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Thread: [M] The Sword and the Fang [Namingtoohard & Ashen]

  1. #51
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    Lec paused. Surely they had misheard their companion. Issa's tattoo was too jagged, edges too perfectly sculpted, to be anything less than an artist's careful work with a needle. Regardless, the similarities were so striking. Even if Issa's dark mark was more angular, more intimidating, the shape was the same, the curve of a sea, or perhaps a claw, and the way it curled in on itself. It was as if their marks were born of the same artist, but Lec had had theirs at birth. They just couldn't believe someone else would ever be able to claim the same.

    Issa's lax tone didn't make any sense. Didn't he see how crazy this was? But how could he, they realized, when he could not see their own chest? He must not have noticed it during their first meeting, or their second, but there were too many other things to notice, too many things new to notice some discoloration of skin. They wanted to grab him, to demand he give them answers for this coincidence, but from the way he looked at them, the carefree way he spoke... Did he really think nothing of this?

    When he moved his clothes away, Lec studied the mark once more. They hesitated, not knowing what to say or even think. Touched by a goddess. They repeated the phrase in their head. Surely just a throwaway line from some old bat of the Lucet--right? Or was it possible that Lec, too, was chosen by a god? Did the Evimairians and Lucets even believe in the same gods? No, there was no way this could happen naturally, no explainable way two people from such different places would be brought together like this.

    Before they could stop themselves, Lec inched closer to Issa, and they ran their fingers over foreign skin. They expected it to feel different, as if they would feel the jagged scars, the oily ink, something. But to their surprise, Issa's chest felt smooth, tight, ordinary, as if it did not hold such a mystery. It didn't make any sense. He was claiming to not know what a tattoo was at all, but this proof under their fingertips, the proof on their own chest--it had to be more than coincidence.

    They suddenly looked up at him, hands still caught frozen on his chest, blue-brown eyes burning with the millions of questions left unasked. Issa had asked them things, about human culture, and they needed to answer him, or apologize for touching him like this. The need to respond to him, to apologize to him, to draw back their hand was silenced by curiosity, disbelief, excitement. Lec struggled to find anything to say to capture their thoughts, then tugged at the edge of their hood. The shirt, not meant to be stretched, barely gave way to their own dark mark. Lec pouted awkwardly, then looked around. They could verbalize no explanation, and this place was too public to show him what they meant. So, Lec grabbed the book from where it had been abandoned on the grass, and they stood. "Sorry," they mumbled, finally, hesitantly. "Sorry, we should-- You should-- Can you, um, follow me, please?"

    Not waiting for a response, they took Issa's hand and led him away from the park. If Issa had any questions or protests during their walk, Lec couldn't hear them over the incessant drumming of their own thoughts. They walked him to their inn, led him to their room, and once inside, they motioned for him to take a seat on their bed. They needed to apologize, for the silence, for touching him like that, for being so damn awkward, but they had to show him. They needed him to know that they were connected, somehow.

    They disappeared into the small bathroom connected to the room. They returned without their shirt, arms stubbornly crossed over their chest in an attempt at modesty. Issa would be able to see now their own mark, just as black, crafted of the same image as his own. They waited for him to take it in, to understand their rude behavior. "I was born with this, too," they explained, voice small, fragile. "When we--erm, humans--when a human is born with a mark, it's usually small, usually red or maybe purple, never black, never so precise as these. I was an anomaly for this, and I never knew what it meant. No one knew. I just moved on. But..." They met his gaze again. A small hope settled in their throat as they asked, "You said your elder knows something about this?"
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  2. #52
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    Issa bore his guide’s scrutiny with good-natured amusement, blissfully unaware as to the true source of their curiosity. Lec’s unexpected fascination was almost endearing, and seemed to confirm what the Lucet had already begun to suspect. It was strange, to think that their races were alike in so many ways, but different in such a basic one. Even so, Issa couldn’t help but feel pleased with himself. After a day and a half spent exploring the human town and learning about their culture, he had managed to teach his guide something new about his own people. That fact felt oddly gratifying. That knowledge was oddly gratifying.

    Issa made no move to pull away when Lec reached out to touch his chest. He had pulled his furs down without shame or hesitation, and saw no reason to deny them. Still, the feather-light brush of their fingertips against his skin felt more…intimate than Issa had been expecting, somehow. It was enough to make him break out in goosebumps, and the Lucet only just managed to suppress a shiver. The questions that had slipped from his tongue so easily just a few seconds before remained forgotten, albeit momentarily, when their eyes met. For once, Issa felt okay saying nothing.

    Then the moment seemed to pass. Lec withdrew, turned away, and Issa was left with the distinct impression that he had done something wrong. Was that sort of thing not okay in human society, then? That certainly seemed to be the case. What else could have made Lec so flustered? Kind Lec, who was normally so eager to answer their questions, reduced to comparative silence by his own thoughtless actions. Another impulse he had failed to control, with consequences he hadn’t paused to think about. Stupid.

    With eyes lowered, Issa quickly shifted his furs back into their proper place, covering the markings on his chest once more. He was just in time for Lec to take his hand, with another polite request that he follow. The Lucet was quick to obey, climbing to his feet and falling in behind Lec without complaint. Assuming that their attempts at teaching him to read were over for the day, Issa mumbled a question about where they were going next, but his words seemed to fall on deaf ears. Another condemnation of his actions, or perhaps unspoken proof that he wasn’t going to like the answer? Had Lec grown sick of them, and decided to send them home? That possibility stung even more.

    Such fears were quickly alleviated when the two of them slipped into another of the human buildings. Issa glanced around the inn’s common room, his sense of curiosity renewed slightly, but wasn’t given much time to take in the details before they were heading up the stairs. Once they were safely ensconced inside Lec’s room, Issa took a seat as instructed, folding both of his hands into his lap. When his human guide disappeared into the adjoining room, Issa glanced around briefly, taking in his new surroundings. They seemed…basic, compared to the larger room that he had glimpsed downstairs. Empty, almost. Even so, there were still new oddities to catch his attention. If not for the blankets and pillows, Issa almost would have mistaken his perch for a very soft seat, but…was this perhaps where the humans slept? He bounced in place a little, as if testing it out, one hand idly running over the fabric beside him.

    Such idle musings were interrupted by Lec’s return. Issa looked up, ready to ask another question, only for it to die on his lips. The Lucet’s eyes widened in something akin to shock, and his cheeks quickly coloured themselves a suitable shade of red. He was too stunned to close his mouth, or look away, as would have been polite. It was a few seconds before his mind started working enough to wonder why Lec had decided to do this, and it took a few seconds more for him to take proper note of the black pattern that marked Lec’s own chest. That was something familiar he could fixate on, something safe. What’s more, the pieces of the puzzle finally started to fall into place. Now he understood. More than he had a few minutes earlier, at the very least.

    “That’s…”

    The first thing Issa intended to say also fell short. The Lucet rose from his seat slowly, before taking a small, unsteady step forward, his gaze fixated on Lec’s birthmark. It was…gentler than the one that marked Issa’s own chest. Less jagged edges, and more flowing curves. Even so, the resemblance was unmistakable. A part of him wanted to get a closer look, maybe even touch it, as Lec had done with his. Thankfully, the Lucet had enough presence of mind to stop himself from going quite that far. Lec already looked uncomfortable enough.

    “I’ve never known a human to be marked by the goddess before. Heck, I never would have even thought it possible.” The Lucet’s voice was soft, barely more than a whisper. Reverent, almost. Issa dragged his gaze back up to Lec’s face while he spoke, but it was only a few seconds before it inevitably flickered downwards again.

    And just how many humans have you actually known?

    Issa shoved the useless thought aside. His brain finally seemed to catch up with his mouth, and the Lucet finally realised that the human had asked a question. He forced himself to return to his seat on the edge of the bed and take a deep breath, before running a hand through his hair idly as he contemplated how best to answer.

    “Our elder, she…she was the one who told me what the birthmark means, but she never really explained what it meant…if that makes sense.” Issa absentmindedly traced the lines of his own mark as he spoke, obscured by his furs though it was. “Her answers were always too cryptic for me to understand, so I gave up on asking at some point. I never knew if it really had some sort of greater meaning, or it was just another thing she would say. But now, looking at this…it can’t be a coincidence, right?”

    The question hung in the air for a moment, before the Lucet finally remembered himself. Issa turned his head to the side, away from Lec, and picked a particularly interesting section of empty wall to stare at, instead of his topless guide.

    “Um…you can probably put your shirt back on now. I think you made your point…uh, if you want to, of course” he offered awkwardly. Just in case.

  3. #53
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    The human shrunk under Issa’s scrutiny. They were a performer, were used to being front and center on a stage among a gathered crowd, but this gentle, careful, respectful gaze Issa was giving them felt far different. They reminded themselves that they had done the same thing to him just minutes ago, in the park, studying the mark that tied them together, somehow. Still, they could not fathom what it meant. If they were a human marked by a goddess… Lec’s gaze fell as they struggled to think of a reason a Lucet deity would touch human flesh. Their mark couldn’t have been that. But Issa was right—it couldn’t have been coincidence, either, not when their chests contained the same unmistakable spiral of shadow.

    They looked up again when Issa moved, and his words reminded them of the ridiculousness of the situation. They had brought a near-stranger back to their room, an incredibly handsome one, and now they were naked in front of him. Did Issa’s people have the same conventions about modesty, or had those storybook illustrations been accurate about the ever-naked beasts of the Lucet? Lec found it difficult now to imagine Issa like those creates drawn in those children’s stories, but they didn’t know enough about his culture to rule it out. Issa was learning so much about Evimaire, about humanity; Lec felt ignorant in comparison. The blushes rose to their cheeks, and they choked out a, “Right,” before retreating again into the adjoined room.

    Lec returned in their borrowed shirt, and they paced the small room. “I’ve never met anyone who knew anything about this,” they admitted, gesturing to their now concealed birthmark. “It’s always been… just some weird stain under my skin. Something to set me apart from the other kids, along with… well, everything else. When I was younger, I thought maybe it had something to do with my magic. You know, people have to train years and decades to get magic right, and I’ve never even met anyone, not even an elder, who could do what I can. But if a Lucet has it too, then that doesn’t make sense, because I’ve never heard of a Lucet that could wield magic. …Right?” They met Issa’s gaze. They recalled the way he’d looked at their magic before, the fear in his eyes at the fire from the forest, the fascination in their wave. No, Lucet did not have magic; Lec at least knew that. “So then, I don’t know what that means for either of us.”

    They paused, and the confusion fell from their face. If Issa’s elder had some wisdom to offer, however cryptic, wasn’t it worth hearing her out? Would a Lucet matriarch even want to talk with a human mage? Lec had spent so long wondering about their mark, about who they were, who they were meant to be. If there were possible answers, even if they were from the leader of their enemy, wasn’t it worth a try?

    Lec met Issa’s eye again. They studied the deep hue, and a memory flashed in their mind, of fangs, of blood. A subconscious hand reached for their neck and the pale scars left there. Their body trembled at the memory, the one they longed to forget. How could they ever step foot in that forest again? But if Issa was with them…

    They cleared their throat, and their gaze fell to the floor. “Can I… meet her?” they asked, voice small. “Maybe two heads would be better than one, I mean, for understanding her, and if she can shed some light on us—this, our marks, and what they mean, if they mean anything—they don’t have to mean anything, of course; maybe it is just coincidence.” A nervous chuckle escaped them, and they shrugged their shoulders. Of course it wasn’t a coincidence, but putting their faith into Issa, into his people, dangerous as they were… What was Lec thinking?

    They cleared their throat again. “A goddess wouldn’t touch me,” Lec said, too confident in their lack of worth. “Especially not a goddess from a nation I’ve been taught to hate. It doesn’t make sense, but… none of this does. So… hearing someone try to make sense of it… can’t hurt.” Whether they were trying to convince Issa or themselves was anyone’s guess. They shook their head, hating their indecisiveness.

    “I’m sorry,” they said, finally. Their gaze flicked to the now forgotten book they’d been reading together. Lesson done for the day, they shifted awkwardly. “What…” they started, confidence dwindling on their tongue. “What… do you think? Would your elder… Do you think she would even talk to me? Or would she just… kill me?” Irrational as the thought might have been, Lec’s voice still cracked on the syllable, and another nervous chuckle tried to cover it up. “That’s a stupid question,” they admitted, though their breath still hitched in their throat, awaiting Issa’s reply.
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  4. #54
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    Feeling considerably more composed now that Lec had put their shirt back on, Issa did his best to remain focused on the matter at hand. It was proving a touch difficult, however, given how casually their guide kept sharing interesting new details about the humans’ magical abilities. The Lucet’s ability to transform into animals had always felt very natural. Instinctual, even. Lucet children often manifested the ability early, and employed it liberally whilst playing with their peers – a fact that made looking after them both very amusing, and very challenging. To hear that the humans had to practice for so long to master their skills…Issa could scarcely imagine it. The focus and dedication that such intense training likely required seemed beyond him. Were human cubs prone to accidents, then? How did they tell if someone had magic to begin with?

    Just as intriguing was the knowledge that Lec was somehow different from the rest of them. Their wording made it sound as if they were better, somehow, but Issa couldn’t even begin to guess at the specifics. Were they stronger? Quicker? More versatile? Something else entirely? The questions lingered, right on the tip of Issa’s tongue. He tried to remember all the magic he had watched Lec perform, as if searching for clues, but…the markings. Right. This was important. He needed to focus.

    Issa forcibly turned his attention back to their current discussion, just in time to meet Lec’s eyes. The movement of their hand inevitably drew the Lucet’s attention to the scars on their neck. How hadn’t he noticed them before now? Where had Lec gotten them? More questions, with no time to ask them, and nary an answer to be seen.

    Lec finally posed a question of their own. One that, from the sounds of it, Issa was actually expected to answer. He pursed his lips briefly as he considered the possibility. His gaze climbed upwards, as if he were expecting to find the answer etched into the wood above. Ever-restless, the Lucet would shift in his seat a little, pulling both of his legs up onto the bed and crossing them, before gripping them idly with his hands. Despite Lec’s assertions that his own question was stupid, Issa seemed to be giving it fair consideration.

    “I’m not sure” Issa offered slowly, as if trying to buy himself a little more time to think. “I doubt our elder would order you killed. She spends a lot of time talking about how life is the gift of the goddess, and not to be wasted. Heck, she discourages us from hunting any more than necessary to feed ourselves.” he offered. A soft chuckle slipped from the Lucet’s lips at the thought. Hunting without cause was, after all, the very thing that had led to him meeting Lec for the first time, albeit indirectly. Sadly, his good cheer wouldn’t last.

    “She tells us to kill any humans who venture too deep, but I’ve never gotten the impression that she wants us to. I think she’s just more concerned with protecting our home than her beliefs. If she spoke to you, realized that you weren’t a threat…” Issa started, before trailing off. He was getting a little too ahead of himself, wasn’t he? The Lucet took a deep breath and forced himself to reevaluate.

    “She’s not the one we would need to worry about, though. Not really. If any of the other Lucet were to see us making our way towards the village…” Issa would trail off momentarily, his subconscious providing some relatively unhelpful images. Suggestions as to what might happen, if they were caught prematurely. The Lucet would tap his fingers against his thigh idly as he tried to figure out how best to phrase this. “…Lets just say that most of the Lucet aren’t quite as open-minded as I am. Even if I try and stop them, they might not give me a chance to explain before they try and attack you.” Lec was capable of defending themselves, he knew, but Issa didn’t particularly like the idea of the mage injuring his family, either. The Lucet chewed on his lower lip idly for a moment, gaze distant, as he considered their options.

    “I could go to her myself, maybe. Ask for permission to bring you into the village, or tell her what we’ve discovered, and bring her answers back to you. If she decides that she doesn’t want me meeting with a human, though, she could stop me from coming back here for…well, ever.” The final words were spoken softly, and in tandem with Issa’s expression, it was abundantly clear what he thought of that possibility. “I suppose its just…really a question of what we’re willing to risk to find answers.”

    The Lucet would fall silent again, at least for a moment, his expression…contemplative. After a moment, his gaze would settle on the book Lec had been using to teach him, and Issa would perk up a little. He’d straighten in his seat, struck by another possibility.

    “Is there any chance we might find the answer in one of your book thingies? There were so many of them in that place you showed me before. Maybe one of those stories has the answers we’re looking for” Issa asked, sounding much more optimistic than just a few moments earlier.

    Anything to avoid having the human settlement, and all of its wonders, taken away from him again.

  5. #55
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    Issa seemed to consider Lec’s suggestion, as ridiculous as it seemed, and he seemed to weigh the dangers of it, which made Lec feel considerably more at ease. Maybe they weren’t being as paranoid as they thought. But the way Issa spoke of his elder gave Lec pause. A Lucet leader who discouraged her tribe from hunting more than necessary… That was the exact opposite of the stereotypes Lec had been taught about the bloodthirsty beasts who would kill without provocation. If they were connected to a Lucet, and if they were going to be spending more time with him, it was high time to unlearn these stereotypes. However, if that involved venturing back into that cursed forest and meeting with more of the beasts…

    Old pains snaked back to their neck, a reminder that the stereotypes weren’t all untrue. Even Issa thought that his family would attack them. Perhaps they were right to worry. Lec thought of the last time they’d been in the Lucet forest, the day they’d first met Issa. They had been able to defend themselves how they needed to because their brother had been there. If not for Soren, would they have been able to bite through the fears suffocating them? Next time, what would happen when they were alone against the beasts who had tried to kill them before?

    They were not a violent person. Lec took solace in that, and they tried to shove aside thoughts of the terror they could cause, the unfounded revenge they could exact. It would be safer for everyone if they did not go back there. Instead, they too thought about Issa talking with his elder alone, but those ideas were slashed when Issa admitted that may keep him away from them. Lec couldn’t stand the thought of that, not after finding out they were connected in such a mysterious way. If the elder came to the border between their lands, instead of Lec going to her, maybe then they could talk, but they struggled to imagine the tribe would let their leader get so close to their enemies. Lec lost themselves in thought, the rhythm of Issa’s incessant movements a comforting metronome in the background. Before they could think of anything else, Issa made a new suggestion.

    The library. Lec shook their head slowly. “I’ve been going to our library since I was born,” they murmured. “My mother and I would go there multiple times a week when I was a kid, just to look for… an explanation. We pored over every book they had about magic, about its history, or about symbols connected to it, even biographies of famous mages; all sorts of stuff. But we couldn’t find anything about my… our… marks.” They tried to remember how long it had been since they’d been looking. Their mother had still been around, then. “They could have updated their collection since then,” they added, a drop of hope in their voice. “Maybe they got some books from abroad, or maybe new research has come out since then… Yes, I’ll have to check. I’ll even check the books we have on Lucet customs. Admittedly there aren’t many, and most of them have been… vandalized.” Lec’s eyes met Issa’s for a moment. They were embarrassed to admit how much their people hated his, and how little they actually knew that didn’t stem from that hatred. Once Issa left, and after they’d had a chance to calm down from all this, maybe a chance to check on their brother again, they would head to the library and lose themselves in research, just like they had when they were a kid, just like their mother had taught them.

    But for now, that didn’t help them. Lec shifted awkwardly, still trying to think of how to include Issa’s elder without getting her to forbid Issa’s trips here. “Could you ask her…? Your elder, I mean. Can’t you ask her to explain the legend, again? Maybe even write it down so I can read—ah.” They hesitated. “Sorry, I forgot.” Cheeks darkening, they turned away and chewed their bottom lip. “I want to hear her out, but I don’t want you taken away from me.” They looked up at him then, and, as they realized what they’d said, their cheeks turned darker. “Because this is the first hint I’ve ever had,” they said in a rush, “and I don’t want to lose that just because some old woman thinks we’re monsters.” A pathetic save, Lec tried not to settle on it. “Would it be possible to sneak away from her anyway? If she tells you not to come here. The forest is pretty big, right? She can’t know where you are all the time.”

    They had no idea what they were asking of him, and they were painfully aware of that. They’d spent too long looking for answers to let it slip away now. If Issa didn’t come back, they’d march into that forest and talk to him themselves… or so they told themselves. The things that were there, the beasts, the claws and the talons and the blood. They could feel their hands start to shake at the memories. But they had to find a way, somehow. They just hope Issa felt similarly.
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  6. #56
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    Ah. Right. Of course Lec had already tried searching for the library. As soon as the they spoke the words aloud, it made perfect sense. The human had expressed such an earnest desire to find out the truth, to understand the origins and meaning of their strange markings. In hindsight, it seemed like a very safe assumption that they had exhausted all of the means regularly available to them. That must be why they were so fixated on Issa, and the small glimmer of hope that the Lucet elder’s stories offered. Despite Lec’s attempts at reassurance, Issa couldn’t help but feel foolish for needing to ask. Another case of his mouth moving before his brain could stop it, apparently.

    The mere mention of books written about the Lucet was enough to garner Isaa’s attention, however. A small silver lining in an otherwise useless tangent. He straightened up a little at the mention, both amused and excited by the prospect of reading a human’s thoughts on his people. Would it be a silly story, or a serious one? A retelling of the writer’s own experiences, or some sort of observation? If he really wanted to learn to read the human’s writing, then perhaps he could make reading such a book on his own his first goal. That seemed like a good way to keep himself motivated.

    The excitement didn’t last, however. When Lec mentioned that the books had been vandalized, Issa seemed to deflate visibly. That simple word, spoken so casually, did an excellent job of quashing his enthusiasm. Issa saw enough judgement in the eyes of those he passed. Even Lec’s own movements, however subtle, drew his attention to the scars on their neck frequently enough. The last thing he needed was a much more visible, more tangible reminder of how unwelcome he was here. Despite Lec’s attempts to make him feel otherwise. Suddenly eager to move on, he let the topic slip away without another word.

    Issa finally opened his mouth to speak again, but hesitated briefly after Lec's next words. They didn’t want him to leave permanently either? That was a heart-warming thought, after the previous line of discussion. But…they had selfish reasons, apparently, if Lec’s words were to be trusted. Did he believe that? Their mannerisms made him wonder. Just what was he to make of all this? It wasn’t until a few moments later that Issa realized Lec was still waiting on him to answer. Right. He was supposed to be focusing. The Lucet did his best to drag his wandering attention back to the matter at hand again.

    “I’m sure I could sneak away, if I really wanted to. The forest is a big place, and its hard to confine or track someone who can change forms at will. Its just…” Issa hesitated for a brief moment, as if to gather his thoughts. Unable to sit still any longer, he’d climb to his feet and begin to pace the length of the room, back and forth, as if hoping the action might spur his brain into similar motion. The thought made him uncomfortable, for reasons that he was having trouble articulating.

    “We don’t normally disobey our elder like that. We might squabble sometimes. We might argue, or even fight. Heck, I’ve broken our rules more than once. But at the end of the day, we’re all a single pack. A single family. All the Lucet understand that. We don’t go against each other, even when we disagree. Not on the big stuff. Its not like we’re…well, humans.” As soon as the words had left Issa’s mouth, he regretted them. A wry smile flickered across his features, echoing the sentiment. Just a few moments ago, he had been heartbroken by the humans’ prejudices, and yet here he was, labeling them in the exact same way. The hypocrisy of his own words wasn’t lost on Issa, and they stung worse than any sort of hornet could manage. Besides, hadn’t he already crossed some sort of line, by coming to see the human settlement in the first place? Issa froze in place as he considered the thought, before shaking his head, as if to brush them aside.

    “I…sorry. Never mind. Yes, I could sneak away if I really needed to. Give me a little bit of time to learn the way, and I could probably even find this building again. Zip back and forth as a bird, without needing you to come all the way out to the forest and pick me up each morning. I think I could speak to the Elder about the markings without raising too many suspicions, too. The first time, at least.” Finally, the Lucet turned his gaze back to Lec properly. Goddess above, was he really considering this? He wanted to repay Lec somehow, but this felt like a big risk, for potentially little reward. “I don’t think it’s a perfect solution. I wouldn’t know what sort of questions you’d ask. I can’t promise she’d tell me any more than she did the first time, either, but…I guess it’s a start. Better than nothing, right?”

  7. #57
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    Lec had noticed the smile evaporating on Issa’s lips at their mindless comment. To them, it was obvious that anything relating to the Lucet in Evimaire would be vandalized, but to Issa, it must have been the reminder that he and his people were despised in these lands, a reminder Lec wished they hadn’t voiced. The guilt ate at them, silent, through their conversation. The politics of their people were bigger than either of them, framing their entire relationship. What were they but two fools stoking an asinine flame? Lec turned from Issa, a darkened expression overtaking their face. The differences between their nations should have meant nothing to them, but they didn’t know how to ignore them.

    They returned their attention to Issa when he explained his family dynamic. Lec raised a brow. It was hard for them to imagine the closeness of the Lucet community, and they were surprised to hear of the amount of respect held within their ranks. Now that they thought of it, they had never heard of a Lucet war like they had the human wars, no fighting between their own. Lec had always assumed that was because no human would bother trying to learn or document Lucet history, but maybe there was a different reason. They tried to imagine such a world, with firm family values and a sense of safety between each other, but they were pulled from their thoughts when Issa contrasted his family to humans.

    The words bit into them too harshly. True their families wouldn’t be governed by the same rules, but they didn’t want to believe human ones were worse off. But then, didn’t they have their own family to look at for that? The resentment they held for their father was rivaled only by the resentment they held for their mother, who had left with no warning, betraying her family in a way Lec felt they could never forgive. They tried to shake it off, tried to convince themselves the state of their family was not their fault, and that Issa hadn’t meant to imply anything negative about human culture, but the shame settled in their throat, and no matter how hard they swallowed, they could not let it go.

    They couldn’t meet Issa’s gaze again. Lec made their way to the window, where they stared out at the empty street below. The inn wasn’t far from the border, and they were sure Issa would learn the way quickly, but they didn’t like the idea of him traveling in the city alone. They wondered what might happen if anyone saw him and Lec wasn’t there to protect him. Was it worth that sort of risk? No, they thought, absolutely not. They shook their head. “You shouldn’t disobey your elder like that,” they mumbled, a shrug half-heartedly meeting their shoulders. “I’ve gone twenty-three years without knowing what this means. I don’t need to know now.” Even as they said it, the sentiment ached. To be so close to answers, and then to turn them away… But Lec didn’t want to get in the way of Issa’s family, and they didn’t want to endanger him any more than they already had.

    They shook their head, and they struggled to bring a smile to their lips when they turned to face the room. “Never mind that,” they said with a wave of the hand. “Are you hungry? You must be hungry. We should go get something to eat. The inn has a kitchen downstairs, so I can get us something from there. Here, actually, I’ll be right back.”

    Lec didn’t wait for a reply. They started out of the room, only using food as an excuse to get away from the situation. The day had been a whirlwind of emotion already, and it wasn’t even sundown. They felt like a fool for asking Issa for so much, and they couldn’t understand why he’d accepted. Was his mark so important to him, too, that he was willing to betray his matriarch for answers? Or was there some other reason— No, Lec was being dumb in even entertaining the thought. They made their way to the kitchen, where they graciously accepted two cheap meals from the chef. Just before they could leave to return to their room, the chef stopped them.

    “You’ll be performing tonight, no?” she asked, smile meeting her eyes. “My daughter loves watching you dance. She wants to be a mage just like you when she grows up.”

    The color drained from Lec’s face. “… Tonight?” they repeated. Their eyes shot towards the window to judge how much sunlight they had left to practice. Issa. Did they even have time to get him home safely? Lec turned back to the chef and bowed in appreciation. “I hope she enjoys the show,” they said before scurrying back to their room.

    When they returned, they set one of the meals down for Issa and placed their own on the dresser. They hadn’t been hungry before, but now their appetite was totally lost. “Look, Issa,” they murmured, awkwardly forming their hands into subconscious signs. “There’s been a misunderstanding, and I have work tonight, here at the inn. I need to practice. It’s so I can keep living here, so it’s very important.” As they looked around the room, they realized they had no costume, no paint for their face, nothing. Did they have time to run to their father’s house and grab something from there?

    Lost in their thoughts, they consciously pulled themselves back to the present, and they cleared their throat. “I, um, dance,” they added. “With magic, usually. Not many people can, so even if I’m not a very good dancer, my abilities still keep the crowds coming. I… need to get ready, and that will mean going back to… to my father’s place.” Their face was aflame in embarrassment. They didn’t want Issa to know the struggle they were in. “It’s getting dark,” they continued. “I don’t want you to walk back by yourself. You don’t know the way yet, and it’s dangerous.” They sighed. Were they really about to…? “Do you want to come with me?” they offered. “It will be quick, just picking up a few things, and then the performance should be an hour, two max, and then I can walk you home. It will be dark then. Will your elder mind?” They shifted awkwardly. Would they even be able to perform while so emotional? They supposed they didn’t have a choice.
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    Issa waited patiently as Lec wandered over towards the bedroom window, presumably contemplating his suggestions. When their answer came, however, it was…not what the Lucet had been expecting. Not by a long shot. Issa’s brow furrowed, as if he couldn’t believe what the human were saying. They had been so eager before. So excited. Now he was supposed to believe that it didn’t matter to them after all? That they could wait even longer to get answers? No. Issa wasn’t fooled by that. Not for a moment. His suggestions might not have been perfect, but any semblance of an answer had to be better than nothing at all, surely. If Lec didn’t want him to say anything on their behalf, so be it. He would simply have to investigate under his own initiative.

    Before Issa could voice such thoughts, however, Lec quickly changed the topic. The Lucet hadn’t felt particularly hungry, but only because he had been distracted. The mere mention of food was enough to make Issa realize that yes, he could eat. One hand slid to his stomach absentmindedly, before he gave a single nod. Then Lec was gone. Their departure was so abrupt, so curt, that Issa simply had to accept that the moment to object had passed him by. It seemed like a strong hint that Lec didn’t want to discuss the topic anymore, even if Issa felt as if he had more to say. If that was the case, so be it. He’d mind his tongue until he actually had more information to share. Tomorrow, hopefully, if circumstances allowed.

    Left alone within the confines of Lec’s bedroom, Issa glanced around idly for a moment, not quite sure what he should do with himself. The abrupt end to their conversation had left them feeling restless, and the Lucet had no idea how long he was expected to wait. His natural curiosity urged him to keep exploring, to spend the time rifling through drawers and cupboards, and see what other wonders he might find. The Lucet quickly decided against doing anything that seemed an obvious invasion of Lec’s privacy, however. Issa allowed himself a quick look around the bathroom – a small concession – before he took his seat atop Lec’s bed again, and settled down to wait good and proper.

    With nothing to occupy him, the moments really seemed to stretch on. So much so that it came as a great relief when Lec finally returned, and for more than one reason. The mere smelalone was enough to set Issa’s stomach rumbling, and he quickly cast a wandering eye over the plate’s contents. Just what was he in for tonight? Another exotic delicacy, certainly, but what type? If it was anything like his last meal within the city walls, he was doubtless in for quite a treat. Issa leaned forward to reach for the plate, but quickly restrained himself when Lec began to speak again. Every bit the polite guest, Issa did his best to shove all thoughts of food from his mind, despite his hunger, so that he might focus on what they were trying to tell him.

    At first, Lec’s words seemed like they were leading Issa towards disappointment. Whilst they didn’t say it directly, the Lucet got the impression that he was about to be sent home early, so that his guide might attend to their other commitments. It would be a poor end to the day, certainly, but one that he couldn’t really protest about. The mention of dances performed using magic, however, was enough to spark Issa’s imagination. His kind had their own dances, of course, but he couldn’t begin to imagine how they might be augmented with the humans' unique abilities. He had already witnessed some of the wonders Lec was capable of – how much more spectacular might a human dance be, compared to the ones he was used to? The thought was exciting, and that excitement quickly peaked when Lec did the opposite of what Issa had been expecting, and invited him to come along.

    “I’d love to!” Issa seemed to straighten up in his impromptu seat as soon as the offer was made, and blurted his answer out with a little bit too much enthusiasm. Embarrassment followed quickly, and the Lucet quickly sought refuge in the food that had been brought up for him, turning his gaze away under the pretext of reaching for his plate. Only once he had it sitting in his lap did the Lucet finally let himself ask the litany of questions that had pushed their way to the forefront of their mind.

    “I’m kind of curious to see what your home is like. That’s definitely something you haven’t shown me so far. Think we might run into Soren whilst we’re there?” Issa mused. As soon as the words had left his mouth, however, another thought occurred to the Lucet. He tilted his head to one side idly, as if listening to an imaginary sound, before he finally managed to string his thoughts together well enough to make them worth voicing. “Actually, now that I think about it…if you’re going to be working, or performing, then you won’t be able to talk to me, right? Are there any rules or anything you should tell me about now?”

    Whilst he waited for Lec’s inevitable answer, Issa would turn his attention to his meal good and proper. Without any further delay, he selected a small piece of meat and plucked it from its resting place with the tips of his fingers, before casually slipping it into his mouth. The explosion of flavor that followed was totally unlike the treat Lec had bought for him the previous day, but delectable in its own right. Issa closed his eyes for a brief moment as he savored it, before opening them again once he had swallowed. He glanced down at the plate again after that, looking its contents over with newfound appreciation. The Lucet seemed totally oblivious to the fact that he had left some of the sauce smeared across his lips. Similarly, the utensils with which his meal was supposed to be eaten were left lying on the side of the plate, untouched. For the time being, at the very least.

  9. #59
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    Issa seemed too thrilled about Lec’s performance, and the dancer wondered if stringing the Lucet along was such a good idea after all. He attracted attention, though the darkness of the venue would at least hide his eyes. Would he even be allowed in? Lec would find a way. Challenging the innkeeper was a better decision than Lec walking home alone and potentially getting jumped by some not-so-accepting humans. There was no time to back out now.

    They stilled at the mention of home, a title no longer befitting such a place. They didn’t know how to tell Issa that, that they had lost their home overnight, that they may never get it back. They swallowed the thought. “Yes, Soren will be there,” they answered quietly. They didn’t want to see him again, because they didn’t want to say goodbye again, but that was inevitable. The boy now would be home from school, and since their father had grounded him, he’d have nowhere else to go. They had no idea how they would explain to Soren anything that was happening, especially if they showed up with Issa. They tried not to think about it and instead focused on Issa’s question. Rules? Did the Lucet not have performances like this? Lec imagined the dances of an animalistic nation would be quite different than the ones they knew. They would perform one of their calmer dances, then, something Issa had never seen. At least one thing figured out, they felt just a bit better.

    They tried to think of things to tell Issa about the expected etiquette, but they were distracted by the Lucet enjoying his meal. It was nothing special, but Issa savored it as if it was one of the best meals he’d eaten. His disregard for the fork left a layer of sauce on his upper lip, and Lec smiled at the sight. They considered explaining the application of the utensils, but they didn’t have time for that. They didn’t have time for any of this. “You can, um, take that with you,” they suggested. “We should go.” A foreigner walking around eating straight out of his bowl… Lec didn’t want the attention drawn to them, but if they were going to make it to their father’s place before the man got home, they had to go now.

    During the walk, they told Issa what to expect. “I will be on the stage, and people will be seated at all the tables, chatting and eating and drinking. It will be dark to draw attention to the stage lights. You shouldn’t try to interfere with anything on the stage, including the performer, especially with a performance with so much magic. Someone could get hurt. Sometimes people will shout at the performer, or clap, but that’s normal. It’s how the audience tells the performer they’re enjoying the show. And sometimes they’ll boo, or throw things, and that’s how they tell them they’re not enjoying the show. Fortunately, though, I’ve never had that happen.” Not yet, they thought. Even if their thoughts were all over the place, they wanted this performance to go well. Like they’d told Issa, anything they did on stage with strong enough magic would net them points with the audience, sure, but as the first performance Issa would see, they wanted him to enjoy it. Their cheeks darkened, and they quickly dismissed the train of thought.

    They arrived at Lec’s old home, and they hesitated at the doorstep. Now wasn’t the time for cold feet, but they shuddered to think of what would happen if their father caught them. They peered into a window in the front and, seeing the main room empty, they dug around the dirt of a potted plant by the door for the spare key. Finding that it had been removed, they sighed and crept to the side of the house. “Soren?” they called, hoping the boy would hear. They looked through the window in his bedroom and tapped the glass. “Soren, please, if you’re home…”

    But there was silence. Lec turned their gaze to the sky, to the setting sun, to the time they were wasting. They went back to the front and knocked on the door again. Lec was aware of Issa’s watchful eye, likely wondering what Lec was doing, why they couldn’t get in on their own, but they couldn’t explain that, not now, not while neighbors could overhear. So they waited, calling to their brother in a desperate attempt to be let in. Finally, the front door swung open, and Lec was enveloped by the pale arms of their little brother. They wrapped their arms around him, too, whispering “Oh thank gods,” while rubbing his back. The boy stepped away then, and when he noticed Issa, he arched a brow towards Lec. “I don’t have time to explain right now,” they mumbled. “Is Dad home? I need to grab a few things.”

    But the boy wasn’t going to let his sibling off that easy. He stood in the doorway, blocking, determined to get his answered. Lec sighed, trying to not let their frustration show. They signed their words, unwilling to let anyone hear them, apologizing again for not having the time. “I’ll be quick,” they promised. “Can we come in?”

    Soren eyed up the Lucet while his sibling slid past him. A smile claimed his face, and he wrapped his arms around Issa, too, nearly causing him to drop what remained of his food. He pulled away and signed excitedly, but when Issa failed to understand his meaning, he pouted. He pointed to the hallway Lec had disappeared down, then pointed back to Issa, then brought his hands together, punctuating the ambiguous sign with a questioning look.

    When Issa didn’t follow Lec, they considered turning back to save him from their brother, but they needed to be quick. They weren’t surprised to find the house in disarray. They hadn’t expected their father to keep up with the cleaning Lec had always done. They hurried to their room, where they sifted through their closet and drawers, trying to find a look for the night. They stashed their outfit and some paints into a bag, then, thinking of how Issa would stand out in his furs, went to their father’s room. Likely his clothes would fit Issa better than anything Lec had, small as they were in comparison. They hesitated—were they about to steal from their own father? —before adding an outfit of his to their bag, too.

    When they returned to the living room, they mouthed an apology to Issa. Soren approached them and crossed his arms over his chest. It pained Lec to leave him like this, but what choice did they have? “I will explain soon, I promise,” they said, holding out a pinky for Soren to link with. “Right now I really need to get to work.”

    Soren pointed to Issa, unasked questions clear in his expression.

    “It’s complicated,” Lec explained, not an explanation. They pointed to their chest, then signed the half-news uncovered that morning.

    That delighted the boy, who excitedly replied, hands flying across his body in signs almost too quick to keep up with. He turned to Issa and asked him something, but Lec had no time for translations.

    “Dad’s going to be back soon” Lec warned. They flung the bag over their shoulder and grabbed Issa’s hand. “We need to go now. I’m sorry. I will come back, and I’ll explain everything. Soon. I can’t now.”
    The boy sighed, and with his eyes turned to the floor, he shrugged. He offered Lec a sign, a curt acknowledgement of their words, but the boy’s tone, the way his whole body fell… Did he believe Lec would be back at all? That ate at Lec, who didn’t notice the tears pricking at their eyes. “Hey,” they said, and when Soren looked to them, they signed, “I love you,” before pulling Issa away.

    Outside, they were eager to get away from the house in case their father caught sight of them. Once they were a few blocks away, Lec let out a breath they didn’t realize they were holding. “I got what we need,” they explained. Though their words were level, their expression betrayed their pain at leaving their brother. “We’ll get ready back in my room, at the inn.” Ideally they would practice, too, but with the sun was slinking further into the horizon, they’d be satisfied with just finishing their look.
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    Time was in short supply this afternoon, it seemed. It didn’t take long for Issa to realise as much, given the way he was shepherded out of Lec’s room, through the inn, and out onto the street beyond. The Lucet didn’t manage so much as a second bite of his food until the two of them were well and truly on their way, and his guide started to explain what he could expect at their performance tonight, like he had asked. Even then, Issa wasn’t entirely sure what to think. He was used to dances that involved everyone getting up together, not ones where one person did everything and the others just watched. Lec’s performances must really be something special, for everyone else to be content with watching, and let them have all the fun.

    Like always, several follow-up questions quickly sprung to mind, but Issa bit them back this time. The Lucet decided to focus on eating instead. Carrying his bowl while they walked around was something of an inconvenience, and he really was feeling hungry, now that he had taken those first few bites. His curiosity would need to wait on his stomach, for once.

    He was almost done by the time they arrived at Lec’s home. The building singled out by his guide looked just as unique as any of the others. Remarkable enough to Issa, but otherwise indistinguishable from those around it. Had he been alone, the Lucet could’ve strolled straight past it without realising its significance. It was only Lec’s attempts to get inside that clued him in to the fact that this was their destination. Even then, Issa did little but cradle his bowl and watch on passively as Lec tried to gain access. Their actions seemed strange, but…well, it was hard for Issa to judge. He knew so little about humans and their culture, he had no basis upon which to compare his guide’s actions. For all he knew, this was normal for a humans’ personal home.

    When the front door finally swung open, and Soren appeared, Issa’s face lit up with another of his warm, genuine smiles. He’d only met the young human once, but the boy had made quite the impression back then, and Issa had taken a liking to him. In retrospect, it seemed strange that they’d spent so little time together, when Soren had been the one to convince Lec to help him in the first place. Of course, that fact alone probably accounted for a good part of Issa’s fondness towards Lec’s younger brother.

    Despite his own feelings on the matter, Issa was more than a little surprised to receive a hug of his own from the younger sibling. So much so that he almost dropped his bowl when Soren wrapped his arms around him. Soren’s affection wasn’t unwelcome, of course – just unexpected. By the time his mind caught up with his body, it was too late for him to try and hug Soren back, but a soft chuckle slipped from the Lucet’s lips. Whilst the signs that followed were incomprehensible to Issa, Soren’s expression and body language held their own meaning.

    “When we first met, you tried to convince Lec to help me, right? Apparently I owe you a measure of thanks” Issa offered. He couldn’t be entirely sure that he was answering the right question, of course, but it seemed better than just saying nothing, and letting his own ignorance get the better of them.

    When Lec returned, Issa watched the unspoken conversation that went on between them with a pang of…was it sadness? Not exactly, Issa thought, but he wasn’t totally sure he could put a name to the sensation. He felt every bit the outsider he was amongst the rest of the humans. Like he was spying on a private moment, somehow. One that he shouldn’t be watching, but wanted to be a part of regardless. When Lec finally withdrew, and started to pull him away, Issa lingered just long enough to give Soren a parting wave, before they rounded the corner, and he was hidden from sight.

    It was only during the walk back that Issa realised something was nagging at him. The way Lec was hurrying about, and the way they had to keep dragging him around…he was seriously inconveniencing his host at the moment, wasn’t he? The realisation was an uncomfortable one. Would Lec be better off if he retired early for the night, leaving them free to do everything they needed to? The only thing that stopped Issa from voicing the thought was his desire to watch Lec’s performance that evening. A selfish thought, perhaps, but maybe he could find some way to be useful.

    When Lec next spoke, Issa’s attention turned to the bag that they were carrying. He wasn’t sure what was inside, but if they needed it so badly…perhaps he could help make sure they got back to the inn as quickly as possible, to start. “Do you need a hand carrying that, or anything? The sooner we get back the better, right?”

    As soon as the words left Issa’s mouth, he realised how awkward they felt. What difference would changing carriers make, when they still needed to get it back to the inn together regardless? He’d have to do better.

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