Private Tales Shoreside Story

A private roleplay only for those invited by the first writer


Iron Maiden
Character Biography
A letter.

Another fucking letter. At least this one had the decency to tell her a time, place, and a reason. The last one he had sent was just a meaningless apology filled with excuses.

This time however she found herself arriving on the shore near Unity, a small fishing village around a mile away from Vel Luin. He’d promised to meet her there on the exact date and time the letter prescribed. She trusted his written word (against her better judgment) and was already preparing herself that he wouldn’t show.

He’d make some excuse. He’d tell her there was a reason it wasn’t safe. Because that’s what always did. He was a coward. He ran. He didn’t fight.

Noel arrived early, looking outwards towards the crashing waves while waiting on the wayward initiate who should actually be recognized as a Dreadlord. Both arms crossed, lips held tigh, and her chest in knots.

This was stupid. He wasn’t going to show. He’d send her another letter in a few days, or weeks, taunting her. Writing about how he’d made a mistake again, how he’d failed her, how the world was just oh so hard to navigate.


She stood, hair and cloak billowing in the ocean breeze.

And then, to her surprise, the boy… no, the man with the scar that ran across his face appeared. Walking towards her, leaving footprints in the sand.

A smile formed, though Noel quickly killed it, as she took on a serious expression and glared at the approaching figure. ”Hello.” A singular word, stated with the assumption that he’d come not to reconnect but to give himself over. ”I’m here. What did you want?”

A scowl formed and not even Noel herself was certain if she would’ve preferred if he’d not shown up on this day. Maybe it would’ve been easier had he simply never shown his face again.
Henk had battled on the front lines of bloody wars, waded through the corpses of his allies as he stood toe to toe with insurmountable odds. He'd explored tombs and caverns untouched by human hands for generations, holding untold horrors and ravenous beasts within. He'd suffered through the most grueling of training, that only he and a handful of his peers could claim to have conquered.

For all of those accomplishments and feats, facing her again was the most nerve-wracking experience he'd ever had put before him. It was a system shocking cocktail of fear, regret, excitement, happiness, and beyond.

In all of the time he'd had to think since they'd been apart, he'd learned a lot about this world. About himself, and about the situation they'd been in on that awful day. In leaving her behind, no matter the reason, he'd betrayed her trust. Henk had always told her he would be there, and at the moment of truth, he'd vanished into thin air.

But he could never stay away. It had become increasingly clear to him over his exile that in his own way, he needed Anir. He needed the Academy.

More than any of that. He needed Noel.

Unity was a good meeting spot. Just a stone's toss from Luin, and not a pace Gilram's men would target for any reason. He only hoped she'd received his letter. If he was going to return to Vel Anir, to face his actions and work to fix the mistakes he made, she needed to be the first face he saw.

Would she even recognize him, he wondered? The olive-cloaked man walking slowly down the beach towards the figure in the distance had definitely changed... the second scar running across his blinded right eye courtesy of Proctor Kimble, the shaved sides of his head adorned with runes, not unlike the ones Ralene wore on her own body...


His breath caught slightly as he was pulled from his trance by her voice. Raising his gaze to meet her own, whatever it was that he'd planned to say left his mind the moment he actually saw her face. There it was again, that funny feeling in his chest that she always gave him. Gods, he didn't realize how badly he'd missed it.

Sliding the hood from his cloak off of his head, his working eye softened.

"Noel." Henk muttered. "I wanted to see you."

Did she understand what he meant, he wondered?

"I miss you."

If she wanted to, she could have cuffed him then and there without any resistance. Henk was just so sick of letters. Of running.
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She took him in as he spoke, judging every motion. Every utterance he spoke. Silently wondering if he had some explanation for why he'd just up and left them all behind.

I wanted to see you.

Flattery. No matter how honestly and earnestly it was spoken she wouldn't be deceived. If he wanted to see her so badly he wouldn't have just walked off as a third of their class departed with a madman. At least Edric had been wise enough to realize he would keep them safe by feigning loyalty. At least Zael had been half-dead. At least the others were cowards but not such cowards that they left everything behind and, wait, his eye.

"Your eye," she said absent-mindedly as she noticed the shape it was in. It looked beyond any healer's ability to mend. Poor Henk he...

I missed you.

Oh. He missed her!? He missed her so much that he'd only sent letters and waited this long to turn himself in? Gods, he was insufferable. Miserable. "You missed me?" Her voice was incredulous and tight. "Henk. Do you even know what happened after you left?"

Noel crossed her arms and looked at him with a sour look, her lower lip protruding slightly forward, the knot in her chest tightening as she began to relive that day. "Do you even care?"
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Did he even care?

Her question hit him life a knife between his ribs, but he couldn't blame her for asking it. His actions hadn't been the ones of somebody who cared, they were that of a coward; a scared child who didn't know what else to do when their entire world crumbled around them.

To tell her that though, that he'd been a coward, would be redundant. She knew already, and it wouldn't make her feel better. Instead, he gritted his teeth, trying to hide the pain in his face as he too still harbored awful memories of that morning in the forefront of his mind.

"If I didn't care, I wouldn't be here right now."

He'd loathed himself for his choice far more than she ever could.

"I did everything I could, Used every ounce that I had to give, and it didn't make a difference. I wasn't willing to die like Zael was. I wasn't willing to give up pride for the sake of the whole like Edric. I left you and everybody else behind because I decided you were better off without me."

That was the memory that kept him awake at night. Standing there, watching the end of that fight as all of his classmates chose their side. The horror that had settled into his chest as he realized that he wasn't willing to do the same.

His gaze turned down to the sand at their feet, if only so she couldn't see hurt behind it. "I... I couldn't just come back after that. If I was going to come back, it needed to be as somebody stronger. Somebody who could protect everyone if that happened again."

If his stomach had been turning before, now it was doing acrobatics across his intestines. Slowly, Henk dropped to one knee in front of her, his neck craning back to look up at her with a wavering, unsure gaze. A silent confession and admission to everything he'd done wrong from one who had no defense.

"I'm sorry. I failed you."
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Noel found herself surprised to hear Henk actually speak some sense. Some degree of truth.

It took her so aback that she debated if she should even tell him about what he had missed. Whether or not she should even burden him with the fact that she'd taken up a small shiv and attempted to challenge Gilram to the death. That she'd been the sole member of their class to try and stop him. That she really should've been dead if Meredith, gods fucking Meredith, hadn't stopped her.

Instead she watched him take a knee.

"You didn't," she stopped herself. In her mind it wasn't that he'd failed her it was that, in her mind, he'd failed himself.

But there wasn't much of a reason for pointing that out either. "Just stand up, you idiot."

Her gaze softened slightly as the ocean breeze whipped her jet-black hair to one side, sand and salt water coated her boots. "So, now what?" An eyebrow was raised, her shoulders dipped as she relaxed, and to her credit the allomancer managed to form a small smile. "What is your 'plan' now that you've returned?"

She couldn't imagine he'd come back here just to be apprehended and imprisoned. But she also couldn't imagine he thought she'd just let him waltz away. Still, more than anything she hoped he'd be honest with her. That was the least he owed her. "What do you want?"
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Noel was quiet over him for a moment. Henk wasn't under the illusion that this was any easier for her than it was for him. He couldn't know what she'd gone through since they'd last seen each other, and it would have been disrespectful to assume it was anything other than hell.

When she asked him to rise, he did so. the unruly shore having dampened him up to his knees, but from the wear on his trousers they'd been through far worse. Perhaps dropping to a knee like that had made him look somwehat foolish, but it was something he'd needed to do for himself. Before he could move forward, he had to come to terms with his mistakes.

Actually, now that he'd gotten it off of his chest, Henk was surprised at how much lighter the air felt around them. "Didn't exactly do you proud though, did I?" He smiled a bit, a little laugh escaping his scarred lips. "If that wasn't failing you, I hope I never find out what that entails."

The change in her posture, the softness, almost like a hidden warmth to her gaze, it made him all the more comfortable. Yes. He had asked to see her for more than just a reunion, although that was his main focus.

The expression on his face changed a bit, his brows angling forward, smile fading just a tad. Henk had done what he'd set out to do in his exile: He'd found that flame that he was missing for so long. Where once there had been nothing but self-doubt and fears of abandonment, there now was a burning determination towards one thing, and one thing only.

"I want the same thing that you want Noel. I want to take him down and get our friends back." He'd promised in his very first letter that one day he would pick a side, but it'd always been a forgone conclusion. "I want to do it together. With you, the only person who makes me feel like I can. And I want to come home."
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"Alright," Noel said with a sudden exhale.

She brushed over his first few comments. There just wasn't any point in beating the light-manipulator up over a mistake he obviously had learned. For the same reasons there was no point in burdening him with what she'd been through after Graduation day, after becoming a suicidal pariah to her classmates who stayed behind, after facing Amelie.

Instead she'd much rather think on the future. Think on all the things she still needed to do in order to become strong enough to face creatures like Gilram or his other cohorts. And luckily for her the scarfaced man before her indicated he felt the same way.

Noel gave him a nod and even managed to crack a smile as her arms went from crossed to merely hanging by her side. "Good. Because we're a long way off from challenging that bastard."

Her smile grew as her teeth gritted. She'd gotten to see the power of those who simply served Gilram in action. They were a batch of evil that she'd simply not comprehended the extent of until quite recently. One day she was sure that the good ones like Henk or Zael or Ralene would see that power up close personally. She just hoped they'd be ready for it when it reared its ugly head. Or at least, more ready than she had been.

"But what's the actual plan Henk? You must have one." She raised an eyebrow as she took a slight step closer to him. "They might lock you up. Question you. What are you going to even say to them?'
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"Well, I wasn't just sitting on my hands this whole time." Henk gave a lopsided grin of his own, fully expecting a thorough shaking down by the people hunting for him back home. "I've been keeping an eye on things myself, and I'm reasonably certain I have enough information to placate their anger with me."

When it came down to it, Henk knew that Vel Anir wanted Gilram far more than they wanted him. They could be overzealous, but he'd never peg any of the leaders back home as stupid. If he could make it worth their while, they would forgive him. "Besides," Henk continued with a shrug. "I didn't go with Gilram and I haven't really acted out against Anir at all. Given the choice of gaining another Dreadlord for the fight or jailing him on principle, I think my odds are fair."

Noel stepped closer to him, and he took a step forward as well on instinct alone. Gods, there was so much he had to tell her, but he didn't wish to fall into his habit of talking on and on, as he so often did when he was nervous. Instead, he reached out, gently placing his hand on her left arm.

"Don't worry about me any more than I've already made you. I'll handle things back home. Lord knows you've got your plate full with something or other, right?"

Henk looked at her for a moment, just... enjoying things while they lasted. As far as he knew, she was still set on becoming the strongest of them all. Much as he cared for her, Henk doubted she'd changed her mind about the 'danger' of his feelings.

So, slowly, his hand trailed down her arm and over her own before falling back to his side.

"Whatever Gilram is trying to do, he isn't ready yet. He's been sending his people out on seemingly random errands to all corners of Arethil. He's looking for something, and I don't entirely know what yet. What I do know, is that we need to find it first."
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Noel nodded along as he ran through his logic and the vague promise of things he’d uncovered. It was a sincere gesture, she believed he truly had come up with a plan that would spare him the inside of a cell.

Then he touched her and the metal-manipulator tensed.

Her breath slightly quickened and her heart fluttered as he spoke of not worrying about him. About the full plate he assumed she had.

And, after that brief physical contact, his arm fell to his side.

”Curious,” she said, welcoming the distraction as Henk went over the fact that Gilram had been searching for something. She considered mentioned the ore but Ephraim had made it very clear that no one was to know what had happened at Urstholm.

Not to mention she wasn’t sure if she could talk of it without bringing up the vile ex-Dreadlord she and Mieri had encountered. Without address her own failure and weakness back there. ”What do you think he’s planning?”

It had been a mystery to her as it had the rest of the Guard. She could only assume he intended to recruit more Dreadlords, more Initiates, yet he’d made no move to do so. At least not yet.

A glance went back to the arm he now held at his side and the allomancer felt the salt water air whip around her. Why did she even care about him aside from the fact that he was safe? That he was finally on their side? That he’d come to his senses?

Then, as yet another wave crashed and broke along the shore something within Noel broke too. She moved forward in a singular motion and embraced the scarred man before her, wrapping both arms around his back and hugging him tightly. ”I’m absolutely terrified, Henk.”

He didn’t know just how badly outmatched they were. He didn’t know that no one from their class had any hope of succeeding.
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Gods knew Henk wished he had answers for her, that he could tell her he had some idea of what the key to all of this madness was, what Gilram sought so badly. There was so much he was unsure of, so much that he couldn't even fathom a guess at. In the end, he hadn't come back with the ace in the hole that he'd hoped to.

"I can't even imagine... I think it had something to do with Anirian history. A lot of his targets seem to have historic significance more than anything else..."

Henk bit down on the inside of his cheek, looking down at the waters breaking against his boots, the chilly waters slightly leaking through the worn soles. "It's almost as though... the people he's recruited are afterthoughts. I've come across them long distances away from him, not even on jobs for him. Like he's keeping them around for something besides manpower. I don't like the implications of that, though... And it's only a guess on my part."

Silence fell over the both of them.

Henk finally met her gaze again, doing his best to wear a smile. It was a grim state of affairs. Even with his newfound confidence, he knew his chances of taking down an Archon were slim to none. He knew that even with Noel by his side, it might be suicide to even put forth the effort.

But... if he was going to die fighting for what he'd decided was the right course of action...

He'd rather do it nowhere else than next to Noel Shwarz.

Whatever the reason this feeling in his chest had grown so powerful, whatever had happened to make him yearn for her presence, he was glad that it had. Just to feel this way was enough to want to continue on.

A heavy wave crashed upon the shore, and in the blink of his only working eye she fell into his arms, and without a moment's hesitation Henk's own wrapped around her in turn, holding her tightly to his chest. It was funny, he thought, how one's heart could sink and yet soar at the same time.

”I’m absolutely terrified, Henk.”

Henk nodded softly, resting his head in the crook of her neck as one of the gloved hands holding her slid up to rest on the back of her head. "I know. I know." He muttered quietly to her, closing his eyes with a slow sigh against her shoulder. "I am too." She'd been carrying the weight of it all and more, while he'd played detective. Despite her terror, she'd remained while he fled.

No more.

"No matter what comes next, I'm with you, Noel. We'll do this together."
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Noel pulled in closer as he spoke, burying her head into his chest. She wasn't certain how she felt about him or about some long-term relationship but the thing she knew in the moment was that she just wanted to feel safe. After what had happened on her last mission she hadn't felt safe in weeks.

That concern faded away as he wrapped his arms around her.

"The ones who joined him, the ones from out class," she swallowed and fought back at tears, "they're just pawns, Henk."

Even still she pulled him tighter against herself, his heartbeat pounding in her ear. For just this little slice of time nothing could harm her and the coward in her wished it could just stretch on a bit longer. But then she pulled away, staring up at his scarred face, at the singular eye that looked back upon her.

A seriousness overtook her. "What were the ones you met like?"

She knew, just knew, that he hadn't run into the same adversary she had. He wouldn't be so composed. He wouldn't be so calm. He wouldn't still have hope in the fight against the rogue archon.

"I have done a bit of mentoring. I actually enjoy it," she stared off into the skyline, collecting herself. "But after my last task I just... I don't know if I'm cut out for this."
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"Just as you described. Pawns. But the majority of them truly believe in Gilram. It's more than loyalty; it's adoration."

Noel eventually pulled away slowly, and his body ached at the loss of her presence. If anything, though, that moment of solace had built an even stronger resolve in him. Whereas he'd been nervous before, now the fog cleared, just enough to see towards a horizon.

"They're strong though, I won't pretend any of them aren't every bit as dangerous as I was led to believe."

A silent 'but' seemed to hang in the air between them as Henk turned towards the water, bringing his hands behind his back taking another fresh breath of the sea-seasoned air as it permeated his nostrils with its pungent scent.

He chose not to finish his thought yet. Instead, Noel absently expressed her regrets to the sky. Her newfound enjoyment of mentoring drew a laugh from his lips rather quickly. "I imagine your methods are probably better than mine. No trips through secret passages or four on one battles in the city?" Their last mission as a pair had rather exposed him for some... well, to call the methods unorthodox may be somewhat generous.

The fond memory was rather offset by her fear. Whatever she'd seen in her previous assignment had rattled her. More than anything he'd ever seen get to Noel before. Henk's smile flattening a bit, he reached out and placed his hand back upon her shoulder. "Noel, whatever has shaken your constitution, you're still standing here next to me. I have always believed in your ability and will continue to."

Pursing his lips for a moment, he lowered himself to sit on the sand beneath them, wrapping his arms around his knees and leaning forward towards the water.

"We don't have much of a choice, unfortunately. If we do nothing, Gilram could very well win. Even if running and disappearing was an option, we'd be dooming all of our friends. So I'll fight, because it's all that I know, and it's all that I can do right now. Besides..."

Henk turned his head to look up at her.

"...Maybe I can't take Gilram down, but his followers? They're strong, but they're not Archons. I've made quite a bit of progress since Graduation, myself."
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Noel didn't offer much in the way of opinions as she listened to Henk speak. She'd had less exposure than he had to the Archon's supporters but learning they were adoring zealots didn't strike her as odd. From what she'd seen of Vel Acan, from what she experienced on graduation day, and from her encounter with Amelie they all must've been sick in the head to follow such a man.

She winced as he brought up her mentoring methods. The fact of the matter was both she and Mieri had no business being alive. That was a failure on her part.

Nearly getting her pupil killed was a far worse thing than the weird stunt that Henk had pulled when they were working with their group of initiates at a time that felt so very long ago.

Allowing herself to collapse on the sand she sat by him, continuing to listen on in silence. Only after he had finished talking did her face fully contort.

"No, Henk," she said silently, "we don't have a choice." That much was something she agreed with. However, he was wrong about the next thing he stated. The metal-mainpulator had no doubt that he'd improved his skills, built up his confidence. She had no doubt that the man sitting beside her probably needed to get away from everything to figure out whatever block he had back at the academy.

Maybe it was possible that he was even stronger than she now. Maybe he was now the most powerful member of their graduating class.

It didn't matter though. "I've seen power and I'm not talking about Gilram's display on that day," he'd easily slain several Proctors and his mere presence sent the few who remained fleeing. "Make me a promise," she turned and caught his eye, "if you catch wind about the location of one of his followers, the older ones, the ones we didn't graduate with," an exhaled breath followed and a second of silence as she really contemplated the best way to put it.


"Please, just run. Get back home, report your findings."
Noel wouldn't be able to forgive herself if she let him believe he could stand up to some of his followers just because they weren't Archons. Because she'd seen it for herself. Being pressed against a thumb as if she were a worm who's life was only spared due to her adversaries grace.
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Noel had to have known it wasn't a fair request to make of him, right? To ask that he run away again, to repeat the very action that had been one of the worst mistakes of his life? Henk watched her for a moment, keeping his working eye trained on hers as the promise she wanted from him sank in.

It was a promise Henk wasn't sure he could make earnestly, as bad as he wanted to.

"I know, Noel. I know how strong they are. I promise you I'm not underestimating them, okay?" Henk muttered. She was scared, and rightfully so. It was more than that, she was worried for his safety, that he might die on her watch. Henk understood that perfectly; he'd worried for Noel's life every day since he'd last seen her, praying to gods he'd never believed in to watch over her. "And I can't swear that I'll turn and run if it means endangering others. I won't do that again. To you, or anybody else."

He couldn't make himself let people down the way he had before. Even if it meant death, he would stand for the ones he cared about. Just like Noel was so constant in doing herself, the mentoring, the desire for vengeance that he knew was boiling underneath the surface.

"But I will promise that I won't go looking for them on my own like an idiot. If I get information, it'll go to Vel Anir first. You've my word on that."

Henk didn't know how strong he was compared to her, or any of his classmates. He didn't care, because being the best had never mattered to him. All he needed was the strength to protect them, and that much he was confident that he now had. Gently, Henk leaned against Noel with his shoulder. "I know it's all bleak. I know things have gotten ugly. I can't give up, though. I... We've all worked so hard to get this far."

A pause came as the waves broke again against their feet.

"I need you to believe in me the way I've always believed in you, Noel."
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There wasn't a point in dwelling on it or speaking further. She wasn't permitted to speak of her experience back in Urstholm and truthfully she wasn't certain if she wished to either. Simply speaking the Dreadlord she'd encountered's name had been enough for Ephraim to stop her.

"I'm not asking you to, I mean I do believe in," she took in a breath, slowly and deliberately.

Then, with her thoughts a bit more collected she spoke up once more, "if you don't know what they can do then run. Or kill them before they even know you're present."

Would that have even worked on Amelie? If Noel would've just thrown a projectile at her skull would the ex-Dreadlord have just died right then and there? Could she have spared Mieri the horror of what they experienced that night?

"I know you'll make the right decisions." She leaned her head back and looked out against the horizon, unsure of what else she even needed to say in that moment. Noel wasn't certain if anything she'd said had convinced him or not. "We'll keep fighting," even if she thought it was hopeless now.
Henk looked over at her with growing smirk.

"You know I will? Sounds like I won you back pretty quickly." He teased, though he wasn't entirely joking. The expectation he'd held when arranging this meeting was that she'd probably loathe him for what he'd done. Instead, she'd hugged him, opened up to him in a way she'd never really done before. It felt like, for the first time, Noel had let him see through the stubborn wall she always had up in front of her.

It was both touching, and terrifying. That Noel, whom he'd always seen as the standard for what they were all supposed to be, had such a fractured confidence.

"Look... I can't claim I know what you've seen, what you've experienced." Henk was watching her now, his eye fixed on the side of her head as she looked out into the horizon. "But I know that I'm where I need to be now. Don't let me get myself killed, and I won't let you give up." He had a way of making things sound so simple, it even sounded too clean-cut to him.

Part of how he'd gotten here was overthinking things, though. Making them more complicated than they needed to be. It was a habit he was trying to drop. Instead, he made a confession to her.

"I've thought about you a lot, while I was out there. About what I've said to you, and what I did to you."

Henk knew it wasn't a topic she would likely entertain for long, so he got to the point.

"I just want to make it clear, that I'm not coming back because of loyalty to Vel Anir, or because I feel some duty to The Academy. I'm coming back because I told you, all of you, that I would always be there for you, and I'm not going back on that."

Of course, it ran deeper than that.

But as things stood, there was still no time for the things that Henk wanted.

"When you're ready to leave, I'll come with you."
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"I know," she spoke somberly as he finished. At first she just kept looking outwards, staring at the point where the sea met the horizon, letting the sound of waves washing ashore punctuate every second.

Then she she clarified her short quip. "You never cared about the duty of it all. The ideals of Vel Anir, the thrill of chasing glory and prestige." It was everything she held dear, everything she'd worked her life towards and he never seemed to care one iota about any of that. He'd always worn his motivations on his sleeve, or at least she thought so. "But I'm glad you came back to be here for us. For me."

Everything had built up inside of her these past few moments on the beach. Every second of anxiety, the expectation she'd chastise him and he'd try to justify his actions shattered, she'd just kept reliving the past few months as they spoke.

And at a point it all became too much and the dam broke.

Noel turned her face away from him as tears welled up that she blinked away. She wouldn't cry, not here and not now. Instead she cleared her throat and moved closer the scarred-face of the man beside her.

"I don't know what's wrong with me, Henk." Raven hair fluttered in the ocean breeze as she surprised even herself and laid her head directly upon his shoulder. "I'm so determined to prove myself that I've nearly gotten killed twice since I last saw you."
Henk wasn't nearly as surprised by the look of restrained tears on her face as he'd been by the hug. After what they'd all been through, the things they'd seen and the betrayal they'd all suffered? It would have been considered strange not to shed a tear. Even the ever-stalwart Noel couldn't hold things in forever.

and Henk had cried enough for both of them during his absence.

Her head rested gently on his shoulder, her voice still unsteady from the breakdown she'd so narrowly avoided. Henk turned his head so that he could see her with his working eye, his lips curling into a soft frown. "Who, exactly, are you trying to prove yourself to?"

The question came as he raised his arm to wrap around her tightly, holding her snugly to his side.

"Noel, I don't get it. You've spent your entire life proving yourself. Every waking moment has been devoted to being the best, doing everything asked of you better than anybody else. For what? A rank? For somebody to tell you how good you are? For somebody to give you permission to do what you think is right?"

Henk leaned his head down, resting it against hers as his voice lowered slightly, like his words were some groundbreaking secret that she alone needed to hear.

"The only person who doubts you right now, is you. The city isn't doubting you. Your pupil isn't doubting you, regardless of what happened. I..."

Henk shrugs his shoulders a bit.

"I don't think I've doubted you from the day I laid eyes on you." Henk moved one of his hands to hers in her lap, resting over it. "It's okay to be afraid. Nobody is expecting you to be made of iron. I need you to stop putting this entire conflict on your shoulders. You're not fighting the whole war on your own. You have all of Vel Anir. You have the Initiates you've been working hard to teach."

His hand squeezes hers, just a bit.

"You have me. Always."
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Noel listened intently as Henk spoke, stopping herself from chiming in on several occasions. Wanting to defend her choices, defend her demeanor. She knew that this was a conflict they were all fighting together but the thing that Henk still didn't understand about her was...

"I have to prove myself to me," it was spoken only after he'd said the entirety of what he had to say, only after he'd wrapped his arm around her and placed a hand atop her own. "I have to be the very best version of myself."

And that best version needed to be better than just good, it needed to be great.

If she wasn't the best in her entire class, if she didn't go on to become not just an Archon but one of the most famous Archons in Anirian history, then her life would be a lie. The flame that raged inside her chest would be nothing more than a dull spark. She had to become great, as much for herself as for Rachel. Had to become better than anyone else.

Up until her most recent mission nothing had threatened to extinguish that wildfire of ambition inside of her. But now, for the first time in her life, she doubted herself. The one thing she always relied upon was cast into doubt and worry. "I can't be nobody Henk. I need to be more than that."

She shook her head, ruffling her head underneath his chin, before regaining some of her composure. "I'm glad you're back. I'll get back to... my old self... in time."
There was something that Henk wasn't privy too, some part of Noel's story that he hadn't been told. As she expressed her burning need to be the very best, a need that rose far beyond the level of desire, he heard the motivation behind her words. Something drove her forward, not unlike she had done for him.

That driving force, Henk would not seek to uncover. That was hers to hold, whatever memory she honored with her efforts.

Noel had always been so focused on surpassing everybody else. Still, her motivations had always confused him. She did not seek to be the best in order to place others beneath her out of ego or an inflated sense of self. It was simply something she expected of herself, a goal that she herself had to meet.

Henk was beginning to understand that now. Even so...

"When will you be satisfied?"

He didn't look down at her, but kept his eyes forward as he spoke.

"I'm the same, you know. I'm scared of anything happening to you. This whole time I've devoted myself to defending all of you, being there for you. All it took was one failure to shake me to my core."

A large failure though it had been...

"But in confronting that failure, admitting to myself that I had been too weak and dedicating myself to be better, I've come out the other side much stronger. This failure you face now... if it hadn't happened then, it would have happened someday, Noel. Nobody is flawless."

He could have sat here all day, trying to get her to see herself the way he saw her. Henk couldn't change the way she felt, though, and it would have been a disservice to do so even if he had that godlike ability. Henk closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, letting it out slowly as he relishes the last moments he'd have of freedom until Anir was satisfied with him.

"You'll come to see me? While I'm locked up, I mean? It'll take time for them to decide on my freedom."
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When would she be satisfied? ”When Gilram’s dead.”

But that wasn’t really the whole truth of it. She wouldn’t be satisfied until she was an Archon. And even then, Noel wasn’t certain she’d fill ‘complete’ after that lofty goal was achieved either.

To Henk’s next statement she answered by grabbing ahold of his hand and squeezing hard.

”I’m used to failure, Henk.” Noel had probably been the most dedicated and hardest working in her class but she wasn’t the strongest. Talea could best her with that horrific mind control magic of hers. Edric could easily fell her, she knew that from experience. Fermin was more talented with her when magic was removed from the equation. ”Thanks for trying to cheer me up though.”

What had bothered her wasn’t that she had failed. It wasn’t even that she’d risked Mieri’s life, though that certainly did weigh on her. It had been the helplessness of it all. The realization she was nothing more than a grain of sand being swept up in an ocean of Amelie’s power.

”I’m going with you when you turn yourself in,” she answered quickly, ”you won’t face that part alone at least.”

If she needed to offer her own testimony she would. Speak to his character or whatever the Guard wanted.

Noel continued to stare out in the cresting waves while savoring the moment a bit longer. ”I’ll visit you too. Though the Black Guard has me going on assignment in a week.” He’d be out by then. She was sure of it. Or at least, she hoped he’d be out by then.
Noel's answer made him smile, when he truly didn't feel like smiling. Yes, that sounded about right. And Henk, if anyone, could hear the unspoken truth beyond her words. She'd always strive to climb upwards, no matter what obstacles were set in her path. She pushed forwards, never compromising or changing herself to do so. The world would bend to her needs, not the other way around.

It was why Henk loved her.

Looking down at their joined hands, he chuckles, almost nervously. "I had to try, didn't I? I couldn't remember the last time you smiled at me before today." Henk just wanted her to be happy, to be able to exist without the never-ending pain that they'd endured for their entire upbringing, from all manner of sources.

It was a pipedream, and he knew it. It didn't make him any less determined to try.

Very soon, this moment... this perfect, unbelievable moment in his life with the person he cherished more than anything else in all of the world... it would be over. He would be placed under arrest and interrogated under suspicion of treason. She'd go back to fighting, putting her life on the line for all of them.

If he had any tears left, they would have left him now. Instead, he just squeezed her in his arm one more time, the smile on his face turning a shade more somber.

"They won't let me go with you. I'll have to stay in the city. I never technically graduated."

Every day he'd suffer the same way she had, not knowing whether or not she still lived. It was what he deserved, but that didn't make it any less agonizing.

Henk turned his head, the only way he could hide the pitiful expression on his face as his chest fell, speaking in a soft plea.

"Please don't die, Noel. I beg of you."
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"They need people. Once they realize you're not a psychopath or a Gilram devotee they'll probably grant you the title of Dreadlord," though if Noel had to guess they'd probably force him on a mission. Maybe even a few missions so that he'd "earn it."

They'd also probably start him out as a Level Four.

A bit of an insult considering Henk easily could've made Level Three upon graduation, although Noel doubted the scarred boy she'd grown up with would care much. And who knew, maybe the Guard would be sensible enough not to do something like that.

Then, finally, he made the whole thing awkward.

Noel let out a glimpse of a giggle. "I was actually planning to die but I guess I'll change my agenda."

She'd already thrown herself at death once on graduation day. When she got into her foolish head she could stop Gilram or thwart his attempt at stealing her classmates if she just sacrificed her own life. Then there was the mission to Urstholm which she only survived because their enemy wasn't in the mood to kill them.

"I'll be fine, Henk. Just focus on your story for the Guard."
"Very funny. Didn't you just make the same request of me a moment ago?"

It took him a moment, but hearing how easily she was able to laugh at his worry helped to put it at ease. She was right, of course. As desperate for manpower as the city was, he could very likely find himself granted his full title. It wasn't much, and he still doubted he'd be trusted to be sent on jobs for The Blackguard, but...

Clearing his throat slightly, Henk nodded. It was beginning to dawn on him just how much the woman in his arms knew how his mind worked. Comforting, if not also slightly terrifying.

"I know you will. I just want to be there with you as soon as possible."

His story was cut and dry. He'd been wounded and beaten by those he believed loyal to the City, and had every reason to believe the City itself sought him dead. The feelings of betrayal didn't mean that he also aligned with Gilram's ideals. The fact of the matter is that to play neutral any longer was to make that madman's job easier, and while he had no love for the Dreadlords in general, he had love for one of them, and Gilram would take that from him.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend
, but maybe he'd leave that last part out of his official testimony.

Henk shut his eyes and reveled in the moment one last time, having her here, pressed up against him like this. It would be the last time it was possible for a while, and while there were many things that he wished he could say... Well, there were some fears he couldn't conquer.

"I know we need to be going." His hold on her went slack. "I just wish I could prolong this, selfishly."

But the sun was quickly setting, and he could only waste so much of her time.

"Are you ready?"
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"I'm ready," she said while pulling away from his embrace and standing.

Noel offered a hand for Henk so that he could stand, trying to ignore his comment of wanting to prolong the endeavor. Once he was on his feet she stared into his eyes, studying him for a time.

She cleared her throat and pulled him into a tight hug. "You're going to be alright."

That part was almost an assured thing. They needed Dreadlords and Henk wasn't a servant of Gilram. He hadn't committed any crimes against the state other than desertion and he was turning himself in. The number of days he'd wait in a cell depended more on the generosity of whoever was assigned his case.

And, if she could, she would attempt to get someone sympathetic to his cause on it to speed up the process.

For a split second in time though brown eyes met his scarred face as Noel raised her index finger to trace the line on a new scar he'd acquired in his time away. "That one's new," she spoke with a solemness rarely seen amongst the rest of her classmates, "you need to take better care of yourself."

Without any further delay she pulled Henk in closer and planted a soft kiss upon his lips. It was brief, delicate, but she'd done it and then almost immediately pulled away. "We should get you to your cell, inmate."
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