Private Tales Scorched Earth

A private roleplay only for those invited by the first writer
Fife snickered. They had, in fact, been quite happy to have the children supervised and elsewhere. She didn't mind. It had been fun. Seeing a childhood she'd never had was its own reward – happy kids getting to be happy kids.

She nodded sagely, but smiled at his expense somewhat. She leaned in to bump his shoulder with hers.

I will get messy so we can go home early. Easily done (seeing how she was also notoriously lightweight) and saved his pride. As fun as parties were, she would always prefer a quiet evening with Raigryn.
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"I will just pace myself and mysteriously vanish between conversations and drinks," Raigryn laughed. "I would not wish to tear you away from all of the food being laid out for the guests."

Slipped and arm from behind her, he reached for her hand on instinct. Knowing that would silence her, his hand came to rest on her leg.

"Who knows, we might get invited to another," he said, thinking of Romelia's son in laws. "Did Romelia expect us back any particular time?" he asked. He couldn't remember if there had been arrangements.
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Fife laid a hand on her cheek, sighed wistfully, and made one of those dreamy expressions girls made – the one with the fluttering eyes and half smile. A fancy party with an open buffet? He'd have to cart her away.

He was, of course, not long before diverting her back to an actual discussion. If only she could talk about food only and always. Fife shrugged.

Did not expect Larian. No more plans. Day is over. Romelia was tired, sleeping coming home. She smiled and slipped her hand under his, lacing their fingers. No rush to go back, she continued with the other. Plans? Stay? Walk?
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Walk, he signed back.

Raigryn took the opportunity to practise. He was going to need a plan to get them doing some sword training again. He didn't want to draw curiosity and questions, but he needed something to help get his coordination back.

One of the husbands would almost certainly indulge him in a bit of fencing, but that was not his style. He would end up getting frustrated, especially right now.

Raigryn stood slowly, brushing his trousers down. Too much of him ached from standing and sitting at the moment.

Holding her hand, he led her back through the stables in silence. He didn't have anything to say. He simply wanted to stretch his legs, hold her hand and watch the sun gk down.
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Raigryn signing always made her smile. It was a very small gesture, but it meant much more. Literally, however, the sign was for walking. That was always something she could do. Fife rose and brushed her skirts clean as well. She slipped her hand into his and matched his gait, two smaller steps to every one of his.

They plodded along slowly through the pasture together. The grass whooshed and hissed in the light breeze. The sun was going down over the rooftops and casting a warm golden glow. A bell tolled in the distance, calling the hour. The forge was silent and lights had been lit in the house.

It was cozy. Fife slowed their pace, reluctant to return. It wasn't possible to stand in the pasture forever, but the moment they passed through the gate the peace would be broken and they'd be plunged back into the very busy quiet life.

A strange thought occurred to her, and Fife stole a glance up at Raigryn. Something he had said a long time ago (that hadn’t meant much at the time) lodged itself in her mind. Maybe something she could ask him later. Now probably wasn’t the best of times. Or, perhaps, that was the quiet voice of insecurity speaking. Regardless, she let the thought go.

Tomorrow, she signed, segueing into something else completely. Stay here. Sword practice together. Fife gestured to the barn and forge, which had space enough for the two of them to do some training in private. Maybe go walking. You and me. Walls over water? He’d promised some very nice views when they’d first arrived. Romelia hadn’t spoiled that. Yet.

The gate was all too close now. Fife wasn’t quite ready to go back, but she knew they should. The sun would be going down and they’d have to wash up before dinner. Romelia was going to talk at length about their day, and the sooner they got inside the sooner they could go to bed. Raigryn was tired and, frankly, so was she. It had been a very busy day for both of them. Rest would be good.

But she didn’t want to socialize. She didn’t want rest. Fife stopped at the gate and turned to face him.

Leave your window open tonight, she told him abruptly. If you want to. Her face blazed with color from the tip of her nose to her ears. Subtlety was not something the Silent Way was good for. Not that she would have known how to go about this more subtly if there had been a means to.
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They could make a plan for all these things, but he knew that his will was not up to defeating that of Romelia. It wouldn't be a battle between two heavyweights. It would be him trying to make a point and Romelia floating around - and over - anything he had to say.

He smiled at the concept and hoped they would get that day. There was an optimism in his smile, something in his expression that had rarely been seen in recent weeks.

They would go through forms together and he could use the weight of the sword to train his arms. If he could find some broom handles they could spar and he could be thoroughly embarrassed by how quick and balanced she now was and how tired and slow he would be.

If you want to.

He offered no reprieve for her embarrassment. Instead she was offered a wry grin, one that he would explain before it cause much more confusion.

He canted his head to one side, looking a little guilty.

"I ignored a lot of conversation today to practise stealing Desire. Because I was thinking I could use that to walk down the corridor without the floorboards creaking tonight. So...are you sure you can make the window safely or should I carry out my scheme instead?" he laughed.

He was glad she had been thinking of him too. Despite the slightly drunk evening, there was something they were still missing.
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Looking at the house and determining how easily it could be scaled had been an idle habit. With no thought at all, she’d located six points of entry. If Raigryn’s room was anything like hers, getting in from the window wouldn’t even be challenging. The application of these fine skills was certainly not what Lawrence had intended, but she was glad to finally put them to peaceful use.

Raigryn grinned back at her, which really only made the color on her cheeks burn like wildfire.

It was evident that she wasn't the only one who had been thinking about it. She laughed, shook her head, and covered part of her face with one of her hands. The rascal! And she had been worried she was being too forward.

I will come to the window. Save your strength. You will need it.

It was her turn to grin. Fife lifted her chin and, flashing him a look over her shoulder, proceeded to open the gate and walk briskly toward the house. She hoped the effect was confident and provocative, but her legs were suddenly terribly wobbly.
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Raigryn was quite impressed at the fact that she could pull this off. He knew that she was quite the climber. Raigryn also knew that the Steel Coin had likely encouraged the skills she had learned on the street. It was something he had tried to keep the Idemni from encouraging.

Too late now. He had spent his time drooling in a cold cell whilst such abilities had been encouraged.

His eyes went wide at her comment. No one had been encouraging that. She had grown that confidence all on her own. He could remember her etched the word harder on his chest once, but nothing this playful. Raigryn was left grinning on the spot.

Raigryn should have had a quick response, but he stood by the gate and watched her walk away. He had to increase his pace as to catch up before she made the house.

"Keep your stockings on for this little endeavour," he said. Better late than never. "You will need them."

Better late than never.

He stood tall beside her and knocked on the door. His expression said all she really needed to know. If that had been a competition to create surprise then she had won. He simply couldn't let it go without response.
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The hours that followed were delightfully easy.

Romelia had much to discuss. She was animated and loud – everything Fife was growing to expect and appreciate. Her stories gave more life to Fife's very limited descriptions of their day and gave Fife the opportunity to engage in conversation that otherwise was outside of her vocabulary.

Fife didn't have to pretend to smile. Her emotions flowed true and clean, untainted by the bleed of Aspects stolen from strangers. Her Joy was her own. As Raigryn had said, that foul stuff was still leaving her system, too. It wasn't chemical like his apathy, but Lawrence and the Steel Coin had poisoned her. It had not yet run its course through her system and there would be more bad days ahead of her. For now, at least, her mind was clear and doubt was silent.

Thankfully, Masselin caught on to their eagerness to retire. Fife feigned more tiredness than she felt to enlist him in their effort to make a polite exit. At long last they bid each other good night. Fife took particular notice at how the floorboards in the upstairs hall did, in fact, squeak rather noticeably.

Waiting for the rest of the house to go dark and quiet, Fife quietly opened her window and shutters. She peered around and, seeing the coast was clear, carefully stepped onto the sill.

Climbing was one of her favorite things. She had no trouble at all finding hand- and footholds in the stone. Fife closed the shutters with her foot and began scaling the exterior of the home. She pulled herself onto the roof by its eaves and, staying crouched low, stalked over the ridge and silently down the other slant. Peering over, she counted windows and made sure the one that was open was actually the correct one. This felt too easy. Fife caught the eave once more and swung herself down toward the wall below.

There was a soft clatter to her right, and Fife looked over. A few windows down, another set of shutters opened. She didn't have time to pull herself back up or cling to the wall before Masselin appeared.

He began climbing out of his window before he, too, noticed he wasn't alone. The two made eye contact as they stewed in total silence. After a moment or two had passed, Fife smiled sheepishly and freed one hand to press a finger to her lips. A secret. Masselin grinned back and echoed the gesture. He wasn't incredibly quiet or graceful stepping onto the slope of an intersecting roof below his window, but he seemed familiar with the route. He made his way down a trellis to the garden and looked up to wave at Fife. She waved back, and then he was gone.

It would seem as though she wasn't the only one conducting secret affairs at this hour.

Feeling considerably less guilty, Fife finished climbing down to Raigryn's window and swung herself onto his sill. She perched herself there and softly whistled for Raigryn to announce her arrival.
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Raigryn was reflecting upon the fact that he could spend months with time flying by as if just seconds had passed. And now scant minutes could seem to stretch into hours. He resisted the temptation to look out of the window, which meant that he missed an entirely amusing exchange.

He stood bolt upright at the whistle. Finally time could swing from slow, stretched out anticipation to a feeling that they were snatching borrowed time.

Raigryn didn't shelter his mind from her. It was a pure, unbridled joy that unfurled around him. The colour would not remain so clear and crisp for long.

He stepped up to the open window and offered a hand. Raigryn wore a grin from ear to ear. He also still wore his white tunic, breeches and braces. There was clarity in his gaze as he looked up at her, nothing holding him back, nothing but the promise that he would try and match the challenge she had laid down for him.
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Her fingers slid into his hand and she smiled. Gently, sweetly.

They didn't need Romelia to play matchmaker. Emotion blossomed around them, coloring the room in vibrant Aspects both pure and honest. The hairs on her arms stood up. She felt velvet soft as a rabbit pelt, the enveloping warmth of water. She sensed, in their strange, intangible way, what he felt. With a content sigh, she shrugged off her mental barriers like a heavy cloak to lay bare her own mind to him.

Fife slid down from the sill, her body brushing against his. She had dressed in consideration of her route and method. If she was going to get caught (as unlikely as that was), it wasn't going to be in a shift. She'd tucked a shirt into a pair of trousers and covered up with her yellow coat. Her feet, however, were bare and her hair was only loosely bound at the nape of her neck.

No blue dress. No complicated underpinnings. Nothing new. It was just Fife.

Her hand followed the lines of his arm. Her touch was feather-light over his forearm – healed, perhaps, but not yet forgotten. Fife loosely curled her arms around his neck, rose up on the tips of her toes, and drew him down to her level to kiss him with a breathy sigh.

The last time he had held her with so much emotion had been when they had been separated. No one was going to pull her out of his embrace this time.
The tranquil morning was broken by the sharp clang of metal. This was not altogether an unusual sound for the Smith's forge, so the neighbors and chickens proceeded with their morning unfazed. Inside the smith's barn, however, the morning was far from the usual routine.

For the tenth time in a row, Fife effortlessly knocked Masselin's blade aside and ended their spar by harmlessly tapping his body. She had spent much of the first hour after breakfast warming up, and only the last third of that time sparring with Masselin. They had moved slowly at first, and Fife had politely allowed her brother an obvious victory or two in that time.

When he had complained that she was going easy on him, she had shrugged, grinned, and set herself into a totally different position. Disarming, thwarting, and just outright beating him was not difficult. The smith was not a strong swordsman, and though his pride was bruised, he took the defeat in good humor. At last, he held up a hand in surrender.

"Mercy," he laughed breathlessly. "I was wrong. Please continue to go easy on me." He shook his head but offered a hand toward Fife. She clasped it with a smile.

"Not bad for a scribe." Masselin made to ruffle her hair, but Fife swatted at his hand and ducked out of the way. "If you're that good with a sword, how good are you with a quill?"

Fife snickered, an unladylike sound but a happy one as she continued to dodge her brother's final attempt to catch her. She slipped beneath his arm, plucked the sword from his hand, and put several paces between them before he'd properly caught his footing.

Then she turned toward Raigryn, who had been observing her for more than an hour now. The easy confidence she had assumed when dealing with her brother faltered in her expression and her stance. Nevertheless, Fife stood before him and smiled nervously. He had wanted to see how much she had improved, and while Masselin was clearly nowhere close to her equal in ability, squaring up with him had still given plenty for Raigryn to observe.

Fife hadn't felt nervous about someone's opinion since leaving Indretar. She'd been eager to impress Raigryn and Aretta and Maellarn, but never Lawrence; the approval of the latter and his company had not been linked to her confidence, but a necessity.

Raigryn's opinion mattered. He might have been her friend and partner now, but he had been her tutor first. Her skill not only reflected her hard work, but also the significant amount of time they had spent among enemies. There was no polite way to ignore that when demonstrating her abilities.

I made a bad step, left foot, poor balance when he swung left, she explained. Met sword bad, wrong stance. Defended from above, should have been below.

The Silent Way was a robust language when speaking about technique and movement. Fife was as sober as a stone as she acknowledged her error. Or, perhaps, a certain Idemni teacher.
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You knew. You acted. You countered.

Raigryn signed back, but knew he would have to speak.

He had been watching closely so that he could provide observations, but he was personally invested in watching her progression. Pride was not something that could be directly inferred from Empathy, but it was plain as day on his face.

"You've improved a lot and I have never said I was a master at training the sword. Which is why we went where we went."

Even with Masselin effectively being a relative, Raigryn did not say the name of the Idemni home out loud.

"This will now be about guiding your training and helping you find ways to approve on your own. You know that you struggle when someone shifts from a downward strike to on your left so we will repeat that over and over. Slowly at first, until your body can do it without you."

He grinned and looked at Masselin.

"You, however, are not beyond my ability to teach," he laughed. "If you would like it."

Raigryn turned back to Fife before she could enjoy the comment too much.

"And neither is your magic!"
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Where she was uncertain, Empathy left no room for doubt. Not that any part of him seemed disingenuous; Raigryn was very obviously proud of her. His pride helped to bolster her confidence and quiet the nagging voices of regret and insecurity. She was overthinking things, as usual.

It was odd knowing that she was beyond Raigryn's ability to train her. Even if she still had so much to learn from Empathy, swordsmanship had felt like an impossible feat when they had first begun. It had been silly to put a sword in small hands. Now she was growing beyond his reach.

She could dwell on that later. In the meantime, she flashed Masselin a rather smug grin – which Raigryn rather quickly smothered with five words. Masselin laughed as color blazed up Fife's cheeks. The glare she threw him was quite menacing, but he was still biting down on more laughter. Proud as ever, Fife raised her chin and shook her hair from her face.

Your turn, she gestured to Raigryn before extending the sword out to him. She met his gaze with a soft smile. Easy things, she reassured him. Foundational work, strength building.

Fife wanted to evaluate him the same way, more or less. She didn't give her sword to Masselin, but stepped back into the cleared space to spar with him herself.

You choose the kata.
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"The Dawn Third," Raigryn said.

He watched the little exchange between Masselin and Fife and pretended not to notice. That she needed to have her balance and magic worked on, didn't mean he wouldn't guide her swordwork.

He wished they had stayed in Indretar for longer and hadn't investigated the dragon. It was too late to look back at that decision now.

He set himself and lifted the wooden sword. It didn't feel right. It didn't feel easy. It was a simple set of four patterns, each had nine moves and alternated who took the first move.

Raigryn stepped forwards. His feet followed the movements easily. His right arm was less cooperative.

The first clash between wooden swords was gentle. It wasn't supposed to be a violent sparring pattern. The contact still sent a jolt of pain up his arm.

Stubborn as ever, he pressed on. He had to shift into a thrust. That would be blocked and then he had to shift into a defensive stance.
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Fife assumed the same stance. She hadn't practiced the Idemni kata much in the past few months. It was refreshing to be doing the familiar routines again – exhilarating, almost. Her muscles remembered the movements and she glided through them with an air of ease.

Raigryn did not pick up the old training as easily. He had gauged Fife's skill by observation, as he always had. But Fife knew Raigryn's ability best as his opponent. Up close, she could see his struggle to maintain the proper stance, to hold even the light wooden sword straight. His movements were slower and more labored than before, and even a light blow of their wooden swords rattled him.

The crack of wood reverberated in the barn. Fife shifted her feet and swung her sword steadily to recover from the clash as Raigryn set up his defensive posture. The swords connected again, another crack bouncing off of the walls.

Overall, it was not ideal, but she'd already known that from other observations. Fife eased up slightly, adjusting her speed and swings to find a pace that he could sustain.

And the moment they stepped apart from the final movement, she lowered her sword and reclaimed the distance between them to cup his elbow. Her brows rose in inquiry and she loosened the gates of her emotions ever so slightly. Charity and Misery drifted out as quietly as fog – the distinct flavor of her usual worry when she was fussing over him.
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He smiled fondly as he opened and closed his right hand.

"It will get stronger," he said firmly.

He knew that was hopeful. He could feel a lump in his forearm where the bone had not set properly.

"Just expect me to be grumpy come winter. I suspect it might complain at the cold."

That he didn't open up his emotions was telling. The frustration had been clear on his face, but he was also slightly scared. Raigryn was concerned that this wasn't going to get any better.

That everything would feel unfamiliar and painful when he raised his sword.

"It will be good to keep eating and put some muscle back on," he added. He was still light and thin compared to a few months ago.
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She smiled back with equal warmth, nodding. He would get stronger with time. Good sense told her he was right and she worried too much. Lingering in the past never did either of them any good, anyways. Fife gladly welcomed the promise of grumpiness if it meant he was with her.

Masselin's playful snicker pulled her back to the ground, settling her thoughts and emotions. Fife echoed the laugh with a smile.

"Rest assured that my mother will gladly aid in your recovery with ample meals. You are welcome in our home any time, grumpy or otherwise." He spoke with an amused smile, but his eyes were warm, nostalgic. Fife could feel the fondness around him like the comforting aura of the sun. Masselin had sauntered to Fife's side and jabbed her with an elbow. "You, too, kid."

She was glad for the joke to break the sentimental moment. Fife barely knew how to handle such moments with Raigryn, let alone a brother.

And, thankfully, Masselin recognized that and briskly carried them past.

"I've some errands around the city. Would either of you like to join me? We will be back before lunch – mother's orders," he chuckled.

Fife was reluctant to answer first, so she looked to Raigryn with her brows raised in question.
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Raigryn though about Masselin's offer on behalf of his adoptive mother. Normally his wanderlust set in during the spring and he would be on his way.

For the first time in a while, the idea of staying in one place for a year or two did not cause any jitters. They had made some roots without really intending to. The blacksmith was one of the only other people Fife knew in the whole world.

"Shall we go for a walk then?" he offered to Fife. "We shall enjoy.. '


"...a formal lunch and then continue some magical studies? "
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Fife nodded succinctly. Masselin echoed the gesture.

The two busied themselves. Masselin meticulously organized his wares in the order of his stops before loading them onto his small wagon. He then took the time to explain to Fife how to hitch the horse to the wagon. Masselin instructed and she fastened buckles, tucked straps, and backed the horse between the shafts. Of course, Fife fully engrossed in the lesson.

When they were ready to depart, he offered to extend the lesson to allow her to drive, but Fife declined with a curt shake of her head. He shrugged and Fife climbed up the wheel to perch atop a crate of swords behind the bench – which was only wide enough to fit the two broad-shouldered men. She made a good effort not to go back on her decision, leaning to watch Masselin drive from under his elbow.

The first stop was nearby. Their home was located only a short distance from most of his clientele, and they were only a short jaunt from a market street lined with businesses. At each shop, Masselin traded something different, whether it was nails, hooks, or a variety of blades, all of which catered to the myriad of trades practiced by his customers. His customers were craftsmen and -women, and he seemed to know them all very well. If any of them were a new client, Fife couldn’t tell from how Masselin interacted with them.

His bright, sunny countenance and his boyish smile were enviable. His deep voice appeared to have an effect similar to the purring of a cat in regards to soothing the tempers of those he spoke to. Noone raised their voice at him. Noone rushed him off. Noone was rude or uncivil. No one was rude or uncivil. Quite the opposite, actually; everyone accommodated him as much as he accommodated them. He asked about their families and they his.

As always, the sense of community was as foreign to her as it was fascinating. Masselin was glowing with Joy and Charity. To her surprise and relief, nobody was taking advantage of that.

For a moment as she watched him, Fife saw a truth, an honest, faultless reality that was simple and breathtaking. A life – a good one, with happiness, friends, and community. There was no hidden threat skulking in the shadows. No specters of the past nipped at Masselin's heels. He was at home. This was not a superficial world he had created, but simply his life.

She envied him – terribly so, she could freely admit to herself. Fife felt like the black cat that had crossed paths with him. All untrue, she knew well, but she was very familiar with this feeling in particular. Raigryn had always stressed how important it was to look inward and understand oneself to better understand others. Fife was taking that lesson to heart. She didn't judge herself for the brutally honest self-observation. She didn't berate herself or use the fact to strip herself down in redress. She accepted that awful part of herself, instead.

See? she told herself. That's not so hard, is it?

It was hard. She despised introspection. The next time she needed a strong connection of Avarice, however, she'd have no issues conjuring the Aspect.

It was midmorning when Masselin made his last delivery. Fife made small talk with Raigryn, as she had for most of the morning ride. She mostly stole chances to flash him secretive grins or lightly touch him. Small things that weren't small at all.

Masselin finished his business with a friendly farewell. The man he had been speaking to waved to the blacksmith, then to his company. Fife waved back. Masselin climbed into the wagon, took up the lines, and turned around on the bench to address both Fife and Raigryn.

"My last stop is the tanner. It is a short ride outside of the city. Not quite an hour. Shall we continue our ride?" he offered. Fife knew her reply without deliberation.

I want to go, she told Raigryn. Smiling and nodding might have been too vague for Masselin, who was glancing between her face and hands. Go, she repeated for him, pointing her index finger and throwing it to the side with a subtle tip of her head.

"You want…" He repeated the first gesture, clutching his hand toward his chest. "...Something," Masselin laughed lightheartedly after mimicking the point. Both of them looked toward Raigryn expectantly.
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"She would like to go," Raigryn translated with a smile.

Life with the idemni had found it's own particular rhythm. It had been strict and based around a culture very different from there own.

His relationship with that people had always been a strange one. In his youth he had almost broken them, yet they still him in esteem for the power he had wielded. It made him uncomfortable. A piece of his past that he was still involved with.

Raigryn had few links with this city. Since his kind it magic had been outlawed Raigryn had mostly been a ghost. Walking alongside the world, but rarely a part of it. He had made his mark a few times, but never stayed still.

"To save us from getting into trouble, why don't I walk back and make the lunch appointment and you can go?" Raigryn offered. He glanced over his shoulder. There were enough sharp implements still on the wagon.

"Fife will keep you safe on the road," he declared, resting a hand against her shoulder blade briefly.
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As much as she wanted to go, Fife still hesitated. Surprise and uncertainty momentarily wiped the grin from her face. She looked at the road, as if looking might assuage her concerns. It didn't. And why was she so worried? Raigryn would be fine. He had better be fine. If he managed to find trouble… Well, that was anger she would figure out if the need arose. For now, she smiled and trusted him to make it back.

Fife said goodbye with a simple grasp of his hand. Her eyes met his. In an unspoken language, she said more than the Silent Way. She said more than words or Empathy. The hint of a smile curled her still lips and she affectionately patted his forearm.

Transitions were not Fife's strong suit; with no further ado, she assumed his place on the bench and offered Raigryn a curt nod.

Be safe.


The wagon lurched awkwardly in the thick ruts of the hard dried clay. The sorrel gelding pulling the wagon snorted and shook his head. The road from Oban had steered inland toward a winding valley, through which a stream meandered. Stands of trees gradually gathered along the banks until eventually, between the bends and the woods, Oban was no longer visible on the hills behind them.

The way was quite nice until they turned off of the main path onto a smaller lane. What had previously been a well-packed track was now a difficult tangle of ruts. Deep scores raked through the hard, firm clay.

Fife was just as irritated by the poor quality of their path as the gelding. Sitting beside her, Masselin sat as straight and steady as a fence post. He turned toward her with a sympathetic smile when the cart jolted so hard the wares in the back clattered violently and Fife wildly clutched whatever handhold she could find.

"It's not much further now," he assured her.

Another lurch and the wagon hopped over from one rut into another. Fife popped up out of the seat with a surprised gasp, but her ass hit the beach with a thud and the click of her teeth.

Fife was no longer sad that Raigryn had gone to lunch with Romelia. His ass was probably comfortably seated in the dining room by now.

To his credit, Masselin had not lied. A little ways on, they rode out of the miserable ruts and towards a pair of small shacks.

Even if Masselin hadn't told her it was the tanner, the stench would have. Vats beside the smaller shack filled the air with a heavy odor that burned in her nose. Hides were stretched out in frames and drying in the thin spring sun.

A string of children were outside. Their activities might have been described as playing: scratching in the dirt with sticks and rocks, wrapping twine around a wooden spool, and swinging from the hitching post. They were eerily silent, and upon hearing the cart they immediately stopped to stare.

Their faces were thin and grimy. Not one of the five in sight wore shoes and their clothes were threadbare and stained. As the cart came closer, they huddled together under the leaning awning of the bigger shack. The figure of a teenage girl filled the open doorway behind them.

Masselin stopped the wagon and loosely looped the reins around a rail. Fife followed him, trying not to look at the squalor the girl and children lived in. She'd known this life. Being this close to it rattled something inside of her.

"Good day, miss. Is your pa around?" Her brother's voice was kind and polite. His smile was charming and friendly. Disarming people was his forté and he wielded that gift with gentleness.

The teen parted the crowd of staring children. She carried a baby on her hip that stared at them with its fist in its mouth, as silent as the others. It was the cleanest thing at the residence. Its big dark eyes stared into Fife's. She stared back.

The girl pointed. Masselin smiled and nodded respectfully. "Thank you, miss."

The tanner's workshop was just as shabby as the shack he and his family lived in. Both were made of rough-hewn logs. The gaps between them were filled with earth and straw, even wadded up rags. The home's thatch roof was old, mildewy and rotting well beyond trimming and repairing. The shack's wooden shingles were patched with boards and straw and bark. It was a hodgepodge, and not in a good way.

Masselin walked unerring to the shack and rapped his knuckles on the aged wood doorframe. There was no door; an old blanket swayed in the breeze.

“Ulric? It’s Masselin.”

Ulric’s gruff reply was hardly welcoming. “The smith? Don’t dally at the door. Let’s do business.”

The air inside the shack was heavy and musky. The smells of hide and sweat and piss were cloying. The scent was thick enough to feel solid in her throat. Part of the general odor was that of the man bent over a hide, scraping it clean in swift, experienced movements. His arms were slick with perspiration and the fats from the skins.

“I brought the blades you ordered.”

“Same as last time?”
He didn’t look up from his work.

“Same as last time.”

“Put ‘em there. Got another knife that needs sharpening. And an awl to put a new point on. Not like the one before, with that short taper. It’s supposed to be long and steady, like a locust. Go on, boy!”

The unpleasant Ulric’s voice rose suddenly, gruffly. Fife mistakenly took the words to be addressed at her or Massellin, but he looked up into the opposite corner of the shack. There was a sudden surge of fear from the darkness and a thin shadow darted around the workshop as Ulric barked on unnecessarily.

“Don’t stand there like an imbecile. Fetch ‘em for the smith. And pick up your feet, boy. Quit shiffling.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Fife saw Masselin stiffen. She glanced sidelong at him and quickly assessed what was unfolding in front of her. He was no stranger to this. He didn't like it. Beyond those two apparent facts, she could infer the rest.

She hadn’t seen the boy at all. Moreover, there hadn’t been a flicker of emotion from him until Ulric had looked up. Fife watched him hurry to a box of loose knives and tools, searching quickly as the tanner continued to berate him.

“Not that one, the oak-handled awl. Oak, damn it. Yes. Now give that to the man and fetch his new apron. And the rest."

The boy moved quickly and deftly in the tight space. He shortly returned to hand Masselin a stiff, new leather apron. Atop it was a pair of heavy gloves that looked well worn and two large bundles of leather strips.

"Thank you, Leifric," he said quietly with a small smile.

Fife's heart wrenched in her chest. She could feel his agony. A furious swirl of frustration wrapped around him like fog on a lake. Piercing that gloom, however, was a glorious beam of warmth – a ray of sunlight cutting through clouds. Masselin was a walking, breathing font of Charity. He reached out a hand and placed it on Leifric's shoulder. The boy raised his head and met his sympathetic gaze.

It felt like a flash of lightning across her senses. The sudden surge of wild, young Empathy was so loud in her head that Fife gasped. She stared for a moment, stupefied. Masselin's smile twitched and turned downward into a confused frown.

Empathy. Ulric's son was an Empath. He was drawing on–

Without thinking, her hand flashed forward and she seized him by the wrist. His eyes whipped toward hers and he gave a small gasp. The drawing ceased.

His fair hair was unwashed and unevenly shorn, sticking out wildly in every direction. His skin was pallid, dirty, and bruised, but his eyes were clear and vivid, the color of the sky on a perfect spring day. They were the eyes of someone far older than the scrawny child that stood between her and Masselin, and they were meeting hers. He knew that she knew what he had done, a truth apparent in the widening of his gaze and the skitter of Misery, Disgust, and Joy in the aura around him – panic and fear.

"Leave the man alone, for fuck's sake. Be off now, boy." Ulric scowled over his shoulder and the trio disengaged. Leifric exited quickly.

Masselin recovered sluggishly. He frowned deeply and rubbed his temples. Ulric managed to scowl further.

"I, um… I can have these, uh– I'll return these in three days' time." He struggled to compose his thoughts.

"See that you do." Ulric turned back to his work.

"Good day, Ulric." Masselin nodded politely, but there was no kindness in his voice.


Not wanting to alarm Raigryn, Fife tried very hard to keep her very strong feelings pent up behind adamant mental walls. She wanted to ease him into it – to be half as composed as he could be. It went great... right up to the moment she saw him. Then it wasn't so easy.

Fife made small talk (or, rather, let the small talk go on around her) for as long as she could bear it. Her eyes periodically caught Raigryn's, but he was either totally oblivious or played along well. As usual, Fife couldn’t tell. That was a good sign, right? Some old Raigryn behavior.

Then, rather abruptly, she took a momentary lull in the conversation to excuse Raigryn and herself and made haste to the garden.

The cool air was a much-needed ahock to her senses. The warm midday breeze had died down and it was still, serene. The lights of the city were lit as twilight edged toward darkness and the stars twinkled in the clear sky overhead. Fife walked silently in front of Raigryn through the trellis, which would be beautiful soon but for now was barren, and turned to face him in the benched alcove beyond.

I met an Empath, she signed without any other introduction. Great work. So much for easing him into it. Fife grimaced.

A boy. The son of the man Masselin went to see. Tanner. Ulric. Ahe apelled the words ahe disnt have. Masselin has Charity – all the time, everything he says. Yeah? He was kind. The boy took it. I don't think his father knows. I stopped him.

She turned slightly away from him when she finished and tucked her hands under her arms to warm them against the chill – and to stop herself from rambling on. Her gaze searched the growing darkness and she sighed.

Was this how Raigryn had felt? He had been much better at hiding his thoughts at the time than she had been at perceiving them. Empathy didn't read minds; it only gave suggestions. It was a magic derived from lived experience, and the more emotions she felt the more she recognized them in others. Knowing what she knew about him now, the reflection made her chest ache.

It was a very odd feeling: grief and joy writhing together behind her ribs like tadpoles in shallow water.
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"Are you alright?" he asked quietly.

She wasn't. He hadn't missed her agitation through lunch. Despite the particularly nice cakes and tea, some of Romelia's guests were quite insufferable. He would have broken away from them earlier had it been polite to do so.

Some of those people had promised work. Even if he guessed it was more to find out what was going on around the household from Romelia's guest than because they needed penmanship.

Raigryn knew that Fife had learned to deal with a lot on her own, without him. It was something he needed to remind himself of. They were still finding their feet together and acknowledging the time they had lost. The night before and the slights aches and pains it had left Raigryn with were part of the steps back to normality.

This was still a rare occurrence and was obviously confusing for Fife.

"Some just get a slight sense of this and it's never harmful," Raigryn said. "Did it seem that he was deliberately taking from Masselin's aspects?"
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Fife nodded and made an Idemni tonal gesture for certainty. If she had come across this several months ago, she might not have been so sure. The grueling weight of her recent experience and the mental training it resulted in, however, had brought her a far keener sense. Experience was her best teacher and she'd felt the draw of another Empath.

Small. Weak. Wild, she elaborated. Clean. Only Charity. Masselin's mind was a… BEE HIVE, she spelled. Noisy, a lot of Aspects to take, but he only took one.

Letting her gaze settle on a barren earthen pot, Fife's face scrunched up into a concerned scowl.

At what age do children first show the ability of Empathy? Raigryn had slowly been teaching her what was important about it, but there had been precious little time for history llessons of late. Time for a crash course on magic to fill in the gaps she needed for this situation.
"It depends," he replied.

"Very young children rarely show any. The theory being that they lack the emotional maturity to identify and hold those emotions. Unfortunately it often starts around the teenage years. A little earlier sometimes, other times early adults. "

"Some have the ability and will never use it at all without training. It is fortunately that wild empaths are quite rare."

Raigryn paused for a moment. She had experienced the dangers of drawing too deep herself. She had also seen the fallout from an out of control empath that drained away Aspects until a person was broken.

"What would you like to do about this?" he asked. His question came from two places: as a teacher and as someone who cared deeply about her own opinions and feelings.