Private Tales Scorched Earth

Raigryn Vayd

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"If I could change everything? Now there is a question that would go as well with wine as a good cheese. At least a bottle in.

"Most of the things I would change were beyond my control. Sympathmancy was going out of fashion when I was too young to do anything about it and when it became truly reviled it would have taken more than just me to reverse its fortunes.

"I would have liked to have been braver and stopped the Idemni from being driven to this place."

Raigryn stopped talking wistfully. He gave Fife a gentle squeeze.

"You were hoping for a simpler answer than me ranting to myself?"
 
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Fife

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She offered an apologetic smile. His was as good of a reply as any. Fife shook her head.

Not a simple question, she replied. You know how to answer. I don't.

Perhaps it wasn't fair to ask a question she couldn't have confidently answered herself. In part, her past was at the hands of others. But as much as Fife spent fixing her eyes on the future, she also spent looking back and wondering if she had done one thing differently...

In the end, she was the only person impacted by her own journey. His had affected many -- hers included.

She sighed and, with another shake of her head, pressed a smile. I'm sorry. Too much thinking. Can you tell me more about your book friend?

It was a shameless request for distraction. This whole trip out of Indretar was a distraction. They didn't have much longer out here; the effort would be wasted dwelling on things she couldn't change.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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"Ah, the librarian," he replied. "She is very old and very protective of her books. Older than most elves I think. As long as you are well behaved and quiet - I suspect you might be her favourite visitor ever - she is not as terrifying as she might at first seem."

Raigryn decided to simply let that comment hang in the hair to see how she had reacted to it.

He supposed she hadn't been given much chance to make choices in her life. It might have been why she was so frustrated when he didn't leave her to freely consider Maellarn's offer.

Still, making up had been worth it.
 
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Fife

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A favorite? Fife furrowed her brow and threw him a quizzical look. If silence was the measure by which this librarian chose her favorites, Fife's competition was few and rare. Light of feet, deft of hand, and mute as an empty house, she was apparently ideal.

If I am quiet? I am always quiet, she teased. How did you meet her? She knew he was capable of talking for hours with less prompt than this. Fife settled in preparation for a story, resting her arms on her knees.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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"That's an interesting story actually," said Raigryn. This was often the case. Fife knew by now that what hlit really meant was that here was a story that he found interesting.

"There was a benefactor of our libraries in the college. He was a man of middle years who loaned us the most fantastic books. I got to meet him at a party once, when I was very young. Used the opportunity to try and leverage some of his knowledge.

"You see, I knew he must have had a vast knowledge from the insight that came back with the books he brought every few months. Students would make requests and he would right them helpful notes on which chapters to read, points they thought the author had missed.

"It was maybe half an hour in when I realised that this man was very well spoken with almost nothing going on between his ears."

Raigryn turned towards the waters. Watching the bubbles as several fish moved just below the surface. They didn't tempt the fishing bird.

" Being brash and young I decided to follow him when he felt. I got this sense he was hiding something, closing off when we touched subjects he wanted to avoid.

"So I followed him down to the docks. The sun had fallen and he made straight for the oldest ship I'd ever seen. That's when I got to meet the librarian. Full of confidence I followed him right to the boat. Which is when the librarian slipped onto the Dock behind me. I turned to face her and immediately decided I was about to be eaten," he continued. He laughed at the memory, eyes sparkling with joy.

"She wasn't, but I was sworn to secrecy. She is from a very old species. Few of them left in the world. They would rather we thought there were none of them left."
 
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Fife

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Fife listened with her cheek resting on her folded arms. It was charming, how he got caught up in his own mind, whether in tangent or tale made no difference. She had yet to tire of it, perhaps because she lived vicariously in the sound of his voice or because she just liked the stories and glimpses into his life before her. Each one added threads to a tapestry that colored what she knew of him, but every one had loose ends that had yet to be woven into place.

The bird, the river, the valley and its village -- it was all momentarily forgotten as she sat beside him. These were happy memories. Fife smiled when he smiled, echoing his joy.

Hia tale wound off with its loose ends (as usual). Fife bumped him gently with her elbow.

Any clues? Or must I be surprised? He did seem to love shocking her with as little preparation as he could manage. Telling her probably broke that promise of secrecy anyways, and Raigryn didn't seem the sort to break his word easily. Fife's interest was piqued, but she wasn't about to start asking him to compromise his integrity to indulge her curiosity.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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"I'm not sure where to start," he said, visualising the librarian. "I'll try and draw her later. Just...Don’t stare when you meet her," he laughed.

Raigryn turned towards Fife. His smile was genuine and warm. He didn't want to place a weight on her shoulders, but he decided it was acceptable to accept that she made his life better. He had been lonely and without direction.

"Our next small adventure, before we get out of our depth again." Reaching up, he brushed a thumb across her cheek.
 
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Fife

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I will try not to, she promised. She had been curious about the Librarian since he had first spoken of her, now every taunting detail was only fuel to a fire.

Fife laughed, but had to lower her gaze from his as his thumb caressed her cheek. Though she didn't pull away, color flooded in its wake like ripples on the surface of still water. It was going to be a long time before she grew used to his easy affection, if ever.

We are good at finding trouble, she remarked. Some mutual blame to that, since Fife had always found her own before him. Granted, her trouble had usually come with far lower stakes than his.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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Raigryn placed his hand back on his lap. He knew he had taken their affections too far, too quickly. Frequent, small gestures would perhaps be easier for Fife to get used to. For most of her life, being touched had meant her life was in danger.

"We are, yes," he replied. He turned to look to the east and quietly wondered what trouble they would find. You did not have to turn over many rocks to find it in Arethil. There was an Empire grabbing land across Amol-kalit, houses close to war in Vel Anir and strife amongst the orc clans.

For a time, he enjoyed the comfortable silence, underlined only by the softly flowing water. The one vein that kept the idemni people alive. They had to head back and begin waiting for the news that would only take so long.

It was the following morning, as they sat down to breakfast, that Aretta shuffled into the communal tent. She was deathly pale, two of her apprentices shadowing every step, but she was alive.

Raigryn sighed softly and felt a weight fall from his heart.
 
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Fife

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Enjoying what quiet time they had left was easy. Keeping her mind occupied when they returned a little less so.

Fife wasn't really well accustomed to the practice of waiting. She could be incredibly patient, but usually only with things that were tangible -- like waiting for birds to land and the change of guards to slip through a grate between Elbion walls.

This wasn't tangible in the same way. It was a yes or a no, an answer to a question that pointed a them in one direction or the other.

She drummed her fingers and rearranged things. She stared at words on pages until they became meaningless and sighed a lot. She tossed in a more interrupted sleep. No news was good news, as the saying went, but that platitude didn't ease her mind one bit.

Fife was pushing her breakfast around in her bowl, only really half interested in her food and regretting getting so much. She noticed Raigryn looking up and, by his expression, immediately twisted in her seat to follow his gaze.

And just like that, she finally had her tangible answer. Forgetting Idemni custom or abandoning it wholesale for just a moment, Fife smiled brightly. Aretta looked like she had crawled out of the grave and had no business walking, but it was such a relief to see her being as stubborn as ever.

Fife turned back to her breakfast and bit back her smile, reminding herself of where they were. Her hand had a bit of a tremor to it and she didn't know if she wanted to jump and rejoice or melt into a puddle on the table and cry. Like waiting, happy outcomes weren't familiar to her either.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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Aretta met Fife's gaze. The girl had been there with Raigryn and stood firm against the monster. There was a hardness and determination to her that Aretta wouldn't have suspected at a first glance.

It betrayed her ways, but she let decided Fife deserved it. Her lips slowly curled upwards for a few moments before she also dipped her head in shame. Her left hand flicked at her side, indicating relief.

Aretta approached the pair and settled down on the bench opposite them. Her other students went to fetch her some food.

"How do you feel?" Raigryn asked.

"As if the werewolf stole half my soul, but at least what's left is mine. You will leave soon?" Aretta asked directly. Their relationship went back many years, she knew him well.

"Yes," Raigryn said, sparing Fife a sideways glance.
 
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Fife

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Not just a living Aretta, but with a smile. That solidified the feeling more toward wanting to cry, but Fife reined it in. One show of emotion was enough for now.

She sat with them and Raigryn asked the question that was on her mind. It was recovery from an injury she couldn't fully fathom, nor did she want to. Fife's luck was good, but not that good. Aretta was either incredibly fortunate or incredibly tough.

Or both.

She asked if they were leaving soon, and Raigryn looked to Fife with his answer. She met his gaze before dropping her eyes to her breakfast momentarily. That made it easier to keep a straight face.

I have learned much. No more improvement, but stronger than before.
She glanced from Aretta to Raigryn, a request to interpret what her teacher understood little of. Fife had stalled in terms of skill growth -- a fact illuminated by Ylerial's continued growth. It was a shrub at it's full potential beside a tree still gaining momentum. However, it accomplished Raigryn's goal of bringing her here. Better than she had expected, really.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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Raigryn expanded on the signed to Aretta. The swordsmaster nodded slowly.

"Never say there is no room for improvement," Aretta said. She paused for breath; even talking was tiring her out. She was stubborn, Raigryn let her speak.

"With any skill, if it takes a month to get halfway, it takes two years to make it three quarters of the way."

Aretta stopped. She balled her hands into fists as food was placed before her.

"You have been dutiful and focused," she said, "and leaving is no excuse to stop practising."
 
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Fife

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A lesson followed that she should have expected, but it was reassuring for Aretta to be... well, like herself. She knew her best when she was in her role as an instructor. Any other relationship would have been foreign.

Fife was biting her lip, her usual method of seeming less amused in Idemni company. She nodded, as much acknowledgement as was needed.

I will practice. And I won't take bad lessons from Raigryn, Fife replied. She had to give him an apologetic look as she made the sign for humor.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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"Good," she replied and then she turned to her food. With the silence came a new sense of relief. It washed over him, like the cool waves of the river had.

Aretta was an old friend. If she hadn't pulled through it would have hung over him for a long time. He had lost many colleagues and friends through the years. Empath's knew those close to them incredibly well.

Each loss was felt keenly. Raigryn was no better at trying to shield himself from his emotions than most people. He could sort them and shuffle them, but they were always there.

"I will miss this place," Raigryn said softly. "No more magic and swordplay for a few days."

"No lessons," Aretta agreed.

Raigryn hadn't said that exactly. There was plenty still for Fife to be learning on their travels, he thought.
 
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Fife

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It were as though something that had been twisted taught was loosened. Fife spared Raigryn a glance as they turned to their meals, and saw that the same tension had come out of him. They weren't losing Aretta today. For now, their friend was on the mend.

Focusing on her own food, her appetite had returned somewhat now that she wasn't sick with worry. His quiet comment, however, had her looking up again.

Gods knew she was going to miss being able to practice Empathy so freely. More than that, Fife would miss the security in Indretar. This was the first place that had felt like a home -- where she had felt safe and comfortable. She wasn't afraid of the Idemni. She had lived normally here. Was it just this place, or would she be able to feel the same confidence outside of the valley?

She added nothing, but the mild worry as that new reality (or a return to an old one) crept up on her a bit more. It was only a small color saturating into her mood, but it couldn't dampen her relief and happiness at seeing Aretta. Fife closed off those fretting thoughts and watched her teacher for a moment before eating her own breakfast.

After a moment, however, she inhaled softly as she remembered something. I need to speak to Maellarn, she told Raigryn. Tell her my decision.

A tinge of pink was added to her cheeks as she recalled why she hadn't told her yesterday, like she was supposed to have. Even if Maellarn already guessed her answer, she still owed her the honest fulfillment of her word.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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"I can meet you back at the tent?" he asked her. "Or come with you if you prefer."

This was her decision and she needed no advice or support from him to make it. He had already overstepped once.
 
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Fife

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What he asked wasn't very simply answered, and Fife replied first with a crease in her brow. She had assumed he would go with her, but now, confronted with the suggestion that this wasn't the default, reconsidered.

Of course she wanted him to go... but this was ultimately a matter between herself and Maellarn. While she had felt dependent on him as she'd broken away from her former life, she had grown far more capable in his absence. She didn't want to feel like a duckling, constantly under wing -- or underfoot.

I will meet you at home, she decided. This decision was important enough that she had started an argument over it. It was only right that she followed through and handled it with the same independence she had advocated for.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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Maellarn was outside of her domain. She was directing more idemni into the caves. She did not seem to have noticed Fife, but of course she had.

These caves had been her fortress. In the last day it was more than a chink in the walls. The confidence that formed the foundations of her fortress had been eroded. Perhaps to a point where she would never be able to wall her people off from the rest of Indretar again.

She should have seen a sign. Perhaps she should not have been as proud and just asked Raigryn directly. The worldly battle mage might have recognised it for what it was. Or what it had been.

"Fife," she said softly, turning just as she approached.
 
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Fife

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Fife was nervous. She couldn't decide as she walked if she wanted her hands free or if she wanted to grip the sword belt across her chest to relieve some of her nerves. While she wouldn't exactly say she was scared of Maellarn, the woman certainly intimidated her.

She was easily found outside the caverns. Fife slowed her pace to form what she was going how she was going to say it. While the spymaster didn't give any impression that she had noticed her approach, she turned as Fife came close enough she was going to whistle hello.

Offering a greeting in return, Fife drew up at same polite distance she kept from everyone when she could.

I am sorry I did not come speak with you yesterday, she began. Yesterday was... eventful. And that was where she would leave it.

I have thought about your offer. A lot. But I have 2 questions.

She generally kept her eyes averted, not as trusting of Maellarn as she was of Aretta. Today her gaze rose to meet hers. Fife was suddenly glad she'd left Raigryn behind. Maellarn had already taken her stab at his insecurities, she didn't want to poke at fresh wounds. She was well aware of just how much the idea of her staying behind upset him. And he would go -- Raigryn couldn't sit still for long.

But Fife also wasn't basing this decision on her skepticism alone. When she gave her answer, she wanted to be sure it was the right one. She owed Maellarn enough to at least ask and cover her areas of doubt.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 

Raigryn Vayd

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Maellarn's left hand stayed remarkably still. Most other idemni gave away their emotions with twitching movements of the fingers even when they tried to control it. She kept everything close to the chest, her feelings more than anything else.

"It was a bad day, you can say that freely. I lost several of my best in those caves. You helped bring that to an end."

A deferential nod of the head. More than she usually offered freely.

"Ask away. I may provide answers."
 
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Fife

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Fife nodded, eyes dropping once more. That wasn't why she had missed her promised visit for this talk yesterday, but she wasn't going to elaborate or correct her. But the nod was more than most got. That made two exceptions in one day, adding Aretta's smile.

That didn't make planning to leave them any easier.

You and Aretta train me. A favor to Raigryn, she began. If you train me this... Fife's gesture to the caves added the implucation of all they entailed. Not a favor. What do you want as payment?

A blunt question from a blunt young woman. Its answer was one Raigryn hadn't been able to speculate -- or at least hadn't aloud. It was Fife's primary reason for wanting to refuse on her own assumptions of what Maellarn would ask in return.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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"I am feeling quite honest today, Fife. You may regret that. The reason I offered more was for the chance to make you useful to me. So you could have the chance at a better life here. Not just for me own benefit, but because the idemni way would be better for you too. Does that answer your question? "

Maellarn was remarkably stiff as she spoke. She stood bolt upright, hands clasped together behind her back. Her eyes fell to Fife's hands once more, but they fell slowly. Reading Fife. Reading as if she were a book propped open before her.
 
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Fife

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This time, Fife shook her head. No. She didn't regret honesty. She was well acquainted with harsh truths, and knew it was easier to navigate them than sugar-coated half-truths.

And Maellarn's honesty was as frank as her inquest. Fife could have a home here, belong here... but she would be part of the spymaster's repertoire. It was (more or less) what they had expected. Maellarn was clever; it wasn't difficult to tell that Fife had grown here, felt safe here. What would she be willing to do for a place like this, where she was valued and accepted for all that she was -- inside and out?

But the last part. Better for you too. Fife had watched her while she was speaking, but her eyes shifted away then. It was similar to what Raigryn had said to her. Or started to. Unlike Raigryn, however, Maellarn was standing by her statement rather than retracting it.

She nodded. That answered it.

Last question. If I do not accept... Can I come back? If my thoughts change?

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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"Are you more likely to accept if I say no?" Maellarn asked in return. Once again, her posture gave away absolutely nothing.
 
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