Private Tales Scorched Earth

Raigryn Vayd

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"Hah! Don't joke about that, I was actually worried she might poison us just to keep the location of Indretar safe."

Raigryn took her hand, but didn't anchor too much of his weight to Fife as he stood. She was stronger now. Hours and hours of swinging steel and following Aretta's regimes had layered some muscle down on her lithe form. It did not, however, make her heavy enough to balance his full weight as he stood.

He placed a kiss on her lips as he stood, for her felt a little wave of elation to just be alive having seen that.

"It must be heading in the rough direction of Elbion," he said. "Though it could be going anywhere to the east really.".

At the scale it was genuinely hard to make any sense of it. A city would be like an anthill to the dragon.

"Was that tremor just it taking off?"
 
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Fife

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Fife leaned back to leverage her weight into helping him up. He dipped in to give her a kiss as he got up, however, surprising her. Raigryn would have felt it, the channel between their minds left open, as her brain lagged for a few of her quick heartbeats. It was going to be a little while before she was accustomed to his easy affection. Not that she minded it in the meantime. Fife smiled easily, still riding the same high.

She followed the path of the dragon and her own slew of questions finally caught up to her in the wake of what they'd seen. What could possibly sustain such a creature? It was so large it could consume a whole city like she ate an apple. Where had it come from and (more concerning) where was it going?

She shrugged as she looked back to Raigryn. Perhaps? She really didn't know. Any guess he had was likely far better than hers.

I do not want to go look, she admitted with a wave toward where it had come, cutting off that prospect before it occurred to him to suggest it. It could potentially take days to get as far as it had come in a few beats of its wings. We stay far away, please. She did make a note of humor to her tone, even if her face was serious. Whatever was over there, she wanted it to stay over there.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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"A few miles down the road is a village I was hoping to make before nightfall. Try some old fashioned not-even-slightly-spicy inn food. Then we track south towards the library. We are going roughly in the same direction as the dragon after that but..."

Raigryn shook his head and gave an exasperated sigh. He was usually so worldly and traveled, able to speak with some level of authority on most topics. Not this.

"And if we get there early enough we can have them pour a bath with hot water," he said. The thought of bathing in warmth, instead of the cold river of Indretar was one he could latch onto. It was easier to do that, than to try and imagine the scale of the titanic dragon.

He gave her hand a small squeeze and turned to check on Dusty. His affection came easily and often without thought. However, it had occurred to him that she would slowly become more accustomed to it. At least he hoped she would. For two decades any human contact for Fife had been a terrifying prospect. That wouldn't change easily.
 
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Fife

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The promise of food drew a smile back. While she was slowly learning to accept touch without paralyzing fright, she wasn't likely to completely unlearn her food habits. She hadn't felt truly hungry for a year, yet she still savored every bite and stashed breads in her pockets for later.

Raigryn was still struggling with the dragon, and Fife bit back a humored grin. Poor man. He tried to reason everything with an explanation, solid facts and knowledge he could relate to. For once, he was as clueless as she was, and that was clearly frustrating him.

She sighed happily at the mention of a hot bath. No more cold lake water and no more hastily dressing in the morning chill! Fife was as excited for that as the food.

Returning the squeeze of his hand, she followed after to the horses. Socks was anxious as they approached, dancing at the end of his reins with eyes still rimmed with white. Reaching out tentatively, she rubbed his neck until he calmed down. Fife didn't blame him for being afraid. Gods knew a part of her had been as well.

Petting him until he was calm enough (and sneaking him a snack from her bag, which he ate noisily and defeated her effort at stealth), she finally untied him and mounted. Socks pranced in a couple of worried circles before gluing himself to Dusty's side.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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"Really? Being in the shadow of a dragon the size of a town didn't bother you?" Raigryn asked Dusty incredulously. The horse swished it's tail at him.

Fife tried to sneak her barrel of a pony a treat, but it was rather easy to hear the crunching. Raigryn flared with amusement.

He was already thinking of how he would word his letter on the subject. Would it be best to stick to facts or add some theories that came to mind?

Fife knew he was a lonely traveller, but she hadn't been told how wide the network of associates he wrote to was. Scholars, wizards and adventurers with no political affiliation - whether by choice or enforced. She would meet the first with the librarian. He hadn't asked Belduhr to join them just yet.

Traveling east the ground was greener, the terrain less flat. It afforded them a view of the small village that had grown up around the only bridge over the river. Heath-on-Bry, as opposed to the Ballett-on-Bry which sat on the bridge twelve miles south.
 
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Fife

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Raigryn was absorbed by his thoughts, so Fife left him to it. Gods knew she had plenty of her own to mull on. She kept casting her eyes about, wary for more of the dragon, but it was gone. For now. Ideally, it would remain that way.

The landscape changed as the day wore on. While she had enjoyed much of life among the Idemni, she had missed the color green. She wasn't going to miss the red grit in her clothes either, even if it meant she may have to ride in the rain someday soon.

Topping a hill, a town along the river popped into view. Houses of wood and stone were an odd sight after months of canvas tents. Lights twinkled in windows as evening approached and she felt a knot in her stomach. Fife tried to keep a lid on her feelings of unrest, flashing a smile at Raigryn.

What is the place called? she asked, hoping to distract herself as much as him from it. With growth came change; she could not live happily with one foot in her old and new selves. Eventually, she was going to have to become comfortable with this. Better to get it over with than to drag it out, she thought.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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"Heath-on-Bry," he said confidently, as they rode down towards the village. There was no wall, no palisade. The area was relatively free of serious threats from orcs and other raiders that would take on a large village.

"There is one main inn if I remember correctly -and I usually do - just on the other side of the bridge. It's an old stone bridge that's done them well. We'll have some hot food on the table in...Oh. Hmm."

Ballett-on-Bry read the sign they passed as they approached the outskirts of the bridge.
 
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Fife

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If he noticed, he indulged her distraction. For which Fife was grateful. Raigryn began to tell her about Heath-on-Bry as they plodded closer to its eaves. It looked like dozens of other small towns they had passed through during their travels: sleepy and remote, pleasantly uneventful. She hoped that it remained that way, untouched by the foul luck that seemed to follow adventurers like them.

They passed a sign and Fife was, more or less, surprised that she could slowly spell out the letters on her mind. And it most certainly did not say Heather. Fife bit her lip sharply and managed to stifle a laugh, but she didn't succeed in preventing her gaze from sliding over to him.

A long time ago you came here, she signed. It was her best effort to verbally offer a pat on the shoulder to alleviate some of the embarrassment.

No part of that implied that she was forgetting this, however.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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Raigryn glared at the sign for having defied him. He made a soft harrumph and had Dusty walk on beyond it.

"Maybe I should have taken a left at the old hanging tree," he muttered under his breath. The glimmer of humour down their empathic connection gave him away. With the sulk out of the way he could see the funny side.

"Which unfortunately means I don't know which side of the bridge an inn will be," he declared.

Raigryn never worse his sword on his back as he entered a peaceful down and he gestured for Fife to do the same. He kept it low against Dusty's flank. It didn't give the impression of a travelling scholar when you road in with a length of good steel so visible.

"That looks like the place," he said. Raigryn would have had Fife read the sign, but it was a painting of wheatsheaves. It would be hard to keep up her training without more material to read.
 
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Fife

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The mutter and the faint glow of humor shook the minimal restraints on her amusement. Raigryn fessed up to being a little lost and Fife's laughter was a sharp rush of breath from her nose. She made a pointed effort in turning her face away and looked around like she might have had an idea. (They both knew she didn't.) For once, she didn't take the opportunity to tease him. There was a fine line between laughing with him and laughing at him.

Fife removed her sword at his example and was surprised at how odd it felt to have to take off a weapon and then how much more odd it felt to be out in the open without it. Picking up her sword had been second nature in Indretar. In fact, wearing it had felt normal by the time she had left.

When added to her amusement at Raigryn's expense, the lingering adrenaline rush of seeing an actual dragon today, and the general anxiety of being perceived as female by strangers, Fife was feeling more or less like a very confused soup of emotions.

Her good humor was keeping her relatively center, at least. Fife was grateful for that.

Raigryn eventually brought them to something that looked like an inn. She flashed him a nervous smile -- but one of her brows arched in involuntary warning.

This is it? You are certain? She didn't need to add the sign for humor.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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"It is definitely an Inn thankyouverymuch," went Raigryn. He laughed as he slipped down from the saddle.

Raigryn handed Dusty's reins to Fife. He left his sword strapped to Dusty as he stepped into the Inn. The door barely closed before he stepped back out. A teenage boy followed him and headed for the ponies. He offered Fife a warm smile as he took Dusty's reins from her.

Raigryn took his saddlebags and threw them over his shoulder. He passed the lad an extra coin without making a fuss of it. Raigryn wasn't flush with coin right now but the youngest never got paid much for their work.

"We've got a room for the night and they're still cooking," Raigryn said to Fife. He looked distinctly pleased at this.
 
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Fife

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Fife wore her happiness, a gentle warmth peeking through the mire of her very conflicted mind. For him, at least, there was no mincing the honest thread of joy amidst relative turmoil. She hopped down and gathered Socks' reins with a quiet whistle of his name, then Dusty's when Raigryn handed them to her. She watched him go before turning to pet their noses thoughtfully.

A boy came out to take their horses, which Fife was a bit reluctant to relinquish. Without returning his smile, she passed off the reins. Her hand followed the line of her pony's body as she walked to his flank to untie her bags.

Raigryn returned and she followed his cue on their swords, casting hers a final glance as Socks was led away with the weapon tied to the saddle. Aretta would have lectured her endlessly for parting from her weapon for any reason. But Aretta wasn't here -- and she had more than just the knife in her boot.

Old habits died hard.

Fife's attention perked up when Raigryn mentioned food. She looked up at him from watching her pony with both elated surprise and eager curiosity.

Tell me, tell me! Most people probably didn't get this excited over food, but then Fife was not like most people.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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"Food so special that it is..." Raigryn swept his arm in a grand gesture as if about to announce something truly grand, "..not spicy.

"You may want to add pepper to whatever you have just so that your taste buds can feel it. You probably got used to the spice as quickly as my stomach decided it would tolerate it."

It was colder this way. The change between the outside and inside was stark. The heat of a fire and lots of bodies within stone walls. There was a hubbub of conversation. People were animated in their discussions. It took Raigryn a moment to realise that this was normal outside of Indretar.

"Grab a table," called the landlady. "Wasn't expecting more at this hour so I've sent ma girl to lay the bed and run a bath. Got a stew on?"

It wasnt fine cuisine. It was mystery meat from the rest of the week cooked for so long that lamb could not be distinguished from chicken. Assuming you could find the meat. It did, however, carry a lot of flavour.
 
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Fife

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Food that wasn't spicy. Fife gasped, mocking far more surprise than she felt. It devolved into a hissing giggle as she adjusted her saddlebags on her shoulders.

Good! She was looking forward to food that was kind to her palate. The anticipation was enough to blunt her nerves as they entered the inn.

Her eyes did a quick sweep when they came into the noisy, balmy room. Raigryn wasn't the only one having a little culture shock after months with the Idemni. She was accustomed to the even, controlled tones and the soft volume. This was boisterous and lively.

A woman directed them to be seated and Fife did so, glad to be sitting and out of the scrutiny of the other patrons. She settled her bags beside her and made herself comfortable -- even if her toes barely touched the floor from her chair. She probably looked more like Raigryn's daughter than his partner.

Partner. It was still a strange word, even in her mind. With somewhat rosy cheeks, she chewed her lip and glanced between Raigryn and the other faces in the room.

All her feelings were set aside the moment food was in front of her. In much the same way she suspected Raigryn made her laugh to chase away her anxieties, so a good meal had the power to distract her from a great deal of unhappiness and worry.

And (to her, at least) it was good. Fife wasn't as good at telling apart different meats and vegetables and spices, but whatever the stew was made of, it was good enough to suit her. The savory flavor was a drastic change from the heat of Idemni fare. Taking a bite, she sighed gustily and put her hand to her cheek.

This is good, she told him. Fife would be hard pressed to find a food she didn't like. She took her time eating, both savoring it and killing time while a bath was drawn. Looking around, she took survey of the people before turning to Raigryn with a soft whistle of his name.

Where do you come from? It was a very random, sudden question, but one she had thought a hundred times if she had thought it once. She forgot that she could ask him things like that now. Simple things that she hoped had simple answers.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 

Raigryn Vayd

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Raigryn was half way down a mug of beer already. It wasn't high quality dwarven stuff. It was probably brewed locally. However, beer and thick crusty bread dipped in stew was heavenly.

It finally occurred to Raigryn that she was sitting at a public house dressed as a girl. Far from Indretar where she had found something that resembled a home for a time. She was back in a world where no one could even understand her sign language.

"Breave, it's a small town near Alliria," he replied. "There have been so many changes in my life that it feels like it was six different life times ago. Before I studied at Elbion, before I went to war. Wars. I wonder what it would be like to live the life of an elf," he mused. "Did you want a beer or a wine?"
 
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Fife

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She listened with rapt curiosity. It was a mundane thing, but to Fife it was fascinating. She didn't have a family or ancestral home. She had familiar streets, abandoned buildings, and fences and grates she could squeeze through. They weren't places she might visit with much fondness.

Hearing it took her mind away from the busy inn. It made the cut of her shirt less constricting and the fit of her britches less tight. She was, instead, picturing a town not unlike this one near Alliria and what he might have looked like when he was younger. He never told her enough to satisfy her endless curiosity.

Elf? She made a sound of dismissal through her teeth and waved her hand as if to shoo away the notion like a fly. She liked him just fine with his experiences as a human. Too much might have changed as an elf for their paths to have crossed.

But that was too much to say with only the Silent Way, so she let the thought pass.

Fife tipped her head to consider the options. She answered with a simple W to indicate wine and offered what equated to please, then smiled. It had been a while since she had tried something new. It couldn't be worse than some of the bitter, dark beers she'd tried in the past.

 
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Raigryn Vayd

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"You have wine?" Raigryn asked the innkeeper as she moved over to the table.

"Oh yes, both red and white," she replied, as if it was worth stating with pride. If dwarves made the best ale then it was a close contest between men and elves for the wine. The wine here would not be in any contest, he suspected, but it was probably quite drinkable.

"Glass of red please," Raigryn said.

"The town was much bigger than this village. Imagine stretching twice as far down the river with closer houses in the middle."

Raigryn wasn't a mind reader, he simply chose to use what was at hand to describe where he was born.

"It was hot in the summers and freezing cold in the winters. And it rained a lot through spring and autumn. Always drizzling."
 
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Fife

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If the initial question didn't give away the degree of her curiosity, her eyes did. She had always watched him closely, once as cautious of him as the rest of the world, but it was different when he told stories. Revealing more personal details of who he was shifted the curiosity to something more akin to fascination. Fife had existed outside of normal society, always looking in through the windows to catch her glimpses of domesticity. Imagining a home life was as strange to her as it would be for him to imagine living without it.

She pictured Breave as he described it. Her social skills might have been stunted, but her imagination had flourished in silence. For the moment, her stew was forgotten in favor of devoting every bit of attention to the rare details of his life before her.

Your home was inside the village? It was a sentence comprised of more than one of the Silent Way's few words requiring the use of both hands. What did your parents do?

As she made the sign for indicating questions, however, Fife realized she had been leaning closer. There was a brief moment where her eyes dropped and she straightened, hands settling on the table and her expression losing its excitement in lieu of neutrality.

Was it too much? Was it too odd to be so damn curious about basic home lives? Probably. Navigating what was and wasn't appropriate levels of curiosity was still new territory. She felt alien enough around other people, she didn't want to feel that way with Raigryn, too. Did he mind? He had spoken little of himself over the last year. Based on the few details he had revealed in the past, Fife reminded herself that there might have been delicate parts of his life as well.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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Raigryn didn't know if Fife suddenly straightened because she was in public or because she was falling into some idemni habits of concealing outward emotion. He hadn't thought such things would stick for very long.

What did cross his mind was that Fife knew so little of the details of his past. He had never sat down and load out every part of his life for her. For how intimate they had become, she knew precious little of his past. There were parts that hurt, parts that he was proud of and parts where very little of note had happened at all.

"My father was a carpenter," he said. "My mother did odds and end around the town. Helped make cheese, bread or beer when she was free. My father also spent a lot of time drafted into the local regiment. He taught me how to use a sword."
 
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Fife

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For some reason, she had imagined his home beyond city walls -- perhaps because she associated him now with travel and adventure. He seemed so well suited to being out of doors that imagining his beginnings inside city walls was… odd, unexpected. Then again, she had begun in a rather similar way. She was still tired of noisy cities and their crowded streets.

His upbringing sounded delightfully simple. It wasn't at all what she had expected. So maybe she was somewhat guilty of romanticizing other peoples' lives, and maybe she had placed an unfair amount of that on one of the few people she knew beyond a name.

A smile pulled at the corners of her mouth, a portion of her prior mood slowly returning. Raigryn had answered the question. If she touched something delicate, he would surely tell her. Right? Fife was brimming with questions. If he was willing to entertain her, he (of all people) could understand why she was so curious.

Constructing her next question took some creativity, however. It wasn't a particularly difficult question, only clunky in sign.

You were what age when you found Empathy? She touched the familiar sign of an eight to her forehead and looked up in question. A less invasive question, she hoped.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 

Raigryn Vayd

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Wine did not arrive in a glass for Fife, but a wooden mug. Seemed about right for the place, Raigryn decided.

"I must have been around twelve when I started to use it. Perhaps younger when I started to draw it without thinking. It's not an easy art to use without training, but it's easy to gather Aspects. That part comes quite naturally."

It truly did feel like several life times ago when they had come. His father had been training with the local garrison in the evenings. Everyone expected another draft to raise a regiment for war after the winter. They had arrived at his house, then gone to fetch his father.

"Two mages came to the house when I was around fourteen. My parents couldn't read or write but they had someone draft a letter the year before. I was apprentice and left that winter. The next summer my father died at war, the next winter my mother of disease. Difficult times."
 
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Fife

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Her wine arrived and Fife didn't know any better to expect it to come any other way. She gave the innkeeper a small smile with her nod of thanks -- a tiny show of her slow comfort. While Raigryn spoke, she gave it an experimental sip. There was something satisfying about the dryness it left in her mouth. It wasn't bad. In fact, she decided (after a bigger sip) that she liked it more than the beer and ale she had had thus far.

Twelve. Fife tried doing some simple math in her mind, but the ambiguity of age and time made it difficult. If she was about twenty, how long had she been using her Empathy? Actually using it? Part of that she could answer definitively, the other she could not.

The content of the conversation shifted suddenly. Fife's eyes had drifted off into the middle distance as she tasked her brain with numbers and recollections, but they flitted up to Raigryn. She set down the mug.

I am sorry. He had mentioned it before, but he was not always easy to read to tell if the conversation truly upset him. Just because she didn't ever have parents to lose didn't mean she didn't understand at least part of the feeling. After all, she had lost people, too.

But that was enough asking. He had shared, and she felt it was only fair to match her growing understanding of him with pieces from her own life to broaden his vision of her.

I remember a sister. Not by blood; like me, with no home, no family. She watched over me. A brother with us before. I had no name, called me 'little one'. I don't remember their names.

Fife patched together the concepts to make it convey the general idea of what she was trying to say. She smiled to herself with the odd nostalgia of the few memories she had of what might be considered family. It wasn't much, but it was hers.

I used Fury five years ago? She wobbled her hand in a gesture of uncertainty and looked up like he might know the correct answer. Fife shrugged. I used Tranquility before. When I was alone. Young. Ten years ago? I do not know when I started.

Fife chewed her lip and a crease formed between her brows. It was easy. Fury was easy. Messy with no training.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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"You were placed in situations were you would have found a way to use the Aspects you needed to use," he said thoughtfully. It sounded sensible, but this was one of those times where Raigryn felt that saying something would be more reassuring that admitting ignorance.

He briefly wondered how likely they would be to ever find any trace of where she had come from. He decided they would be very unlikely.

When he found out that the dragon had brought some ruin to Elbion he would find it even less worth an attempt.

"If you like that," Raigryn said, pointing at the mug,

You will like real wine, he signed.
 
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Fife

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He always knew just what to say in any situation to sound properly sagely. He was well suited to the profession of scribe, in her mind. But she gave a small tch of amusement.

A terrible way to train. I wouldn't have learned others. How could she have? Joy, perhaps, she might have figured out in time. The others? Not likely. If she had, it would have been quite ugly. Fife didn't really want to imagine what sloppy execution of Misery and Disgust looked like.

Raigryn shifted the topic, even signed, and Fife smiled. She understood the reason for signing as soon as his remark was completed. She gasped and held the mug closer, attempting to look scandalized but never completely managing to put her smile away.

Real wine? she echoed. Is this not real? I like it. She raised her brows and, looking as indignant as she could while still amused, took a defiant drink.

It, like every other alcoholic beverage that had been put in front of her, was going to make short work of her.

// Raigryn Vayd //​
 
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Raigryn Vayd

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There is a lot of good wine out there to find and try, he signed.

Looking down at his hands, Raigryn realised how easy it was to be loose lipped about Empathy. Not only was this the first empath he had trained in a very long time, but their time in Indretar had made him relaxed.

Not that every village idiot had ever heard of Empathy. It was in the cities that the tarnish had spread over its reputation.

"We still have several to finish learning. We need to be able to balance all the...things we can do. Fortunately there are many situations in this world that can be solved through the dutiful application of a good length of steel. And you now carry idemni steel. "
 
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