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Most Recent Posts

✧ Location: Soft Haven North Gate ✧ Purse: 12 copper ✧ @Scribe of Thoth @Achronum

That was the first night since rooming with Berta in Straithmoor that Kyreth could remember sleeping under a roof, and the first time he could ever remember going to bed with a full belly. More than that, he was blessed with a warm bed and above all, security. It should have been the best night of sleep he’d ever had.

But it wasn’t. Quite the contrary, in fact. His sleep, if he could call it that, was fitful and sparse, diced up by worries and wonders alike; his awe at all the blessings he’d received battled with his fear of what the morning would bring, a deep, primordial dread filling him that something would go awry to put his fellow travelers’ blood on his hands. On top of that, anytime he started to drift off, he remembered the stories of the monster that harried Lilann, the very same spectre that left the claw marks on their sleeping spots the night before, lurking somewhere off in the distance of the forest. The thought alone was enough to make a man think twice about ever leaving the safety of his shelter again; he was grateful to be sleeping inside some walls that night, even if he wasn’t really ‘sleeping’ at all.

Eventually, a long and harried night gave way to a dreary morning, and despite his reservations, Kyreth was happy at least to put the tossing and turning behind him. He was even lucky enough to catch the second floor kitchen open at such an early hour, and true to the Lord’s word, they gave him a hearty breakfast with no expectation of pay. He’d downed it just as politely as the bread with Eila - which was to say, not very - and profusely thanked the cook before making off for their meeting place.

Defying his restless night (not to mention the less-than-comfortable walk down through the woods), Kyreth wasn’t much the worse for wear when he arrived at the north gate; he was accustomed to fitful sleep as it was, and having a full belly more than compensated for any lack of rest. He looked substantially the same as the day before, except that his clothes were clean and he carried his pack underneath Eila’s gifted cloak, giving him the silhouette of a particularly tall and lanky hunchback.

Cerric got there before him, as did the brigand - or maybe he should start calling him Ceolfric, if they were going to be working together - who was already talking with a woman Kyreth didn’t recognize. The heiress they were escorting, he inferred. She looked younger than he expected, but ready for travel, and chatted amicably with Cerric. Nevertheless, Kyreth made a wide berth, wary that her demeanor would change the moment she realized he wasn’t the traveling Drow he was pretending to be.

“Good morning,” he greeted quietly, as if not to disturb the morning mist. He had hoped Lilann would beat him there, but no such luck; he felt oddly exposed without her. Hopefully the lady wouldn’t question the extra tagalong and nobody at this hour would be feeling too chatty.
In Decibitus 5 days ago Forum: Casual Roleplay

Maya Desrosiers


The scenery didn’t have much effect on Maya. Maybe in life, it might have; Japan was a popular destination for a reason, it had beautiful architecture and gardens and culture or something, but it had never really been on her bucket list. Sure, it was probably nice, but weebs made way too big a deal out of it.

Nah. To her, Japan, like everything and everywhere else, was boring. Nothing special, just some weird arches and colourful trees for millennials to take selfies under on their backpacking trips to find themselves. That was why she hadn’t paid much mind to the park after a cursory sweep and some judgemental looks at 6am dog walkers - literally who - and was currently more concerned with the marble-carved moron laying on the grass.

Her hair tumbled down off her shoulders as she leaned over him, nearly brushing his face as she leveled him with a dead-eyed stare of distilled disappointment. She didn’t bother saying anything; there wasn’t much going on behind his eyes and she doubted he’d understand it. Instead, she heaved a heavy, long-suffering sigh and straightened up again, looking thoroughly inconvenienced.

For good measure, she held out her hammer, formerly resting over her shoulders, and let it fall head-first onto Lucian’s stomach. It wouldn’t feel good, but it wasn't like it would kill him. “Hold this.” There, he could make himself useful.

“Alright.” Stretching her arms and shoulders, now free from the weight, Maya sighed again, turning over Sigrun’s message in her mind. Lost kid, dude who sees ghosts, avoid the shrines, whatever. She looked around at her little assembly of mandatory compatriots and snapped her fingers at the one with the messy black hair and the wizard costume. God damn, this profession sure brought the weirdos out of the woodwork.

“You. Nerd. Wanna get us started? Tell me about buddy who can see ghosts. You know about that shit, right?” she dictated. “And you, Sparky,” she looked to the blond who was still upright, vaguely recalling the newbie’s tracking spells, but not his name. “I don’t know, start sniffing for clues, I guess. It’s not like this kid was covering his tracks.”

@Hero @dragonmancer @OwO
The Princess and the Problem Pauper
✧ Location: Soft Haven Market ✧ Purse: 12 copper ✧ Collab with Goddamn everybody ✧

Kyreth and Eila were making their way to the door when a short, shadowy presence appeared alongside them, proffering a small metal pin in his outstretched hand. Kyreth glanced quizzically between the offering and the kid himself - what was it… Ermes - not entire sure how to respond.

“Um…” he hesitated a moment before accepting the pin, the offeror of which didn’t seem happy about the whole ordeal. “Thank you..?” Kyreth murmured, but it wasn’t clear the kid heard him as he swiftly took his leave. Goodness, what was up with this town?

He examined the pin for a moment before slipping it into his pocket and shrugging, hoping it wasn’t some kind of conjured trap that was going to blow up in his face later. The kid’s concern struck him as odd - he’d worn his cloak without a closure plenty of times when he didn’t have the chance to reattach the button and it rarely gave him much issue - but it would be rude to look a gift horse in the mouth, even one that didn’t seem to be given altogether willingly.

“Well then…” he turned to Eila with a shrug and the two took their own leave, making their way down the same forest path toward Soft Haven.

It was fully day by then, and sunlight streamed with greater force between the boughs of the Snakeburrow Woods as the pair picked their way down the pathway. Kyreth was typically quiet, and Eila kept her counsel as well, although it didn’t look like it was very much… on purpose. More than once she looked very deliberately to Kyreth with that same expectant smile, as if waiting for him to start a conversation she was desperate to promulgate. Was that how the highborn operated, ladies letting men initiate conversation? Whatever it was, Kyreth didn’t bite; he felt a little bad about it, but he hadn’t the first clue what to say.

Luckily, the trip down felt a lot shorter than it had going up (of course, that was helped by the lack of a sword at his back, and somehow they hadn’t run into any of the others on the way back down the hill) and it wasn’t very long until they made it back to the walls of Soft Haven.

Well, almost. Kyreth stopped the two of them in their tracks before they cleared the tree line.

“Sorry, hang on just one second--” he excused himself, realizing with horror that he’d forgotten to conceal his tail before leaving the Bounty House. With the self-conscious haste of someone realizing they were indecently exposed, Kyreth quickly tucked his tail away under his shirt once more, and checked his hood for good measure, adjusting the cloak over his shoulders. Goodness, it was so nicely made it didn’t even need much fiddling, a stark contrast to the glorified tarp he’d been wearing before. He didn’t bother with the pin Ermes gave him; the kid said it wouldn’t last long, and he’d rather not rely on it just to have it fall apart in the middle of a transaction.

“Okay,” Kyreth took a deep breath, sweeping his gaze over the Soft Haven walls from behind the trees. The graveyard was visible, and busier than before; mourners mingled about and those brightly dressed gravetenders wandered the yard, cleaning gravestones and praying with visitors. He eyed them warily, but what garnered more attention were the jagged ruts in the grass where he and Lilann had slept the night prior, marginally cleaned up but still very much there. He grimaced at the sight of them; better to keep his distance from the graveyard lest he be recognized as a vandal.

He took another breath, steeling himself for a nerve-wracking walk to the gates, but his feet didn’t move, stubbornly planting in the earth. “Okay…”

Eila had hoped Kyreth would regale her with the tale of the meeting with Lord Mystralath, but unfortunately, she was not so lucky. Was it out of politeness? Confidentiality? Did he distrust her? Perhaps their differences had created a wide gap between them such that he may not have felt comfortable confiding in her. She would need to correct that! She was beyond trustworthy! Why wouldn’t he tell her?!

She had to mentally berate herself. Just because she was dying to know what happened didn’t mean she had to forget her manners! She quietly took in a breath to calm herself and relax her smile a touch. The easiest solution would be to ask. However, before she could, they came to a halt. Eila looked around, a little confused.

“…is this where Lord Mystralath has instructed you to go…?” She asked him.

Kyreth looked over at Eila’s voice in surprise, having almost forgotten she was there. At once he was embarrassed and frustrated, realizing how much of a fool he was making of himself. “Oh, no, sorry, it’s just…”

He rubbed the back of his neck, his self-consciousness evident. “Sorry,” he repeated, more intentionally this time. “No, I have to go to the market in Soft Haven. It’s just…”

He trailed off as his eyes were drawn back to the graveyard, the tenders, and the claw marks in the ground. A shiver went up his spine. “...Graveyards make me uneasy, that’s all. Let’s make a wide berth on the way to the gate, shall we?”

Eila looked from Kyreth to the graveyard, a little confused. While she wanted to question it, she figured protesting or going against it would make him less likely to open up to her. Instead, she gave him a small nod. Quietly following him as they made their alternate route, she wondered if she would benefit from some directness.

Clearing her throat, she asked, “So…Lord Mystralath must have some trust in you to send you on these errands. It must be exciting for you!”

Surprised at the directness of the question, Kyreth didn’t respond immediately, taking a few more steps in contemplative silence. Maybe she was trying to distract him from his fake fear. But she made a good point; he was just as surprised as she must have been that Lord Mystralath, however eccentric, would trust a Tainted vagrant with not only his merchandise, but his very reputation.

“It’s… definitely unexpected,” he answered lamely, forcing a weak chuckle. “But I think he’s… testing me.”

A test. But why test a lowborn with whom Lord Mystralath has no connection to? It didn’t make much sense to Eila, but she supposed it meant that Kyreth was unsure himself. It could not have been due to his status as Tainted, otherwise Lilian would have likely been assigned these things as well. Wait, didn’t he say they were simply running errands…?

Eila slowly nodded. Not in understanding, though. “Testing you, or testing this place?” She frowned. “That lady, Vivian, was certainly hostile, and she was under his roof. Though, I suppose he may want to see how you bear. I can’t imagine why, you’ve come this far, haven’t you?”

Kyreth looked at Eila, finding no sarcasm or subterfuge in her expression. She seemed genuinely interested and ignorant in equal measure. Honestly, it was kind of nice when he got past the strangeness of it - apparently he found the only seeing woman in Othard who didn’t see his Tainted-ness as his defining feature.

She brought up a good point, though. Maybe Mystralath was testing this place. Maybe this really was all some game; Kyreth could see how the Lord of the land might find it fun to pluck up naive Tainted travelers and thrust them into public life just to watch them burn. Yeah, he could probably get a real laugh out of sending someone like Kyreth into a tailor’s shop demanding a brand new wardrobe and oh by the way, I also need a bottle of your most expensive wine for the road. A familiar ember of contempt began to burn in Kyreth’s belly as the pieces fell into place, realizing that it was much, much more likely that he was sent as some big inside joke rather than being taken on as an honest-to-gods apprentice. He felt like he was back home, getting sneered at by humans all over again and hoping their purses would be lighter and their backs a bit more crooked by the time they got to the end of the street.

And how funny that she’d say he’d “come this far” - he almost grimaced at the words. Yeah, he’d come very far, very very far indeed to escape accountability for setting a man’s livelihood on fire and leaving an old woman to fend for herself. Of course this was all a trick - he was probably being punished for Straithmoor after all, and this Lord Mystralath just liked to do things a bit more creatively than most.

Kyreth was ready to cast the Lord’s letter and ring into the brush and turn back when he felt a prickling in his extremities; it wasn’t something he consciously noticed before, but in that moment, it felt as alarming as fire licking at his skin. Was that the precursor to a fiery outburst?! He gasped, and stopped in his tracks, clasping his hands together in a white-knuckled grip. He dared not breathe, fearing any new movement would set off his newly-discovered latent magic until the prickling faded away.

“Ah…” he muttered, staring with wide eyes at his hands as he felt the heat of anger give way to clarity. Maybe the Lord did have ulterior motives - in fact, it seemed foolish to think a man so eccentric wouldn’t - but at the same time, Kyreth couldn’t deny the truth of his words. Whatever the Lord’s plans, he was right about one thing; Kyreth was an Aetherborn, and he played host to a volatile and dangerous power that needed containing. It was clear he couldn’t do it on his own, and the Lord’s concern was genuine enough to believe that he really did mean to do something about it.

“Sorry, I…” Kyreth murmured, realizing that he was probably freaking out his companion. He didn’t have a good excuse, so he chose to avoid making one. “He--the Lord claims to want to take me on as an apprentice,” he explained, resuming their trek toward the Soft Haven gates. “He said he wants to introduce me to the town. I’m sure that’s not the whole of it, but… I’m putting my faith in him for now.”

Goodness, Kyreth was very wrapped up in his own mind. He must have had some troubles with nobility. That, or he wasn’t sure who or what to trust. Eila was, however, pleased that he had opened up to her somewhat, satisfying her curiosity. Well, not really; the answer to one question led to a myriad of even more questions. Ah, the never-ending pursuit of knowledge applied even beyond magic and science. ‘Twas life.

“What an honor that must be,” Eila commented cheerfully. “I can understand the nervousness. Lord MysIforgothowtospellhisnamealready is renowned for being quite…eccentric. I believe it to be a mask to hide his true intentions, but I don’t see why he would harm you in any way.” That much was the truth. If he wanted to take on a Tainted apprentice, there was certainly a reason for it. Most likely a good one. Hopefully.

“Although, did you ask him why?” She asked, hoping to satiate more of her own curiosity.

Thinking back to the Lord’s answer when he asked that same question, Kyreth furrowed his brow. “He thinks I’m different from other apprentices he’s had before,” he replied, admitting a chuckle. “I’m sure that’s true. Maybe it’s for the novelty, I don’t know. But it’s better than the alternative, and I’d be a fool to turn it down.”

The two were nearing the Soft Haven gates by then, and Kyreth noticed the guards standing watch, a few on the tops of the walls and two at the gates. He was careful not to let them catch his looking, keeping his head forward and resisting the urge to pull his hood down even farther. Sometimes a lack of pupils was convenient, but he only hoped they didn’t look too closely as they passed by.

Unusually, Kyreth was fortunate; he and Eila weren’t the only people coming through the gate this morning, and the guards were busy with cart inspections. Keeping his eyes carefully forward, Kyreth held his breath as he noticed one of the younger guards give him a long look out of the corner of his eye. But Selene was working hard today, and the guard didn’t say anything, allowing the pair to pass by without issue.

Kyreth kept walking until they were well clear of the gate, nearing the middle of the market before he finally stopped, letting himself catch his breath and get his bearings. He scanned the market, taking note of the names of each building and considering his options. “Okay…”

Eila was openly looking around at people and their surroundings, though every so often, she’d observe Kyreth from the corner of her eye. His fearful reaction to…everything was curious.She wasn’t a fool, Tainted were forever painted as sinful creatures. But Kyreth himself was not vengeful, nor devious, nor shifty. To her knowledge. It was difficult to imagine him as a thief. Liliann, perhaps. But not Kyreth.

She gave him what she hoped as a moment to collect himself before deciding to address him again. “Okay!” She clapped her hands together once again. “Where to first?”

Once more, Kyreth was surprised by the voice rising up from beside him, so used was he to traveling alone. In fact, he struggled to think of another time he’d traveled with someone else, even so briefly; it would have had to be when he was a child and the orphanage sisters made them use a buddy system, and even then the pairs usually broke up as soon as the sisters were out of sight.

Back to the task at hand, Kyreth recounted his meeting with Lord Mystralath, tracing over the mantra he’d made to remember. Red Manes were cut with daggers, Hawthorne cures gold seal with salve and powdered bones well, and the White Lion drinks Sapphire Ambrosia. He spotted the Red Mane Forge near the Hawthorne Apothecary off to his right, and the White Lion shone bright against the backdrop of dreary, underkept buildings at the end of the square. And he also needed to order clothes from the Six Spools, which sat alone on the opposite side of the square. Hmm…

His normal procedure was to start at the end of the market and work his way back to the entrance - less distance to cover fully laden with goods, more difficult to steal from. A shopper with his hands full was an easy target, and that he did not want to be. But he also anticipated he’d need to spend more time in the clothier’s than anywhere else. The Lord had hinted to him about completing the tasks in the “correct order”, but Kyreth couldn’t discern any special significance to any of them; his normal method had the best chance of getting the Lord’s merchandise safely back to him, so that was what he’d go with.

“Alright,” Kyreth finally said, turning toward the Six Spools. It was an ugly, squat little thing, looking like it was primed to melt into the ground, but it betrayed itself with a fine coat displayed in the window. “I have business with the Six Spools first. I think that will take the longest, too. Of course, uh…” he let out a shy chuckle. “I’ve never ordered anything from such a place, so I hope the letter the Lord gave me will cover everything they need…”

“Anyway,” he added quickly, looking to Eila, “shall we?”

There was no holding back the small squeal of excitement from Eila, though she quickly recovered. Oh, to have the poor boy get out of those rags was truly a blessing from the goddess herself! And maybe she liked dressing up. She did click her tongue a touch as she considered the proper response. The last thing she wanted was for him to withdraw back into his shell. Instead of taking the lead, she needed to play more of a supporting role, she felt.

“Of course, lead the way,” She encouraged him.

Eila looked like she just heard the best news of her day, eliciting a surprised look from Kyreth, but she didn’t explain. Fair enough. She seemed content to let him take the lead, so lead he did, the pair crossing the market square.

The market had a strange air to it, starkly different from Buscon. Pounded by weather and friction with people of all types crammed together, Buscon demanded a certain sturdiness of its people, a harsh and unforgiving nature suitable for pushing through shoulder-to-shoulder crowds and fending off thieves and others with ill intent at every corner. No time was wasted; everyone had to be somewhere now, and woe betide anyone who got in their way. Soft Haven, on the other hand, flowed more slowly. There were people, of course - though perhaps fewer than the town was made for, given how the grandeur of the market clashed with the comparative sparseness of the streets - but they came and went more calmly, still going somewhere, but not like the Lady was on their heels.

Kyreth wove through the thin crowd with grace, but was the first to concede his path to another; as such, they took a winding path to the doorway of the Six Spools. The rundown exterior was strangely inviting; Kyreth was much nervous to darken the threshold of the White Lion when the time came, but the Six Spools could almost fit in in the Dregs, if not for the finery in the window.

He took a breath before touching the door, straightening his new cloak and forcing himself to stand straight. If he slunk in like he was frightened, he’d look suspicious right off the bat - no, he was there on business for the Lord of this land. He had just as much right to go in as anyone else. He glanced at Eila, who was beaming with the look of a master egging on her student, and opened the door.

The door creaked on its hinges as it opened, swinging crookedly in as Kyreth ducked his head under the door frame, careful to keep his hood in place. He held the door for Eila before calling, “Um, hello?”

The faint ringing of a bell accompanied the pair as they entered. Richly colored cut fabric draped over long cords of rope affixed from the ceiling. Bolts of cloth and drawers of ribbon littered the left wall, while two long tables took up the rest of the space. A red headed young woman, with simple clothes and homely features, sat cross-legged on one and was carefully shaping cloth into a garment. An older, portly man with a light red surcoat over a black tunic paused the movement of his shears and fixed the newcomers with beady, brown eyes.

"Afternoon, afternoon!" He boomed, his voice bouncing around with all the gentleness of a landslide. "Looking for the latest Wilree fashion or just a sturdy cloak for your travels?"

Kyreth flinched at the sudden, booming voice; he’d been distracted admiring the fabric hanging all over the place. The inside of the shop looked nothing like the outside, and if not for the obvious trappings of a clothier Kyreth might have thought they’d walked into the wrong shop.

The shopkeeper welcomed them without a hint of trepidation; it was hard to tell if that was because he took no issue with a Tainted customer or because he didn’t yet know what he was dealing with, but Kyreth would take it either way.

“Afternoon,” he greeted in return, reaching under his cloak for the letter in his shirt pocket. “I think I have, um, a bit more for you today--” he stumbled right out the gate, and rather than elaborate, produced the letter and offered it to the shopkeeper.

“Sorry - I’m here on behalf of my employer, Lord Mystralath,” he started over. He left the signet ring in his pocket for now; he’d bring it out if they disbelieved his letter. “He’d like to order a number of things from you - um, for me. I’m Kyreth Bertasson, by the way. Nice to meet you.” He offered the shopkeep a close-lipped smile, obviously on unfamiliar turf. “It’s all in the letter, there.”

"Darvin Evanwood, master of the Six Spools." Darvin introduced himself, taking the letter cautiously. He didn't bother hiding his suspicion at the Mystralath name; in fact, he almost made it a point to show how he eyed Kyreth's clothes. Darvin flipped the letter, inspecting the wax seal for a long moment. The girl had paused in her work, tense as she inspected his hood and his eyes. The material she had been shaping was all but abandoned as she slid onto the floor.

"You expect me to believe a Mystralath keeps a Tainted on retainer? Ha!" Darvin didn't bother opening it, the letter left unopened on the cutting table. "You'd best find another fool's eyes to pull the wool over. It'd be in your best interest to scurry away before I have Kethra call the guards on you." He turned to address Eila instead, giving her a short bow.

"Apologies for the unpleasantness, we'll have him removed shortly. Is there anything particular you need today?" Darvin spoke pleasantly, having already written Kyreth off as dealt with.

Eila was entranced by all the fabric; she had never seen so many variations in one place! Of course, she had her fair share of glitz and glam and an assortment of outfits, but there was something about seeing the fabric before it would take shape that was pleasant to look at. She was tickled pink at the sight, following Kyreth but letting her eyes wander.

Until the conversation unfolded.

The elf snapped to attention as she was addressed, pleasant smile still on her face. However, that smile never quite reached her eyes. It was safe to say she wasn’t happy with how the situation was unfolding. What was more, she wasn’t exactly trying to hide the red of her eyes.

“Removed?” She asked, her voice soft. “You would ignore Lord Mystralath’s request so candidly? I daresay that if you refuse the Lord himself that any other customer wouldn’t stand a chance, now would they? Unless you suggest that I am of a higher status than he is? What an offense to the Lord…”

Well, that may technically be true, but to anyone here, she was just another elf. As much as she wanted to dig in deeper, however, she knew this wasn’t her fight to have. Instead, she politely gestured for Kyreth to speak.

Kyreth deflated at the shopkeeper’s comment, expected as it was. His disguise never held up for long; the tips of his horns poked up under a hood if one looked for them, and there was nothing he could do about his eyes. But, in a way, it made him feel a little more solid on his feet; this way, at least he knew where he stood with the man. Still, he regretted not opening with the signet ring.

The telling-off was quite civil, all things considered, but Kyreth felt an hourglass in the back of his head counting down the seconds until guards showed up at the door. Were he on any other errand, he’d just leave. But, much like back in Straithmoor, it wasn’t just his own interests he was serving here. He had a responsibility to uphold; how could he claim to lead an honest life if he didn’t do at least that much?

Of course, he knew how Straithmoor turned out.

Kyreth tried to draw a calming breath, only to be wound up tight again when he heard Eila talking back to the shopkeeper. He had to fight to keep the grimace off his face, but quickly stepped over to Eila as she spoke, hoping she’d catch his drift and stop digging their hole even deeper. She must have gotten the memo, and gestured to him.

“Thank you, Eila, but it’s alright - Mr. Evanwood has a point,” he tried to appease her, noticing with no small amount of alarm that her eyes had changed from purple - wait, weren’t they green? - to burning red.

Knowing the man would refuse to acknowledge him, he stepped between her and the shopkeep. Mustering all the courage he had, he turned to the man, saying, “I’m sorry for the disturbance, Mr. Evanwood. And… for the misunderstanding. I’m not here for trouble, but I shouldn't have expected you to believe me without proof. My apologies.”

Opening his cloak, Kyreth made a show of the fact that he was not reaching for a weapon when he retrieved the signet ring from his breast pocket. He held it up for the shopkeeper to see, but kept a good hold of it. “Here, Lord Mystralath gave me this as proof of my employment. I… well, I’d very much like to get it back to him as soon as I can, but he’ll be expecting this order to be placed when I come back. Can I convince you to reconsider?”

Darvin had a sharp report for Eila on his tongue when Kyreth interrupted, his scowl sharpening before he stared at the signet ring held before him. He made to grab for Kyreth's hand but hovered a few inches before it as he inspected the ring. He clicked his tongue and whipped back around to the letter. "I will read the letter at the very least, Tainted." He snapped out as he tore open Mystralath's note and read intently. Whatever he read there had his eyes widening and a brow crook and a series of emotions played across his face, from disbelief and digest to shock and awe. He read it twice and thrice, as if he couldn't believe his eyes, but eventually put the letter down. His scowl settled back in place.

"Very well. Kethra, you have the rest of the day off. I may have to tolerate this but you certainly do not need to be exposed." The apprentice bundled up her project, storing it away quickly and slipped out of the back, while sending furtive glances Kyreth's way. "Remove your cloak and step to the table, Tainted. Measurements must be taken."

“And to think, we could have wasted less time had you simply accepted from the beginning! Your acceptance is appreciated and we thank you for your patience,” Eila replied with a chipper tone, though her eyes remained the same color. “Though where I am from, we address people by their names, but I suppose your tongue may fall out if you treated him with respect, so please be quick.”

Kyreth didn’t have time to appreciate the shopkeeper’s change of heart, so shocked was he by Eila’s comment. Scared and mortified in equal measure, he whirled on Eila with a look of uncommon urgency born of fright.

“Eila, please, he hissed, voice barely a whisper but still laden with intent. Turning back around, he added to Darvin, “Please don’t mind her, Mr. Evanwood. Thank you very much for your understanding - and, um, I’m sorry if I frightened your assistant…”

He thought it best to let the point drop, though he did feel a little bad; it was clear his presence made the girl uncomfortable, and that wouldn’t be the first time. But the task at hand posed its own challenges. He wouldn’t dare anger the shopkeeper further by dawdling, but it was still a hard thing to shed his cloak in front of strangers, and with a window just behind him, no less. His cheeks darkened with embarrassment as he pulled the cloak off, revealing a head of horribly tousled white hair and a pair of short horns nested therein, curling back tightly over his head and speckled with the same glowing freckles as the rest of his face. He made a vain effort to straighten his hair with his fingers, eyes glued to the floor.

“Could you hold these for me, please?” he asked Eila, turning to her with his old and new cloaks in hand. He didn’t dare ask to hang them up or anything, being on thin enough ice as it were. Handing off his belongings, he stepped where the shopkeep directed, though his cheeks darkened further at the thought of something else that needed dealing with.

“Do you, um, should I…” he stammered, reluctant to meet the shopkeeper’s gaze. He tapped his waist, where under his shirt his tail sat coiled and twitching with unease, and gestured vaguely behind him, unable to quite get the word out. He already regretted broaching the topic. “Sorry, I mean… what about my…?”

"The Tainted are not people, just problems. This one is fortunate enough to have someone greater than itself protecting it; you have no such privilege. Hold your tongue or leave my shop, I don't care which." Darvin snapped, still not looking at her as he pulled out a measuring tool. It took him a moment, scrounging through supplies, but when he did, he startled at Eila's eye color. "What in the… Tainted sympathizer and an aetherborn? Gods, what is happening to this town?" Darvin sketched the symbol of Zunbil before pointedly turning his back to her.

As Kyreth brought attention to his tail, Darvin's scowl deepened and his nose wrinkled in distaste. "I expected you'd care for some way to allow your ta-- that thing an opportunity to stretch without tearing your clothes so let it lie natu-- however you normally do."

Eila bit her tongue but pointedly stared at the back of the shopkeeper’s head.

The shopkeeper's commentary stung, but it wasn’t anything Kyreth hadn’t heard before - just put in more refined language, perhaps. Nodding mutely, he let his tail slither out from around his waist, unfurling behind him in an involuntary stretch before it wrapped itself loosely around his leg, flexing and relaxing with nervous energy. It wasn’t really his habit to let his tail stay loose, preferring to keep it hidden in public, but he’d regret not having a hole to accommodate it when necessary. Maybe, he wondered optimistically, in his new vocation he wouldn’t have to be out in public so much anyway.

Darvin was methodical and quick, marking down measurements as he took them while he did his best not to interact with Kyreth. He kept his gaze firmly away from Eila and it was over as fast as he could complete it. "We have a few older items that we will adjust. They will be ready in a few days but the rest of the Lord's order will be ready before the end of the third moon. We do not keep as much as he has requested on hand. Send another one of his servants to retrieve them then."

Eila opened her mouth, though she caught Kyreth’s look out of the corner of her eye. To think he could cause her to hesitate! Oh, alright, she supposed the clothier had earned some graciousness. Her tight-lipped smile relaxed just a touch. Though she desperately wanted to inform him of Kyreth’s elevated status, it wouldn’t do to cause more of a scene.

“Thank you for your service. May She watch over you,” came another cheery reply. “Let us away, Kyreth.”

Kyreth nodded along with everything the clothier said, snatching his things from Eila as soon as he was able. Luckily, going as quickly as possible was to both of their preferences.

“Yes, thank you very much, Mr. Evanwood. You’ve been very gracious,” Kyreth repeated Eila’s pleasantry sincerely, hastily pulling the cloak back over his head and tucking his tail away once more. At Eila’s direction, the two promptly made their way out of the clothier’s.

Kyreth was tempted to pull Eila aside once they cleared the doorway, but the last thing he needed was for an onlooker to think he was acting aggressively. Instead, after tucking the Lord’s signet ring safely back in his shirt pocket, he gestured to the alley alongside the Six Spools. “Um, can we talk real quick?”

Taking in a breath, Eila thought it was wise to steady herself, lest she end up marching back into the clothier shop. Fortunately, Kyreth proved to distract, though she was unsure why he wanted to speak in the alley. Well, it may have had something to do with her reaction.

“Ah…yes,” she nodded, sheepishly stepping into the alleyway. “Though I must say, if this is an indication for the day, we may be in trouble.”

Stepping into the alley after Eila, Kyreth humoured the woman with a strained smile, searching for his words. “Yeah…” he conceded, rubbing the back of his neck. “About that…”

“I mean, first of all, thank you for wanting to defend me. It’s very kind of you,” he began, “buuuuut… well, as you saw, it’s not really a good idea.” He sighed. “I appreciate your concern, I do, but it’s… better for everyone if you just let me roll with the punches, you know?”

“A-and like I said, you can leave anytime you want,” he added quickly, not wanting Eila to feel stuck. “I don’t want you to get a bad rap with the people here on my account, especially if you’re going to be working here for a while. I won’t hold it against you, I promise.”

Eila’s jaw dropped in shock, her red eyes finally ceasing. He wanted her to say nothing! Had she been in the wrong? Had she made things worse? Her mouth slowly closed as she considered his words. Well, she supposed her aunt would praise her for standing up for Kyreth, but her mother would’ve urged her to take the more diplomatic route. If they were going to call Soft Haven home for some time, she supposed she likely just alienated a shopkeeper she would likely run into for the future. Oops.

Clicking her tongue in disapproval, she let out a weary sigh. “I simply don’t understand. I’ve heard stories like others, and I’m certain Tainted have picked my pockets in the past, but you’re nothing like the rumors,” She stated, crossing her arms. “I’m certain you wouldn’t hurt anyone.”

Kyreth sighed once more, genuinely warmed by Eila’s compliment, even if he knew she was wrong. “That’s the last thing I want to do,” he confirmed in a way that he could say without lying. “But that doesn’t really make much difference. You know, a lot of people have been hurt by my kind, or grown up hearing horror stories about us… I can’t really blame them for being scared,” he reasoned.

“And besides, it’s nothing I haven’t heard before. I can handle it,” he assured her. His face took on a look of concern. “I mean it, though; you don’t need to ruin your reputation by staying with me. You should go before more people see you.”

Was it truly that simple? Eila couldn’t tell. What she did know, however, was that this wouldn’t be the first or last time Kyreth would encounter this behavior. No, she would need to follow his lead. Standing up for him wouldn’t do if that was not his wish.

She did, however, shake her head. “Nonsense, my reputation is hardly something you need to worry about,” She confessed. “However, I do promise I will not alienate others. I will provide you support if necessary, of course, but…I suppose I should follow and not make assumptions on any rescues.”

Taking a pause, she also considered something. “...and I may very well be in the same boat, it seems. Aetherborn are not seen in a positive light, either,” She couldn’t help but note. “That was unexpected. I’ve received nothing but praise for it–after all, Aetherborn are said to be blessed by Azaiza herself. The uneducated may not know any different, but it is curious.”

“Whatever the case, there is strength in numbers,” She waved off any concern with another–this time wholly genuine–smile. “And should the need arise, I will…calmly defend you to the best of my ability.”

Oh yeah, there was that, too. Kyreth wasn’t familiar with any ill will towards the aetherborn back in Buscon - in his circles, they were usually just derided for being rich and spoiled, if they came up at all - but apparently they weren’t well-liked in Soft Haven. The fact that he’d only just found out he was one put a pit in his stomach. But while Mr. Evanwood had noticed Eila’s abnormality right away, his seemed to have escaped the man’s notice. With any luck, the townspeople wrote his gleaming freckles off as Tainted weirdness and wouldn’t peg him immediately as public enemy number one.

“I appreciate that, thank you,” Kyreth replied, glad that Eila had conceded in some capacity at least. He didn’t find her decision to stick with him wise, but it was her prerogative, and if that smile was any indication, she seemed happy. Maybe it was just fun for her to be out and about among commoners or something.

“Okay, if there’s nothing you need to do, then…” Kyreth ran over his little phrase in his head again, “...the White Lion is up next. Then we’ll work our way back toward the North gate. Okay?”

“Lead the way!”

Crossing the length of the market square, the pair went to the White Lion Inn, illuminated brightly against the dreary brown backdrop of the weathered wooden buildings flanking it. It reminded Kyreth of the government buildings in Buscon, boasting similar design and opulence. But as they approached, Kyreth’s mind buzzed with worries; should he have adjusted the order of his errands? Would it be suspicious to visit the two nicer establishments in town in a row? What if Kethra had called the guards like Mr. Evanwood threatened, and they put the town’s merchants on alert? It was a buzz he was used to, at least, and he was practiced at calming it; even if Kethra had summoned guards, it would be best to get to the White Lion before they had the chance to beat him there. And if they did, his borrowed authority from Lord Mystralath should get him out of any trouble, especially since he hadn’t done anything wrong. Of course, most towns didn’t need that much of an excuse, but if Mr. Evanwood was any indication, the Lord’s word held sway over this town. It should be fine. Right?

In either case, he pushed forward into the inn, resolving to leave his fate in Selene’s hands and let her dice fall where they may. For now, anyway.

The inside of the White Lion was just as impressive as the outside. The door opened into a wide dining hall draped generously with rugs and tapestries, and tables gave way to a long bar and a stage, belying wealthy clientele. With a deep breath, Kyreth walked up to the bar, retrieving the Lord’s signet ring as he went.

The bar wasn't busy, a well off couple chatting under their breath at the end, and the only bartender was busy cleaning the shelves under the bottles displayed behind the bar. Streaks of silver broke the blond in her shoulder length hair, the faintest presence of wrinkles at the corner of green eyes, and a sharp nose above an easy smile as she turned around. Her eyes glazed over Kyreth and she offered the tip of her head to Eila.

"Good afternoon, miss. Welcome to the White Lion. While you are more than welcome at the bar, your friend will need to stay outside or in your room while you relax." She informed Eila, pulling a glass onto the bar. "Is there anything I can get you at the moment?"

Eila shut down the initial prickle of annoyance that threatened to bubble to the surface. She had promised Kyreth that she would not needlessly cause problems. Instead, she put on the warmest smile she could, clearing her throat a touch.

“Actually, if you would be so kind as to simply hear him out, I would greatly appreciate it,” She said gently. That said, she wasn’t sure if allowing for an opportunity for denial was wise, so she purposefully looked to Kyreth, gesturing for him to speak.

The barmaid’s response was much more diplomatic than the clothier’s, but no more permissive. It was interesting to Kyreth how some people could sound so polite and yet be so non-negotiably intolerant when it came to the Tainted - a sign, to him, that their distaste was born more of habit than actual malice.

He worried about Eila when she was addressed, but she impressed him with her restraint; and now it was his turn. He gave Eila an appreciative nod before turning his attention to the barmaid, offering a close-lipped smile.

“Please don’t worry ma’am, I won’t bother you for long,” he assured her good-naturedly, producing the signet ring. “I’m just here to pick up an order for Lord Mystralath; he told me you had a bottle of Sapphire Ambrosia here for him.”

The barmaid only spared Kyreth enough attention to verify the crest, which caused her smile to thin. "Very well, miss. I will be more than happy to fetch the bottle for you." She continued to address Eila as if Kyreth hadn't just spoken. She stepped away for a moment and spoke in low tones to another employee before disappearing from view. A few of the inn employee's were staring at them, one of them giving a nasty look.

It wasn't long until she came back, a beautiful wooden box in her hands. She placed it elegantly on the table. "This is the bottle Lord Mystralath ordered. Handle it with care; the crystal bottle is quite thin." She warned as she pushed it carefully forward. "And in the future, please respect the store policy. Their kind are not permitted to loiter in the dining area. It may upset other guests."

Eila couldn’t help the small frown at the warning. She simply nodded, gesturing for Kyreth to take the bottle. “I thank you for your service,” She replied.

The barmaid’s mention of other guests made Kyreth look around the room. Sure enough, there was a couple at the end of the bar shooting him uncomfortable glances, and another barmaid staring daggers from across the room. Suddenly, he felt guilty; best to make his business quick and stop freaking people out.

“Thank you very much, ma’am. Sorry if we caused any trouble,” he replied in turn, taking the box gingerly in his hands. The barmaid pretended not to hear him, which was just as well, and the two of them quit the place before they could cause any more upset.

Kyreth carried the box with as much care as he would give a baby, ducking into the alley once again. “Sorry, one second Eila,” he excused himself, regarding the box. It was beautiful in its own right, screaming ‘whatever’s in here is expensive.’ In Kyreth’s eyes, it was a target on his back. To remedy the issue, he wrapped his old, ratty cloak around it, finding a use for Ermes’ gift to secure the fabric closed. There; now it looked more like a sack of potatoes than a potentially priceless bottle of liquor. Or whatever it was.

“Our next stop is the…” he paused to get his bearings, peering out over the breadth of the market square. “...Hawthorne Apothecary. Unless you had any errands to run…?”

Did she? Eila’s alternative intention had already been fulfilled. Still, if he was going to the Hawthorne Apothecary, it was also a chance to see the Agitha Hawthorne, and it wasn’t something she wanted to miss out on. She shook her head slowly, though she frowned a touch when she saw his cloak. Ah, it must be a measure to ensure the package stays pristine until its delivered. How thoughtful!

“The Apothecary has my interest,” That much she could confess. “Otherwise…I am not sure, I do not typically run errands myself. This is something of a first time experience.” And a terrible one at that! She never thought people could be so rude.

The crowds between the White Lion and the Apothecary were thicker than near Six Spools, most of the stalls set up barely twenty paces outside the inn's doors. The easiest route wound its way across a series of shuttered stores, only the occasional group pausing to chat cluttering the path. However, a quick glance at the glowing freckles kept them to themselves, though their curiosity was evident in the loud whispers that followed them a few paces.

It was passing an cluttered opening, rotting barrels and crates falling apart, between buildings that a startled cry followed by a heavy thump, the sound of glass shattering, and the calloused, cruel laughter of children. A few people glanced at the sound, made eye contact with each other, and shrugged even as more dull thuds and pained cries could be heard down the alley.

Kyreth clutched the box tight to his chest as the pair weaved through the market traffic, ears burning at the whispers in his wake. Better than thrown rocks, but an indictment on his disguise all the same. Sometimes he wondered why he bothered trying to hide his features, but at least he could still escape notice at a distance. It was just bad luck everything really important happened up close.

He was quick and efficient, as always, not distracted by the baubles on passing stalls and focused on his destination. However, as they passed an alley, some disturbing sounds caught Kyreth’s attention. He was no stranger to the sound of a beating down an alley - hells, they were a daily occurrence back home - and normally, he’d walk on by; no one he knew, not his problem. It was a callous way to live, one that he was trying to renege on, but even now he always found a reason not to intervene. Too dangerous; not worth getting involved in things that didn’t concern him. The last thing he needed was the blame for a crime he didn’t commit.

But despite his habits, Kyreth stopped in his tracks, peering into the darkness of the alley. Those were the shouts of children, and no amount of better judgment could convince him to keep walking.

Eila continued on a few paces, sparing hardly a glance to the alley and looking surprised when she finally realized her traveling partner was missing. Kyreth gestured for her to come back, pressing the box of Ambrosia into her hands.

“Stay here,” he instructed, making sure her hold was solid before he climbed around the debris and ducked into the alley to investigate.

Under his cloak, he touched the hilt of his knife as he peered into the darkness of the alley. In a voice he hoped sounded stern, he called, “What’s going on there?”

Beyond the broken, rotten remnants of stores past, a young man stood with an open box in hand. He'd startled at the voice and turned, revealing a human boy barely past his thirteenth summer. Wavy black hair coiled down the sides of his face and touched the back of his shoulders and green eyes were wide with the briefest second of shock. He held a small wooden chest, the symbol of the Alchemist guild of Buscon in it, filled with small glass vials.

Next to him, a girl of similar age had taken a half step behind the boy, a glass vial similar to those in the box clutched to her chest. Glass littered the left side of the alley and six stoppers- the same number of missing vials from the chest. Beyond them, a glowering Dwarven boy dressed in similarly styled clothes sneered down at the figure whose back had his boot pressed into it.

A young Tainted boy, his bright red skin and horns sticking out like a sore thumb in the alley, whimpered where he lay prone, pinned by the heavy boot on his back. His robes were scuffed and disheveled, a book lay face down and open off to his right and he'd evidently been reaching for it before the mysterious voice echoed down the alley, tears in his eyes as he tried to see whatever new torture was in store for him.

The scene that played out before Kyreth was confusing and outrageous in equal measure; a well-dressed human boy and his cohorts had somehow gotten ahold of things from the Buscon Alchemist’s Guild, circled around the pathetic image of a Tainted child beaten into the ground. The red-skinned boy was scuffed and dirty, but otherwise dressed decently enough; clearly not a street urchin, but treated like one all the same.

The scene was intimately familiar to Kyreth; he’d been in the same position as the Tainted boy more times than he cared to remember, and more recently than he’d like to admit. The tears in his eyes pulled at Kyreth’s heartstrings, and a wave of old, familiar anger washed over him - the kind he was otherwise doing his best to abandon. For once, his height was an advantage as he towered over the children, and in the dim light, his freckles and eyes glowed bright and eerie. In the alley, he made quite the imposing figure, especially with his new cloak disguising the slightness of his stature and the low light concealing his own nearly-healed bruises.

“What do you all think you’re doing?” he demanded, the stern, accusatory tone of his voice foreign even to him.

Eila was a little at a loss; admittedly she hadn’t expected the detour. She let out a tiny sigh, adjusting the weight of the box as she shuffled a little closer to the alley. It was an ill-disguised attempt at trying to see what was happening without interfering too much, but admittedly, the scene confused her some.

The girl scrambled back with a pathetic squeak but the boy holding the box only took one step, before sneering at the towering figure. "Just reminding the vermin of their place." He glared up at Kyreth, only the faintest trembling of the box belying his nerves. "What does it matter to you?"

Kyreth was impressed how much vitriol a little kid could pack into one stare, but he wasn’t fooled; he saw his fingers shaking. Kyreth took no pleasure in scaring people, but at least in some circumstances he could justify it, this being one.

“Well, if vermin belong in alleys, I see a few more here,” he reasoned, reaching into his shirt pocket. Without breaking eye contact with the boy, he produced the Lord’s signet ring once again, deciding to gamble.

“I have business with that young man,” he explained, gesturing to the Tainted boy on the ground. He held out the ring so the human boy could see, and stooped down. “Unless you want me to tell Lord Mystralath that you’re the one who made me late?”

The boy stared at the signet ring and then back up at Kyreth before laughing. Any semblance of fear vanished as he tipped the chest over, the vials all tipping out and shattering a Kyreth's feet. "You're threatening me with a Mystralath? I am James Gerrick, heir to Duke of Soft Haven, and we only answer to the Soft Steps. Everyone else, you include, are our subjects, which means I can do what I want." James crossed his arms and smirked. "So why shouldn't I call the guards and tell them you stole that?"

Kyreth's heart jumped into his throat, and he thanked Selene’s divine mercy that the dim light of the alley concealed the embarrassed darkening of his cheeks at the threat. A familiar prick of indignation made him bristle at the boy’s taunting. The smug look on the brat’s face, the jeering tone… wasn't he justified in being tired of this shit?

He could feel himself reverting back to his old ways, but he chose to ignore it. So his gamble was a loss; so what? He couldn't cheat at this game, but in his experience, bluffing was always an option. Enough commitment could turn a losing hand into a win, and back home Kyreth was very good at winning.

Kyreth’s expression didn't change; he mustered his best poker face and simply quirked a brow doubtfully at the boy, drawing back up to his full height.

“Oh, good idea,” he agreed with the boy, his calm tone a stark contrast to the racing of his heart. But, surprising no one more than himself, he calmly put the ring back into his pocket and raised a hand, snapping his fingers.

“Eila?” he called over his shoulder as if to an aide, pulse thundering in his ears, “Fetch the guards for me, would you? Let them know there are some children here playing with potions and interfering with Lord Mystralath’s apprentice on Bounty House business.”

He prayed Eila would understand his angle and play along; it was easy with Lilann, but Eila was a completely different breed. Nonetheless, he had to sell it - and the chilling memory of the consequences the Lord had outlined to him would do just the trick. Summoning the same smugness he observed in the boy, he actually smirked, displaying a mouthful of sharp, pointed teeth. He even added a chuckle for good measure. “Oh, and see if they'll believe that anyone managed to steal His Lordship’s ring and live to tell the tale.”

Eila herself was, once again, surprised. As to what, she could only point to the entirety of the situation. Her ears had caught on the name of the boy’s father–and it was a name not to be trifled with, lest the rumors and whispers spell the truth. What they needed to do was to back away and leave so as not to draw any attention.

Kyreth had other plans.

The snapping was so out-of-character that Eila could only jump in place, though she made sure to grip the box. What was he thinking? Didn’t their previous two visits already show that he was the one more likely to be arrested? He put a lot of faith into the signet. Too much. Still, exposing him now would likely result in a he-said-she-said, and if it was the boy who would speak first, it wouldn’t end well.

The elf gave Kyreth a short bow. “Yessir,” she replied, turning on her heel and marching forward.

James did take a step back at the sight of pointed teeth and his friends gave each other nervous looks. "James, my father will be very upset if he heard about this," the girl whined, wringing her hands. "We can have fun with the Tainted later; he's not always around Miss Hawthorne." James scoffed at her whining but snapped his fingers.

"Let the freak go for now." James didn't look back as his friend followed riders, stomping once more on the Tainted's back before wandering out past James, the girl keeping him between Kyreth and herself. Once his friends were around the corner, James sauntered past Kyreth. "You better step carefully in my city, Tainted. Father will be out for your head after this." James disappeared around the corner, people separating as he passed.

Kyreth watched the kid - James - as he went, his gaze cold and confident. He filed the threat away for later; he had no doubt the kid would make good on his promise, but with any luck, he wouldn’t have to stay in Soft Haven for too long. To be honest, he was surprised - and ecstatic - that his bluff paid off, and that was reward enough for the time being to satisfy him.

Only for a moment, though - his confident facade only lasted until the last child was well out of sight. As quickly as it came, his old Buscon self fled him, and all his bluffed and mustered courage fled with it. As if on cue, Kyreth’s vision swam, and he grabbed the wall for support, his knees liable to give out on him. All the stress he’d been so skillfully concealing came out in one burst, and he gulped for air as if he’d just run a mile. That was so dangerous. So dangerous. And now he was making enemies. Great! All the quicker to lop off his head for the hubris of thinking he could ever make something of himself in the first place. Moon and stars above, the work he was heaping on Selene’s shoulders today!

He leaned against the alley wall for a moment to collect himself, pulling his hood down despite himself. His hair was damp and his brow was slick, and his hand trembled when he wiped it. For a moment, he forgot he had company; when he realized, he looked over with a start to the Tainted boy on the ground, eyes wide with concern. “Hey, a-are you okay?”

The Tainted shook as he pushed himself to his knees, scrubbing away the tear tracks in the dirt on his cheeks. He winced as he tenderly touched one wrist, hissing in pain, before he looked up at Kyreth dejected. "Why did you do that?" The Tainted spoke quietly, resignation heavy in his words. "It'll just be worse next time and now he's going to come for you, too." The Tainted pushed himself to his feet, picking up his book and looking at the broken glass everywhere while cradling his injured wrist. He wiped away the fresh tears, held back with a few sniffles, but he gingerly picked up the chest and made to push past Kyreth.

The sudden appearance of the children rushing past her signaled that the conflict had come to an end. She let out a small sigh, turning around and heading back to the alley. They would need to be cautious moving forward. She figured that while her own reputation was unlikely to be fettered, Kyreth was marked as an enemy. Oh, what was that boy thinking?

She returned shortly in time to hear the younger boy’s words. Frowning to herself, she realized the little thing had his own odd sense of pride as well. Was this a common theme in Tainted? It was enough for her to urge for bygones to be bygones, but she couldn’t ignore how he held his wrist.

Against her better judgment, she gingerly placed the box on the ground, hooking two fingers onto the young Tainted’s collar and stopped him from leaving. Kneeling down, she caught his injured wrist between her hands.

“A moment, if you would,” She figured he was liable to lash out if she kept him for too long. She let herself feel for his aether, winding it towards his wrist. She was certain he had other injuries, but she felt that they were on borrowed time as it was.

“I am certain the apothecary may have something for your other injuries,” Eila stated once she released him, smoothing out her dress as she stood.

"Um, thank you." He whispered after a quick glance around to make sure his tormentors were really gone. He fidgeted for a moment before picking up the box again. "Are you both headed to the apothecary?"

Kyreth endured a crushing realization when the Tainted boy spoke to him: he’d just done the very thing he just told Eila not to do. Idiot! But it was so difficult not to intervene; sure, if it was an adult he’d have kept on walking, but a kid? He was no stranger to beatings, but where he grew up, he at least knew that if any Tainted heard one of their own younglings getting ganged up on, someone would intervene. And this poor kid didn’t even have that. Why was he even here?

Guilt washed over Kyreth, and he remembered the universal truth: that there was always someone worse off than himself. His heart broke for the kid, but he could barely reply; he tried to apologize as the boy passed by, but the words wouldn’t form. It was only when Eila appeared and grabbed hold of the boy that life seemed to spring back into his body, the lanky man visibly tensing as she constrained the boy once again.

Luckily for her, he didn’t lash out at her. In fact, he spoke to them. Standing, Kyreth approached the two at the entrance of the alley, nodding. “Yeah, we have business there,” he replied, remembering the other kids’ mention of ‘Miss Hawthorne.’ He stooped down to the boy’s level, which surprisingly, wasn’t that far below him; the kid was tall for his age. Kyreth “Do you work there?”

"I'm Miss Hawthorne's apprentice." He wouldn't make eye contact with either of them, the flat white of his eyes far more interested in their shoes. "Just follow me and keep your heads down for now. James probably already has the guard on watch for you. And don't say anything until we get inside." He tucked the book into his pocket and the box under his arm. “You'll be safe as long as we're in her shop." He was quick, shrinking in on himself as he all but bolted for the shop.

Kyreth raised his eyebrows, impressed, but then the boy was gone. Now alone with Eila, he paused a moment before leading them both to the Apothecary. His cheeks darkened once more, and he fixed Eila with a mortified look.

“I am… so sorry,” he apologized profusely, looking positively ashamed of himself. “I-- listen, I mean, you know I’m not like that, but-- I mean, wow, you did great!” he added quickly, “You’d fit right in in Buscon! Thank you so much for your help. I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”

Who knew watching her servants would come in handy like this? Unfortunately, while Kyreth’s praise had no ill-intention, she would have to be the proverbial cloud to rain on his noble cause. Crossing her arms, she shook her head.

“Father would be mortified,” She couldn’t help but utter, the comical image of her father seeing her act as a servant pop into her head briefly before she pressed on. “However, I fear for the rest of our time here. The Duchess Gerrick is notoriously overprotective of her son, should she call for our heads, well…” She might be able to save herself, now that she thought on it. But poor Kyreth! “...I fear your heroic deed would be all you would be remembered for once you are taken to the gallows.”

Grim, yes, but she feared being gentle would result in not being taken seriously. “I do hope you will give clarity on the situation as I feel it did not warrant a response, from what you said earlier.”

Kyreth grimaced at the grim tidings, and he’d admit it was a stupid move. What shit luck to stumble upon the son of the Duke of this land - and why, for that matter, was Lord Mystralath parading around as he did when he apparently held no authority here? The shopkeepers seemed to respect him, so what was the deal? Kyreth had no idea where the borders of noble territories were - hells, he didn’t even know who the Gerricks or the Soft Steps were. Mystralath wanted to instruct him on statesmanship, what a crock. He was an hour into this arrangement and already he’d made one hell of a political blunder.

He sighed. At any rate, it wasn’t the first time he was threatened with death, nor would it be the last. “With any luck, I won’t be here for much longer,” he mused aloud, hoping the Lord’s mention of clothing from Wilree meant Soft Haven wasn’t meant to be his post forever.

At Eila’s mention of “clarity,” he looked at her quizzically before groaning, pulling his hood back up firmly over his horns. “I know, I know; stupid, he admonished himself, “normally I wouldn’t - like the kid said, it usually just makes things worse and sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong gets you killed, but-- I mean, they were children.

He looked forlornly back at the alley, strewn with broken glass, and shook his head. He might have given more, explained how things operated back at home, but he kept it to himself. He left that life behind for a reason; he couldn’t keep running back to it for answers. The event just transpired demonstrated how easily he could slip back into his old ways if he let himself.

“Anyway, let’s get back on track,” he suggested solemnly, picking up the Ambrosia box and heading off toward the Apothecary.

The apothecary was much the same inside as it was out, warm toned wooden shelves host to a myriad of plants, bottles of dried herbs, and polyjuices and ointments. A single set of wooden stairs broke the long cabinets on the right wall, leading up to a second story hidden behind a locked door and to the right of the counter at the back, a strange platform with various ropes and sandbags suspended around it was carved into a small alcove in the wall. However, the spots of light visible from the outside were not candles or mirrors but rather crystals hovering through the store, swaying in a phantom breeze. Magical items were a rarity even with so much dedicated study on aether and its secrets; even one of these would cost a fortune, much less the ten that hovered in the shop.

The Tainted boy stood at the end of the empty shop, where he spoke softly to a stern halfling woman who sat at the counter, an empty tea up at her elbow. His eyes were still firmly fixed on the floor, his hands fidgeting in front of him and the chest left open on the counter, while her scowl deepened with every passing word. The faint chiming of a bell announced their arrival and the halfling's head whipped around to fix the pair with a steely look. The boy went quiet but offered them a quick wave.

The elf was practically floating as she looked around, her gasp audible as she looked at the magical items above. This was all amazing! She had heard tales of Agitha Hawthorne’s abilities, but she had no idea the woman had an interest in magical items as well! Once her eyes landed on the woman in question, her hand flew to her mouth. That must have been her! She noticed the young Tainted with her, a little surprised that he was there.

Assuming they were using the same strategy as before, Eila cautiously approached the woman, bright green eyes shimmering with ill-hidden excitement. “Greetings may I assume you are the Agitha Hawthorne?” She asked. “I hate to be a bother, but my companion here has a request…and I was wondering if you were the one that created these items?” She gestured above them.

Kyreth, too, looked around the store with interest, but his focus was on the shelves, not the floating crystals. He only had a passing familiarity with alchemy - namely that it existed - and the only alchemist he was familiar with back home, well… they had a certain specialization with their clientele of choice, and the shop wasn’t much more than a modest selection on the inside of a cloak.

He followed Eila inside, offering a little smile and a wave to the Tainted boy in return as Eila addressed the shopkeeper. He was surprised she could speak with such wonder in her voice under the halfling woman’s withering gaze.

“Uh, y-yes, I’m just here on business for Lord Mystralath,” Kyreth offered, producing the signet ring for the shopkeeper’s appraisal. “He asked me to pick up an order of goldenseal salve and… um… bo… bones..? Ah, shit, he cursed under his breath, cheeks darkening for the umpteenth time on this outing as he made a fool of himself. He was still so wound up from the alley encounter he couldn’t remember the proper name of the damn thing! “I-I’m sorry, just give me a second…”

"Does anyone introduce themselves anymore? Or does everyone just barge in and start asking old crones moronic questions?" Agitha Hawthorne snapped at the pair. "You, girl. You obviously know me. Make use of whatever is between your ears and answer your own damn question. And boy. Do you have a stutter? Stand up straight and get your damn shit together! Gods help me. First, I entertain a talking mutt and then two village idiots stumble in on the heels of my apprentice."

"More importantly than whatever backwards drivel the pair of you are spouting, what happened to my apprentice? He's being cagey and I don't have the patience to drag it out of him. If you don't know, get out of my shop." Agitha demanded. Behind her, the Tainted glanced up and shook his head, silently pleading for their discretion.

Kyreth recoiled like he’d been slapped, instinctively following the woman’s direction and standing up as if the shop counter he’d been leaning on had bitten him. He looked desperately over to Eila, who had the strangest smile plastered over her face - Moon and stars, she looked happy to have been yelled at!

And now he was presented with a dilemma: betray a child to tell the truth of the boy’s endeavour, or endanger his reputation with yet another Soft Haven businessperson - potentially the only one who didn’t try to boot him out on the spot. Well, not for his race, anyway.

His eyes flicked between the woman and the boy for a moment, and finally he caved; he supposed he owed the kid after screwing him over before. “I… well, he saw me get into a bit of a spat outside, that’s all. I know, I know - against everyone’s better judgement.” He gave Eila a pointed look.

“I guess he’s too shy to point it out, but I think I got myself into some trouble,” Kyreth excused lamely, rubbing the back of his neck. “I’m sorry, I hope I didn’t cause him too much grief. I’m just… I’m new here - passing through, kinda - don’t really know the way of things.” He would have been content to leave it at that, but remembered the woman’s first gripe. “Oh! Sorry. I’m Kyreth. Bertasson. I’m-- I work for Lord Mystralath. I’ll be out of your hair soon, I promise.”

Eila looked at Kyreth, letting out a small, uncharacteristic giggle. Oh, Kyreth, didn’t your mother teach you that lies needed belief in order for others to fall for them? There was no way Agitha would buy that! As much as she didn’t want to make a liar out of him, this was a lesson learned sooner than later. Perhaps she can teach him the intricacies of politics and how to properly lie once they returned to the inn. Though she had to wonder if taking on Tainted apprentices was a feature of this place.

Gently clasping her hands together, she decided to come clean. “The answer is obvious, and I apologize for the tomfoolery. As an Animas Aetherborn, I have always wanted to meet your esteemed self,” She apologized–both to Agitha and the child. “Unfortunately, the cause of the…spat was an encounter with the son of Duke Gerrick, who had seen to parade the privilege without power that he possessed. Your apprentice was his target, much to the merry of the heir and his cohorts.”

Agitha's eye twitched at the differing stories and silence settled in the shop once Eila's version finished. "Bruno, sweetheart. Take this, put it back upstairs, and clean yourself. I need a moment alone with our guests." She pushed the box to Bruno, who replied with a quiet "Yes, ma'am" and scampered up the stairs, mouthing a silent "Good luck" in their direction.

Agitha let the silence continue until the door upstairs closed. "Let's make something perfectly clear. Bruno is my ward and if you think you know what is in his best interest, I recommend you look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself to shut the fuck up. If I find out this," She waved her hand in Kyreth's direction, "is some strange way of corrupting him into whatever young hooligans do these days, I will tear the pathetic mind of yours to shred and puppet you around the city like a fucking meat puppet, do I make myself clear?"

"And yes, I am aware you both are aetherborn. Congratulations. You're weak and pathetic, let me give you a round of applause." She clapped sarcastically. "Girl, you have one more chance to tell me who you are before I tear it out of your airheaded skull."

She was so protective of the Tainted. And so sharp! The rumors did not do her any justice. That said, she was a little surprised that she was being addressed. Would it earn her more ire to admit she was only here to accompany Kyreth? Then again, now was as good a time as ever to make one step towards her own goals.

“I am Eila Aurelios,” She introduced herself. “I am accompanying Kyreth on his duties to Lord Mystralath. I am also looking to create an aether-meter…thus the interest.” Her eyes flickered upwards before looking back at Agitha.

Despite himself, Kyreth fixed the halfling woman with an icy glare as she dressed him down, that same old familiar indignation sparking once more. Hells, no wonder the old bitch’s shop was empty, if that was how she treated everyone who came in. Aetherborn? Who fucking cared? And what the hell made her think she was the be-all-end-all of what was “good” for a Tainted child anyway? How the hell did he know she wasn’t just some slave-driving shopkeep, like so many he knew back home, taking advantage of free labour and a helpless young worker who had no option but to stay? Even in a community of Tainted the truth was a dangerous thing - and what, he was supposed to turn-coat on his own kind just because she said so? Selene forgive him for stepping in for a vulnerable kid - he should have cut the throats out of those little bastards for good measure, but he’d shown restraint, hadn’t he? Azaiza’s icy cunt, no good deed went unpunished, did it?

It was a good thing Eila spoke first; Kyreth had nothing good to say. As he stewed on the old crone’s words, though, he felt a tingling in his fingers once again, which pulled him out of his spiteful reverie as if waking from a dream. Fearful it was the precursor to another fiery outburst, all of Kyreth’s anger fled him, leaving only guilt and fatigue in its wake.

Exasperated, Kyreth raised his available hand in surrender, the other still clutching the box. “All I want is to pick up an order for the Lord and leave,” he stated flatly.

"Oh, you do have a spine. Good. Keep it or even your masked master won't help you here." Agitha pulled out a package wrapped in fine red cloth and tied off in ribbon, sealed with the Alchemist guild symbol. "If the guard tries to give you shit on your way out, wave my name instead of the Mystralath. They'll steer clear of you." Agitha advised as well.

"As for the luminous crystals, I can refer you to the aetherborn who made them but they live in Dranir." Agitha told her, "Not sure how much help that dusty old hermit will be but it's something."

A faint creaking came from the stairs and Bruno stumbled out from the stairs, barely catching himself before he hit the floor. Agitha frowned, moving to get up but gritting her teeth almost immediately and settling back down. Bruno was holding a wrapped item, and fidgeted nervously while casting brief glances between the three of them. Agitha snorted but a fond smile was present on her face as she rested her head on her palm.

"Um, I just wanted to thank you again for helping me. I made some fresh bread this morning; it's not much of a thank you but it's better than nothing?" Bruno offered hesitantly.

Well, she changed her tune quick. Kyreth was too drained to hold his grudge; instead, he took the package at last and tucked it safely away in an inner pocket alongside the signet ring. It had been a long day, and after a long night in a graveyard and an even longer journey before that, he was very ready to finish up with his task and see if the Lord really meant it when he said he could use a room at the Bounty House.

Just as he was getting ready to make his pleasantries and leave, though, the red-skinned boy - Bruno - reappeared, this time bearing gifts. The sight of the boy alone was enough to tug at Kyreth’s heart, but the mention of fresh bread - why, that almost brought tears to his eyes. He hadn’t noticed (much) until now, but his stomach ached at the sight. He hadn’t eaten since the night prior, and subsisting on fish skins for days wasn’t much better. Fresh bread was a rare luxury, and for the kid to offer it so readily was a gesture more monumental than he probably understood.

Any remnant of his prior irritation melted away, and Kyreth sincerely smiled at the boy, accepting his gift gently. “It’s an excellent thank-you,” he corrected warmly. He wanted to go on about how Bruno shouldn’t fret over it and that it was just something good to do to stick up for other people, but he couldn’t get the words out - a lump was growing in his throat. The best he could manage was a croaked, “And - um, thank you.

Dranir. Eila made a small noise of understanding, nodding slowly. “I thank you for the information,” She replied. At the very least it was one step forward. She wasn’t mocked for the idea, either, which was a pleasant change of pace. Was this support?! Oh, Auntie would be so proud!

She snapped to attention as the young Tainted descended once again, and with a gift! She understood why he would offer to Kyreth, but she hadn’t done anything worth praise. Still, it would be rude not to accept a gift. She watched his movements, quietly relieved that her healing seemed to have alleviated any pain the young Tainted had. Different races needed different techniques, after all.

“Thank you. Do be sure to rest easy,” She thanked the pair and quietly urged the boy.

Bruno just nodded as the bell chimed again. An old man came in with some assistance of a young woman, likely his granddaughter. "You're still breathing, you old geezer?" Agitha cackled, starting up friendly banter with the man. Brone fidgeted with his hands, twisting his fingers, before taking a deep breath.

"CanwepleasebefriendsbecauseI'venevermetanotherTainted." He spoke in one breath, gulping down air after.

If Kyreth’s heart was touched before, now it was fit to burst. It couldn't have been more clear that Bruno was telling the truth; he could never have held on to that childlike innocence if he was raised around other Tainted. Filled with compassion and awe and amusement in equal measure, Kyreth barely managed to bite back a laugh at the absolutely precious display.

Instead, he merely nodded, smiling and stooping down to Bruno’s level. “Of course we can,” he replied, offering his hand for Bruno to shake. “My name is Kyreth; it's nice to meet you, Bruno.” His smile turned a little sheepish. “I'm… sorry we got off on the wrong foot.”

"It's um, it's okay." His tail whipped back and forth. He gingerly grabbed Kyreth's hand. "I'm Bruno Hawthorne. I like your horns, they have pretty lights. Can I be friends with your animas friend, too? I want to ask her about her magic but I don't know if she'll like me."

Kyreth’s eyebrows flew up. He liked his horns? Now that was something he'd never heard before.

“Thank you,” Kyreth replied, honest and dumbfounded. “I like your tail; mine’s hidden away right now, but it's way too skinny,” he added. He had no idea what an ‘animas’ was, but he assumed it referred to Eila. “I'm sure my friend won't mind; she likes me just fine.”

On that topic, Kyreth stood back up, giving Eila a very insistent look. “You'll talk to Bruno about your magic sometime, won't you?” He asked intently. This time, it was Kyreth who left no room for a negative answer.

Oh, Kyreth, she was never going to understand him, it seemed. Well, this much was a protectiveness to his kin, that she could understand. She was surprised the little one had any interest in her, but she didn’t see the harm in humouring him.

“Of course! The pursuit of knowledge is one of much reward,” Eila replied. “I daresay my Consortium education is begging to be passed on to willing students.”

Bruno offered them both a shy smile. "Thank you very much. Oh, but I still have to finish my studies for today…" Bruno muttered to himself, thinking hard on the issue. He seemed torn between wanting to talk to his new friends or going back upstairs, and he swayed in place as he turned the issue over in his head.

Kyreth nodded with understanding. “Your studies are important; you're very lucky to have them,” he reasoned. He'd make the kid’s choice easy. “Listen, we need to get going too; we both work at the Bounty House up the hill. We might not be around all the time, but we’ll be back soon, okay?”

Looking between Eila and the kid, he felt a little bad for cutting their meeting short, even if he did want Bruno to prioritize his studies. Then, an idea came to him, and he stooped back down to Bruno, lowering his voice.

“But here, I'll let you in on a secret: there's another Tainted in town,” he whispered, “her name is Lilann, and she's a friend of mine. She's short, has blue skin, and wears a big hat. She's leaving town soon for a trip, but she'll be back; if you see her, you should say hi. She's very kind. Got that?” He grinned. “She's magic too.”

"Oh, I'd like to meet her too sometime. I'll say hi if I see her." Bruno nodded eagerly. "But I have to finish up. Be safe getting home." Bruno darted back up the stairs, the door shutting behind him. Agitha was watching the interaction closely while her customers counted out their coin, the expression on her face inscrutable.

Kyreth smiled as Bruno ran off, although the sight of Miss Hawthorne chastened him. Standing back up, he adjusted his hood and cleared his throat, looking to Eila. “One more stop,” he said, “ready?”

Eila nodded. “Thank you, Miss Hawthorne,” She bowed her head in respect.

“Yes, thank you ma’am,” Kyreth added, moving quickly to the door.

"Knock three times to break the silence, you two!" Agitha shouted after them as the door shut behind them.

Red Mane Forge was on the other side of The Treant from the Hawthorne Apothecary. The crowds around the rundown Inn were still heavy, the afternoon drawing in people for food and excessive drink . And yet, it was easy to maneuver as people seemed to just step out of their way. No one acknowledged the pair, no strange stares or poorly concealed whispers like they'd experienced for the rest of their trip.

It took no time at all to reach the Red Mane Forge. The door propped open with a barrel, the inside was a simple set up: various tools, wagon parts, and the occasional weapon and armor piece littered tables, hung from walls, and, in the case of a spear with a strange green tinted metal tip, displayed on a stand. Coming back in from the back of the shop, wiping sweat off his forehead, a short, burly dwarf with a shock of red hair and a full beard braided in complex patterns tossed a hammer on a workbench that seemed to double as a desk as he slumped in a chair behind him and gulped down water out of a water skin.

Eila was still floating on a cloud as they left, practically humming to herself as they left. She couldn’t believe she had met the Agitha Hawthorne! Should she have stayed to chat and sent Kyreth ahead? No, there would be other chances to socialize. She hoped helping Bruno would warm her up to them, but even so she still seemed quite irritable. No bother, speaking with difficult people was par for the course!

As they entered, Eila sorely wished they were back at the apothecary. However, it was only then that Agitha’s last words struck her. She suddenly brandished an arm to stop Kyreth from progressing, reaching over and knocking on the barrel three times.

“I suppose she disliked my chattiness,” She said, apologetic. “Be sure to do the same.”

Kyreth peered quizzically at Eila as she stopped him, quirking a brow. “Um, okay..?” he replied, hesitantly knocking on the barrel as well. Was this a local custom he didn’t understand?

His curiosity wasn’t long-lived as they pushed inside the forge, again the only two customers in the building. It wasn’t as ramshackle on the inside as the outside, but it certainly looked well-used, a much more familiar setting for Kyreth than the upscale places they’d frequented so far.

“Good afternoon,” he called, only then spying the dwarven man behind the workbench. He blended in with the woodwork, all reddish hues and fine details. Realizing his hands were full, he passed Bruno’s package of bread to Eila so he could fish out the signet ring. “I’m here to pick up an order for Lord Mystralath. A dagger.”

The Dwarven man looked up as Kyreth addressed him, nodding at his request. "Aye, it's been sittin' 'round for so long, I thought he'd forgotten about it. Glad he finally sent for it-- pricey piece he paid for." He stood, stretched and groaned as his back popped loudly. He pulled off a set of keys from where it was secured around his waist and fiddled with a safe behind the workbench before placing a carefully bundled blade on the bench. "Aye, take a moment to inspect 'fore I pass it off. Don't want his Lordship claiming I sent him faulty craftsmanship."

The dwarf gave the pair a long look before holding out his hand for the pair to shake. "The name's Talibar, but my friends call me Tal. Haven't seen ya 'round Soft Haven before so welcome to town."

Taken aback by such a warm greeting, Kyreth exchanged a wide-eyed glance with Eila as he tucked the ring back safely in his pocket. “Oh, thank you,” he replied quietly, blinking a few times before he finally came to his senses.

“We’re… we’re here with the Bounty House,” he explained, looking over the wrapped blade. He was nervous to touch it, his hand hovering over the piece for a moment, before he finally nudged the cloth aside. He was nervous to touch the blade itself, looking timid as he moved the cloth, and truth be told, he had no idea what he was looking for. His own blade was a glorified shank; he wouldn’t know quality if it slit his throat.

Still, despite his limited knowledge, the blade looked impressive. The blade was a strange green tone, similar to the spear he noticed on display, and embedded in the hilt was a glimmering red gem, probably a ruby. Expensive indeed; Kyreth didn’t know the price of quality blacksmithing, but the gem alone would be more than worth stealing for. He was glad his plan happened to save this shop for last.

“Oh, sorry - I’m Kyreth,” he finally remembered his manners, withdrawing his hand and glancing sheepishly at Tal. “I’m… I was just recently hired,” he explained, “I haven’t been in Soft Haven for very long.”

Eila was delighted to learn that there were indeed unbiased people in Soft Haven. He was the exception to the rule, but it was refreshing not to be met with hostility that wasn’t earned. She took his hand professionally, a hum of approval on her lips. Smithery wasn’t a topic she knew much of, but she wouldn’t say it wasn’t interesting. Or rather, she knew jewelry-making, but she wouldn’t know the first thing about crafting anything larger. There was no hiding her curiosity as she looked at the dagger the Lord had commissioned.

She placed her hand on Kyreth’s arm, not unlike a mother trying to calm her child. “I am Eila, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance,” She said cheerfully. “Do you typically take commissions from the town?”

"Enough to make a living, I suppose. In a town like this, it's mostly repairs and horseshoes. Felt good working high quality ore again!" Tal laughed, wrapping the dagger back up. "If the Lord has anything he needs forged or y'all are just looking for somewhere to put your feet up, I always like a bit of conversation so feel free to drop by. Though if you don't mind me sayin', you two don't look like most of the folk seeking the rough and tumble of that Bounty House life. Y'all be careful, okay?"

The handshake was a little embarrassing; Kyreth hadn’t even noticed the blacksmith’s proffered hand, taken up as he was with the strangeness of his welcome. Luckily, Eila covered for him, as smoothly as if she’d been doing it all her life - and she probably had been.

“It’s beautiful,” Kyreth commented, collecting the dagger. Even wrapped, it looked suspiciously expensive, so he tucked it into the bundle with the Ambrosia, making sure it was secure. He wouldn’t rely on Ermes’ pin to hold the package together, but at least it helped keep the canvas from flapping all over the place.

“I… thank you for the concern, but don’t worry,” he told Tal appreciatively, “I’m just taking an apprenticeship at the House. Eila’s the one doing the rough-and-tumble things.” He gave his elven companion a cheeky look.

“Oh, no, no, your concern is appreciated, but I am but a humble bowswoman. And healer,” She shook her head quickly. “I’ve some experience with a dagger, as most of the women in my family do, however–oh,” She caught Kyreth’s look. He was joking! “I…Well, my inexperience is merely a stopgap in the pursuit of knowledge.” She finished cheerfully.

“I just thatch roofs and mend fences,” Kyreth added lightheartedly.

Hm. The transaction was quick, but Kyreth didn’t really want to leave yet; aside from Bruno, this was the first friendly face he’d met all day. “Oh, actually,” he remembered, “um, Tal, you don’t happen to make cloak pins, do you? I don’t have the coin for it today, but after a few pays…” He tipped his head at the empty spot on his shoulder, where a pin would otherwise be.

"Glad I can count on y'all to take care of yourselves. It'd be a shame to hear something nasty happened to y'all when we just got acquainted!" Tal considered Kyreth's request. "Those are a little finer than what I normally do but it wouldn't be too hard, I suppose. You needin' one now or were you looking for one as a commission?"

“Oh,” Kyreth replied, a little unprepared. He really wasn’t used to dealing with shopkeepers the way normal people did. “Well-- I mean, I can’t pay for it today, but I only need something very simple… Ah,” embarrassed, Kyreth shook his head, waving the thought away. “Sorry, forget I said anything. I’ll come back when I have the money.”

"If you're needing one immediately, I have an old one I don't use much anymore. Wouldn't be any skin off my back for someone else to use it. Gimme a moment to head upstairs." Tal reassured Kyreth, patting him gently on the arm. He headed out back once more, the sound of heavy tromping up a set of stairs easily discernible.

"Aighty, here be an old pin of mine." Tal stated as he returned, holding a simple cloak pin in his hand. It was little more than a brass ring and pin but it would certainly do the trick. It had been well cared for, still polished and neat despite its age. "And I didn't want you to feel left out so Eila, tale a few coils of bow string. Never hurts to have extra in an emergency." He held out two coils of bow string for Eila. "Consider this a welcome to town gift. Don't have much fancier to offer but at least they're functional!"

Kyreth’s eyes were wide as he watched Tal disappear into the back, not allowing any room for refusal. And sure enough, he came back with pin in hand, and a gift for Eila for good measure.

As he cradled the pin in his free hand, it might as well have been solid gold. Tal’s generosity to a total stranger dumbfounded him; with Bruno, at least he could say he'd done something to deserve some kind of thanks (even if he didn't believe it), but they were total strangers to Tal. Strangers, and a Tainted at that. What could possibly compel the man to give them anything?

“A-are you sure?” Kyreth asked insistently, looking between Tal and the pin. “I- I mean, I can pay for it, I'll just have to come back…”

Eila was surprised–again! Tal was by far the most amicable person they had met yet. She was secretly grateful that he was the last met; Goddess knew it was nice to end on a positive note despite the abysmal start they had. Kyreth was completely baffled by it, which did amuse her to no end. Though she accepted the gift with as much grace possible, she couldn’t help but giggle a touch at the Tainted.

“Come now, it’s poor manners to refuse a gift,” She gently chided him. “What we must do is remember this kindness should Tal ever need anything.”

"Aye, Eila's got the right of it. I have no doubt you've seen more unkindness than most but in my village, everyone supports each other. Didn't matter the color of your skin or the shape of your ears or the length of your tail. We did our best to help where we could if we had extra. Take the pin." Tal insisted, taking Kyreth's hand and placing the pin in his palm.

Kyreth looked on sheepishly as Eila chastised him, and accepted the pin mutely with a dumbfounded nod. Briefly putting his package down, he fastened the pin over his left shoulder, finally offering Tal a grateful smile.

“Thank you. Very much,” he said, a little stunned. He'd have to find a way to make it up to the blacksmith, even if he insisted it wasn't needed.

“That sounds like what Aleka said,” he added to Eila. To Tal, he explained, “The bookman at the Bounty House comes from somewhere like that. Apparently there, they even call the Tainted by a different name.”

Eila beamed in delight, clapping her hands together. “Then, let us away and leave on good terms,” She suggested.

"Aye, not everyone in the world has their heads buried in ancient history. The world's got to move on sometime, just has to do it in tiny, people sized bits." Tal replied to Kyreth. "Now you two best be off but don’t be no strangers, ya hear? I like the friendlier faces coming back 'round just to chat."

Smiling gratefully, Kyreth nodded. “Yeah, it’s best I be getting back. But thank you again; I hope I’ll be back here soon.”

On much more pleasant terms than most of their visits that day, the pair left the Red Mane Forge and, after Kyreth made sure there was no other business Eila wanted to attend to, finally made to leave Soft Haven altogether. As it happened, either the Gerrick kid was full of it, or he hadn’t yet scurried home to his father, because they managed to get out of Soft Haven unmolested by guards or civilians alike, and were soon headed back up the hill through the forest.

“I really am sorry for talking to you like an errand girl,” Kyreth insisted to Eila as they walked. “I’ll make it up to you when you get back from your trial job, I promise.”

While she had felt confusion in the moment, Eila supposed being treated as a servant was a touch insulting. But as people confuse the inner flow of aether to one’s innate abilities, it was not the worst thing. Still, this was a good opportunity to reflect on the situation as a whole.

Eila frowned. “It was sharp thinking on your part. And you did help out Miss Hawthorne’s assistant,” She tried to be kind about it. “However, it pays to heed to people around you. Were I clumsier, I may have made things worse.”

“You don’t strike me as clumsy,” Kyreth replied simply, smiling. “You caught on great. But I get it; it was risky,” he admitted. “But, thank Selene, it worked out. She is certainly smiling on me today.”

He looked wistfully up for a moment before adjusting his packages in his arms, freeing one hand to retrieve Bruno’s package. As if on queue, his stomach ached at the very idea. “Speaking of which,” he said, offering it to her, “we should take care of this before it gets stale.”

Luck is what happened when preparation met opportunity, but Eila supposed they would simply have to handle the consequences whence they came. Perhaps she could (reluctantly) consult with Aleka on the matter. It worked out–for now. And who knew when the other shoe would fall.

The mention of Bruno’s reward brought her back into the conversation fully. “I believe you should indulge yourself. It’s meant primarily for you,” She replied.

Kyreth frowned, and stopped walking, gently laying his goods on the ground at his feet. “Hm. Okay,” he conceded, unwrapping the bread. It was about a third of a loaf, and Kyreth gently tore it in two, the golden crust crackling tantalizingly under his fingers and the fluffy white inside pulling apart easily. It was truly a thing of beauty, and he held out one of the halves to Eila.

“Consider this me ‘making it up to you,’ then,” he replied cheekily. With that, he bit greedily into his half, leaving no room for discussion.

The elf sighed, but she wasn’t one to deny the Tainted. For some reason. She accepted the bread and waited, expecting some jam or perhaps butter to spread. Once Kyreth immediately chomped down, however, she realized that it would be just the bread. She found the grain so plain as it was, but he seemed to enjoy it. She took a slow bite, assuming that perhaps the bread was meant to be eaten alone, much like the garlic-bread her Auntie gave her once. But no, it was just plain bread.

Kyreth, on the other hand, tore through his portion, pointed teeth making short work of the soft bread. It looked as if he was worried that if he didn’t eat quickly, it might get taken away - which, in his experience, was often the case. But as ferociously as he ate, he still closed his eyes as he chewed, thanking Selene for her generosity and committing each bite to memory. Compared to the dried meat and salt fish he usually subsisted on, a chunk of fresh bread was a rare and profound blessing.

He finished his half before Eila had even pecked at hers, and fetched his waterskin from his hip, gulping down half its contents in one go. Only when he came up for air did he noticed that Eila seemed hesitant, even disappointed.

He frowned, confused. “Are you thirsty?” he asked, offering his waterskin to her.

Eila looked over at Kyreth, slowly chewing. She needed to think of something. “...No, I…had eaten before this,” She lied. “It’s a little much…I should have let you have it after all.”

Oh, was that it? She had an odd look on her face, but Kyreth supposed that made sense. Still, he shook his head, smiling as he put away his waterskin. “Don’t worry about it; it’ll still be good later.”

Picking up his things, the two set off once more, Kyreth much the happier for the meal. Of course, rather than sating him, it only whet his appetite; he regretted not stopping at a stall to replenish his supply of food, but realized with a strange relief that he might not have to worry about it. The Bounty House had a tavern of its own, maybe there was something there twelve copper could buy him. Or, hells, maybe the Lord made some other provision, seeing as he was letting him room at the House. Kyreth felt presumptuous even wondering, but the whole situation was so far-fetched as it was, he had no idea what to expect.

They returned and crossed the bridge back to the Bounty House in relative silence, which allowed dread to seep back in when the high of Kyreth’s fortunate snack wore off. Damn, he’d have to explain the situation with that kid to the Lord soon. He tried not to dwell on it, but the feeling persisted, even as he pushed it away.

At the Bounty House doors, Kyreth turned to Eila one last time. “Thank you again for accompanying me,” he said sincerely. “If there’s ever something you need, let me know, okay?”

“I appreciate the thought. This was…an enlightening experience,” Eila admitted. “I daresay we’ve learned plenty of Soft Haven and its people, haven’t we?”

Kyreth nodded. “Seems like it,” he replied, a little sheepishly. “Good luck with your trial mission tomorrow; hopefully it all goes well and you’ll be sticking around a little longer.”
In Decibitus 19 days ago Forum: Casual Roleplay

Excellent. I have many many dumb questions for a discord server.
hopefully people aren't trying to fight their colleagues r-right? /nervous sweating

this seems like a good time to post my character concept

Do Reapers primarily work alone, or do they get sent out as teams? Or is it up to them if they want to team up or not? Are there some jobs that require multiple Reapers?
@PapiTan Would something like "physics" be a functional magic category? I was thinking of spells revolving around manipulating gravity and I'm not sure how to categorize that.
Alright, think I might do a girl who's a year or two into Reaping and uses a hammer. Kind of a bored, live-hard-die-young risk taker type who really thought this job would be cooler than unmaking wisps and doing paperwork.
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