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Old 04-05-2020, 10:42 AM
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Chapter 1: To Cross the Dragonwall

The Bitter Well OasisMany, many years in the future, scholars and sages both will look upon this day as the moment that changed everything. It was the day that a group of travellers came together to seek their fortune and to travel eastwards in search of a dream. Their journeys were each their own, yet with each disparate part joining together they would become something more. A sum that was perhaps greater than each individual part.

Some of them came seeking answers to questions both known and unknown. Some came to seek healing ~~ physical and mental healing both.

They would come to learn a great many lessons on their journey east. They would learn the truth about themselves and who they are. Yet the greatest truth that was still to be told was such.

How much was one life worth to them?


~~~


Ma Chung Ying had dwelt within the Bitter Well Oasis for longer than he cared to remember. The sole resident within the Bitter Well Oasis, he had seen many, many things in the months and years that he had been here. Once of the Shou Empire, rumours circulated amongst those who cared to know such things that he was still a spy in the employ of the Shou government.

Sitting in the shadowy corner of the small common room that served as the main hub of the inn that he ran, the enigmatic man dipped the tip of his finger into the cool mug of water that was on the table in front of him. Bringing the finger to his lips, he closed his eyes as tasted the precious, life-giving substance.

Let them think what they like, he thought to himself.

It matters not. I have my paradise here in the middle of nowhere. I am apart from the trouble and strife that plagues the lands around me.

He sat back, closing his eyes, remembering a time from before.....

You see, the truth was that Ma Chung Ying had left much behind him to come here, and as much as he liked to think that he lived in the middle of a beautiful paradise, the truth was anything but.

The Quoya desert was an arid wasteland. Anyone venturing into its depths needed to be prepared, or they would be lost beneath the cold desert sands, not to mention the other dangers that travelling in this region posed. Rumours abounded about deadly creatures that roamed under the sands, Desertwalkers, who would reach up and pull unwary travellers underneath the sand to meet an untimely death. To say nothing of the sand worms that also burrowed underneath the surface.

And as for Ma Chung Ying himself? The nightmares that plagued his sleep at night told him of the regrets and failures he had left behind him in a desperate attempt to run away from them.....

~~~

As they came, five in all, Ma Chung Ying watched them with not even a raised eyebrow. Not at the same time, but over the course of a number of days they came, no doubt looking to seek passage on one of the caravans that would attempt to cross the Dragonwall. He had seen countless caravans attempt to cross the Dragonwall in this time, and although many had made the attempt, none had ever come back from the land beyond. Whether that was because they had met an untimely fate over the wall, or simply because they had fallen in love with the beautiful land of Kara-Tur beyond it was hard to say, and he could not claim to have been all that bothered to learn about them.

The first, haunted by her own perceived failures. She seeks redemption....of a sort, for her failure to see her charges to safety.

The second, the sorceress. She seeks to bring honor and glory to her clan, yet even she is not ready to face the truths she will see beyond.

The third, the witch. Cursed to feel when she does not wish to. She will discover that for some curses, there is no cure.

The fourth searches for the elixir of immortality. Little does she realise that there is one in this land who has the power to grant her her wish, yet this “gift” will not be all that she wishes it to be.

The fifth tries by deed to make up for what she cannot. Hers is a lesson that will be painful to learn -- that you cannot always redeem yourself in the light of what came before. The land cannot heal her.


They came, the five, paying for board. And they waited. They waited for destiny to find them.

And that morning, when they woke to the sound of an angry commotion coming from outside, it was hard to deny that destiny had indeed come for them.

~~~


"Well, well what have we here."

Outside the Bitter Well Oasis Inn, a strange sight could be seen. A small wagon had parked itself at the edge of the oasis, and next to the wagon two figures could be seen. The first, that of a middle-aged man, in all likelihood a merchant, was glaring at the second, a youth dressed in a blue brocade.

What was in no doubt though was the malicious tone of the older man. Any lingering doubts around his intentions towards the second figure would have been extinguished at the point that the wily old merchant drew the sword belted from his waist. Metal freed itself from scabbard with a metallic hiss as he advanced on the young man, murder burning in his eyes.

The young man took a step backwards, eyes darting from side to side, looking for an escape route that quite simply was not going to present itself.

"Wait wait wait, let me explain myself," he began.

When the merchant reached out suddenly, grabbing the younger man’s wrist tightly, he winced slightly. Pulling him forwards, the merchant grinned crookedly.

"And what is this I see?"

Prising what appeared to be a golden lockbox from the young man’s hand, the merchant looked to it. Eyes gaze over the gold workmanship appraisingly. Shaking it, he was gratified to hear a small rattling coming from within.

"It is sufficient payment for the ride so far."

The dark haired man scowled at the greedy merchants words and began to speak, "Now hang on a dam....."

The sudden pressing of the tip of a blade to his chest cut off his indignant words. Grinning, the merchant secreted the lockbox into the pocket of his shirt. "But not enough payment to continue with me. I shall leave you here in the desert to find your own way."

Swallowing slightly and looking down at the sword, the young man instead reached out, somewhat impetuously, and pushed the tip of it away with his little finger. The merchant raised an eyebrow despite himself, grudgingly impressed at his nerve. It was at that point he noticed that the two of them had attracted a crowd. Raising his eyebrow again, perhaps slightly surprised that there were people out here in this bitter, desolate wasteland, the merchant cleared his throat, waiting for someone to speak while keeping the young man at swordpoint.

At the back, Ma Chung Ying sighed. It looked like it was going to be a bad day....
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Old 04-05-2020, 01:39 PM
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Haj had already been awake when the commotion started, on the floor of her tent kneeling, head bowed against the bedroll as if it were a prayer mat. It wasn't proper, which irritated Haj greatly... but in her current circumstances, it would do.

The sounds of yelling and a steel sword sliding free of its scabbard causes the hairs on her arms and neck to bristle, but the combatants are not walking towards her. She quickly finishes her recitation and stands, grabbing the loaded crossbow she keeps by her bed and a knife before exiting the tent not yet even fully dressed.

Haj scowls at the scene. A shakedown, of a child, no less. She shoves her way through the crowd, careful to keep the flat of her blade against the inside of her arm as she uses her hand to push persons aside. Once within the ring of bystanders, Haj lifts the crossbow with one arm and points it at the merchant.

"Is that the deal you negotiated with the boy beforehand? Or are you a common thief, preying on a child?"

The question is cold, calculating, as if genuinely born of innocent curiosity. Haj's eyes are similarly blank as she asks the question, dressed in little more than a robe and a headscarf. Several inches shorter than both the boy and the merchant at least, it is almost comical, if not for the lethal mechanics of the crossbow that level any biological advantage any of the participants might possess.
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Old 04-05-2020, 10:37 PM
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Over a week before...It had been midday when Tajsa fell to her knees upon first catching sight of the small inn near the Bitter Well Oasis. She knelt there, breathing hard as her tired mind tried to decide if it was jut a mirage, or if salvation really was within her grasp. She reached to her side, and lifted the waterskin to her parched lips, shaking it for any small taste of water that was refusing to come. Finally, she was forced to give up on it. Nothing to do, but force herself to move forward.

With concerted effort, Tajsa forced herself to her feet, then once again shuffled forward. She would make it. She gritted her teeth against the soreness of her muscles, willing herself to not give in, when salvation was in sight."

The new day...Tajsa didn't remember anything after she tumbled through the very real doorway. She didn't remember paying for a room, of going to said room, or of the next few days as she recovered from the heat sickness that had tried to take her life. Slowly though, she recovered due to the help of some saintly person who gave aid to someone in desperate need. She was fed, given drink, and even bathed when well enough. And all without Tajsa asking for such.

That morning was like all the other days of the past few... Tajsa climbed out of bed, dressed in the minimum necessary, and began her daily stretches to get her body ready to make her way back home. But the day had not continued to be serene, as a commotion out front drew her attention away from her own recovering health. Quickly, she belted her quiver to her hips, then unsheathed her scimitar before grabbing her bow as she made her way outside to see what the disturbance was.

She started to push through the gathering crowd, then followed in the wake of another who was doing likewise. Once in the clearing, she looked past the other who she'd followed to see a young man being harassed by a merchant. Tajsa dropped her scimitar in the sand by her feet, blade first, then knocked an arrow and raised it toward the commotion. But she said nothing. The other woman's questions were good enough at this point.


 

 

 
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Old 04-07-2020, 04:07 PM
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Rusty orange sands swirled about the feet of her horses, as the carriage lumbered forward toward the Bitter Well Oasis. Often she had traded for supplies from those that had traveled these treacherous, dangerous, and lethal lands; yet the markup had grown so much she found herself wondering if she could make the journey herself. She did quite a bit of reading and thinking during such journey's; as the heat of the sun and the arid environment were not conducive to much else.

The Oasis was pleasant enough. Not much more than a mere outpost with a well; its previous role as a garrison clearly evident from the dragon carvings, that almost looked like elongated chickens soaring down from the heavens. Craftsmen, even today, took special pride in their work, often incorporating great artistry and effort towards elegance and class; just as Jiltanith did in her dress and appearance.

In the morning, after a good night's rest, she found herself in a group of individuals also heading towards the Dragonwall. One of whom was an elf of some sort, as evidenced by the pointed ears. She walked like an outsider, one who neither coveted, nor reviled interactions with society; but rather one who goes where one wants to go - regardless of what society thinks of it. Another of her group looked human; she held various objects for which Jil was unfamiliar, and seemed to have a bit of an aura about her. She was also very quiet, rarely speaking to anyone unless, it seemed, she was absolutely forced to do so. Weird, but then, who was Jil to judge? The third member of the intrepid group appeared to be a warrior from the west. Her olive like complexion and mannerisms were unfamiliar to the young lady. At least she appeared familiar with the desert, which would be a boon. The fourth, and last member - other than herself obviously - was a lady of fired hair, like clay dried in a kiln; her complexion was off entirely as it lacked any kind of coloration at all. Jil wondered if she would be more soldierly given the armor and hair color; or more stately?

Alas, the first test came upon them soon enough. It only remained to be seen how the team would interact with the young soldier in blue, and the merchant in whites and blacks. Thieves were rumored to be a constant threat on this journey, hence why Jil had taken the time to wait for a group to be heading in the same direction. The young soldier appeared unphased by the sword upon his breast; yet still, perhaps he was emboldened seeing the troop of witnesses approaching. Jil, herself, was in a tight place. The man deserved the option to choose his own destiny; the group appeared to be moving to interfere; and Jil herself did not feel it her place to step in between two men who were in a confrontation.

Yet here she was. Her white flowing dress with pink decor standing in stark contrast to the ruddish sand about them. Haj had already approached the merchant to make her presence known, the others were in the process of doing what they were want to do.

Instead, while Haj was bearing down upon the merchant; Jil approached the young soldier. "Ohayō gozaimasu." (or good morning), she nodded politely to the gentleman - as an equal."If the other man has no honor, as clearly he does not, may I offer you the company of our caravan for your journey? I am sure a strong arm with a sword would be a boon to all of us. Besides, as you can see, I am hardly the type to fight off such ruffians as the Chìméi clan, whom I understand also infest these deserts." (Chìméi - Red Eyebrows, thug group from ancient China) She allowed her smile to do most of the talking for her. Meanwhile, she wondered if Haj was going to get into a swordfight, or if she was going to get the man's treasure returned too him?


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Old 04-08-2020, 12:41 PM
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A new guiding light
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Alena sat cross-legged, her hands lay loosely in her lap, palms up, one hand cradling the other. Her eyes were closed and her breating slow and deep. To some she might have appeared as if sleeping. Even in such an unusual position. So calm was the energy she was exuding. The only movement one could detect on her body was indeed the rise and fall of her chest as she breathed slowly in and out.

And in fact the little girl watching her from a few feet away fidgeted anxiously in one spot. Just as she was about to launch herself at the sitting woman a hand grabbed her tiny shoulder, keeping her locked in place.

"How many times have I told you not to disturb her when she's like this." A young woman admonished the little girl. The hand that lay on the child's shoulder was the most peculiar of contraptions. It most certainly wasn't a flesh and blood limb. And yet it moved and operated as one. It was as delicate and dexterous as one. But it also held strength and endurance. Everything the young woman would need to live a normal life after having lost her original limb in a terrible accident.

"But I'm worried she might be dead." The little girl said deadpan.

There was a chuckle from the young woman and the artificial limb moved from the shoulder to the girls head, petting gently. "Alena will be angry if she hears you saying she could die so easily! Plus if you look close enough and stay patient, you'll see her chest rise and fall with her breathing."

It was true. The little girl knew well enough. But she still worried. The first time she'd witnessed Alena meditating she'd panicked because the redhead hadn't been breathing. Or so the young girl had thought, not having had the patience to wait out and detect Alena's slowed down breathing.

At last, there you are! The familiar voice of Sounetar filled Alena's mind.

"Mistress." Alena's thoughts answered her patron.

I've been searching for you ever since our connection was severed all of a sudden. Sounetar's voice held just a hint of reprimand.

"Forgive me, mistress." Alena's thought-voice was respectful, but not meek. Never that again. Plus it was not what Sounetar demanded of her. Never that. "I've been trying to reestablish our connection every day since I got stranded in this foreign land."

I know. It is how I was able to find you in the end. You're persistent effort served as a sort of beacon for me. You did well, Alena. Your friend misses you.

A familiar warmth spread all over Alena's body. "Saoirse is fine." It wasn't so much a question as an affirmation of what Alena'd hoped ever since she'd arrived in Faerun.

She is. Sounetar confirmed. You can never return to her side. The patron's words weren't meant to cut. But they did, just the same. Even though Alena'd suspected it. This is our new home now.

"Mistress?" Was Alena's simple question.

I used too much energy finding and getting to you. Even if I replenish with one from devotees in this world, the frequency will be much too different for me to get back. Sounetar explained. Plus... I couldn't very well leave behind my best acolyte. We made a pact, you and I, cleric captain! It had been my privilege watching you take one step after another on your path. You have not failed me. I will not fail you!

"Mistress. The honor has always been mine!" Alena countered.

As expected. You've done well without me. But now it's time to set out once more. Sounetar ignored good-naturedly Alena's words of devotion.

"Ah, she opened her eyes!" The little girl spoke excitedly and this time no force could hold her launch forward, as she torpedoed in Alena's direction.

It was all the redhead could do to keep from falling back at the force with witch the little girl collided with her legs, hugging tight. She cast gentle eyes down as her hand came to rest on top of the little girls head.

"Hi, peanut." She said, locking eyes with the little girl. The unconditional affection she saw there still surprised her to this day. But by now she'd become accustomed to the warm glow that affection ignited in her heart.

She looked up to encounter another set of eyes, staring at her with much the same affection. Alena smiled gently as the older of the two sisters approached.

"You're leaving, are you?" The quiet question startled both Alena and the little girl clinging to her legs.

"I..." She started, but was interrupted by tiny arms squeezing even harder on her legs.

"No! I won't let you!" The tiny girl's voice shook with quiet sobs.

The cleric looked helplessly at the bigger sister, finding the familiar eyes also misted with tears.

"We knew one day you would... We just hoped..." She said with a sad smile.

The little girl was crying and shaking her head 'no', rubbing her tear-stricken face in Alena's legs.

"We could never repay your kindness." The older sister raised her artificial limb, her fingers gently caressing Alena's cheek. Only it was not so much a caress, as Alena felt the artificial fingers brush away tears she hadn't know she'd shed.

"I..." Alena tried to speak, but words would not come out. She managed to pry herself free from the grasp of the little arms only to take the tiny girl into her arms for a worm hug. "I'll miss you two so much!" She finally said, her voice cracking.

***

I know you won't stop even if I tell you to. But you don't need to worry so much about them. You didn't just help them by making them dependent on your aid. You made sure they would be able to stand on their own even without you by their side... Sounetar fell silent for a bit. Plus, I'd never let anything happen to your charges. After all. Any charge of yours is a charge of mine as well.

"Mistress." Was Alena's only utterance of gratitude.

The road to the Bitter Well Oasis was no joke. But considering how Alena had arrived to be a citizen of this world, no travel would ever be uncomfortable or dangerous enough for her. Or, at least, so she thought.

At the first signs of commotion outside the Inn, Alena made her way out slowly. Allowing her enough time to assess the situation. Her trained eyes quickly analyzing what could be done to deescalate the hostilities. Whereas once she would use her combat training to exploit every weakness to inflict further horror and mayhem, now her only goal was to keep an old fool from making a fatal mistake.

"... Or are you a common thief, preying on a child?" Alena couldn't help but smirk a bit at the question. She'd encountered the three to interfere briefly at one point or another after arriving at the Bitter Well Oasis. The one who'd spoken up first was no less a child than the boy she'd called child herself. Of course, Alena knew people matured differently. And she had no right to presume this young woman hadn't gone through enough in her life to weather her so much she would consider herself old and wizened.

The second one to interfere offered no words of her own, but made her intentions clear just the same. This, as well, Alena could respect.

The third spoke. And by her words Alena could tell this vision of a woman had the experience of many years behind her. Her genteel looks notwithstanding, she exuded calm strength and composure.

Are you just going to stand there, staring, or get into this?! Alena's fair cheeks went rosy at Sounetar's ribbing. Sighing softly she made her way into the circle that had formed around the old merchant and the I'd use bishōnen if I knew all would catch the reference pretty boy.

"Isn't it time we settle this as rational people." Alena made sure to maneuver herself as best as possible between the boy and the old merchant. "You've already collected your pay for this young man's ill-advised, illicit transit on your caravan. So his fate is no longer your concern. What say you lower your blade." Alena taped the tip of the sword, her words holding a veiled edge to them. Not really a threat though. Casting Calm Emotions on the old merchantBut something else. "And, as the fair lady over there said, we'll make sure this young man stays well away from you. I'd say that's a win-win for all, no?" With a soft step back and to the side Alena took the place of the young man as the tip of the sword now rested against the symbol of Sounetar on her chest.


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Old 04-09-2020, 02:18 AM
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It's not that Vanithessa was actually doing anything in particular when she heard the commotion, but considering it likely had nothing to do with her or her people, even doing nothing was a more important activity to her. Unfortunately, her curse didn't agree. As much as she tried to ignore it, curiosity about what was going on plagued her. After putting up a valiant fight for all of three seconds Vanithessa found herself standing outside watching the disturbance.

As she'd thought, the disturbance had nothing to do with any vrael, and thus her. She should return to what she was doing before. Sitting at the table daydreaming, a far more productive use of her time.

Still, she stays, contemplating how she'd react in either of there shoes. She wasn't one much for blades though, so she'd probably hex the thief, mock him a bit and take reparations as was done. In the thief's shoes, a little bit of heated metal, a little bit of invisibility and she'd be gone. Without letting anyone take away her stuff.

She's distracted from her thoughts when members of the audience start speaking up, defending the thief by calling his accuser a thief. A curious situation to be sure. Vanithessa doesn't think the man's done anything wrong, but even if she were inclined to step in on his behalf (which she wouldn't, he's just a human after all, what did she care?) the fact that he'd been so quickly outnumbered did not bode well. It wasn't that she was scared to speak her mind, but out here she didn't know ally from foe. Only the stupid jump onto a sinking ship in hopes of saving it.

The other option, of course, is jumping on the bandwagon with everyone else. He may have been a thief, but unless he was stealing from her people it's not like she cared. And on a scaling morality, she'd done worse. She ignored the spike of guilt the memory brought, it had been for the good of the vrael oro.

But the boy doesn't really need any more defenders. And speaking up would mean speaking to these humans, and elves or whatever they all were. To avoid that she decides to keep her silence, for now.
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Old 04-09-2020, 03:33 PM
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A GatheringLathlaeril's actions were foolhardy at best, and even he had to admit that. Stealing into an armed contingent and taking a golden lockbox from right under their noses perhaps wasn't the most conducive of actions to a long and happy life for a start. Yet then stowing away on a wagon as it headed eastwards into the wasteland of the Quoya Desert was suicidal at best.

The thing was, you see, in the situation that he was in, he really had nothing to lose, and some things were just too important to him to let go of.

Lathlaeril was bound to his course.

For a moment, he had believed that he was actually going to get away with it. Haldemar's guards were so secure in themselves that they had not thought to double-check the wagon to make sure that the merchant's goods remained intact. And so he had managed to conceal himself there for the duration of the journey to the Bitter Well Oasis. And when Haldemar had reached the oasis, he had paid and dismissed the guards. They refused to travel any further, and Lathlaeril couldn't really blame them. There were a lot of rumours about fantastical monsters and restless spirits that were said to dwell beyond the Dragonwall. In fact, it was said that the wall itself housed inside it the spirit of a great dragon, trapped there for all eternity by a vengeful sorceror.

Lathlaeril was willing to make the journey across. He could tell the difference between what was truth and what was lie. But then since he had already journeyed across the wall once, he knew what waited on the other side.

He might have gotten away with the deception too, however he had grown a little too sure of himself after the guards were dismissed.....

~~~

Half an hour earlier...

Lathlaeril began to notice something curious happen with the lockbox concealed within the folds of his shirt. It began as a slight tingling sensation against his chest. Noticing it, his brow arched from curiosity. Bringing the box out slowly, he sat up under the fur. It was then that he realised that the lockbox was getting warmer.

Warmer, warmer and warmer until.........

"YEEEEOOOOWWWW!"

There was no missing the sudden exclamation of pain as the lockbox burned his hand. Dropping it, the golden box fell to the dusty roadside, bouncing twice before it lay on its side. Throwing back the blanket and rubbing his burned hand, Lathlaeril cursed and began to swear, "You bloody little....."

And then his eyes fell on the lockbox and his jaw dropped in amazement.

For the lockbox was glowing. A bright light surrounded the box. A cloud of bright golden light, composed of what seemed to be a million glowing fireflies, all buzzing and floating around the surface of it. The golden fireflies swirled around it at an almost dizzying speed. Watching it, mesmerised, Lathlaeril slid from the back of the cart.

"What are you?"

He whispered, stunned as he approached the fallen box. Walking slowly, he fell to one knee. As he did so, the lights suddenly faded and the cloud dissipated, almost as if it was never there..... Entranced, he reached out with a trembling hand to pick up the box once more.

And then, suddenly acutely aware of the silence around him, Lath turned round to see the shocked expression of Haldemar staring right back at him.....

~~~

Neither Lath or Haldemar had expected the commotion to draw quite as many people as it had.

At Haj’s comments, despite her support of him, Lath bristled at the tone somewhat.

”Hey, who are you calling a child? I’ll have you know that I have twenty winters, almost one and twenty winters under my belt, I bet I’m almost as old as you ehhhhh ahhh I can’t believe I just told you that.

Still holding the sword up to his chest, Haldemar shook his head, glancing at Lath with no small amount of irritation.

”Will you shut up while I deal with this, I’ll get to you in a minute.”

Glancing at Haj with a look of frustration on his face, Haldemar was not impressed.

“Now hang on second here. This....thief....” Haldemar shook his sword “......stole a ride on my caravan. I have every right to exact payment from him, a payment that will increase if I find any of my goods missing.”

Giving Lath a pointed look, Haldemar’s scowl only deepened as others made their way over.

”Bloody great. Why don’t we just invite the whole of the damned desert to come have a party with us,” he muttered under his breath.

In the distance, when he spied Tasha pointing her bow and arrow at him he called out to her.

”Now look here. Why don’t you put down that bow there before you put someone’s eye out with it,” he shouted while still waving his sword at Lath.

Lath, for his own part, could only stare in wonder at the events that were suddenly unfolding in front of him, a stare that only grew as they encompassed the beautiful elf who wore a flowing white dress. The young man swallowed as she spoke to him, before bowing his head in response.

”Ohayō gozaimasu, your honour is my own milady.”

Lath nodded towards Haldemar.

”He's right. I did steal a place on the wagon. I'm heading east across the Dragonwall, and I know that's where he's heading. I heard you talking to the guards before you dismissed them."

Looking back towards Jil, Lath bowed his head again. “I would be honoured to join you should your path head east.”

Haldemar’s colour turned a deeper shade of red as he considered Lath’s words. It was at this precise moment, as his expression darkened still, that the frightening red-haired lady came on the scene.

What say you lower your blade.

The older merchant sighed softly, his anger dissipating in this, a moment of an eye.

"I am Haldemar, a merchant looking to make his trade across the Dragonwall in the lands of Kara-Tur. I have no place for stowaways that cannot pay their way. You should be lucky you still have your hide intact." Shaking his head, he turned to the others, yet in doing so he lowered his sword. "I apologise for the disturbance that I have inadvertently caused."

It was at that point that the dark haired man, Ma Chung Ying, who had until this point been watching quietly, stepped forwards. His voice, when he spoke, was an ocean of calm in the middle of a growing storm.

"Please, let us conclude these discussions inside away from the sun and the desert."

He looked pointedly towards Haldemar and Lathlaeril before glancing over to the white haired woman, Vanithessa, who had also, up until now, been keeping her distance from the group. "My friend, could you find us all a table inside so that we can all conclude our business in a calm and dignified manner."

His lips turned upwards in the slightest hint of a smile, a sign of his dry wit and humour. The Inn was hardly teeming to the rafters with customers.

"Will this be acceptable?" he asked, bowing gracefully to the gathered crowd.
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Old 04-09-2020, 05:31 PM
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Haj's face grows puzzled. "Twenty years? Really?" She glances at the merchant, then at the crowd around her. Anyone paying close attention will notice that she is specifically looking at the men... at their faces. She looks back at the boy... well, the young man.

"Then why don't you have a beard?" Haj asked, innocently, her left hand moving towards her chin and pantomiming where a short beard might be.

The fact that the young man is the real thief is almost lost on Haj, but she pulls back the crossbow. The young man admitted it, so she had been mistaken. Haj bows her head to the merchant and presses her fist against her breastbone.

"My apologies for my accusation, sir."

She is truly sorry... but deep down, she also wants to laugh. Really, a misunderstanding because a man didn't have a beard? She had been so convinced that a child had been taken advantage of. She turns to return to her tent, and get dressed before breakfast. Whatever befalls Lathlaeril and Haldemar now... well, it's neither her concern nor to her interest.
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Old 04-13-2020, 11:26 AM
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Alena allowed herself an internal sigh of relief the moment the tip of the sword left her chest. "You are most gracious, master Haldemar. I'm sure the young man is quite appreciative." The redhead dipped her head slightly in a show of gratitude and respect. However, before Alena had the time to say anything else the inn proprietor stepped in and offered them a place to continue discussions on the matter that allowed for a bit more privacy.

"By your grace, master Ying." Alena consented with a slight bow of her head. "Please..." She made a gesture with her hand, indicating to the others to go ahead and enter the Inn before her. She stood patiently holding the door, her posture and manners about the only thing she'd allowed herself to keep from her former ego. Plus the move would give her the opportunity to scrutinize a bit more closely the others on their way inside the inn.

Once everyone interested in the inn proprietor's offer was inside Alena also entered hurriedly and hastened to pull a chair out for the Just in case I'm not making myself clear with the next couple of sentences, Vailee that's Vanithessa woman closest to her. Which happened to be a person that appeared even paler than Alena herself, with somewhat austere features and an air of mystery to her. She'd arrived last at the altercation and had kept her distance. Not interfering in any sort of way. Alena waited for the stranger to take a seat in the offered chair, before pulling one for herself and joining the rest around the table.


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Old 04-13-2020, 01:51 PM
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Jiltanith turned her warm smile on the merchant, letting the light dance in her eyes as she did so. "I am Haldemar, a merchant looking to make his trade across the Dragonwall in the lands of Kara-Tur. I have no place for stowaways that cannot pay their way. You should be lucky you still have your hide intact."

"It is said that a wise man guards his temper as he guards his property, good sir. If I do understand the situation properly, this young man was seeking to get a free ride where none was offered, but you too raised a steel weapon when words alone may have sufficed originally, did you not?

Yet, the discussion digresses as the heat grows warmer. I too am a merchant trying to head eastward; and as for the disturbance, it seems quite harmless and enjoyable at the moment. "


She turned back to the stowaway. "As for you, young man, it may be understandable to conceal oneself at times, and it is commendable that you do own up to your actions, yet do you not think it fair that the man have some recompense for your actions? Perhaps not your pretty box, but I am sure you can offer something of worth - being as you have an expensive suit of armor, the mannerisms of a soldier, and the look of one who is not shy of standing in the path of oncoming danger?"

She let her soft words, and her soft movements, dissolve the tensions as best she could. If she were to be mistaken for a harmless then that was all the better.

She watched as each person took a seat at the table. Each one had a mannerisms that could be evaluated. Were they fluid in motion, did their muscles ripple like the waves of a gentle stream over the river-stones? Perhaps they were stodgy from sitting in a wagon all day, and growing old and weary?

"Perhaps, if we all happen to be travelling in the same direction, it would be wise for us to share resources for the journey? I, for one, would be glad of all the company I could get. I would be more than happy to share the comforts of my wagon, what rations I happen to have, my company, and I am willing to do my share of the chores as well." she artfully steered away from anything that might sound of conflict, hesitating to remind anyone that swords were just recently in play.


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Old 04-13-2020, 03:36 PM
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”A beard?” Lath called out after Haj almost incredulously. “Why do I need to have a beard to look like an adult?!”

But the infuriating woman had already disappeared into her tent, leaving Lath to shake his head in no small amount of exasperation.

“For what its worth you don’t look very old either.”

It was fairly futile since Haj had disappeared but Lath felt somewhat more fulfilled for having said it in any case.

The pale redhead was certainly somewhat intimidating, and perhaps even a little bit frightening. So when she began to lead the others back inside the Bitter Well Oasis, Lath fell in line, although a little further behind the others. He had to admit that the heat of the desert was more than a little bit stifling, and he was certainly looking forward to being in the shade. Walking alone, Lath was left with his thoughts and his memories.

***

Its your dream isn't it? You know they will never accept you.

There were times that the village of Lagiluri and its environs, nestled within the depths of the impenetrable Katakoro mountains, could be considered truly beautiful. This peaceful, idyllic village was hidden away from humanity, hidden deep within the treacherous, unforgiving mountains. And to the quiet, peaceful folk who called the village home, they would not have it any other way.

Overhead, the sun shone high in the cloudless, blue sky. The sound of birdsong echoed down into the valley below.

It was here that the boy, Lathlaeril Dorrel stood alone. His form was silhouetted against the golden sun as he stood, balanced on a single wooden post that had been hammered into the ground. His eyes were closed and his arms were held out to either side. His expression was a mask of concentration. Above him, the birds wheeled in the sky, singing their peaceful, calming song. Around him, the clearing in which he stood was beautiful. Fertile, green grasslands and golden crops swayed in the breeze, their tips bending with the blowing of the slight cool breeze which swirled through the valley.

Heading upwards, the fertile grasslands contained in his basin levelled off, to be replaced by rocky outcroppings and mountainous ledges. A trail led upwards as lush, abundant farmland became barren, dusty, windswept mountain passes. At the very top, the peaks of the Katakoro mountains themselves rose up as if trying to pierce the heavens themselves.

Balanced precariously on the pole, Lath raised his left leg, bending it at the knee as the wind swirled. His forehead creased in concentration.

One....

Two....

Three....

Jumping, Lath brought his left leg down as he kicked out simultaneously with his right. Landing back on the pole, he kept his balance without falling. Opening his eyes, a wide grin split his face as he looked around. He'd been attempting that maneuver for months unsuccessfully. Every time he tried, he ended up on his backside, looking up at the sky. This was the first time he had kept his balance.

Dismounting from the pole, the sound of light clapping could be heard echoing throughout the clearing. Looking behind him, Lath picked up a cloth, dabbing at his forehead slightly, covered as it was with a veneer of sweat under the burning sun. His eyes widened in surprise for a brief second before his mouth curled upwards in a wry smile.

In front of him, walking towards him was his twin sister, Laeril.

"You were always good at that sister. Sneaking up on me. When you want to disappear you just disappear, and there wouldn't be anyone alive that could find you."

The young girl approaching him was dressed in a trailing white dress. Her eyes sparkled deep blue orbs of light. Her pretty face dimpled in a faint smile. Lath embraced her before she gestured to the pole.

"Its your dream isn't it? You know they will never accept you."

Lath sat down on the floor, crossing his legs as he propped his youthful chin up in his hands. His smiled turned a little wistful, almost as if dreaming of something that he could never have. "You and me both. They'll never accept either of us. As much as we are tolerated, we aren't ever, and never will be considered one of them."

His eyes flickered over to the pole and he sighed.

"Better to dream and have it never come true than to not dream at all I guess. At least I have something to strive for, even if I never realise it. They can't stop me training, even if I do it myself."

Laeril nodded, as a look of sorrow crossed her face for a second. It was not sorrow for Lath, it was sorrow for both of them, that they would forever spend their lives as outsiders, never truly being accepted. Reaching out, she drew him in, holding him close as she hugged him.

"They can never separate us. At least we have that."

Lath smiled sadly, returning the embrace. They stood and began the long walk back to Lagiluri, simply enjoying each other's presence and company. In a world that gave them very little, at least the two siblings had that.

For one more night at least.

He never saw her again.

***

The sharp sensation of pain bit as it coursed through his body. Wincing, Lath looked down to see his right hand clenched into a fist. His nails had pierced the flesh, drawing a small amount of blood. Shaking his head, he dropped his hand to his side, taking a quick sip from his water-flask to hide the motion. The memories, as always, were bittersweet. His childhood, taken from him the way it had been.....it was a difficult pill to swallow.

It was then that he noticed that the enigmatic dark-haired man, Ma Chung Ying, had dropped back to walk next to him.

***

Ma Chung Ying had kept his eye on the young man since the very start of the commotion. So it was that out of earshot of the others, he had taken the opportunity to speak to him. The young man....he was a strange one. Ma Chung Ying could not even begin to guess at the demons that ate away at this one, as they so evidently did.

With a small smile, he bowed his head.

"There is a lot to be said for water," he began. "It is said that the drink can purify the soul, soothe a troubled heart."

Lath, looking at the flask in silence for a few seconds, closed his eyes. He took another small sip.

Ma Chung-Ying continued. "The box. I recognised the insignia straight away when I saw it. As did you, I would imagine, if what you said earlier is true and that you have already crossed the Dragonwall once before. Noone can claim to have crossed the wall and not have recognised it.....or not know what it meant."

Lath opened his eyes, turning their piercing gaze on the dark-haired man. He offered no comment in response, instead waiting for him to continue.

"So I ask you this. Why is it, outcast stranger, why is it that you are so eager to die?"

Looking at the man's impenetrable gaze for a second, Lath held his stare in his own. Then, finally, he looked away. Seconds passed.....and finally Lath answered.

"I have lived life an outcast, as you say. A nobody. A nobody who lost his link to the world that he lived in. Tell me, when the colours fade away, when there is nothing but black and white, when you realise your world and your role in it is so insignificant, so....worthless, what would you do?" Shaking his head, Lath continued, not expecting an answer, and not receiving it. "You die for something that you believe in."

Raising an eyebrow slightly, Ma Chung-Ying nevertheless nodded his head. "And what is inside the box is such that it is a worthy cause to die for."

It was not a question.

Lath nodded. "It is."

Ma Chung-Ying nodded.

"You may sleep in one of the vacant rooms tonight. It will be long time before you sleep again with a roof over your head.“

***

Going inside the inn, to the empty common room outwith them, Ma Chung Ying watched impassively as the red-haired woman, Alena, offered a seat to one of the others, another pale-haired woman who had waited back from the commotion earlier.

Sliding the chairs out from one of the tables, he pushed it aside another, joining the two together. Finally, he pushed the chairs back in. Stepping back from the group, he bowed respectfully to them.

"Allow me to bring you refreshments for your talk. Would you prefer your drink to be of the alcoholic or non-alcoholic variety?"

Taking the groups order, the proprietor then moved away to the bar to pour their drinks, leaving them to talk amongst themselves.

As he sat down with them, and as Jil made a remark that perhaps Lath could offer something of recompense to Haldemar for his stowing away, he answered.

”There is maybe one thing I can offer,” he said, looking to the merchant. “I have crossed the Dragonwall once before. I know the mountain passes of the Katakoro that lie beyond the desert. I can guide you through them to the other side.....if this is acceptable to you.”

Lath looked to Haldemar, awaiting the merchant’s response.
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Old 04-14-2020, 09:08 PM
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Tajsa tilted her head slightly, glaring at the merchant. Was he questioning her ability to aim, or to hold the bowstring taught as she awaited an answer? She listened as he and the 'child' explained the truth of their circumstance, raising the aim of her arrow while contemplating using it to knock his headdress off.

But doubt began to cloud her mind, and she lowered her bow, and turned to make her way back into the inn. It was only when she began to calm, that she realized the others were following her inside, and she remembered the words from the old man just moments before, asking them to all take the discussion inside.

She sighs, knowing there was no way around it. They would assume she was going to join them in this discussion. But she had no want to go to the Dragon Wall, much less to cross it. She just wished to finish healing, before heading back the way she came... preferably with more water and better supplies.

And yet, she found herself taking a seat at the same table as the others. A coincidence she chalked up to her own curiosity. After hooking her bow over her chair, she turns to Ma Chung Ying. "I will take the usual, please." she answers in response to his request for their orders. Her usual was a green tea, no honey, but with a slice of a local citrus fruit. She had been told that it helped in her healing.

While she waited for her drink, and for the others to begin talking, Tajsa reached up to the ceiling with both arms, clasped her hands together, and began reaching behind her, stretching her arms and arching her body forward. Her eyes were closed, and as she held the stretch, her mouth opened slightly. The taught muscles of her arms and abdomen were easy to see, as she wore nothing more than a sleeveless undershirt. Her eyes opened, just a sliver, to see if the 'child' was looking, before bring her arms back down, her eyes opening completely. "I actually had planned to go the other way, back home. I need convincing to come along." she states simply, honestly.

 

 

 
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Old 04-15-2020, 06:33 PM
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As the group settled around the table Alena's nostrils suddenly flared violently as the sweet coppery smell of fresh blood caressed her olfactory senses. Her body tensed and she felt an answering throb in her mouth as the gums above her canines began to pulse with want. The dark circle rimming her yellow irises began to slowly, but surely change color. From black, to chocolate, to brown, to copper, to rust. Until it formed a very noticeable blood-red divider line between the clear amber of Alena's irises, and the stark white of her sclera.

And still the torturous scent wafted seductively in Alena's direction. The muscles in the vampire's jaw bulged as she clenched it painfully. Her eyes found the young man with laser precision and bore into him. The eyes of a predator! Alena whimpered softly. She couldn't help it! It was a natural bodily reaction. If the boy was still alive and drawing breath was a testament to the self-control the vampire cleric had achieved since separating herself from her clan. She took a deep breath, attempting to relieve some of the pressure. Her mouth still throbbed with bloodlust and her eyes saw in hews of red, but she somehow managed to draw her attention back to the conversation.

Alena waited and listened intently, her attention drawn to the frail looking woman who'd offered the young man a place in her caravan. There was wisdom in her words beyond her looks. It was quite obvious to Alena this was a woman of experience. She had the baring of one who'd lived through much, but also the wisdom of one who knew she needn't flaunt it. The cleric captain felt a sort of kinship to her. Surrounded by these 'children' she couldn't help but feel... Old wasn't quite the right word, but she felt almost warn. Like an old pair of traveler's boots that needed resoling.

Alena was pulled out of her geriatric thoughts by an expansive motion from the young woman who'd held Haldemar, the merchant, at bow-point. She was stretching almost leisurely, her eyes tracking to the young man. A soft chuckle escaped Alena, a glinting canine peeking from her curled lip. She shook her head thinking, children indeed.

"My name is Alena Provost." She spoke when there was a lull in the conversation. Her red-rimmed irises focused for a moment on each and everyone at the table. Her body was still coiled tight, from her steely self-restraint. "I come from a place I'm sure none of you have any knowledge of. I have no path back home. And so I have come to view this world of yours as my new home. I have heard tales of this land beyond the Dragonwall. You could say my intention to cross beyond the wall is a personal pilgrimage of a sort. If there are more of us traveling in the same direction, then traveling together seems like a wise plan indeed."

Alena swung her gaze in the direction of the female merchant and nodded her head in a silent agreement.

The blood cleric felt a quiet presence in the back of her mind. Sounetar's watchful eye was upon her. But her patron stayed quiet, opting against interfering with any words. Still, Alena felt some of the pressure in her body dissipate. The red ring around her irises remained ever present, but the acute throb in her canines lessened to a dull sensation she could easily ignore and her posture slackened visibly compared to the tension that held her upright but a moment ago.


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Old 04-17-2020, 02:28 PM
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Enter TsenyaHaldemar took a seat at the table, still eyeing the young man Lath suspiciously.

”Warm tea,” he grumbled, eyes still boring a hole into Lath. With honey,” he added.

“As for your offer, thanks but no thanks,” Haldemar growled. “The last thing I need on my journey east is a thief.”

Lath shook his head.

”I haven’t stole anything from you. I took a ride and I’m offering to pay you back for what I did by guiding you through the mountains on the other side, mountains that have claimed the lives of many who did not know their way,” the young man shot right back, his eyes drifting down to the golden lockbox that Haldemar still carried in his hands.

There was a hungry, almost covetous look in his eyes as he gazed at the lockbox.

”If the mountains are so dangerous, how did you of all people make it through?”

Beginning to reply to the insufferable merchant, Lath began to speak then thought better of it. It was that precise moment that his eyes shifted across the table towards Tajsa as the archer raised her arms. His eyes widened as they lingered on her muscled arms and abdomen for a second before realising that he was staring, blushed and then quickly diverted them again. He hoped that the attractive woman hadn’t noticed him staring before his eyes moved over to the others.

”It.....doesn’t matter how I got across the mountains. I did, and I’m here, and that’s what matters.”

When Tajsa spoke that she wasn’t planning on making the trip, that she was, in fact wanting to head in the other direction, Lath felt his heart sink somewhat. As a voice he had heard once before a long time ago echoed in his head he found himself speaking up suddenly.

“I hope you do make the trip.....,” he said, “There are many many beautiful sights across the mountains, amazing and wondrous places that I don’t think exist anywhere else in Faerun.”

As the conversation was occurring, another pair of eyes was watching them from behind a door at the back of the room. Watching, and taking it all in, the figure sighed softly, unseen.
”Surely the fates are wrong,” a feminine voice whispered to herself. ”They can’t be the ones.....they can’t even agree amongst themselves. And they are supposed to protect me from the Emperor?”

Continuing to watch, she sighed again as she prepared to step forwards.

***

Ma Chung Ying returned soon with the drinks ordered to find an awkward tension hanging in the air. It was perhaps to be expected with such a group of disparate characters in close proximity to one other. Most of the group had sat in one place, with a couple of them separate. Vanithessa kept herself separate to the group, and the door opened as Haj came in, dressed now for her breakfast.

As he placed the drinks delicately down on the table he kept his head bowed deferentially. The tea came in delicate cups made of ivory, the sort of cups that wouldn’t be seen in the Western Heartlands. The aroma that came from the cups was delightful.

”I took the liberty of making you a cup too, honoured guest嘉宾,“ he said to Haj as he placed one of the delicate cups down in front of her.

It was then that the red-haired pale skinned woman began to speak.

"I come from a place I'm sure none of you have any knowledge of. I have no path back home. And so I have come to view this world of yours as my new home. I have heard tales of this land beyond the Dragonwall. You could say my intention to cross beyond the wall is a sort of a personal pilgrimage of a sort. If there are more of us traveling in the same direction, then traveling together seems like a wise plan indeed."

The sound of a door opening could be heard echoing from the back of the room. At the sound, Ma Chung Ying looked up, appearing slightly startled now for the first time that morning. The woman that stepped into the room was very attractive, with long black hair falling down to the center of her back. She was wearing burnished red armour embossed in its center with a golden sigil. On her shoulder, coming down behind her, was a cloak made of velvet silk.


Her dark eyes scanned the room as Ma Chung Ying came up to her.

”Forgive me milady, but is this wise?”

Looking to him, she smiled warmly as she laid a hand on his shoulder.

”Do not fear my friend. Everything is as it needs to be. You have done well.”

She walked over, and as she did so she cast her eyes over towards Haldemar.

”Merchant Haldemar,” her voice was exotic, with an almost musical lilt to her words.

Her eyes danced with amusement at the merchant’s look of surprise that she knew his name. “I shall be frank. I need passage over the Dragonwall and the mountains. I hear that you can take me.”

Haldemar, his eyes never leaving the strange lady who came towards him with an almost regal bearing, took a sip of tea.

”I....forgive me milady, you have an advantage over me it seems. Who are you?”

The woman smiled as she sat down next to him. “You can call me Tsenya,” she said simply. ”What is more important is that I can pay you a great deal of gold for your help.”

Her dark eyes sparkled as she leaned forwards. “More than you can possibly imagine.”

Staring at her, almost held in a trance by her gaze, Haldemar felt his throat go dry as the woman continued to speak. ”Of course, I will also need some guards for the trip. Do you perhaps know where I could find some suitable ones?”
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Old 04-18-2020, 04:08 PM
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While she had been teasing the boy, who claimed to be an adult, Tajsa's true interests lie in the three women who had watched the events outside unfold. More specifically, she watching for the woman with the crossbow return. Hodge? Hashe?

The red haired warrior seated at the table spoke up, announcing that she now viewed this world as her new home, and that she wished to join the merchant and the child in crossing the Dragonwall. Tajsa took a slow sip of her tea, eyeing the strange woman, with her stranger still accent. She wasn't quite sure what to make of her words. Did she believe herself to be from some other world? Or did she intend to mean she was not from the region?

There was also the Grey Elf who was already seated at the table. She too seemed willing and almost eager to travel with the merchant. She had made this clear quite early in the discussion, and then had fallen silent since. Tajsa looked across the table to her, and smiled slightly. Mother had always told her of how high-minded some Grey Elves were. But she also emphasized that it was just a stereotype, not a truth for all. ~ 'Take each person you meet as a blank slate.' she remembered her mother telling her. 'Let them write their own story, don't write it for them.'

It was then that Tajsa turned her attention back toward the entrance, wondering once again where Hage was. Even as she watched, a ghost of a memory whispered to her, suggesting that there had been someone else among the audience. Someone who had watched, but had said and done nothing.

She was about to look around, wanting something to distract her, when a melodious voice sounded from somewhere behind Tajsa's seat, convincing her to turn her head slightly to take a peak at from whom the voice belonged. What she saw made Tajsa's mind stop wishing for a distraction. Tajsa found her dumbstruck and unable to even pretend disinterest.

At Haldemar's request for guards, Tajsa, who had only moments before challenged them to persuade her to join, was now the first to speak up. "I'll go. I'm an excellent marksman, and a survivor." she announces, her eyes still not moving from Tsenya's face.

 

 

 
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