceledon looked wistfully at the temple. “It’s a beautiful building. I didn’t think the Inizae believed in any permanent structures.” he said softly, putting an arm around Seteta’s waist.

Dinner required a little craftiness from Rheinhard and Chaceledon. Rheinhard settled into the sand outside their tent and worked a small furrow into a bowl shape. He packed it with his hands, coaxing the stubborn sand into an even hole. Chaceledon melted the inside of the bowl with washes of fire, and shaped it with his hands. Pack more sand, melt more sand, shape. Between the two of them, Chaceledon hefted a small but usable cooking cauldron free from the sand and blasted it smooth. It wasn’t clear; milky with imperfections, but it would serve.

Rheinhard sacrificed a small amount of oil from their rations, a packet of spices they’d brought, a dried lump of stock, and some of their water. He added rice to steam in the broth and fluff up, adding chuma jerky to soak up the water so they wasted little. Another glass bowl for a lid, and Chaceledon looked proudly at their cookfire.

“Tagine in the desert.” Chaceledon said proudly, grinning at Seteta. He made her up a heaping bowl of the spiced, fragrant meat and rice. Bowls he made with handfuls of sand and careful shaping with his hands. “One thing I love about the desert is you never have to pack any sort of instrument. I can make everything we need. It’s not pretty, but it’s functional. If this were a dragon camping trip I’d bring some colored glass to mix in and make this less…ugly.” Chaceledon snickered, offering her a slightly bent pair of new glass chopsticks.

Hassani came to fetch his own bowl, and went back to Keket’s tent with a wide grin splitting his face. “The dragon made these! From the sand!” He told her excitedly, handing her a spare set of chopsticks. “Share my dinner, beautiful girl?”

After dinner, Rheinhard went in search of Aetes. They would need rations for tomorrow morning.
 

Seteta

The Dragon's Betrothed
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Seteta gave Rheinhard a curious look when he mentioned vision quests for the Volkers. "I... don't think it's quite the same," she answered. "There's no death involved with our vision quests."

Then she gave Chaceledon a bemused smirk, her eyes sparkling with heated memories. "I told you some. When we were at the inn in Maraan. About how I got my scars." She gestured to her side, then frowned a little when Rheinhard stalked off. "We can talk about it this evening."

She almost told Rheinhard not to bother setting up Chaceledon's tent, but while Chaceledon had been informed of the Inizae tradition for a prospective couple to share the family--or families--tents for a time, they had not yet been formally invited into her parents tent yet, and it would likely be late that night before it happened. A place to rest in the meantime would be welcome.

The oasis was behind the temple, and it was where the priests and acolytes resided when they were not traveling with the tribes. Out of respect, the Inizae camped some distance away, but they would be able to draw water at dawn and dusk, and be given time to bathe.

Chaceledon looked wistfully at the temple. “It’s a beautiful building. I didn’t think the Inizae believed in any permanent structures.” he said softly, putting an arm around Seteta’s waist.

"We weren't always nomads," Seteta said quietly, resting her head on his shoulder.

Seteta helped her grandmothers and father set up their tents and get situated, then checked on Keket and Hassani, laughing softly at the sight of them. Hassani was clearly trying to woo Keket, and while Keket was not... rejecting his advances, she was definitely playing hard to get.

When she returned, she settled in the small shady spot next to the tent and watched Chaceledon working on the glass bowls. While she watched and waited, she stripped off her leather boots and tucked her feet into the warm sand, letting the earth's magic wash through her, filling and sustaining her without having to be expended.

She was content. The earth and its magic beneath her feet, her tribe nearby where she could hear the sounds of laughter and song, and the one she loved working happily with his hands. When he dished up her food, she took it with a smile, then patted the sand next to her. "I think the bowls are beautiful," she said. "Come eat with me."

Hassani came and retrieved a bowl of food, and she laughed softly as she heard him flirting with Keket a few moments later. She hadn't intended to play matchmaker, but she was glad that Hassani was settling in some. Keket had a good head on her shoulders and could manage him.


Rehema and Aetes emerged from the temple just as the sun's intensity was beginning to fade. Rehema was silent as she bowed her head to Aetes then slipped away to find her husband. Aetes quickly spotted Rheinhard a little distance away, the man doing his best to appear... casual. Aetes smiled as he approached.

"Were you able to eat?" he asked, his voice low and soothing.

Chaceledon
 

Chaceledon

The Draconian Diva
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Chaceledon settled next to Seteta to eat. He smiled, leaning against her slightly as he ate. He’d deliberately made his bowl much smaller, and picked at his food, but he was happy. He watched Rheinhard standing at a distance, looking at the temple, and hid a smile. “I think he’s nervous.” he said softly to Seteta. “I know we’re probably staying with your parents but he needed to do something with his hands or he’d go mad. We can use it as a backup or a place to store our things.” His things, really. His bags took up half the tent.

The dragon had noticed Hassani flirting with Keket and didn’t think much of it. Keket would be a fool to get involved seriously with a Pedeon still pining for the gilded cage. Either way, it was her choice. “She best be careful. You know if Persian ever seriously followed this group he’d throw her into a collar right along with him. For her own good, of course.” Chaceledon smirked and put his hand on Seteta’s knee. “Was this place built by your people…before?”

Rheinhard nodded. “I have. Animals are active in late afternoon and dusk, and this is a good spot.” He nodded to the oasis. “If we plan right we will eat well tomorrow without dipping into our reserves.” He didn’t know what to talk about. Surely that was why Aetes was here? It couldn’t be about his hand? He looked at his feet, avoiding Aetes’ eyes.
 
A Bit of History and a Bit of Wooing

Seteta

The Dragon's Betrothed
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Even in the desert heat, Seteta enjoyed Chaceledon's closeness, and when he leaned against her, she adjusted her position and leaned back against him as well so they could support each other. She nodded when he spoke of Rheinhard.

"He is nervous," she said after swallowing a bite of food. "But I'm not going to interfere unless he asks for help. If Aetes is interested--and I'm certain that he's at least curious--then he can figure out how to deal with Rheinhard.

"As for the tent... my parent's tent will have plenty of space for your things. We should take down the one we're not using so that it doesn't get ruined by the sun and sand any faster than necessary."

She sighed and frowned at the mention of Persian. "He'd put all of us in collars, not just her to keep Hassani in line."

She caressed the back of his hand for a moment when he rested it on her knee, then glanced down at his bowl with a frown. She reached over and tapped it lightly with her chopsticks. "You need to eat more," she said. "You're not eating enough to sustain yourself, and wasting food will count against you If there is food, the Inizae eat, because we don't know when there won't be food again."

Seteta took another bite of her own food, savoring the heartiness of the rice and meat and spices all fused together, her gaze on the temple. Her mother and Aetes emerged, but Rehema barely glanced at them before heading toward Ausar, and Aetes went straight to Rheinhard.

"No," she finally answered. "We didn't build the temple. We found it, when our kingdom was broken and we were forced to flee. I used to think the Inizae were just fleeing an angry nation that had been overturned, or a conquering force. Now I suspect that we were fleeing from Persian more than anything else.

"But the legends we're told say that we found the temple, abandoned and half swallowed by the sands, and Abtatu met us in it and gave us refuge. Abtatu made the oasis burst forth behind the temple, gave us dates to eat and taught us how to hunt the most humble of desert creatures--chuma, sand grouse, even beetles when necessary--and hid us from those who tried to harm us.

"When we'd regained our strength, Abtatu kicked us out of the temple. Told us to live like the chuma and the sand grouse and the beetle, to learn the moods and ways of the desert, and become humble like the most destitute of those we'd ruled had been, who we'd trampled on as easily as we trampled through the sand.

"That when we'd learned not to take our people or our resources for granted, our wanderings would end."

Seteta fell quiet for a few moments then, carefully plucking the last grains of rice from her bowl and eating them all.

"I like to think that perhaps that day will come in my lifetime," she sighed.



Rheinhard would make a good Inizae,
Aetes thought, his eyes warming, but he shook his head. "We do not hunt at the oasis or near the temple," Aetes said. "Abtatu forbids it. It is a refuge for anyone who seeks it, whether human, elf, or beast.

"But I think I pulled my stitches earlier," Aetes said, holding up his hand briefly but not long enough for Rheinhard to actually see. Because he hadn't really pulled them, but he wasn't sure yet how else to get Rheinhard to sit down and talk with him for a little bit.

"I have quarters here," Aetes said, gesturing for Rheinhard to follow him back behind the temple, to the oasis. "You can check on them there."

The sun was just setting, but there was still plenty of daylight to see by as he led Rheinhard around. There was a large, pristine pool--so deep that the bottom simply fell away into darkness--surrounded by shrubs and date palms. One the far side, a small vineyard was visible. But the nearer shore was lined with small, sandstone buildings, and Aetes directed him to one of them. The door was short and narrow to keep the heat out, and they would both have to duck to get inside. An oil lamp made of clay sat the middle of a square table, and there was only a simple cot and a stool at the table.

"It's... sparse," Aetes shrugged, and pulled the cot a little closer to the table and sat down, gesturing for Rheinhard to take the stool. "We don't often have guests out here."

Chaceledon
 

Chaceledon

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“And Rheinhard can take care of himself. Oor only tried to whore him out once and Rheinhard put the man’s head through a window. He’ll be alright. I worry more about your priest.” Chaceledon chuckled, and dumped half his food into her empty bowl. He ate the rest, slowly. “And before you get on me, Rheinhard’s been cooking high fat. I shudder to think of the fat in that entire tagine. So be happy I’m eating it.” He poked her playfully with his chopsticks.

Her story he listened to quietly. So their god had done this to them. This was some sort of divine punishment…and gods, it smacked of Hokkaido’s logic. “Sounds like my father. You’d best learn the ways of the desert, and be humble about it, or I’ll drown you in a simoon!” He imitated Hokkaido’s deep, melodious tone. “What did the Inizae do to deserve getting hunted for slave collars? Not that ending up with Persian is the worst fate a man could ever have…but it is up there.”

__________________________

Rheinhard frowned slightly. Abtatu had a lot of rules concerning sites like this. He forbade his people to eat? Every animal accepted the risk of a watering hole every time they went near it. “It sounds just like a god to try and deny the laws of survival.” He muttered. “If only because he has never needed them himself.”

He tried to catch sight of Aetes’ hand, but the man didn’t let him look at it. Rheinhard had little choice but to follow him, and he gave the pool a suspicious look. He didn’t like anything that deep. Things loved deep pools. He slotted around the edge of it but didn’t dare put his back to it, following Aetes to one of the small huts. It was arguably darker in here despite the oil lamp. What was the priest playing at?

He took the stool and shrugged. “Fae and dragons are obsessed with covering up walls and putting ornamentation on everything. You have what you need and nothing further. You have the oasis; no need for paintings. Unlike a portrait, it changes every day.” He held out a hand expectantly for Aetes, and took up the oil lamp to examine it.

“These stitches are fine.” He eyed the other man. “But you knew that.”
 

Seteta

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Seteta scowled as Chaceledon dumped half of his food into her just-emptied bowl. She didn't mind eating more, she just wanted him to eat it and not give it to her. "You've walked for two days straight through the desert," she chided, dumping half of what he'd given her back in his dish as he poked her with his chopsticks. "You can eat some fat. You barely ate while we were traveling."

She snorted quietly when he commented on what she'd told him of Inizae history, and the temple here. "The difference," she said as she set her bowl aside and nudged a little closer to Chaceledon, "is that we knew we were being punished and we knew why. There were commands that Abtatu had given us, about caring for our people and for the land, that we'd deliberately broken.

"As for what we did to draw Persian's attention? My guess is that we flaunted our power. There are numerous tales that speak of how, instead of using it to nurture the land and our people, we became frivolous with it. Instead of tending to fields, we razed them and made palaces spring out of the sands. Instead of respecting the mountains and the creatures they sheltered, we ground them to dust to get at the gems and ore they contained, without a care as to what habitats and homes we might be destroying.

"We had no restraint. We enslaved our own kin. Abtatu was nearly bent on crushing us into the dust, the very memory of us to become lost to time, but the last pharoah--Nailah--she begged for mercy. But Abtatu's mercy was not us returning to ruling the desert. We had to become a people willing to be humble, to be the most despised of the desert tribes. Lesser, even, than the humans, because we'd seen them as no more than ants.

"I doubt Persian was a deliberate punishment, he was merely a consequence of our own actions. And not all the hardships we've suffered have been because Abtatu decided we deserved it. Often they're just... what happens with life."

Seteta sighed then, lifting her face to the sky where the first evening lights were starting to glimmer. "My mother will be able to tell us more," she said. "She did say she brought me here to answer my questions."



Aetes smiled and laughed quietly. "It is only at this oasis where we are forbidden to hunt," he clarified. "And we have goat herds that we raise for meat and for milk a little further out. While it is not large enough to sustain a group this large for very long, there is enough to share for a few nights."

As Rheinhard examined his hand, Aetes examined Rheinhard. The human was a few inches shorter than himself, and based on his appraisal of the room, was used to living with just the basic necessities. His face was careworn, and there was a tiredness in his eyes that Aetes suspected he was born with.

His musings were cut short, though, when Rheinhard finished.

“These stitches are fine.” He eyed the other man. “But you knew that.”

Aetes shrugged and smiled lazily, not pulling his hand away Rheinhard's grasp. "You seem like someone who needs a reason to do something," he answered. "So I gave you a reason to see where I stay."

Chaceledon
 

Chaceledon

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Chaceledon’s playful mood faded with her story. He listened intently, and looked shamefully down at his bowl. It sounded like the dragons. Destroying entire mountains to get at a Diamond pipe. Hunting wastefully, razing towns that did so much as thumb a nose at them. He’d even done so in his youth…go to small towns to deliberately cause chaos then burn it all to the ground and laugh. He’d been significantly less sadistic than his brother, preferring to do things like drink humans under the table or bartering their homes in vicious card games…but it still sounded so similar to what she’d described.

He rubbed his neck. “Sounds an awful lot like my own people…you’ve seen what we do and how wasteful we are but it goes so much further. Cassius has gone to pick fights in poor villages and razed them to the ground if they didn’t bow to him. My father owns so many mines where the rules are…inhumane at best. What your people were, the dragons are. But we don’t have a god to punish us.”

____________________________

A single goat can feed a man for a week if he is wise. We can sustain this group on three goats a day, but they must be willing to cooperate. Men balk at eating offal, or intestines, or eyes, or the brain, and waste things that could save their lives.” Rheinhard pointed out. “Kill only males, and force them to breed before they die, to preserve the herd.”

He looked down at Aetes’ hand, gently stroking the skin with his fingertips. The stitches looked fine. A little dusty from the journey, but fine. “Herd management is important but I can help steer the changes. When we leave it should not have more than a few months’ impact on your goats, and the population will be healthy.” He knew he was rambling at this point. He didn’t know what else to say. He was in Aetes’ home, holding his hand, and all of a sudden the room was getting extremely small.

Instinct screamed at him to leave. He had work to do in camp, Aetes was fine. He hadn’t shown any interest besides telling him his eyes were pretty, and why should he? Was he just bored? Looking for a plaything?

“…Why did you want me to see where you stayed?” He hated how small his voice sounded.

All of a sudden he was back in that alleyway again, beating a boy’s face in and screaming from resisting the command to kill him.

You thought you were going to have this? This was never for you. He felt Oor’s voice crawling up his spine, and he looked at Aetes’ eyes. Terrified. Daring to hope, but terrified all at once.
 
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Seteta

The Dragon's Betrothed
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Rehema and Ausar reached Seteta and Chaceledon just in time to hear his words. Rehema carried a cup of water, and she handed it to her husband as she came to a seat in front of Chaceledon and Seteta.

"Pride has been the downfall of many cultures and societies," Rehema said. "But where gods have been rejected, nature will often step in. In the case of the Inizae, Abtatu stepped in before we became such a tarnish on the earth that nature would reclaim us. But we were close. Considering that our legends speak of your kind of dragons, though, and you're the first we've encountered in millennia... perhaps nature has already begun to work its vengeance on your kind."

Rehema reached over, offering Chaceledon her hand in a motherly way. "Seteta doesn't know the full story yet, but you will learn it along with her. However, the most important thing to know is that change can begin with only one softening heart. The Inizae were spared our god's full wrath by the pleas of Nailah. Only her. Perhaps you are meant to bring restoration to the dragons."

"However,"
Ausar spoke, leaning down to gently squeeze Rehema's shoulder, and she reached up to take the cup of water from him, "that is a story for another day. Tonight, we bring you into our tent."

Ausar sat next to Rehema then, watching Seteta fondly. He couldn't believe that they had already reached this moment of her life.

"Mesi told us of what happened when she first arrived, and... what happened after tea," Rehema said. "After the events of the last couple days, we've decided for now that it would be best for all of us to start with fresh minds. I know that our culture is new to you, so all we ask is that if you do not understand the purpose of a task we give you, that you ask for clarification.

"Seteta," Rehema turned toward her daughter with a smile, and Seteta felt her stomach flutter nervously. This was it. The beginning. "You have brought your sehejib to us. Will you introduce him?"

Seteta straightened where she sat, and reached over to twine her fingers through Chaceledon's. "Mut, mit," she spoke softly, her voice wavering with emotion. "This is Chaceledon, son of Peridot and Hokkaido. He has asked for my hand in marriage, and I have accepted. Will you bring him into your tent, and accept him as your son?"

Rehema smiled, and Seteta swore she could see tears shimmering in her mother's eyes.

Ausar spoke first, his voice gravelly and thick for a moment. "Our Seteta is stubborn, sometimes foolish, and often speaks her mind when she should hold her tongue. But she is also strong and loyal, and when she loves someone it is with her whole heart. If you will accept her flaws and strengths equally, then we welcome you into our tent."

Rehema held out the cup of water to Chaceledon. "Water is the most precious physical resource we have in the desert," she explained. "But even more important than that is the love we have for our families. For our tribe. Even if we possessed all the water in the world would mean nothing if we had no one to share it with. Will you accept this water from us, and promise that even if the world goes dry, that your love will Seteta will always be abundant?"

Seteta's hand tightened around Chaceledon's briefly. During the times she'd rested as he carried her throughout the journey to the temple, she'd quietly spoken to him about the different aspects of Inizae culture. If he remembered, then he would accept the water from Rehema, but would offer it to Seteta to drink first.



"I promise, we waste no part of the creatures we slaughter here," Aetes said with a brief smile as Rheinhard stroked his hand. "And the herds are carefully managed for breeding, milking, and slaughter. You are welcome to look them over and offer suggestions, just know that the shepherds in charge may be a little defensive of a stranger coming in until they're satisfied you know what you're talking about."

Rheinhard seemed to... shrink somehow, though, a moment later. His eyes went a bit feral, like a horse that had been separated from its herd and its handler for too long. Aetes didn't pull his hand away, though. Just waited.

“…Why did you want me to see where you stayed?” He hated how small his voice sounded.

Aetes moved his hand, so that his fingers gently stroked over Rheinhard's wrist. "So that when you know what you want, you know where to find me," he answered, then nodded toward the doorway. "Would you like to walk with me? See the oasis?"

Chaceledon
 

Chaceledon

The Draconian Diva
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Nature has already begun to wreak vengeance. Chaceledon stared at her. She couldn’t possibly know about the dragons’ difficulty conceiving, could she? The words rang true. Perhaps this was the world itself punishing the dragons for their arrogance. He hoped she wasn’t right, but if she was, he couldn’t argue that they didn’t deserve it. He patted Rehema’s hand. “If the gods thought I would restore dragon kind, they might have chosen better.” he smiled sadly. What influence did he have? Allies? None. Even his own family was broken.

He lifted himself up a bit when he was introduced, and kissed Seteta’s palm when she held his hand. He could barely take his eyes off her. “I would not love her without her flaws, for she loves me with all of mine.” he told Rehema and Ausar. He took the water cup gently, placed a kiss on the rim, and offered it to Seteta. “Were all the world as dry as the sands, I would never feel thirst if she was to stand next to me.”

His eyes were warm and proud. He was proud to sit next to her and be invited into her parents’ tent. Though part of him wondered if they were at all prepared for the amount of luxury he lugged around with him.

_____________________

Rheinhard took in a deep breath, and stood up. When he knew what he wanted? He knew what he wanted. He just wasn’t sure if Aetes was offering it to him. He hesitated, and let go of Aetes’ hand so they could exit the small hut. He looked back and waited for him. “If only I was sure what you were offering.” He told the priest.

It was difficult to read the other man. Was it just…friendship? Romance? What did Aetes want with him? He immediately felt better in the cool air around the oasis anyway. More like he could breathe and less like he was choking on shadows and candlelight.
 

Seteta

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Rehema squeezed Chaceledon's hand and returned his sad smile. "Sometimes it is less about who is chosen, and more about who is willing."

Seteta practically glowed as Chaceledon spoke, kissed the rim of the cup, and handed it to her. "You are water to my soul," she said, and drank, then handed the cup back so he could drink as well.

"Now then,"
Ausar said as he stood and clapped his hands together. "How much stuff do we have to move?"

Seteta couldn't help but break down into a fit of giggles. "You should probably shift back into your dragon from," she told Chaceledon. "It'll make the trip faster."

"Rheinhard is welcome to stay with us,"
Rehema told Chaceledon with a smile. "If he wishes."

In a quiet moment as luggage was being hauled back and forth, Seteta tugged at the bond with Rheinhard. He'd been... anxious for quite some time. Are you all right? she asked. Chaceledon and I will be in my parent's tent from now on. You are welcome to stay there as well. If you would like us to move your belongings, let me know.

Ausar and Rehema's tent was similar to Supti's. It was large, and split into multiple rooms within. The doorway led into the main seating area, and on the sides and back curtains were drawn, dividing the sleeping areas from the living area.

"Your mut and I are in the room straight ahead," Ausar said. "You two can choose between the other two rooms. Whichever you don't use will be saved for Rheinhard."



“If only I was sure what you were offering.”

Aetes followed Rheinhard out silently, thinking over what he'd said as he directed the human toward the stone-lined walking paths around the oasis. He took the side closest to the water, remembering how Rheinhard had eyed it nervously when they first approached it. He didn't blame him. If the priests and priestesses of the Inizae had not served Abtatu here for millennia now, and never come to harm beside these waters, the eerie depths of it would have made Aetes nervous as well.

"I don't know how much Seteta has told you about our ways," he said at last as they walked slowly through the palm-lined paths. Lamps on poles had been lit as the sun was going down, so they had plenty of light to see the way. "Unless for personal reasons, we are not celibate by nature. Some are not monogamous. But there is one creed we all live by: that every person, whether our closest lover or greatest enemy, deserves respect and dignity."

Aetes' footsteps came to a halt, and he turned to look at Rheinhard. "I am, first and foremost, bound by my vows to Abtatu. While Abtatu does not deny us our natural desires and inclinations, when I entered their service, I knew that sometimes it would require sacrifice from me.

"I cannot promise you a future with me, not at this time. We don't know each other yet. But you are attractive, and just as Abtatu does not deny us our natural desires, neither do we deny ourselves, if the other person is willing."

Aetes' hand twitched at his side. He wanted to reach for Rheinhard's hand, but after the bite, he didn't want to spook him either.

"I would like to get to know you, Rheinhard Volker," he said with a smile. "Perhaps to even be your lover, if we suit each other. But before you say yes or no, I would ask one question of you: how many lovers have you had?"
 

Chaceledon

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Chaceledon drank down the rest of the water, and chuckled. They did have a lot to move, and he pushed at Seteta playfully. “This requires a lot of maintenance!” he protested, pointing to his face. He smiled at Rehema. “I know my son. He values his privacy. I don’t think he could sleep next to people he doesn’t know, in a tent he doesn’t know. Safety is what matters to him most, and not just his own.” he stood, and they began the arduous process of moving his things.

There were fifteen bags in all. Two for skincare and soap, one for toiletries, one with glass for his nails, one for jewelry, and the rest were outfit options. Chaceledon clicked his tongue in disappointment when they entered the tent. Well, she had warned him there would be a bit of celibacy involved. “I suppose I’ll take the left hand room, and you the right?” he asked Seteta. He would miss her embrace at night.

__________________

Rheinhard’s mouth hardened for a moment. “Not all enemies deserve respect, or dignity.” He said quietly. Oor did not deserve respect or dignity. In fact he was going to make it a point that he died in a most undignified manner. He listened to Aetes, and ignored the tug from Seteta. He didn’t want to think about her now, not with what Aetes was saying. He swallowed thickly.

“None.” He said quietly. “Every man I showed interest in I was commanded to destroy.” Murder was too light a word for what had happened to the boys he had pined over. “My vows…are much different than your fealty to Abtatu. Kind hands and kind words have been absent in my life.”

He stopped walking, and stepped close to Aetes. “I want to get to know you.” He took Aetes’ hand in his, and gently pressed his forehead to the other man’s. He wasn’t brave enough to kiss him, not yet.
 

Seteta

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"He's ignoring me," Seteta told Chaceledon, amusement in her eyes, then told her mother, "I doubt Rheinhard would want to stay with us this early on."

Seteta had... one bag, though it was admittedly larger than she usually carried for her things. A nice set of clothing--their things had finally arrived from Pedeo just before Peridot had shown up, and so she'd tucked away that lovely green dress--two sets of every day clothing, a pair of sandals, her boots, and a few... other accessories. The important pieces of jewelry were things she wore all the time now. Her ring, and the silver bracelet.

When they'd brought the last load of luggage over--though the tent still needed to be broken down--Seteta set the bags down with a huff and rolled her shoulders.

“I suppose I’ll take the left hand room, and you the right?” he asked Seteta.

Seteta was tired, but she hadn't thought she was so tired as to mishear, but Chaceledon's words made no sense, and she turned to look at him, confusion written across her face. She caught a glimpse of her parents faces, also confused. They'd clearly said that one room was for Chaceledon and Seteta, and the other for Rheinhard. Was it because of the language differences?

"Left and right? Why?" As soon as she asked, though, she realized why, and the look of realization on her face quickly crumpled into laughter. "No, sehejib. That doesn't happen till two weeks before the wedding."



Aetes made no response when Rheinhard said that not all enemies deserved dignity and respect. Sometimes, perhaps, it was true, and he had no idea yet what type of life that this man had led, other than his reputation as a Volker. But Aetes also believed that how a person treated an enemy said more about the person than the one who had wronged them.

When Rheinhard said he'd never had a lover, and why, Aetes eyes softened, and as the man stepped closer and took his hand, Aetes leaned his head down to gently rest against Rheinhard's. He loosely wrapped his other arm around Rheinhard's back, his fingers moving in soothing circles.

“I want to get to know you.”

"I'm glad," Aetes murmured, his smile evident in his voice, and they just stood there for a few moments in silence. He would let Rheinhard pull away when he was ready.

"There's a seating area a little further ahead," Aetes did say eventually. "I would like to know more about these vows you spoke of."

The path would branch off into a small grove lined with stone benches, and smoldering brazier in the center of it.
 

Chaceledon

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Chaceledon sighed in relief and kissed her cheek. “Left then, left is lucky right is ruin.” He recited, and picked up the bag with his toiletries. He’d have to stack the bags practically to the ceiling, anyway, but this was the perfect time for an outfit change. Something with soft sherbet oranges and reds, with accompanying lemon yellow nails streaked with sunset colors. He brushed out his hair, and lotioned his face. He brushed his teeth, and set up their room to his satisfaction. It was going to be a bit cluttered but that was the price one paid for fashion.

He aired out Seteta’s pretty dress and hung it properly, then made their bed. Unsurprisingly, he’d had the staff stage some of his things in a summoning circle in their home. He made a tea table, a pile of pillows, fresh sheets, and a small tray of tea cakes appear in short order.

The dragon flopped on their bed dramatically.
“Summoning things from such a distance is such a pain.”

______________________

When Aetes wound a hand around him, and rested his forehead against his, Rheinhard stepped closer. He melted into the embrace, and only ducked his head enough to hide his face against the priest’s chest. He smelled of rich sand, and ritual incense, and fire. Rheinhard unashamedly snuggled against him, quietly relishing in the contact. As a man skilled in staying still in strange positions he would have stood like that for hours if not for Aetes speaking up.

Rheinhard reluctantly pulled away, and nodded. He followed the priest to the benches, and took a heavy breath once they’d sat. “My entire family was sworn to service. Eternal life in exchange for servanthood. The first of us only took it because he was dying, and our master was his only lifeline. He served faithfully, bore a son to the woman our master chose for him. Tricked his own child into accepting the Well.” He began, and tapped his temple.

“Every man who has ever been related to me directly is here. Father, grandfather, great grandfather, back to the beginning. Eternal life wasn’t eternal life; they just lived on as ghosts in the body of the next ancestor. When I bear a son and die we will all move to his skull, like moving house. Before Seteta we all killed for the same man. It started out healthy, from what we can tell of Prima’s memories…but that faded quickly.”

“Oor swiftly realized the power of the deal we had accepted, and used it against us. Began breeding us like…dogs, or goats, for certain traits he wanted. Not all of us fit into that vision and were bred quickly to women he thought would address the weakness. My grandfather, Aluid, was barely twelve at the time of his passing. My father Klaus was a man who delighted in butchery.” He looked at Aetes warily, to see if he could judge his reaction.
 

Seteta

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Seteta arched a brow but made no further comment as Chaceledon selected the room on the left. His reasoning was a little... odd, but she just chuckled, and kissed her parents each on the cheek and bid them goodnight.

When she saw Chaceledon start on getting the room set up her eyes widened and she just... quietly finished hauling the bags in from the main part of the tent as he did... everything else. She wasn't sure why the change of clothes and nails had been necessary so late in the evening, but she couldn't help but smile as he brushed his teeth.

When he flopped back on the bed, she laughed softly.

"How long are you planning to be out here?" she asked, kneeling beside him on the bed and leaning over to kiss him. "Don't we need to go back soon? To your estate?"

She'd thought they'd be with her tribe for a week, two at the most. But Chaceledon seemed to be settling in for the long haul. If he would rather be with the Inizae than with his parents, then it was fine with her, but it needed to be a deliberate choice. Not actions taken to avoid confronting issues.



Aetes reached for Rheinhard's hand again when they settled on the benches, the breeze sweet and cool as it wafted over the oasis toward them. As the sun drifted below the horizon, the stars began to sparkly brightly in the sky.

He listened as Rheinhard spoke, his brow furrowing and eyes narrowing thoughtfully from time to time.

"I... cannot even imagine," he said at last when Rheinhard finished. "Why did no one just... stop? Surely one of them could have refused to pass the... Well, you said, on to his son?

"And what do you mean by before Seteta?"
 
A New Visitor in the Well

Chaceledon

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Chaceledon smiled and kissed her, then leaned over and set a small box with her own brush and tooth powder on the bed. “For you. And…I supposed this would take as long as it needs to take. We’ve only been gone, what, a week? My mother will have barely settled in. She hasn’t seen me in millennia, she won’t be scared off that easily. The pet will keep everything else running. She’s a draconian pet; that gorget of scales under her chin isn’t earned lightly.” he said with a smile.

He reached up to touch her cheek. “Besides, they make you happy. Don’t we have to make arrangements for them to visit the estate?” He was absolutely avoiding his mother for a bit. There was also a chance Cassius would be invited along as the darling of his mother and father’s eye. The last thing he needed either Rheinhard or Seteta to suffer was meeting his older brother. They also had to prepare for the nameday dance, which the clock was ticking on. They’d burned a week with little preparation.

________________________

“That would require the freedom to make that choice. Being trapped by a curse is so much more complex than any chain or collar. I cannot refuse direct orders. The Well keeps all of my memories so I cannot hide secrets and my progeny can learn from my successes and mistakes. If Seteta wished, she could order me to stop breathing. She could order me to kill you. She could order me out into the desert and I would have no choice but to obey. She could even put one of the remnants…” he tapped his head again. “…in charge to see that her will was done.”

He scooted closer on the bench, and rested his head on Aetes’ shoulder. “I am fortunate that Seteta is not that type of master. The one before her was the man who built it. Oor. He made this curse, and trapped all of us in it.”

Rheinhard looked up at him. “If you would…I could show you. I would need to put my mouth over your eyes.” He sat up then, and touched Aetes’ cheek to guide his face. “Do not be afraid.” He leaned forward, and settled his mouth over the priest’s eyes.

Then Aetes was standing there, after the highly uncomfortable falling feeling that came from spiraling down into the storm of glass shards. Rheinhard grabbed his shoulder to steady him, and guided him to sit down on the sand. The endless, endless sand. The doorways were open, all but the office and hallway. Nestor grouchily emerged from the sunroom and snapped his book shut.

“Really? Really. You realize this is the opposite of romantic, right?” Nestor sneered at Rheinhard, then fixed Aetes with a look. “Shut your mouth boy, you’ll catch sandflies.”

Rheinhard nodded to Nestor. “An ancestor of mine, Nestor Volker. Poisoner.” He explained.

“And the only educated one out of you lot. I can’t believe Seteta woke Brade and Aron. They’re insufferable. At least with Ferenzi there was some class.” Nestor complained.

Rheinhard nodded to the Arena. “They in there?”

“Yes, and if I have to hear another drunken rendition of The Bonny Diamond I may actually go stand on my god damn podium.” Nestor growled.

Rheinhard bade Aetes to rise. “Come. The other two awake ones are here.” He said softly. He would wait for him to adjust a bit, since it wasn’t easy the first time. There were always questions. Not to mention Seteta would have been alerted by now. He’d technically broken a rule of Oor’s bringing someone in here without consent.
 
Last edited:

Seteta

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Seteta took the offered toothbrush and tooth powder with a smile, leaning into Chaceledon's hand when he reached up to touch her face.

"They do make me happy," she told him, covering his hand with hers. "And I hope you are happy here as well. But if I am to properly win your hand from your father, then we can't linger here indefinitely. And... even if you decide that dragon society is not where you want to be, I would like to try and at least impress them once."

Seteta turned her head and pressed a gentle kiss to his palm, then stood and began to prepare for bed. She quickly brushed her teeth, changed from her abaya and leggings into a linen nightshift, and combed out her hair.

Just as she was about to crawl into the bed, she paused and frowned.

"Rheinhard's in the Well," she murmured, glancing at Chaceledon. "I think Aetes is with him."

She bit her lip thoughtfully before sighing and settling down in the bed. "I'll go in for a bit," she said, closing her eyes. "At least distract Nestor and practice some Draconian."



It was a little disconcerting to hear Rheinhard speak that way of Seteta. Aetes had known her since she was a small child, and to even think of her doing some of the things he suggested... it was impossible to wrap his mind around. But he also knew that type of power in one's hand could make someone considering doing things they would have never contemplated before. It had happened to the Inizae once, after all.

When Rheinhard scooted over and rested his head on Aetes shoulder, Aetes reached for his hand, softly tracing his knuckles.

Rheinhard looked up at him. “If you would…I could show you. I would need to put my mouth over your eyes.” He sat up then, and touched Aetes’ cheek to guide his face. “Do not be afraid.” He leaned forward, and settled his mouth over the priest’s eyes.

Aetes inhaled sharply, but nodded, and let Rheinhard guide his face down, his breath warm across the bridge of his nose. The priest closed his eyes, and then he was... falling. By the time they landed on sunlit sand, Aetes stomach was flipping and flopping in ways it never had before, he welcomed Rheinhard's gentle encouragement to sit down on the sand.

"It's... very desert-like," Aetes eventually mumbled, curiously eyeing the lone tent with its door flaps strangely, solidly shut.

Nestor grouchily emerged from the sunroom and snapped his book shut.

“Really? Really. You realize this is the opposite of romantic, right?” Nestor sneered at Rheinhard, then fixed Aetes with a look. “Shut your mouth boy, you’ll catch sandflies.”

Rheinhard nodded to Nestor. “An ancestor of mine, Nestor Volker. Poisoner.” He explained.

“And the only educated one out of you lot. I can’t believe Seteta woke Brade and Aron. They’re insufferable. At least with Ferenzi there was some class.” Nestor complained.

Aetes watched Nestor a bit dazedly, then murmured to Rheinhard, "No superiority complex there, certainly."

Rheinhard bade Aetes to rise. “Come. The other two awake ones are here.” He said softly.

Aetes nodded, and reached for Rheinhard's hand to steady him. As he rose, Seteta emerged from the tent. She gave Aetes a quiet smile, then went to intercept Nestor, tucking her hand into the crook of his elbow. "Come," she told him in faltering Draconian, steering him back to the sunroom. "We're overdue for a lesson."
 

Chaceledon

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Chaceledon snickered as he welcomed her to bed. “Just make sure you’re not interrupting anything.” he said playfully. He cuddled up with Seteta, holding her as she descended into the Well.

_______________

Nestor raised an eyebrow at Aetes, but let Seteta lead him to the sunroom. “He seems to be taking it well. There’s no screaming at any rate. Now, I want you in full immersion when we return to the estate. No Abtati, no Common, Draconian only. You’re never going to master it if you don’t throw yourself in. Conjugate ten verbs for me on the blackboard.” He ordered in crystal clear Draconian, producing a piece of chalk from his pocket.

Rheinhard looked nervous. Aetes seemed to be handling it well…but he was also at Rheinhard’s mercy. He stepped into the Arena with him, where the sand ring had been replaced with a creaking ship’s deck, complete with soft wind and evening lamps. Across the water, snow fell thickly into the sea, producing a strange and muffled silence. Silence filled by two raucous voices singing.

Aron rose from a nearby card table, grinning at Rheinhard and Aetes. A young man with heavily dreadlocked brown hair and a freckled face leaned on the table with a smile. “Well isn’t this just precious.” Aron chuckled without a hint of malice.

“You two can stay here without Nestor bothering you. He’s in a bad mood.” Brade offered.

“He has good moods?” Aron smirked. “I’m Aron, that’s Brade. You’re Aetes, the priest.”

“Everything he hears we hear.” Brade clarified, and shuffled the card deck.
 

Seteta

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"I didn't scream the first time Rheinhard brought me in here, remember?" Seteta huffed lightly as she took the chalk. She'd... understood most of what Nestor just said, though a few words had escaped her. Most of it she could figure out from context. "I may have to speak Abtat occasionally if my parents come with us. But I will do so in moderation."

She sighed and faced the chalkboard. Really, picking up the language wasn't the hardest part of this. It was learning which letters and symbols corresponded with which words, and more than once over the last few weeks she'd thrown the chalk at Nestor in frustration and stomped out to the arena until she'd cooled down.

With a stubborn set to her gaze, she started slowly scratching away on the chalkboard, glancing curiously over her shoulder toward the arena from time to time.

"Where's Huron?" she asked after a while, realizing that she hadn't caught sight of him or heard his voice.



Aetes looked around in hesitant wonder as Rheinhard took him from the desert dunes into... a ship, on the ocean, with snow falling from the sky. It was so realistic that he could even see his breath wafting through the air, hold out a hand and catch a snowflake and watch it melt on his palm.

As Aron and Brade introduced themselves, Aetes inclined his head. If Nestor had been callous and proud, these two seemed to be the opposite.

“Everything he hears we hear.” Brade clarified, and shuffled the card deck.

"I'll, ah, keep that in mind," Aetes said, glancing at Rheinhard. "What are you playing?"
 

Chaceledon

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“Huron isn’t my responsibility. Focus.” Nestor snapped, and gestured to the chalkboard impatiently. “Last I saw he was in the forest door. Doing his fishing. He’s terrified Oor will come back at any moment. Now I want you to recite simple poems. Remember that rhyme about the rabbit? Recite it from memory in past tense.” He settled into a chair, gesturing at her to speak while he made some notes in his book.

__________________

“Just some gin rummy.” Brade said cheerily, and caught Rheinhard’s face. He wanted more time to get to know Aetes. Not for Aetes to mess about with his family. Brade stood up and threw an arm around Aron’s neck. “Whatcha say you introduce me to the new boss?”

“Sure thing, we haven’t bugged Nestor in a few hours.” Aron chuckled, and patted Rheinhard. “Cider on the stove downstairs.” He let Brade steer him out of the arena, and the sailor giggled as they made their way to the sunroom.

“So handsome. He reminds me of Denver. Is the Volker taste in men genetic?” Brade joked.

Rheinhard took Aetes’ hand and looked at him shyly. “Want to play a game together?” He asked. “Wait here.” He went downstairs briefly to find spare mugs and pour Aetes a cup of rich spiced cider. It wasn’t real, they were in Brade’s memories of winter on a Volkers vessel. The chill, the sound, even the snow and the taste of cider were all from Brade’s memories. Volker offered Aetes a mug, smiling a bit.

“It’s a strange place…but there are ways to make this prison beautiful. Seteta has helped a lot.” He messed with the rim of his cup. “Can I kiss you?” He asked, blurting out the question.
 
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Seteta

The Dragon's Betrothed
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Seteta frowned. She needed to go find Huron after this. It was understandable that he might be nervous, but Oor wasn't just going to pop in randomly, as far as she knew, unless there was something about the spell's construct that Nestor hadn't found yet. Which was possible, but... she'd sensed no lingering presence of Oor, even when she'd found the heart of the Well.

She huffed, and started reciting the poem Nestor ordered, stumbling over a few stanzas as she tried to recall the correct emphasis and switched words for making it past tense. When Brade and Aron showed up she heaved a sigh of relief, rattling off the final stanza of the poem with more than a few pronunciation errors, then smiled and looped her arms through the two men's elbows.

"Thank Abtatu you're both here," she grinned. "Which of you wants to come with me to find Huron? Or both of you can come."



Aetes smiled and nodded, allowing the two men to depart. He stroked a thumb over Rheinhard's skin when he took his hand again.

"Maybe something quick?" Aetes asked when Rheinhard suggested playing a game. Then the man disappeared below deck briefly, and Aetes explored the upper level of the ship while waiting. The detail was... incredible. Aetes was having difficulty believing that it was just... an illusion.

When Rheinhard returned with the warm mug of... what had the man called it, cider? He gratefully took the warm mug, cupping his hands around it and soaking up the warmth. He took a sip to test the temperature, and hummed appreciatively at the flavor of the mulled spices with the... whatever it was cider was made from. His eyes were warm as he watched Rheinhard nervously tracing the rim of his cup as he talked.

So Seteta was responsible, it seemed, for how this place looked and felt now. He should have known, with all the sand. Rheinhard did not strike him as the desert type.

He took another large swallow of cider, and then nearly choked on it at Rheinhard's next words.

“Can I kiss you?” He asked, blurting out the question.

Aetes cleared his throat, and set the mug of cider down on the table where Brade and Aron had been playing cards.

"You can," Aetes answered. "But not in here. I'd rather kiss you in the physical world than in your mind, at least for the first time."