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Ridahne heard Darin tell someone that she wanted to speak with the Sols, and that they’d essentially need to wait on her whims without any real sense of timing. Some part of her, culturally conditioned to respect the Sols at all costs, was a little horrified. But a larger part of her, the part that had let go of some ceremony and the rigidity of her society in some ways, chuckled into her drink. She approved of that. It was such a small thing—not a direct insult, not anything grandiose or attention-seeking. But it was a power play, and considering Ridahne’s history with feeling unable to have any power or much autonomy around the Sols in the past, she thought the whole thing delicious. She didn’t mention it, though she did sneak a sly grin at Darin from behind her cup.

Ja’heil was a reserved lad, but he liked Darin and offered a soft smile at all her questions. He was still a little in awe that he was sitting across from a person who could command the forces of Astra with a whim, and some part of him warned himself to be extra polite. Still, he felt like he had something of a friendship with her and let his guard down a little. He didn’t relax completely. Ridahne could see that much by the way he held himself and the way he kept his voice only just loud enough to be heard by his present company and not the whole table. He was technically off for the night, but apprentices were rarely ever fully free of their duties. Even if he wasn’t actively working, there were manners to be upheld, and as a Hama—an apprentice, he did not have the liberty to dispense with formalities as much as his more veteran colleagues.

“Well…” his yellowish gold eyes flicked momentarily to Salei, his master, who was seated further down the table and loosely watching her charge. They made eye contact. When she looked away, hiding a soft upward twitch of her lips, he spoke a little more freely. “It’s…a lot.” He allowed himself a little laugh. Ridahne laughed too, a little sardonically, knowingly. That was an understatement. “I spent most of my time with Elaitih-Rajenni. You know her by her first name, Salei. I learn from her. Everything. How to speak with people from other classes, or areas, or lands, how to speak with Sols or behave around them, how to deal with the regular people that come in here for their business, and of course, how to fight.”
“Have you chosen a specialty yet?” Ridahne asked.
“I think so. I really like the spear, and how it can be used as a tool as well as a weapon. But I’m also training with a smaller knife, too, as a a backup because spears aren’t good in close quarters. I’m…” he smirked, looking over at his master again. “I’m sort of owned by her. When an eija decides to become an elaitih and they pick their hama, once you accept you kind of resign yourself to belong to them until your training is done, or until they decide you are best off with someone else. But the word…’belong’….in your culture it is mostly used to speak of items, of ownership. This is not that sort. A hama has a responsibility to learn and obey anything their elaitih says, but the elaitih has a responsibility to keep their charge well, and train them properly. I don’t have much freedom right now, but I am well cared for, and learn constantly.”
“It’s part of what makes eija so highly trained and sought after by other peoples. The training process is long, strict, and consumes your life for a few years,” Ridahne supplied. “As a result, we’re the best.”

Ja’heil nodded. “It’s very hard work, and I miss my family. I have not seen them in months. But I know my family is very proud of me, and I get treated very well here. An abundance of good food, nice clothes, the best gear. But I get to travel so much too! Last month I just returned from a trip to the Siren capital city. Very interesting place! I don’t travel as much as you, though.”

He thought for a moment. “Something people get wrong…? Hm. Well, I am not a slave. I do not know if such things exist since the Tree’s first blossoming, but there is often whispers from foreigners when we travel. They think I am not there willingly because I am quiet and obedient. There is a rumor that eija raid villages and find their successors that way, but that is not true. We are selected, and sometimes picked out of a crowd for some talent or trait, but we have every right to refuse. Many do, and respect is given to them for their honesty. It’s a great honor, not a thing to be forced. And,” he added, as an afterthought, “I’m not shy. People think because I am quiet, I am shy, but I am not.” He lifted his chin as if in pride. “And I’m still allowed to dance, or sing, or play games. Just not when I’m on duty, not unless Elaitih-Rajenni asks me to or permits me. I actually really like to dance. And sing. I’m not good at it, but I like to anyway. Do you dance and sing in your land?”
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The Seed-Bearer listened carefully as Ja’heil spoke of his training. It honestly sounded very similar to an apprenticeship. There were similar concepts in Eluri and in Orosi. She was willing to wager that every culture had a concept of taking in a young adult that wanted to learn a trade. Yes, it was true, that the Azurei version was harsher than others, but Azurei was a harsh land and being an Eija was a difficult job. A strict training now, meant a person would be less likely to perish in the future. It did explain some of Ridahne, and for that, Darin was grateful.

Darin considered what she had been told, “I guess an Elaitih, or any master teaching a student, is a bit like a parent. Protecting and taking care of a student in exchange for their obedience and willingness to learn.” She smiled at the boy across the table, “And you do seem willing to learn.”

In a way being The Seed-Bearer was like being an apprentice Gardener, not that there was a Gardener to act as her teacher. It was more like a self-taught apprenticeship. Suddenly, Darin was struck with a realization with blinding clarity. Ravi had said that it had always been her, that The Gardener had always been searching for her to give her The Seed. She always assumed that it was because she was a farmer. But what if was because she had been a self-taught farmer? She had learned how to take care of her tiny plot by eavesdropping and watching and listening wherever and whenever she could. She was basically doing the same thing now. She was learning how to take care of a land, a people, a home, by eavesdropping and watching and listening wherever and whenever she could. Planting The Seed was just sowing on a larger scale. Everything that came after was just farming on a larger scale. Suddenly Darin was reminded of the memories of The Gardener’s life before he received his Seed. He had been a gardener. She wouldn’t be The Gardener. She would be The Farmer, and somehow that was both easier to accept and harder to comprehend.

She whispered the two words in the language of her home under her breath and just to herself, “The Farmer.” Then she gave her head a shake as she forced herself to smile up at Ja’heil, “Humans dance.” She shook her head with a laugh and a toss of her hair, “I don’t.” She nudged Ridahne with her shoulder, “Taja Ridahne can attest to that! I mainly stumble around clumsily in a poor imitation of dance.” She shrugged, “Human dancing isn’t like Azurei dancing.” She paused as her finger came to tap against her lips, “I can’t really explain the difference. Both are beautiful and I’m bad at both, but it’s hard to compare the two.”

This was not the time to be worried about personal revelation. Darin hoped that no one had noticed her wide eyes and the brief moments that she spaced out from the conversation, but she didn’t have much hope. At the very least she knew that Ridahne had noticed. The two girls knew each other far too well, and the others in the room were either training to be or were Eija and Taja. Darin didn’t particularly care to answer anyone’s questions, save Ridahne’s and knew her sister would wait to ask. Maybe she could distract everyone else.

She smiled at Ja’heil, “I do like seeing Azurei dancing.” She flashed a smiled down the row towards one person in specific person, “Do you think your master would give you leave to demonstrate for me?” She playfully joked, “I can play The Seed-Bearer card if necessary.”
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Ja'heil nodded vigorously. "Yes, yes, it's much like a parent, though you can get away with talking back to a parent..." he chuckled. "My Ma would never hit me, or my Da. But Elaitih-Rajenni...? I don't think she'd ever openly strike me, but I know the times I've behaved poorly, she was extra harsh in our training session the next day." He shrugged. "I deserved it anyway."
"Lucky you," Ridahne said. "My Elaitih was harsh. She was relentless in training, and if I ever embarrassed her, she always found a way to return the favor." Ridahne cringed, but then mused, "I wonder how she's doing...she retired many years ago. Maybe we'll run into her in our travels, eh Darin?" For all that her former mentor was hard on her, the two of them, like most eija and their apprentices, shared a bond. It was an odd relationship, not quite the same as family, but Ridahne still cared about her deeply.

Of course, Ridahne did not miss Darin's expression. Evidently, some thought came across her mind, though she wasn't yet ready to talk about it. She knew Darin would tell her later, though she distantly wondered what she was thinking about. She'd whispered something, but over the general din of the dining hall, Ridahne missed it.

"Oh, it's pitiful," Ridahne supplied. "I tried teaching her what I know of basics--you know, balance and such--and she did learn some, but not enough to make her much of a dancer." Ridahne laughed. "Human dancing is..." she paused for a long time, trying to figure out what exactly to call the difference between her native dance and the human style. Finally, she decided on, "Spinny." She twirled one finger around in the air. "They do a lot of circles. Very intimate partner dances are slow and they kind of...just sort of spin around but slowly while holding each other. And more casual dances are bouncy, but also still in a lot of circles. Like imagine you link arms with someone, and skip around and around, and then detach and find another partner and skip the other direction? I don't know, I know I've seen something like that more than once."

Ja'heil clearly did not know what to make of that, and sat there puzzling out what that would look like. When Darin asked if he'd be allowed to demonstrate the Azurei style, he snapped to attention, though he looked a little uncertain. "Right now? In front of everybody? There isn't any music..."
"That could be arranged..." Ridahne said, a mock-threatening smirk on her face.
"I'd need a partner..."
"Good thing I'm an excellent dancer, then. Come, if Salei is displeased with you, you can tell her Taja-Torzinei and Astra-Sol made you."

Ridahne got up and called for music, and as players entered with their instruments (mostly drums and other percussive instruments, though there was one large but thin stringed instrument that was played with a bow), the general assembly turned to watch with passing interest. The music began, a slow but powerful rhythm, and Ridahne began to lead Ja'heil, who relaxed a little more with each passing second. The dance itself felt heavy, grounded, and the drums were accented by the rhythmic slapping of the dancers' bare feet on the cool stone. The only moments they touched each other was when they brought their arms up in front of them and crossed their wrists delicately. Otherwise, the two stayed equidistant from one another as they moved, giving a sense of choreography where there was none.

After a while, Ajoran stood and, between songs, quietly asked Ja'heil if he could cut in. The lad bowed to him and went to sit back down, offering Darin a smile. As Ajoran took his place in front of Ridahne, the air of the dance floor changed. Before, it had been easy and lighthearted, almost relaxed. But as Ajoran looked into Ridahne's eyes, and she into his, there grew an air of focus and intensity, of passion and precision. The musicians seemed to sense this mood shift and played a much faster, thunderous beat. The dancers moved equally as fast. Once again, they generally kept their same distance apart regardless of how they moved, but Ajoran had far more control than Ja'heil, and the two of them knew each other far better. Their dance was aggressive, passionate, and warlike, but it was poetic, too, like the honed edge of a blade. Beautiful to behold, but intense also. Watching this display, it wasn't difficult to understand why the Azurei terms for sparring and dance were similar, and colloquially were used interchangeably. Both were about precision and control. Both required reacting to the other's movements with equal measures of speed and accuracy. Their skill drew the attention of most of the people in the room as they looked on with a sense of admiration. With Ridahne's red clothes, and Ajoran's blue ones, they looked like spirits of fire and water battling for supremacy.

Finally, the music stopped, and the two shared a quick but passionate kiss before returning to their seats, out of breath and glistening with sweat. "I have been waiting to show him off since we got here," Ridahne said with a grin, hooking a thumb over her shoulder at Ajoran. "Next time, we'll show you actual sparring. It's just as beautiful."
Ja'heil's mouth was open. "Wow..."
"You should dance more with Salei," Ajoran suggested. "If you can dance together in harmony, you can fight together in harmony."
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Darin clapped with the beat as she watched Ridahne dance with Ja'heil. It was clear that they were both passionate dancers, but Ridahne had a touch more skill. Ja'heil looked relived as he traded places with Ajoran. Darin clapped a long for a little bit at the start of the new song, but then promptly forgot to as she watched the perfectly matched dancers basically fly across from each other. They were in such perfect harmony, in such perfect synch, that if the Red Hand came in right now, Darin fully believed that the two of them would deal with the threat without even missing a beat in the dance. Darin was thrilled to watch and almost upset when the hypnotic spell was broken as they came to sit back down.

She clapped vigorously, “Bravo!” She left off clapping as she leaned over the table, “Now that was a sight to see! I both eagerly await watching the two of you spar and dread it. That dance plus the inclusion of knifes and swords. I can only assume, correctly of course, that such a dance can be deadly.” She stood and tripped over the bench as she moved away from the table, “Ah ha!” She pointed at Ja'heil, “I told you! I’m clumsy!” She turned her attention to Ridahne, “I have on more errand to run tonight and then I am off to bed. I told you where I will be tonight. I’ll see you tomorrow.” She bowed towards Ja'heil, “Thank you for your company this evening Hama Ja'heil. It has been an honor to get to know you.” She then pivoted about to head out of the dining hall, “Good night to all!”

Then she was into the hallways of the building just as fast as she could go. Darin had to ask for directions a few times, but soon she was heading in the right direction. She heard Taja screech and held out a arm to catch him as he dove from his flight. Darin had a suspicion that Taja had been given leave to fly wherever he wanted in Tasen. She had yet to see another bird inside the building, but it was possible that she just hadn’t noticed them. She paused for a moment as Taja walked up to her shoulder and pressed himself against her cheek. It took a moment, but soon the bird was comfortably dozing, and Darin felt safe to begin her trek to the Sols’ audience chamber.

Determined to be polite Darin stop at a respectful distance and bow slightly, “Good evening Sols.” She rose from the bow to look the Sota-Sol dead in the eyes, “I bring news from Astra regrading a peculiar weather pattern that will come to Tasen not tomorrow, but the next day. On that day it will rain steadily, but not enough to flood. The ground will be covered in water but will do no irreparable damage. The sky will remain grey.” She spread her arms out as Taja let out a mild sound of protest before settling down again, “Do you have any questions about this that I can answer for you and the people of Tasen?”
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Ridahne almost blushed, but she hid it well. At least, well enough for the general public; she would not fool Darin, or Ajoran. "You flatter us," she said. "It certainly is deadly...Ja'heil, when you complete your apprenticeship, and the time comes for you to select a partner to work by your side, you ought to dance with them, first..."
Ja'heil blushed even harder, looking a bit embarrassed. "You don't mean...that I have to like...be in love with them, do you?"
Ridahne and Ajoran both laughed and shook their heads. "No lad!" he said. "Though I've got to say, it does help...though truthfully we were never partners. Trained together a lot, sure, but not in an official capacity."
"Really?" Somehow Ja'eheil had thought they were. How else could they be so attuned to one another? "Who was your partner then, Ridahne? If you don't mind me asking?"

Ridahne went quiet, and debated answering at all. Ajoran took her hand underneath the table and gave it a squeeze. "Do you...do you not know?"
Ja'heil immediately sensed his question had not landed the way he'd hoped and picked up on some kind of tension. He wished he'd never asked. "No...I'm...sorry if--"
"No, it's alright. It's no secret. I assumed you already knew...but perhaps you came here after, and Salei shielded you from much of the drama...probably for the best." Ridahne sighed, her expression turning sad. "Takhun Haralti was his hame. We were partnered for several years. He was not my first--she was much older than I and retired--but he was my last." She took a deep breath, steeled herself, and looking straight into Ja'eheil's eyes she said, "I killed him, Ja'heil. It was part of my betrayal, and was perhaps the greatest sin I have yet committed. Your Elaitih knows the full story. Ask her sometime." And with that, she signaled she was done with this conversation. She had decided that she would not shy away from it and would face it boldly when it came up, but she did not want to dwell on it, either.

Ridahne nodded and smiled softly to Darin, and though she tried hard, that dark subject left a cloud over her still. "Good night, and good luck. Go easy on them, we can't afford to have all new government overnight!" she teased. Ridahne did not worry about Darin--she'd be surrounded by Taja, visible and hidden, who would protect their Sols and her if the need arose.

----

The Sols sat in waiting, stately as statues, for Darin to arrive. Hanasa-Sol, Khaltira's replacement, tapped her finger impatiently against the arm of her chair. How long had they been waiting? She was not accustomed to waiting for anything, here. Nor should she. "This is ridiculous...are we to wait upon the whims of others? Of foreigners?"
Amaiera-Sol's head swiveled smoothly and slowly, and yet with an edge that made her appear stern. She glowered at Hanasa-Sol. "Silence, Hanasa. You do not know of what you speak."
Hanasa-Sol frowned, considering. "Hm. Enlighten me, Sota-Sol."
"We do not wait upon the whims of just any foreigner, nor common person. She is a Sol, as we are. But she is Astra's Sol, not just Azurei's. You will show her the respect that title deserves."
Realizing her mistake, Hanasa-Sol nodded solemntly and was quiet after that. She had much to learn about her new station, and was grateful that the Sols collectively sought to teach her. Most Sols generally just had their one predecessor, but she had four mentors.

At last Darin arrived, wearing a stately bird on her shoulder. Yes, that seemed to be her way. It was a bit uncouth to bring animals before the Sols in an official meeting like this, but...she was Astra-Sol. It was only to be expected that the creatures of Astra, large and small, would find kinship with this human. And if she deemed to bring them into an audience chamber, then so be it. Amaiera-Sol welcomed her with a polite dip of her head, and listened to the human's announcement. "We are strangers to rain in this land," she said, her voice even and cool. "But we welcome it when it does arrive. I will have word spread so that my people are not caught unawares. But I must ask...is there a reason you perform such an act, Seed-Bearer? Is there some purpose you hope to achieve? If I may be of assistance to you, please do not hesitate to ask."

The Sota-Sol was certainly a force, and she was intimidating and not one to be taken lightly, but despite the checkered history she had with Ridahne, the leader seemed to have a reasonable head on her shoulders and was not unkind. Evidently, she had great respect for Darin and her title, or she would not have offered her services to her.
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Darin gave her head a shake, “You misunderstand I have not decided to bring the rain to Tasen. Astra, The Sky, The Sea, The Stone, specifically of Tasen and the near by areas, have decided to bring this rain here.” There was a slight spiral of wind that lifted Darin a few inches into the air, but did nothing else as Darin laughed lightly in response, “ This is the first time in all my travels that I’ve introduced myself properly. I believe that Astra is celebrating.” The wind died and she dropped back to the ground, “I’m disinclined to disagree.” She turned her gaze back to the Sota-Sol, “I can’t go home. So, Astra is bringing home to me for just a little bit. The rain will only help Tasen. So, I cannot find fault with this plan, even if only for selfish reasons.” She sighed, the look in her eye forlorn, “Speaking of home, I plan on writing messages to send home via The Farm as I have messages for them as well. When they are written I would appreciate your help in making sure they are delivered.” She shrugged, “For now that is all I can think of.” She nodded again, “Thank you for your patience. I’ll take my leave now.”

She didn’t wait for a dismissal as she exited the room. Darin didn’t think that Ridahne would be able to find fault with how she handled the interaction, but for some reason she couldn’t help but wonder what Ravi would think. What would her mother think? She paused in a hallway with her fingertips lightly brushing the wall. Sometimes she didn’t think she acted like a daughter Talia would be proud to call her daughter. Darin wasn’t even sure that mattered. Talia basically took a year off from being her family, much less her mother. Then Darin never cared what Talia had to say about anything, running the farm herself, her short hair, wearing pants, not getting married. So, why did she care about the fact that Talia would call her rude for making the Sols wait and then just leaving when she was done? What type of woman was Darin turning into? Petty and mean? That was the last thing she wanted.

Darin clenched her fists tightly and she began striding back down the hall to the room she had been provided. This was not the time for attacks of self-doubt. This was not the time for crises of faith. This was not the time to slip into depression or whatever. The only person she had to help her with things like this was Ridahne, and this was her home. The warrior was having a mostly okay time. Darin didn’t want to get in the way of that. She knew she was supposed to talk to Ridahne about stuff like this. She had promised. Darin told herself that she would talk to Ridahne … later, much later. When she could get Ridahne away for Ajoran, which might not be for a long while.

Darin suddenly turned to punch the wall, “Stupid.” She quietly cursed in common as she continued to punch the wall, “Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.”

She was just tired, and she knew this. That’s why all these self-doubts were plaguing her. That’s why she currently hated herself. That’s why petty thoughts about Talia and the Sols and Ajoran were sneaking into her brain. Darin didn’t really mean it; she didn’t think. She really needed to just go to bed. She knew that. Yet she couldn’t bring herself to stop punching the wall. She could only use one of her hands since Taja was on the other shoulder. Her knuckles were swiftly becoming bloody and if she didn’t stop, she might break something. Why couldn’t she stop? She wanted to stop. Didn’t she?

A clatter and a voice filled the air, “Astra-Sol!” Darin looked up to see a servant of some sort with their hands other their mouth and a dropped tray by their feet, “Is everything alright?”

The sudden noise shocked Darin out of her actions and she quickly took a step away from the wall. “I’m fine.” She inclined her head on the wall, “I apologize for the mess.”

The servant shook their head quickly, “That doesn’t matter.” They took a few hurried steps forward, “We need to get you to a healer right away.”

Darin quickly darted away form them, “I’m fine.” She forced out a hollow sounding laugh, “I just need rest.”

She ignored the cries of the servant as she quickly hurried on her wall. With her luck news of her little fit would be all over Tasen in no time at all. That was exactly what she didn’t need, but Darin at least understood living with the consequences of her choices. Right now, what she needed to do was get her knuckles washed and bandaged. She thought she might have some bandaging in her pack in her room. She would take care of that and head towards the stables. She couldn’t be alone right now but didn’t want to deal with people. Talbot could probably keep her from doing something completely stupid. Hopefully.

Somehow Darin managed to keep to the plan. She carefully washed her knuckles in the water basin filled with clean water and wrapped the clean cotton tight around her hand. Ridahne probably would have done a better job, but Darin didn’t want to see her. Well, she did want to see her sister, but just her sister, and she would feel guilty of she dragged Ridahne from Ajoran after so long apart. Soon, it would just be the too of them again, so Darin decided to try and be patient. She made it to the stables with out anyone seeing her and finally tossed Taja off her shoulder. The bird didn’t protest as he flew to the rafters to go back to bed. Talbot whinnied sleepily as his human pulled of her boots and sank into the hay near him. Now, Darin just needed turn her brain off and sleep. That might be more difficult that she wanted to admit. Her fingers hurt, reminding her of her many, many flaws.
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The Sols murmured softly amongst themselves when Darin lifted herself from the floor with a twist of wind. She had shown them how she could call water to her will when they'd first met, but this was still largely new to them. Their taja tightened grips on spears, staves, or swords, and a few moved just a few inches closer to their respective Sol, but the matriarchs waved them away with small movements of their hands. Nobody specifically mistrusted Darin, but the taja were simply trained to react to anything unusual.

Hanasa-Sol smiled. She, being new to the position, had less of an affectation or aloof bearing and still showed some of her lack of matriarchal training in her free expression of moods and thoughts. "We will not complain about rain here. Our soil thirsts for it, and if it is caught in rain barrels, it will save many a goat herder a long, arduous trek across hot sands."
"We thank you," Another Sol with short black hair and light brown eyes added. "For water is precious to us here. And we welcome you as openly as you come, Astra-Sol. We are glad to have you among us."
The Sota-Sol added, "We will assist you in every way that we can. And we will make sure your letters arrive in a timely manner. We will send a pair of eija to personally deliver them, and with honor. You must tell us about your home before you leave Tasen, if it pleases you. We are very curious to know your origins, Astra-Sol."

Whatever could be said about the Sol's remote loftiness, or how they'd handled the situation with Ridahne, they were at least unfailingly polite to Darin, and held her title in high regard. Higher, perhaps, than even themselves. Whatever complicated feelings that lay between them and Ridahne, of which there were many, there were none between them and Darin. Though they were increasingly beginning to regard them as a bonded pair rather than separate entities. The Sols made gestures of reverence to her as Darin excused herself, and the women let her go without argument. Very few people were permitted to excuse themselves from the presence of the Sols without permission, but Darin was one of those people.

---

Ridahne and Ajoran socialized for a while longer in the main hall before they made their way to the small palace archives, and the master archivist's quarters there. He stood patiently by while Ridahne talked through the new ojih marks extensively with the master archivist, a small woman with wrinkled skin and hair that had long since turned white. By elvish standards, she was ancient, and spent most of her time seated. The woman studied Ridahne's face extensively, taking notes on how the marks should lie on the face, and then had Ridahne use a brush and ink to paint the marks on thick paper multiple times. The master archivist, at last, had Ridahne record the marks in an ancient, well-maintained tome filled with pages of animal parchment, not paper. Ridahne tried so hard to keep her hands from shaking, but she took a few deep breaths and recorded new ojih marks in the official record book of Azurei.

Ridahne felt so free after that. While she had resolved to make the marks true and official, and while they were accurate and honest in their telling of her own story, it had been gnawing at her that she alone had marks that were not officially recorded. To have that dealt with at last lifted a huge weight off her shoulders. She wished she could tell Darin. She would, eventually.

Ridahne and Ajoran sent a letter home to Ajoran's family, informing them of their upcoming wedding and asking them to come, and then retired for the evening. Ridahne did not need to guess to know where Darin was, and for once did not feel the need to fuss over her protection. This palace, even the stables, were heavily patrolled and guarded, and no one moved in and out without someone's knowledge. And anyway, if Ridahne was needed, she knew how to get to the stables quickly.
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Darin did not sleep as well as she would have liked. It was hot and she was still unsure about what was going on in her brain and how to make it shut up. She was also worried about what would happen if that one woman told Ridahne about what she had seen. Then again, Ridahne didn’t come storming in, so Darin could only assume that the warrior had not found out about the farmer’s knuckles. The human’s sleep was restless until she finally gave up right as the dawning started. This was the second night in a row that her own self-doubts and the heat had kept her up. Though it wasn’t completely the heat’s fault. The night they had been with Hadian had been just as hot. The only real difference was that she hadn’t been sleeping near Ridahne.

Darin slowly walked back to her assigned room with hay in her hair and bags under her eyes as she thought about that. For the past year and a half, it had been her and Ridahne against anything that came against them. Now that they had made it to Tasen Ajoran was here and Ridahne wasn’t spending her time with Darin. Was Darin jealous? She thought she might be, and she was mad at herself for that. It wasn’t far to Ajoran. More importantly, it wasn’t fair to Ridahne. The human had known this day was coming, the day that the two lovers were reunited. She hadn’t wanted Ajoran to reject Ridahne. She wanted to be happy for them. She was happy for them. It was just that she felt like an outsider … like an awkward guest … like … like … like. Like being back home.

Darin stopped as she let out a sound of half realization half shock and all dismay. That was exactly it. Back home her only real support had been Thomas and Milla. They had both been her friends. There was no other word for it. They still weren’t close friends and while Darin could and would rely on them, they had other friends besides her. They had duties that Darin understood couldn’t be ignored. They had each other, just like Ridahne and Ajoran had each other and others and jobs to do. There were other similarities. There were the elders and the Sols, both groups wanting Darin to be someone or to do something that she wasn’t sure she wanted to be or even could do. Both groups looked at her with expectations in their eyes and questions in their voices that she wasn’t sure she could meet, that she might not want to answer. And here, like there, she felt alone as she went about her work and day, part of the group, but removed by factors not entirely in her control.

She was supposed to talk to Ridahne about this. Darin knew she was supposed to talk to Ridahne about things like this instead of bottling it away and running to hide, but what was she supposed to say? How could she take Ridahne away from her fiancé to tell the warrior that Darin felt jealous of the man? How could she tell Ridahne that she felt like she was drowning in her desert home when her friend was so excited to be back? How could Darin do that? How could she be selfish like that? She had had Ridahne to herself for a year and a half. Ajoran hadn’t even seen her for just about two years and hadn’t even known that she was coming back to him?

Darin forced herself to resume her walk before she started hitting the wall again. She just needed sleep, and maybe a bath, and maybe some food. And, she thought as yet another person ducked their head towards her and called her Astra-Sol, she needed people to stop calling her Astra-Sol. Logically she knew it was a sign of respect. Logically she knew they meant know harm. It just she wasn’t a Sol, an Azurei matriarch. She was The Seed-Bearer of Astra, a caretaker to be for all of Astra. Except she didn’t think she wanted people to call her Seed-Bearer either. She got to her assigned room and fell face down on the bed. She’d try for more sleep before true dawn came and then go look for Ridahne. She wasn’t sure what she was going to say, but she had promised not to run, and she would do her best to keep that promise.
Hidden 29 days ago Post by Blackfridayrule
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Blackfridayrule One Who Plays With Fire

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Dawn broke over Azurei, though its inhabitants were not greeted with the piercing orange glare of the naked rising sun like they were so accustomed to. Instead, the light came through a filter of clouds that gathered more densely by the hour. Nightguards and goat herders alike looked to the sky with furrowed brows. There was a rainy season--great monsoons that kept the arid land alive--but this was not such a time. What was more, the sea was unsettled, brimming with an energy that was unusual for early morning. Sailors, remembering the spectacle they'd seen the day before with the Seed Bearer, decided it would be best to keep ashore for the time being.

By morning, a time when most of Azurei was active before the heat of the day got too intense, little droplets of rain began to sporadically fall. It was not yet a true rain, a deluge of water from the sky, but it was as if the sky was ready, bursting, and yet barely restraining itself for the Seed Bearer's command. The stone gave off a comfortable, earthy scent of petrichor as the little droplets fell into the dust, the wind swept in more clouds to dim the sky, and the sea hammered the shore with foamy waves. Astra knew it would be called, and it was ready.

Ridahne with Ajoran in tow came to the room where Darin was staying. She'd actually checked the stables first and was surprised not to find her there, and that seemed the next best option. Ridahne knocked once. "Darin!" she shouted, joy in her tone. She opened the door, trying not to burst it open. "Darin, it's starting to rain!" she laughed. "Astra is chomping at the bit to dance with you, my friend. Shall we go and greet it?"
Hidden 13 days ago Post by LadyAnnaLee
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Darin blinked blearily as Ridahne knocked on the door. That was funny. It almost sounded like it was raining a day early. She stumbled to the window to see that the sky was grey. She distractedly fixed her hair as she reached out to know why Astra was doing this a day earlier. What she got back was a vague sense of worry for her. Darin looked down at her knuckles and the scabs that were starting to form there. She was distracted as Ridahne came bounding to the room. Darin smiled before it fell as she looked towards the window again. Astra was worried for her. She couldn’t … she had to … do something. But what? Maybe she could fingure it out at some point today. For now, she would just play, or, as Ridahne had suggested, dance.

She moved to exit though the window to the roof, grinning again, “Then we best not leave Astra waiting.”

Darin didn’t wait for further comments or more introspection. She continued to grin as she walked across the roof, still barefoot, towards where she could see the Sea. It wasn’t raining yet, at least not by her standards. This was a drizzle at best. Astra wanted a light shower, something to play in. Such an event was just waiting to start. Ridahne was right. Astra was barely restraining Itself, waiting for Its Seed-Bearer’s word. Darin paused at the edge of the roof, almost as if she was about to leap off or fly. If she did what she was planning to do next there would be no going back. She should be smart, but she hadn’t been smart since she got to Azurei. Why be smart now?

The Seed-Bearer let out a command and The Sky carried it to the ears of everyone in Tasen, “Let the rains fall!” She took a deep breath to prepare, “At let Tasen rejoice!”

With that Darin leapt from the roof. The Sky stopped her from falling and instead dropped her down into a circle of animals. Darin saw Talbot and what had to be practically every horse in the palace. There were hunting cats, including Mitaja, galore. There was Taja and Tsura with a plethora of other birds waiting to take flight. There were goats, and dogs, and more animals than Darin thought could be in a desert. She looked around at the faces, eager to go play or rest or find other ways to enjoy the day. She moved to be in Talbot’s line of sight and was surprised when the massive horse bent his forelegs in a semblance of a bow. Darin laughed as she bowed in return before moving the stroke his nose.

She turned with a smile towards the gathering still looking at her, “Well, what are you waiting on me for.” She made a shooing motion with her hands, “Go play.” She watched as the animals scurried off before calling out to Ridahne “Come along Taja Torzenei. There are puddles to splash in and I want to make sure the market is okay.”
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