Campaign of the Month: February 2009

Silent Winter

Pretty Things, Part 3

Posted by Ellanutella

Stealing from Rickety was a big no-no. All of the local thieves knew that to steal from Rickety’s Pawn Shop in the docks district was to walk into the prison and lock yourself in, and those that didn’t know quickly learned. The man had a sixth sense for what went on in his shop. It was an innocent place to buy and sell and trade during the day, but at night, it became the place all thieves went to trade the fruits of their work for money and get it out of their hands and onto the black market. Physically, the store was no larger than two rooms, and only one was ever seen by the great majority of the customers, day or night. And it was quite the sight, a farrago of objects large and small. To the casual observer, there was no order; there was nothing but shelves and shelves and shelves, reaching up and up and up, of books and baskets and statues and candles and all manner of anything one could think of. But Rickety knew where everything was, and in the rare case he didn’t, the close listener could catch him muttering a rhyme or formula under his breath, and he would locate it.

No one quite knew when – or where – Rickety slept. The back room was storage, it was said, for the most dangerous of items, though very few had access to it, and they were mostly the highest elite of the night’s customers. He was always there, always watching his store, and always knew what went on. Some rumored that Rickety was actually a bunch of brothers that all looked alike. Others claimed magic.

The guard never got involved with his business, either, but no one argued. Rickety had the best deals and did a lot for the bunch of thieving low-lives that came to him.

Even if he was human, Gheris did not quite regard him as such. He appraised everyone’s stolen goods the same and knew how to grab a bargain without robbing his customers. And he had never once asked her where she was from or tried to be a little too friendly, as some humans were wont with elves. They were both aware that business was business, and both were happy to keep it that way.

The only time Gheris had seen him outside of his shop was when she’d been slipping around a back alley to check on rumors of the guard discarding old weapons – he had been checking the same. Although she had no proof, she was almost certain he was as much a thief and scavenger as he was a merchant and black market connection. She did not care, however. Even if she did, his respect for the pasts of others kept her questions unasked.

Gheris could see the shop now from her position on the roof of a shop two buildings down and across the street. The next house over tilted so far forward that it kissed the building on the other side. The elf slipped over the two structures and traversed the roofs to Rickety’s shop. There was no point in sneaking in, so she dropped to the street and immediately slipped in, watchful that no late walkers saw her.

As always, she paused to gaze up at the clutter. It never seemed to be the same content, save for one or two things that no one had ever wanted and that were now just such a part of the shop that it would be blasphemy to remove them. She slipped to the rear of the room where Rickety himself sat in a chair, tilted onto its hind legs, his feet up on his table. Three sacks of coins rested beside his feet. Her fingers twitched instinctively, but even her kleptomania was cowed by the man.

He was a rough sort, with coarse and pock-marked skin, looking as if it were always two days after he had shaved. His nose was bulbous and his hairline receding. The palms of his hands were lined with something dark, reminding her of the rings of a tree; he had worked in a mine, she guessed, for such marks to stay for so long. His eyes peered at her from over a book and he carefully marked his place before dropping the chair down on all fours and rising politely. He puffed some smoke through his pipe.

“Gheris,” he said by way of greeting, “What do you have?” His accent was very nearly Fereldan, but there was always something off that told her that he wasn’t.

One Last Time

Posted by Ellanutella with DarthKrzysztof

His heart beat slowly, steadily under her ear. Sometimes it would speed up as some adrenaline-inducing thought came to him, but even so, it was a constant, lulling sound. She had never had the chance to listen to anyone’s heart but her own, usually as she sprinted from – or, as these days would have her doing, towards – danger. His hand kept pace, running through her hair. Sleeping so close to someone was usually a cause for concern. Instead, his leaving would be the cause for concern. How backwards it all was…

Her limbs weighed themselves down, curling around Casidhe’s chest. Gheris was all but limp, struggling to stay awake. One of her legs tangled with his, a single vine knotted with itself. His fingers brushed her ear every time his hand combed through her hair.

Half-remembered movements made her fingers twitch from time to time. She didn’t mind him so close. She didn’t mind at all. So tired of being alone, but unable to help with the discarding of evidence, she had removed herself from the camp for a while. At the very least, she reasoned, she could stay out of their way as they cleaned up her mess. Casidhe had come by to let her know they were done, and all she could do was clutch at the hand she’d nearly lost and fumble at an apology, one she never really got out of her mouth in its entirety. This time, random fears came out in bursts without him needing to ask, sometimes related, sometimes not. She did not really wonder if he wanted to hear it or not. It just felt better to finally speak. There was less yelling. He listened. And this time, she initiated contact – tentative, but when he did not resist, she poured her fear into it. And oh, oh, it was worth it.

People were put off by her demeanor. She was so sure that that’s the way she liked it – those around her at an arm and a blade’s length. He ignored that and braved the storm of her fear and anger. She wondered just how much abuse he’d had to endure to so easily sit through her own.

Guilt stirred her from her drifting state. She adjusted the ear pressed against him.

“I feel tired.” It was partially a complaint, but she sounded very much surprised. So rarely was she left without energy.

“I should hope so,” Casidhe replied. “You’ve certainly worn me out.”

She smiled slightly. “I couldn’t tell.” Hesitantly, she added, “Are you planning on leaving?”

“What?” His fingers stopped brushing through her hair.

She didn’t raise her head, her voice still tight. “That’s what you do when you screw up, isn’t it? Lift your skirts, kick off your heels, and run for the hills? Right?”


Posted by DarthKrzysztof

twenty-five years ago

Brandeouf stood up when the door opened, knowing it’d be Islene. The spring in her step, and the passion with which she kissed him, told him what he wanted to know. He asked anyway.

“So how did it go?”

“Marvelous!” Islene pressed a bottle into his hands and shrugged out of her cloak. Brandeouf hung it to dry as she sat at the table and took an apple from the bowl. “Segonal convinced MacDaer that we’re the right people for the job. We’ll be selling silks, Brandy! Silks from across the sea!”

In the beginning, Islene called him ‘Brandy’ to annoy him; now it was an endearment. “How did he manage that?” he asked.

“I don’t want to bore you with all that.” She bit into the apple, wiping its juice from her chin. “I was bored to tears with it once today already.”

“Then forget I asked. Congratulations, my love.” He set the bottle on the table and knelt before her, to help her out of her right boot. These rituals comforted him, as surely as the duelist’s code did.

“We’ll be rich, Brandy. Rich as dragons.” That curious expression he adored so much crossed her face. “But I still don’t understand why you couldn’t go with us.”

“I knew you’d be safe,” he replied, pulling off her left boot. “And there was something I had to take care of.”

She moved the apple so she could see his face. “What?”

“This.” Brandeouf opened his hand to reveal a simple gold ring – the end product of months of scrimping and weeks of shopping. “Marry me, Islene.”

“Oh, Brandeouf…” Her free hand covered her mouth, and her sense of elation seemed to dissipate.

“I love you.” He’d been practicing this all day, and still found himself choking on the words. Was it because saying such things was still new to him? Or was it her ambiguous reaction? “I don’t want to love anyone else… I don’t think I could.” When she looked away from him, Brandeouf took her hand and pressed the ring against her palm. “Say you’ll be my wife, Islene. Say it, and I’ll be yours forever.”

She closed her eyes, sending tears down her cheeks. “I’m sorry,” Islene said softly, “but I can’t.”

“What do you mean, ‘can’t?’” He swallowed his rising temper and tried not to sound desperate: “Why in the Fade not?”

“I have my reasons,” she said quietly.

“Is there another man? Did you already wed another?”

“No!” She gave him a look that seemed to say Are you serious?

“Then tell me why!” His voice cracked. “You owe me that much. If it’s something I can change, something I can do something about…”

“It’s not. You can’t.” She would have been flustered, if not for her sadness. “I can’t explain it.”

“You can’t explain? Or I wouldn’t understand?”

“Both. Neither. It is what it is.”

“Then what in the Fade have we been doing all this time?” He stood up and stomped a few paces away from Islene before turning to face her again. She may not have been beautiful to others, but she was to him… and in this moment, something Brandeouf had done to make her happy had made her sad instead. “Has this all been another one of your games to provoke me? Or another joke to try my patience? If it is, it isn’t very funny. I thought you loved me, Islene.”

“I do. Believe me, I do. But that doesn’t mean we’ll be together forever.”

“Then be with me in whatever time we do have together.”

Islene looked down at the ring in her hand for a brief eternity. “I’m pregnant,” she said, without looking up.

“You are?” Brandeouf walked back to her, slowly, kneeling before her again. “Are you certain?” When she nodded, he said “Then marry me, you stubborn creature. Let me be your husband, and a proper father to your child… as my own father never was to me.”

She favored him with the saddest smile he’d ever seen, and caressed his cheek. “I do love you, Brandy. I’ll love you, and our child, until the day I die…” As she got to her feet, Islene pressed the ring back into his hands.

“But I won’t be your wife.”

A Quiet Judgment
In Which Loyalty is Renewed

Posted by PaleCommander

Unlike much of the group, Simon had little trouble sleeping, and the camp was already bustling with morning activity by the time he woke.

Looking around, the mage saw that Lothaire was engaged in light discussion with Oriane over a frugal breakfast. To nearly any observers, the chevalier seemed somewhat ridiculous with only half his panoply worn, the other half neatly arranged in front of him.

After dressing in his customary traveling outfit, Simon approached the pair.

“Good morning, Lothaire. I trust the two of you slept well, in spite of the unusual arrangements?”

Oriane nodded with a mouthful and Lothaire followed her example, if less decisively.

“And good morning to you Simon,” he said after having swallowed.

Simon gestured at the all-too-familiar suit of armor lying in pieces on the ground. “You’re donning that rather early, but I can’t say I’m surprised, given what’s been going on recently. Shall I help?”

“I would appreciate that.” Lothaire began before Oriane continued.

“I have been trying to help him encase himself in that ungainly suit of metal, but I cannot for the love of the Maker make heads or tails of half of these pieces.” She furrowed her brow in mock consternation and Lothaire smiled warmly. “Well then, I will leave you two to it. I will be with the horses if you need me.” Still smiling, Lothaire watched her leave before facing Simon with a more serious expression.

Simon smiled knowingly as Oriane left. “I have always appreciated her tact. Would that there were more of it to go around.” His expression became more guarded as he moved to help Lothaire on with his armor. “That was quite the figurative leap you took yesterday, though as you said, it is your decision to make. I have been trying to learn more about Naessa, and I would be interested to hear your impression of her.”

Lothaire seemed pensive. “I wondered when you would come to me about that. In all fairness, I should have explained myself to you, but I had no desire to do so in front of the others. I apologize if I appeared dismissive; I owe you better than that. But that does not answer your question, does it?” Lothaire shook his head lightly as if answering to himself. “She reminds me of how I was when I was young, Simon, or at least she reminds of what I liked about myself in those days.”

“I see. As far as I know, she has yet to prove herself a leader. I take it you see potential in her?”

“She will have to lead. Whether she is good at it or not is beside the point, which is that she will need help. I can only imagine having to take care of Tourrin at her age and Tourrin was stable; it practically runs itself.”

“That is rather magnanimous of you.” Simon frowned, then decided that some forthrightness was warranted, as his real questions weren’t getting answered. “As someone who has also seen fit to jump headlong into uncertainty to help a young leader, I think I see your point. I haven’t brought up the future, all this time on the road, because it seemed a bleak line of inquiry, but I put it to you now: do you think it will ever be possible to return to Tourrin? If not, where does this new charge lead you?”

“Tourrin is lost to me.” Lothaire started, his eyes downcast and his tone somber. “Some part of me knew that the moment I ran, there would be no coming back. Even once Gervais is dead, by running I have admitted my guilt to everyone who matters in Orlais. As to where this leads me, I do not know.” Some trace of joy was returning to his voice. “All I know is that it is infinitely better than what I have been doing for the past year. No offense.”

Simon grinned broadly, a wistful look in his eye. “None taken. I’m a little surprised you can remember it at all,” the mage joked. “I’m hardly an expert on elven culture, and I suspect you’re even less familiar with them. How well do you think you’ll fit in? I imagine it will help somewhat that the Keeper of the clan vouches for you, but I can’t imagine you’ve met enough of the Valwe already to know how welcoming they are. We know at least one discouraging example already, I think.”

Lothaire nodded grimly, shooting a glance across camp to Gheris. “I sincerely hope she is a rarity among her people, but Lady Arielle…” He paused as he tasted the words for the first time before continuing with a slight nod. “Lady Arielle knows her people better than either of us. If she accepted my oath then she must think this has a chance of success. I do not expect them to trust me outright. I did not swear any oath to them, and many are sure to doubt me; it will be up to me to prove myself.”

“Well, the lifestyle will surely be different, but I know there is usually some degree of contact with dwarves and humans.” Simon was pensive for a spell, adjusting straps and buckles in silence. “I wonder, once this business with the storm has been resolved, where will we all go? You seem to be spoken for, now.”

“Have you considered where you will go?”

“I think I shall have to see. In the meantime, it sounds like we have a rather… formidable discussion with Grandmother ahead of us, and I think you and Naessa will need someone to weather that storm for you.” Simon stepped back and did a last check on the fully assembled plate armor. Seeing everything in order, he suddenly knelt and doffed his hat. “My lord.” The mage rose, grinning, then turned and left the stunned chevalier to his breakfast.

Little Battles
In Which Casidhe and Gheris Meet Again

by Darth Krzysztof and Ellanutella

Unable to sleep, Casidhe carried his bedroll off into the woods, dumping it on the ground before drawing his blades. Working his way through the positions usually cleared his mind, and he still had a long way to go before becoming the duelist he was meant to be.

As he moved through each stance, he remembered Brandeouf’s words from his dream: You should focus on the things you can help with. Now that he had Geoffrey sorted, kind of, his mind returned to Teresa. Segonal and Lothaire were right; he had to find her. He had to make amends for what he’d done. He had to –

He heard something behind him and nearly jumped out of his skin at the sight of Gheris. The elf’s expulsion of air mingled exasperation and superiority. “Jumping at shadows, are we?” she said.

Recovering quickly, he pivoted away from her, executing a perfect lunge. “Some shadows are more dangerous than others.”

“So why is does it have to be you I run into out here?”

“Couldn’t sleep. Too much on my mind.”

“Poor baby! Waaah! Do you need Mommy to tell you a story? Did you wet your bed again?” She placed her hands on her hips, weight shifted to her left leg.

“I never knew my mother before today,” he replied, still not looking at her. “And I quit wetting my bed weeks ago.” His movements were precise, perfect.

She snorted and leaned against a tree, tapping one foot quickly, steadily. The very air around her hummed with anxious energy.

“So what are you doing still up?” he asked her. “Hating the stars one by one?”

“The stars, I can stand. It’s you people that are impossible. I suppose you’ll say you’re not surprised and then you’ll feel superior about it!” Her tone was callous, but lined with a hard edge that told Casidhe she was not just flapping her lips.

He spun around to face her, still about twenty feet away, “I don’t feel superior to you, Gheris.”

“Like the Fade you don’t.”

Let it go, he thought. “Which people do you mean? Humans?”

“No, dwarves! Idiot.”

“I thought you might have meant males. Why? Did someone rile you?”

“Riled? Me? Nonsense!” She drew her daggers and pointed one at him, practically shaking with impatience. “You strike at the air, Casidhe. Are you afraid to fight an actual opponent?”

“Not a’tall. I’d prefer that you use the flats of your blades, but in your current state, I’ll forgive you if you cut me. You know, by accident.”

“I don’t need your forgiveness!” She dropped into a half-crouch.

Casidhe returned to his basic defensive position, and Gheris snickered at his uncharacteristic formality. “You look like a fool in that stance. Finally matches your speech.”

“And I’ve already tricked you into overconfidence.” He whipped his sword through his salute. “En garde.”

Restless Night, Part 2
In Which Gheris Alienates Lothaire

by The_Flax and Ellanutella

Gheris resisted the urge to jolt up. The movement almost seemed like a trick of the mind at first, but then the thin bedroll, and thus her side, began to scrape against the dirt, small pebbles and sticks scratching at the fabric. And there was a blanket on top of her that had most definitely not been there before. She remained still, opening her eyes slowly. Whatever – whoever – was moving her was to her other side, however. What was she being moved for? And closer to the fire?

She knew it! Again she kept herself still. They were trying to kill her…but by burning her? Really? And so roughly? She was a light sleeper! Surely they knew that by now.

Lothaire stopped pulling for an instant, searching for a good spot to place Gheris along side the fire. He gave one last gentle tug before moving to her feet and carefully sliding her in a perpendicular position to the fire.

A large, bulky man came into view, most certainly not an elven shape. Lothaire! Of all people! That made no sense. If they wanted to toss her into a fire, Lothaire could easily have just picked her up and thrown her in. He was much larger and much stronger than her…enough that she was sure she never wanted to fight him head-on. And he was a watchful, wary man, so she was not certain she could easily sneak up on him. Naessa was well-protected, indeed…if the human would truly protect her.

Lost in the Cold
Aidan decides to start using his head

Posted by Relimited

It was the nicest camp they had in days. Really, it was. It was a wonder how much camp improved with the wagons and supplies (as well as skill) of the Dalish elves.

But the elves, they where everywhere! He could keep an eye on Gheris and Naessa, sure, and things got harder when Ferron on those two circle mage elves entered the picture, but he could generally keep a nice avenue of retreat open if they decided to snuff out his life’s candle, but all these elves! And all warriors too. He couldn’t keep track of them all, and the kept on sneaking up on him. Offering thanks for his plan, thanks for his dog, and always staring at him, watching him.

Quite frankly, he wished he never saved them. Wished he never thought of that stupid plan to use Kent’s nose to save the Dalish. After all, what kind of person saves the people that would come to eventually kill him? Would it happen tonight? Could one of those “thank yous” be a drop of poison in his food, or a quiet dagger through his back?

It had happened during that bizarre oath-taking between Naessa and Lothaire. When reality had seemed to just drop away, to never return and the world was spinning. All he could see was a web of lies and traps, spun all about them, bringing them closer and closer to their deaths. He left as fast as he could, walking to the edge of camp, trying to control his trembling hands.

He was on edge of the ring of light cast by the fire, his shadow stretched out into the blackness of the forest. He slumped, breathing hard, staring at the trees and blackness of the forest beyond. Out here, away from the chatter of the group and at least somewhat away from all those elves, he could think. However, even at the edge of camp he couldn’t shake the feeling that they were still there, watching him. Waiting for a moment of weakness, waiting for him to let his guard down.

What had he been thinking? That these elves were just great people, all happy and willing to frolic and dance and bake cookies for him? He at least knew why he saved the gryphon: He wanted it. And yes, he had to hide his disappointment when it turned out to be an enchanted man. Yes it was terrible and base of him, but it made sense!

Restless Night
In Which Lothaire Ponders

by The_Flax

Lothaire grumbled inaudibly as he shifted once more in his bedroll, unable to find any sleep. He gazed at the prone shape beside him, dimly illuminated by waning fire, and smiled inwardly. At least it isn’t all bad. He realized just then he could never bring himself to leave Oriane behind like he had done over a year ago. He finally felt like his old self after all these errant months of wandering. No that wasn’t true, he actually felt better he ever had in his old life. At first glance, that might seem odd, but Lothaire realized there was a certain joy to be found in simplicity. Only three things truly mattered now: Oriane, his oath to Naessa and killing Gervais. Thinking of Gervais managed to dampen his spirits for an instant, but he quickly recovered. Recognizing he would not be falling back to sleep anything soon, Lothaire resisted the urge to snuggle against his wife and rose from his bedroll.

After checking on the horses and making sure the fire would last well into the morning, Lothaire pulled a log closer to it and sat down. He spared a glance to the large piece of dead wood in his left hand, before his eyes drifted to each of his companions on this bizarre journey. He considered Simon first, his right hand now armed with a knife as he stared thoughtfully at the only person older than him. Absently, he began working the wood he was holding. It was something he had picked up from his military days. Soldiers sometimes had more time on their hands then they could use and most of them were good with their hands. It was a natural fit. The year spent with Simon also reminded him of his soldiering days. It was not exactly friendship, but a sort of implicit trust that the other would always have your back. Replaying in his mind’s eye the events of the evening, Lothaire paused at Simon’s comments and realized he had betrayed the mage by not informing him of his decision. The man had deserved at least that much after following him into exile without any obligation to do so and without any open regrets. He should have spoken to him, but at the time he had thought only of Oriane and now he felt their bond irrevocably changed. He had chosen a different path after all.

Motherless Child
In Which Casidhe Realizes His Mistake

by DarthKrzysztof, from conversations with Jennifer and The_Flax

Casidhe brought wood to feed one of the fires, and found Segonal there. “Don’t mind me,” the older man said. “Just getting some warmth on my bones before it gets dark.”

“Sounds good.” Casidhe took a seat close by and rubbed his hands together near the flames.

“What happened to your eye, anyway?”

Segonal was the first to ask Casidhe about it. “I ran into a tree,” he said. “A sharp, angry little tree.” When the Grey Warden shook his head, Casidhe added “Father never did bless me with much sense.”

“How is Brandeouf, anyway? This is the first chance I’ve had to really talk to you since I got my wits back.”

Casidhe did the math; Segonal must have disappeared from Denerim before Sim’s coup. “He’s dead, Segonal. I’m sorry.” He could have sugar-coated it, but Segonal and Brandeouf had been like brothers, and the Warden was no stranger to ugly truths.

“Dead?” Segonal gasped, as though the very idea was unthinkable. “How?”

“Tricked. Betrayed… they poisoned him.”

“Who did?”

“Black Torin’s men.”

“The pirate lord?” Segonal frowned. “How did Brandeouf run afoul of him?”

“It was Sim. MacDaer’s son. Torin convinced him to turn on his father, and to do that, they needed Father out of the way. So they murdered him, and they would’ve killed me, too, if I’d been there.” He didn’t say anything about his own role in what happened; Casidhe was done blaming himself, and had simply vowed not to be fooled again, especially after Lothering.

“I’m sorry, Cas,” Segonal eventually said. “You must miss him terribly.”

“You’d think I would, but I don’t, really. I see him in my dreams all the time.”

“But you don’t miss him?” the Warden asked, perturbed.

“No. He was a hard man to love, Segonal.”

“Brandeouf was a good man.” Steel laced Segonal’s words, and a scowl crossed his face. “A very good man. One of the best I’ve ever known.”

“That’s as may be.” Casidhe swallowed his temper, found it bitter. “But he wasn’t much of a father, I’ll tell you that for nothing.”

Segonal’s scowl deepened. “Is that so? How many young boys have you had to raise alone after your wife abandoned you?”

Casidhe was struck by an image of Teresa dying in his arms… how could he possibly raise the baby she left behind? Brandeouf had grown up with no father, and ended up a taskmaster; with a taskmaster for a father, Casidhe had ended up a “lecherous, drunken little shit.” This child was doomed.

The duelist sputtered, locked in his hypothetical life, until Segonal sighed. “Listen,” the Warden said, “it’s not my place to lecture you, but you could stand to be a bit more charitable to the man. His life was full of heartbreaks he’d done nothing to deserve.”

“I know. It’s just that… the only way he knew how to raise me was in his image, and we were just too different.”

“Too true. You’re more like your mother.”

Now they’d come to what Casidhe really wanted to hear. “Tell me about her.”

Pledge of Honor
In which Lothaire has a lot to say, and even smiles. Several times.

instigated by the_flax and posted by jillyfae

No one is quite sure what to do with themselves that evening, having escaped the unsettling mist only to find themselves camping with an entire, rather traumatized, dalish clan. Settling down slightly apart from the main dalish camp, everyone fails to pretend to be getting ready for the night in a perfectly normal fashion.

Aidan nervously jumps at the slightest noise, and keeps himself to the far side of camp, as distant from the dalish as possible. Gheris seems even more stiff than usual, and glares at all the humans so close to the elven clan, with an especially black glance periodically directed towards Casidhe. Casidhe ignores her, nursing a black eye and preferring to hunt down Segonal for a private discussion of some sort. Lothaire keeps a quiet eye on the generally nervous group, while Simon seems the only one able to avoid fretting about the strange situation.

Naessa spends her time with the dalish, making sure everyone really is healing properly now that they’re out of the mist, and hovering near Zholon’s tent. However, as there’s a chance he’s finally resting normally, no one has the nerve to wake him up and disturb him, and she finally gives up and heads off to rest, generally getting in Ferron and Geoffrey’s way as they attempt to set up a comfortable camp.

Naessa snatches Ferron’s pack, staggers over to the campfire to settle down with a melodramatic sigh, and starts digging shamelessly through all his belongings in search of tea. Ferron, recognizing Naessa’s typical reaction to over-using her magic, leaves her alone to grouch in private.

Lothaire, unencumbered by his bulky armor this once, appears beside her as if he had been waiting for this moment. He sits next to her and shifts nervously as he looks her over with a glance of appraisal. Naessa shoots him one quick glance, but shrugs and turns away, glaring down at the pack and kicking it away petulantly, having failed to find anything appealing.

“I was wondering… how are you holding up?” Lothaire finally breaks the silence in a somber tone.


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