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

  1. #61
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    It was Issa’s question that pulled Lec from their thoughts. It was innocent enough, and Lec appreciated Issa’s offer, but it left them wondering about the situation they were now in. Lec hadn’t quite asked Issa if he were okay with all this. They had just dragged him along, assuming he’d be fine with exploring more of human culture, but they weren’t giving him any opportunities to take things in, to ask questions, like he had before, in the market or at the library. Would he even survive watching them work? Or would his questions annoy the other audience members? Would his eyes make them uneasy enough to attack? Maybe their decisions would put him in greater danger now than if they had just let him head home.

    But they were here now, and there wasn’t enough time to debate their options. Issa seemed content enough anyhow, and for a moment, Lec selfishly tried to convince themselves he would enjoy this, and that would make up for all the trouble, all the risk. They tried to shake their thoughts and, with them, their head, answering Issa’s question after too awkward a silence.

    They made their way back to the inn, and Lec tossed their bag onto their bed. They were quick in throwing it open and tossing various articles of clothing around them. Noticing Issa, they hesitated, then said, “I have to get dressed. I, um, thought you should, too.” They glanced back over Issa’s body, covered in the furs of his people, unlike any human clothing from this region. “You will stick out wearing your clothes,” they explained, “and since we will be around a lot of people in a contained space, I thought it might be safer if you wore something else.” They dug through the clothes they had already thrown on the bed. “My father is larger than you, but I thought his size would fit you better than mine. I have… this.” They held up a plain, pale polo shirt with one hand and a pair of dark, belted pants in the other. As they showed him his new outfit, a sudden realization dawned over their features. Would Issa know how to put on his garments? Sure there was nothing special about the clothes Lec had chosen, but Issa was from a different world; what was simple to Lec might have been completely foreign to Issa. Once again they were reminded that they hadn’t asked if Issa was okay with any of this, and a swell of regret nestled in their stomach. They were being an awful host, and an awful person. They would make it up to him, somehow.

    Lec cleared their throat, and they offered the clothes to Issa. “You can use the bathroom!” they offered, all too quickly, insisting on giving the privacy to him. The thought of him dressing so near sent a blush rising from their collar, but they were more mortified at the idea of him opening the door to them, half-dressed and vulnerable. They quickly scolded themselves for the thought. Even if their profession called for a certain confidence in the way they dressed, it had never quite followed to their personal life. They cleared their throat again. “If you need help, you can just call for me.”

    With Issa gone, Lec turned their attention to their own outfit. They had chosen their dress in a hurry, but they certainly could have done worse than this. Tugging off their clothes, they stepped into the bottom part of their outfit: a puffy pair of pants with a wraparound skirt on all sides but the front. The flowing silks and chains adorning the skirt would highlight the graceful motions of their dance, giving them a weightless look. Their top matched the vibrant blue of their bottom, a glitter bandeau that wrapped around one shoulder and had a collection of jewels and chains of its own. They snapped an anklet into place, then a couple bracelets, lamenting the ones in their room that would go better with the rest of their garments. To finish their look, they looked over the paints they’d grabbed and tried to think of how to dress up their face.

    But before they grabbed for a brush to apply the paint, they stopped to listen for Issa. He’d been quiet for a minute. “Do you need any help?” Lec called. Would they even be able to help him? They felt their cheeks with their hands and cursed the warmth pooling there. Stop acting like a schoolgirl, they scolded themselves. He’s just a guy. But Evelin’s words were persistent, snaking back to the forefront of their mind, and even the signs in Soren’s hands had suggested something else. He was a very pretty guy, Lec conceded, if only to silence their own thoughts.
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  2. #62
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    That simple, dismissive head shake was more than enough to answer Issa’s question, and seemed to confirm his most recent suspicions besides. It was a disappointing response, but not an unexpected one. Still, the Lucet wasn’t planning on giving up quite so easily. Instead of wasting Lec’s time pressing the issue, he lapsed into a thoughtful silence for the majority of their return trip. Issa’s body seemed to follow Lec on autopilot, with the bulk of his attention focused inwards, for once. Practical suggestions continued to elude him, but he was determined to persevere. He was bound to come up with a good idea sooner or later, if he kept at it.

    Once the two of them were tucked away inside Lec’s home again, Issa watched on curiously as his human guide began scattering the bag’s contents about the room. At least, until Lec suggested that he get changed too. Unable to help himself, Issa glanced downwards that the furs he was currently wearing, and suddenly felt every bit the fool. He’d spent so much time concerned about his eyes, about the way they marked him, that he’d totally failed to consider how his clothes were doing the exact same thing. In fact, his clothes would brand him as an outsider long before anyone got close enough to notice that his eyes were scarlet, now that he thought about it. How had he never realised this before?

    When Lec offered up a replacement, Issa reached out and took them. He held the set of human clothes at arm’s length, expression…dubious. He wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about trying to wear human clothes, truth be told. It was a good idea, of course, but it felt wrong, somehow, in a way that he couldn’t quite articulate. Something that went beyond the way the foreign material felt against his hands. Still, it was another element of human culture that he was yet to experience. That thought alone was enough to prompt his agreement.

    “O-okay.” A stuttered agreement was the best Issa managed, before he found himself wrapped up in the privacy offered by Lec’s bathroom. Issa hadn’t been given the chance to see in here before, and so he took the opportunity to look around a little; partially out of curiosity, and partially as a small way of procrastinating what came next. Whilst some elements seemed self-explanatory, there were others that he couldn’t even begin to guess at. Indoor plumbing was a mystery to him, but one that was quickly figured out. The Lucet reached out and turned on one of the taps on little more than a whim, and was rewarded almost immediately with a steady trickle of clear water. He delighted in his new discovery for just a moment, before turning it off again. He didn’t know where the water came from, but he didn’t want to use up too much when he didn’t actually need it.

    The thing that surprised him most, however, was the bathroom mirror. A child of the forest, Issa had seen his reflection plenty of times, but never with such clarity. The distorted picture returned by a running stream couldn’t compare with the crystal-clear image shown in the strange sheet of polished metal that sat before him now. Issa looked at it – himself – closely, mystified. He raised a hand to feel out the curve of his jaw, and was almost surprised when the other him did the same. This was what he really looked like? How other people saw him? There were so many details, so much he hadn’t known about his own face before, that others would have known at just a glance. It was a strange thought. Not good or bad, necessarily. Just…strange.

    He could only stall for so long, though. The Lucet didn’t want to keep his host waiting. Eventually, he had no choice but to turn his attention back to the human clothes, and the task currently at hand.

    “It’s alright, Issa. You’ve seen plenty of humans wearing these things already, so they can’t be that bad. You can figure this out.” The Lucet mumbled a few words of gentle reassurance to themselves, and prayed that they wouldn’t be audible on the other side of the door. At long last, he quickly stripped off his furs, dumped them on the floor unceremoniously, and reached for his new garments.

    On the most basic level, getting dressed was simple enough. Issa had a rough idea of how things were supposed to look, if not exactly how one was supposed to put them on, and could use that knowledge as a basic guide. He only had so many appendages, too, and the clothes only had so many openings. It took a little bit of trial and error, but it wasn’t long before he thought he had everything in the right place. The Lucet wasn’t confident, exactly, but he felt like he was close enough to avoid making a total fool of himself.

    When Lec eventually called out to him, Issa was relatively quick to respond. He pulled the bathroom door open, without stopping to consider whether or not Lec was also dressed. “I’m not entirely sure. How does it look?” At a glance, the Lucet hadn’t done too badly. He had both the shirt and pants on the right way, and neither piece was inside out. It was mostly the small details that had escaped Issa’s notice. Whilst they didn’t ride low enough to reveal anything incriminating, he hadn’t managed to do up the zipper or belt on the pants. The collar of his shirt was twisted strangely, and the buttons had been left undone. It was far from perfect, but not a terrible attempt.

    Issa was looking down when he first opened the door, as if trying to appraise his own clothes. After a brief moment, he glanced upwards, at Lec. The follow-up that he had been about to ask died on his lips as he caught sight of them in their dancing costume. His eyes went wide, and for just a moment, the Lucet was struck speechless. The billowing fabric lent his human host an air of elegance and grace that was readily apparent, even at a glance, to say nothing of the rich colours and sparkling accessories. It was, all things considered, the most lavish, flattering outfit that Issa had seen during his time amongst the humans.

    “I…you…wow.” When the Lucet finally managed to speak, the first words out of his mouth were a garbled mess. He took a moment to clear his throat, just to buy himself a little bit of time. It took him a few seconds longer to pull his thoughts into enough order that he could hope they might make sense. “Um…why don’t more humans wear clothes like that?”

  3. #63
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    The bathroom door swung open, and out stepped their Lucet companion. Issa was dressed in their father’s clothes, but he gave the simple outfit a carefree if charming look their dad would have never dared. He’d left his buttons undone and his belt unbuckled, and for a moment, Lec wondered about the implications before dismissing it as Issa’s ignorance regarding human fashion. The clothes were a bit big on him, and his open shirt fell slightly down his chest, trousers hung loosely around his waist, and Lec smiled. It was a good first try, and they wondered if they would be any better figuring out Lucet clothing. They turned their gaze up to Issa’s face, about to teach him how to fix the things he’d missed, but the expression in his eyes stopped them from moving.

    Perhaps it was the way his eyes explored their body, as if seeing it for the first time, or perhaps it was his words, the breathy syllables that fell from his lips; whatever it was, Lec couldn’t remember the last time anyone had reacted to them that way. They were all too aware of the heat furiously rising to their cheeks. Surely Issa didn’t find them… attractive? But the look in his eye… Lec averted their gaze, all at once embarrassed and flattered. They awkwardly cleared their throat at the same time Issa did, and they started to speak when Issa did. They shook their head, words fizzling on their tongue as they listened to his question, a welcome distraction from how awkward they felt.

    “Oh, well,” they started, their voice too high-pitched and out of place until they cleared their throat again. “I guess because they’re not very practical?” They looked down at their outfit, then held out a leg to see the silks to the side move with it. “Something like this would get in the way of everyday life, and besides, these are handmaid, which means they’re more expensive. It can take a long time to find the materials for something like this, then to measure it out for one person, and to spend all that time working on it. So things like this are often only worn for theater. Er—” Did the Lucet even have theater? “For performances like mine,” they corrected. “I’m… glad you like it. I made it myself.”

    Satisfied with their answer for now, they straightened and told themselves it was just their outfit that had entranced Issa. He likely didn’t have anything so intentionally eye-catching back home. They tried to force the blushes from their cheeks and took a step towards him. “You want to, um.” Their hands wavered in the space between them, shy but wanting to help. “Sorry,” they mumbled as they made up their mind and took the edges of the shirt into their hands. They did his buttons for him, leaving the top one undone in case he felt too restricted. After, they moved to help with his belt, then firmly decided against it. “You want to put the strap through the metal opening there,” they instructed instead, miming with their hands as they did so. “Pull it until it fits comfortably, then push the thin piece through whatever hole is closest.” It was an oversimplification, but Issa still got it, and for that they were grateful.

    Just then, a thought reoccurred to them, and they spun towards the bed, remembering what they’d been going to do. They would be needed downstairs soon and their face was not done. Lec gathered the various bottles and tubes from the bag and considered the colors they had. “Sometimes,” they explained as they made their way to the bathroom to take advantage of the mirror there, “humans paint their faces, usually to highlight their eyes, or pronounce their cheekbones. Some humans do it to feel prettier and more confident, and some people do it every day even. Performers usually go for different styles, though, since our jobs require us to draw attention to ourselves and look extravagant. We go for more unique designs, so most humans don’t do this like I’m about to.”

    As they spoke, they opened their supplies and began applying different things with their fingers and a couple thin-tipped brushes. Their main focus was their eyes; they outlined them in a bright blue that brought out the near-turquoise center of their irises, finishing the stripe with a sharp edge, then brushed over their lids with silver glitter. Even in their haste, they were precise, as if they had done this many times before. When their face was done, they capped their paints, tossed their brushes into the sink, and glanced at themselves in the mirror. Determined fingers ran through uncooperative hair, and they did what they could to curl it towards their chin while brushing the shaved half down. Finally, they turned back to Issa, now satisfied with their look.

    They didn’t have the time they wanted to practice. Lec held their hand out in front of them and conjured a sphere of water. Its currents flowed freely, crashing in on itself and splashing water onto their outfit. They paused for a moment, then shook their head. “No water,” they mumbled to themselves as they tossed the water ball to the ground, leaving a puddle at the entrance of the bathroom. “Fire?” They glanced towards Issa. No fire, they added silently. “We should get downstairs. Will you…” They looked Issa over. In human clothes, in the dark, no one would even see the hue of his eyes, the proof of his identity. “Will you be alright?” They trusted Issa, more than they should have, but they didn’t know how he would fare surrounded by so many people, without them to answer his questions, to correct him, to shield him from the humans that were less likely to take well to his culture shock. A different part of them wondered if Issa would enjoy the show, if he’d look at them again like he just had.
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  4. #64
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    Issa was the one who had asked the question, but he found himself having a little bit of trouble focusing on the answer. The way Lec moved their leg was clearly designed to draw attention to their outfits’ accents, and it succeeded in doing just that. So much so that the Lucet was only really managed to listen with half an ear, with the rest of his attention focused elsewhere. The news that they had made their costume themselves, however, was enough to draw Issa’s focus. In fact, he seemed to perk up slightly at the news. For Lec to have constructed something so elaborate, so beyond what he saw most humans wear…his tour guide was an expert at more than just magic and answering questions, it seemed.

    The Lucet might have said as much, but it wasn’t long before Lec turned the tables on him. The human reached out to help adjust his shirt, and Issa became pointedly aware that he was the now the one being scrutinised. Issa had no reason to be embarrassed, he knew – this was the first time he had ever tried on human clothes, after all. A mistake or two was inevitable. Still, he had wanted to make a good effort of it, at least. He almost felt like an incompetent or unruly child, being fussed over by an annoyed parent. And yet…some small part of his mind couldn’t help but think about how close Lec was standing. About the warmth of their hands, kept from his body by just a thin layer of fabric. Issa could feel his cheeks starting to burn, and suddenly found the far right wall extremely interesting.

    When discussion turned to his belt, Issa found himself thankful for the distraction. He looked down at the strange amalgamation of leather and metal, and did his best to follow his guide’s instructions. It took a little bit of fumbling around, but it wasn’t long before he managed to successfully lock the clasp into place. Afterwards, when Lec turned away, the Lucet took that as a sign that his outfit was now acceptable. A strange mixture of satisfaction and relief washed over him, and he finally stepped out of the bathroom doorway.

    When Lec finished rummaging through their bag, Issa was quick to swap places with them. He quickly claimed a spot atop the bed, positioned where he could still see, and tucked his legs underneath himself. He both watched and listened, curious, as Lec began the process of applying their makeup. He had seen similar things back home – the Lucet occasionally painted their faces for particular festivals or celebrations, when it was appropriate. But that only happened a couple of times a year. He could scarcely imagine someone going through the effort every day. Beyond that, the face paint Lec was using was undoubtedly more refined than the ones they used back home,. The colours were more vibrant, and it was applied with more skill. Where a Lucet might have covered their entire face, and made themselves a living mask, Lec worked with a little more nuance, highlighting the things they deemed to be most important. The end result was subtle, but striking.

    Again, the Lucet might have said as much, but they were once again robbed of the chance when Lec conjured up a ball of water, seemingly out of nowhere. Issa practically jumped in his seat at the sight of it. He had seen Lec perform more impressive magic before, certainly but the casual nonchalance with which they did so was shocking. His eyes widened, surprise written blatantly across his features. The Lucet began to lift one arm slightly, as if he might reach out to try and touch it, but he quickly suppressed the urge, just in time for Lec to toss it away. He stiffened a little at the unexpected mention of fire, and was thankful when Lec refrained from conjuring up a ball of that, too. When his guide next spoke, Issa jumped at the chance to move on.

    “Of course I will. I just need to sit down, watch, and not draw any attention to myself, right? Surely that won’t be too difficult, if everyone is focused on your performance.” Issa’s answer was nonchalant, almost flippant. Part of him couldn’t help but wonder if Lec’s concern was well-founded, that his human had felt the need to ask should have been cause for concern, but…well, it was hard for Issa to conceptualize such a simple thing going so terribly wrong. Without any further ado, the Lucet climbed to his feet again and casually strolled towards Lec, and the door. “If worse comes to worse, I’ll just change into something small, and quick, and nimble, and slip away during the confusion. It’ll be fine.”

    When the two of them arrived, they found the taproom busier than the last time they had passed through. It wasn’t quite crowded yet, but it looked like it would be heading that way soon. There were only a few vacant tables and booths yet, and it looked as if even those would be filled before long. Lec’s pending performance was enough to draw quite a crowd, it seemed. Issa surveyed the room in silence for a moment, before throwing a sideways glance towards his human.

    “I just have to pick an empty seat, right? I’d like to be right up the front, but perhaps one of the booths near the back would be safer.” Once they had decided on a seat, Issa would stroll down the stairs and into the taproom good and proper, and dove into the growing crowd. He tried to slip past without jostling anyone, but a few bumps and nudges proved inevitable. Even so, in the low light of the fading evening, nobody seemed to give him a second glance. The difference was startling. Despite how unfamiliar and uncomfortable they were, he couldn’t help but feel glad for the human clothes.

    It wasn’t long before the Lucet managed to slip into one of the few empty seats that remained, silently claiming it for himself. He positioned himself so that he was facing the stage as directly as possible, with his back facing the far wall, before finally lowering himself into his seat. Unlike a regular human, Issa opted not to sit with his feet on the ground. Rather, the Lucet crossed his legs beneath himself, much the same way he had been sitting on Lec’s bed earlier. He threw a subtle glance around the room, trying to get a feel for his new surroundings, only to stop himself when one of the humans glanced his way. Deciding that the risk of accidentally meeting someone’s eye was too high, he turned his attention back towards Lec instead.

    “How long do I have to wait before it starts?”

  5. #65
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    Despite Issa’s assurance that he would be fine during their performance, Lec couldn’t help the worry that crept up their throat. They were already imagining all the ways things could go wrong for their Lucet friend. True, with his furs now gone, Issa looked like any man—any beautiful man—though Lec considered maybe they should have suggested brushing his hair, or giving him glasses to wear, or— No, he would be fine, they told themselves. And with that hope repeating in their thoughts, they led Issa downstairs without another word.

    Already a crowd of people mulled about the room, and Lec was surprised at the turnout. There were often big crowds during the suppertime rush, but the headcount here exceeded the most recent times they’d been here, and they wondered if it really was their performance that had doubled the inn’s clientele. They couldn’t imagine being that popular, on a weekday no less, but most times, they found it best not to think of the size of the audience. They turned their attention to the chairs and booths instead, looking for a seat for Issa. The two settled on a spot somewhere in the middle of the room, close enough that Issa would be able to see the stage well but far enough away that he wouldn’t draw too much attention. Lec walked him to his seat, hoping no one sat across from him, hoping this would go better than they feared.

    “It won’t be long,” they promised, their eyes rising to meet the face of the clock above the bar. When they looked back at Issa, he was sitting in a strange position, and they hesitated before letting it slide. “Oh,” they said, “if you order something, you can just ask them to put it on my tab.” Please don’t order anything expensive, they wanted to add, but they didn’t know if Issa had the concept of money they did, or any at all. They looked like they were going to say something else, but the lights dimmed, and their thought died on their tongue. “I should go,” they said, motioning towards the stage with their head. Of all the warnings that flashed through their mind—Don’t do anything stupid; don’t talk to anyone; don’t even breathe—the only one that passed their lips was, “Be safe.” And then they were off, leaving Issa alone in a room full of his enemies.

    After a quick word with the innkeep about preparations, Lec disappeared somewhere near the stage, silhouetted by the darkness concentrated there. They felt the wood beneath their bare feet, just as they had before so many performances before. It was their way of aligning themselves with their stage, getting a feel for where it was weak, where it was sturdy, which spots could withstand the brunt of their magic. Satisfied, they stilled, and they waited for the crowd to settle, for their cue to begin.

    From somewhere behind the bar, a drum sounded, hollow call echoing through the room, and a single light flicked on above Lec, a beacon amid the darkness. Their eyes were closed as they stood with their feet together, arms on either side of them, but the arch of their brow suggested they were using their energy in ways the gathered crowd could not see. When the drum sounded again, a gust of wind rose from the stage, billowing the fabrics of Lec’s uniform around them. The third and final call announced the beginning of their performance.

    Their dance was slow, graceful, and they moved as if swayed by the wind, limbs rocking gently but stance ever steadfast. The wind whistled around them, whipping in time with their movements, gentle caresses that left their clothes and hair fluttering. As the dance went on, the winds got fiercer, and Lec’s movements grew quicker, keeping the rhythm they had set. They moved their feet then, twirling through the gusts. Tornadoes spiraled around them, grasping at the dancer, pulling on their chains that jingled in the movement. Lec grabbed a tornado in each hand, effortless despite the frantic currents, and they began to move them like ribbons flowing through the air.

    Once again their tempo hastened, and their footfalls quickened against the smooth wood. They hopped over rope-like vortexes as wisps of their held tornadoes reached for their hair and shirt. Focus was clear on their face; one misstep would have the wind knocking them off their feet, and they could not afford the mistake. But as they faced their eyes to look out at the crowd, at the smiling faces, the suspense written among the expressions of their audience, they were only interested in one person. When Lec’s eyes met Issa’s, saw the fascination there, saw the wonder, a new heat claimed their cheeks. They faltered for just a moment, long enough for a whip of a zephyr to snap at their ankles, to steal the breath from their lungs, but they recovered quickly, imperceptibly, and just like that they were moving through their magic again, full of grace and elegance and a deep blush not part of their dance.

    Lec could feel the hint of fatigue creeping into their chest, but they didn’t dare slow their pace. Instead, they picked up their winds, spinning them faster and fiercer. Strands of their tornadoes fell out to the crowd, licking at tablecloths and clothes and raising a delighted noise from the audience. Other whips touched at the overhead lamps, moving them in ways that sent dim lights flying throughout the room. And then, just when Lec feared their fast steps were getting too difficult to keep up with, they brought their hands together, watched as their winds combined, creating a tornado around themselves. They concentrated all their energy on maintaining their magic, on not being swept away, and as they twirled with their winds, clothes and chains fluttering about them, eyes raised to the ceiling and hands reaching as if to touch the audience, the light cut above them, ending their show.

    Whispers fell over the crowd, then applause, and as the house lights came back on, the cheering grew louder. Lec stood at the center of the stage, their magic evaporated and their breaths coming in gasps. They looked out at the crowd, but over the people standing in the front, they could not see the only person they cared about in that moment. Lec bowed and curtsied, then did it again, until finally they slunk from the stage and made their way through the room in search of Issa.
    Last edited by Ashen; 06-11-2021 at 04:57 AM.
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  6. #66
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    Without any warning, the lights scattered throughout the taproom all began to dim at once. The growing darkness smothered any lingering conversation like a shroud, subtly ushering the patrons towards stillness. Issa didn’t know what the change signified, at first, but Lec’s reaction was enough for them to make an educated guess. They responded to his parting words with a single nod of confirmation, and then watched as they slipped into the crowd, and disappeared amid the sea of bodies. It was only after Lec had vanished that Issa realised he should have said something – wished them luck, at the very least. Cursing their own lack of social grace, Issa tried to console himself with the knowledge that he wouldn’t be waiting much longer.

    Mere moments after Lec’s disappearance, another person joined Issa at his table. Unable to help himself, the surprised Lucet glanced up at the newcomer briefly. He had just enough time to take in the newcomer’s cheery smile and the tray they were balancing in one hand before he realised his mistake, and looked away again. Hopefully the barmaid hadn’t noticed the colour of his eyes, or simply didn’t care. Either way, her voice certainly seemed friendly enough.

    “Evening, stranger. Didn’t I see you come in with Lec before?” Issa automatically nodded his agreement, whilst his mind scrambled. What was he supposed to say? What would a human say? No, he was overthinking this way too much.

    “I’m one of their friends. I’ve never seem them perform before, so they invited me to come and watch tonight.”

    “Well, a friend of Lec’s is a friend of mine. Can I get you a drink before the show starts?”

    “Sure.”

    There was a moment of awkward silence after that. Issa thought it was just him overthinking at first, but as the seconds began to drag on, he became less and less sure. He threw a glance at the barmaid and found that she was watching him closely, her expression…expectant. Had he forgotten something? Or had she realised that he was trying to avoid meeting her eye? Unsure, Issa continued to hesitate, until the woman spoke up again.

    “And what would you like?” Ah. Of course. Issa could feel his cheeks starting to burn as he realised how simple and obvious his mistake had been.

    “What do you have? Or, I mean…what would you recommend?”

    The barmaid gave him a funny look, but after a moment, she shrugged. “The mead tends to be our best seller. If you don’t have much of a sweet-tooth, though, then our latest batch of cider turned out quite well, if I do say so myself.” Issa nodded his agreement and quickly requested the former a serving of the former, hoping that would be enough to get the lady out of his hair. When asked about payment, he quickly informed her that Lec had said to put it on their tab. The unfamiliar word felt strange in his mouth, and Issa hoped that he was using it correctly. The barmaid seemed to accept it easily enough, though, and quickly moved away, much to Issa’s relief.

    The Lucet wasn’t given much time to dwell on his own awkwardness. The barmaid had only been gone for a few seconds when a loud boom echoed throughout the room, making Issa jump a little. He glanced around, searching for the source, only to realise that one of the lights had come back on. And there, standing beneath it, suddenly the centre of the room, was Lec. Another boom sounded, and the stage’s curtains and their costume began to rippling in an impossible breeze. Issa had seen Lec’s outfit before. He had seen their makeup before. But looking up at them now, illuminated by the spotlight, with their clothing rippling like a figure out of a story, they looked positively resplendent. Radiant, even. It was all Issa could do to keep his mouth from falling open. The time that their preparation had taken seemed well worth the end result now.

    There was another boom, and Lec began to move. The show that Issa had been looking forward to all afternoon was finally starting, and the Lucet found he was barely able to contain his excitement. It bubbled up from somewhere inside him, almost to the point of overflowing, as he watched his human take those first few steps. With no idea what to expect, the Lucet found his eyes glued to the stage, to his friend, as they moved through the opening motions.

    Lec’s early steps struck Issa as elegant, stately things. Every movement seemed incredibly thoughtful, each one executed with an emphasis on poise, control, and balance. It was a far cry from ceremonial dances Issa was used to seeing amongst his own kind; the energetic, borderline frantic movements that they used to praise their goddess, or beg for prosperity, or offer their blessings to a new family. It wasn’t long before that began to change, however. The tempo of the music began to increase, and Lec moved as if they were determined to keep pace. Even their magic seemed to respond to the shift – the impossible, invisible wind that had only made its presence known by the way it grabbed at cloth and hair began to get stronger, until it was powerful enough to manifest visibly. Unable to help himself, Issa gasped softly. He’d never seen the like before. Another wonder that the rest of his family would have dismissed as unnatural.

    When Lec cast their gaze out over the crowd, Issa’s gaze was nothing less than awestruck. The Lucet was watching with undivided attention, eyes wide. His mouth had fallen open slightly at some point, and it seemed that Issa were too focused on the performance to realise. The Lucet felt utterly enraptured by the show. Felt that his heart were stuck in his throat. That he dare not blink, lest he miss even a single second.

    When Lec’s movements finally ceased, and the wind around them began to grow even stronger, Issa almost began to worry that something was wrong. That Lec had lost control, and was about to be hurt. How could they not, standing in the middle of such fury? He started to rise, only to realise that everyone else was still watching. Did they not realise the danger Lec was on, or did humans not share the Lucet’s innate desire to protect their own? Or…had he misunderstood? Was this part of Lec’s design? Uncertain, the Lucet lowered himself back into his chair. If so, their power was even more frightening than Issa had originally thought. Even more wonderful than they had thought. Even without the fire. All things considered, the Lucet thought he preferred to watch the actual dancing, but…well, it was impressive enough in its own right, and certainly made for a memorable finale.

    Lec finished their performance with a flourish, but even so, Issa remained seated. It wasn’t until the music ended and the lights came back on, and the applause began in earnest, that his trance seemed to break. The Lucet blinked a few times in rapid succession, before glancing at the other people around him, as if only just remembering where he was. Finally, a few seconds after everyone else, Issa finally joined in, and added his applause to everyone else’s.

    It was only once Lec had left the stage, and the crowd had begun to settle again, that Issa realised there was a mug of a strange, sweet-smelling liquid on his table now. Had the serving girl really come back, left his order here, and left again without him noticing? It wasn’t too surprising, Issa supposed, considering how enthralled he’d been by Lec’s performance. Expression contemplative, he grabbed the mug with one hand and lifted it to his face. He peered into the tankard for a moment, curious. If the humans drank this stuff on a regular basis, then it had to be okay, right? After a moment of idle hesitation, the Lucet shrugged idly, and lifted the mug to his lips. A cautious sip revealed that his nose had told the truth. Sweetness blossomed across his tongue in a wave. Satisfied, the Lucet helped himself to another, more generous sip.

    Blissfully unaware that Lec was searching for him, and a little uncertain as to what he was supposed to do now, Issa quickly decided that he was just going to wait. The Lucet would do his best to relax, enjoy his drink, and try to enjoy this new experience. Now that the lights had come back on, the chatter had resumed. To his left, he could hear a group of friends laughing together. Behind him, a lady and her partner remarked on how stunning the dance had been. The atmosphere was warm, jovial, and Issa found himself wishing that he could join them. Make the rounds and try to make a few new friends. Slip in and out of the different conversations as easily as he might slip his skin.The Lucet quickly banished the thought as dangerous, however. Still…even if he couldn’t join them, he could still sit back and pretend he was one of them. For a little while, at the very least.

    It wasn’t long before half the mead in Issa’s cup had vanished. The drink’s sweetness did a wonderful job of disguising the alcohol, and the Lucet had swallowed it down a little bit faster than was probably wise. He lifted the mug to his lips for another sip, only to freeze with it halfway to his lips. Another voice had reached his ears, cutting through the general clamour of the taproom. A subtle glance to his right was enough to reveal the source – two men sat at a table, making several unsavoury comments about Lec after their performance. It wasn’t criticism – the opposite, actually. From the sounds of it, the two had enjoyed the performance a little too much, and didn’t have the manners, self-control, or basic respect to keep such thoughts to themselves. The things they were saying…Issa’s grip on his mug tightened enough for his knuckles to turn white.

    If asked about the incident afterwards, Issa would have confessed that he didn’t remember setting down his mug. He didn’t remember getting up from his table, or slipping through the crowds. Within moments, Issa found himself looming over the two men at their table. One of the men was short and squat, with a crooked nose and a missing tooth.The second was scrawnier, and had the face of someone who kicked puppies for fun.

    “What do you want?”

    Punching bag’s tone was outright hostile. His breath reeked of alcohol, and his tongue stumbled over a few of the consonants. In the heat of the moment, however, Issa found that he didn’t much care that the two of them had been drinking. He could only hear the man’s earlier comments, playing through his mind on repeat. His imagination showed him images of the things they had been suggesting, and the Lucet found himself unable to banish them. Without any sort of preamble or fanfare, Issa smashed his fist into the left man’s face, before any sort of common sense or self-preservation instincts could stop him. Part of his mind wondered if the man might lose another tooth, as a lasting reminder.

    The unexpected blow sent Punching Bag sprawling. He fell from his chair, knocking the table aside in the process. Puppy-kicker’s surprise was obvious, but it didn’t take long for him to recover. He threw himself at Issa, and the two of them traded wild, reckless blows for a moment. They both threw punches with the sort of carefree abandon that suggested that neither of them cared how badly they got hurt – only that they managed to hurt the other person more.

    The entire fight only lasted a handful of seconds, before the crowd surged around them, and pulled the two struggling fighters apart. They were none too gentle about it, either. The man who had grabbed Issa kept his arms held in a grip like iron, and didn’t seem to plan on letting go any time soon. The Lucet knew he was probably just a few moments from getting kicked out of the bar, or worse. There could be no doubt as to who had started the fight, after all, and that was before they had even noticed his eyes. Even so, Issa felt no remorse. Not until he thought of Lec, at least, and wondered what they would think.

  7. #67
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    As the room lights brightened, Lec made their way to the table they’d left Issa at. The crowd clamored around them, all with words about their performance, praise they gracefully accepted despite the way it darkened their cheeks. One voice made them stop, and they turned to find the impressed face of the innkeep.

    “Wow, Lec,” she mused, “that was some performance. You are a natural at this, you know?”

    Lec hesitated. They bowed their head and mumbled a, “Thank you.”

    “It looked exhausting,” she continued. “Please, let me fetch you a drink.”

    They could feel the sweat trickling down their temple, sticking the clothes to their back, and any other time, they would have appreciated such an offer. But they had someone to find. Lec knew it was just their paranoia, knew that Issa would be fine, but a part of them worried. Was he still here? Had he gotten overwhelmed during the performance, by the darkness, and the magic, and the room of strangers, and had run off? Or had he stayed throughout it all, doing as Lec had instructed? Had he… liked the performance? Lec shook the thought. They would just have to ask him. They turned back to the innkeep and offered her another bow. “Thank you,” they said, “but I’m okay. I’ll grab a meal on my way back to my room.” They started away, but the innkeep stopped them again.

    “Can I ask you to perform again this weekend? There’s supposed to be a crowd coming, and you know how you bring in the patrons. I would appreciate it.”

    They were barely paying attention to her, so busy looking for Issa. “Yeah, sure,” they replied. They turned back to her, smile on their face. “We can discuss that later. I really must—”

    A shout rippled through the room, stealing the thought from their tongue. Lec’s attention was instantly pulled to across the room, where people were gathering around what sounded like a fight. They had only ever witnessed one bar fight, a scuffle between two men too drunk to stand, that had interrupted one of their performances ages ago. They knew fights like those had the tendency to get bigger and bigger, so they took off in search of Issa, knowing they had to get him out of there before someone decided his eye color was reason enough to throw him into the fray, too.

    But when they reached Issa’s table, with horror, they realized he was not there. Their gaze snapped to the gathered crowd, and they shoved through the crowd to get a look at the center of attention. It was there that they found him, restrained by one of the bar staff, blood trickling down his face. Another man was across from him, hostility written across his wounded face. Lec didn’t need an explanation to know what had happened, and they knew they needed to get Issa out of here before someone finished him.

    His name slipped past their lips without them realizing it. Lec grabbed Issa’s free arm, eyes searching wildly to count the wounds on his skin. “Are you okay?” they asked him. They then turned to the man restraining him. “I’ve got him,” they assured. “I’m sorry. Let me handle this. Please.” When the man released Issa, Lec grabbed his hand. “Don’t say anything,” they commanded, not wanting him to further anger the man who had attacked him, the man the whole bar would side with. “Come on.”

    They pulled him to his feet and rushed to get him out of the public eye. At the door, they shot an apologetic glance towards the innkeep, who looked none too pleased about the trouble their friend had caused. They would have her to answer to when they got back, but now, none of that mattered. They tugged Issa through the nighttime streets alit by tall oil lamps, guiding him away from the plaza and to the docks. Finally, they stopped on the boardwalk and fell into a bench facing the ocean, then motioned for Issa to do the same.

    They didn’t look at him. “I’m so sorry,” they said, voice a rushed whisper in the gentle night. “I knew this would happen. I should have never taken you to the inn, with so many people, and I shouldn’t have left you alone, and I’m sorry. I’m such an idiot, I didn’t—” They raised their head, eyes glassy, and met his eye. But Issa didn’t look hurt, despite the blows he had taken. He looked… angry. Had they been mistaken about the fight? Had Issa… started it? He’s an enemy, taunted the rational part of their brain. It wasn’t farfetched to think he would try to fight their people, was it? But Lec couldn’t believe that, didn’t want to believe that, not without hearing from him what had happened.

    Their hand lingered in the air between them, uncertain, until they let go of their reservations and wiped the blood on his face. Luckily, his wounds were not severe, but from his expression, Lec figured they weren’t just skin deep. “Issa,” they whispered, a warning, a plea. Their eyes flicked to the inn, now streets away, before coming back to hold his gaze. “What happened?” Part of them hoped he didn’t hear the question, wouldn’t confirm their suspicions. This was another reminder of how little they actually knew about their Lucet companion, and as memories of his tribesmen returned to their mind, their fingers fluttered to old scar tissue as fear wrapped around their throat.
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    The fight had been broken up quickly enough, but the argument was far from over. The cacophony of voices was almost deafening as everyone tried to have their say. Several uninvolved patrons declared what they had seen, almost all of them placing all the blame on Issa’s shoulders. Puppy-kicker ranted and raved, spitting insults and threats at the Lucet with careless abandon. Punching bag moaned a few garbled words about his broken nose, and the man holding Issa’s arms twisted them painfully, whilst demanding he tell them what had happened. In fact, Issa almost felt like he was the only one who wasn’t trying to speak. He could taste a little bit of blood – a split lip, maybe – but even that wasn’t high on his list of priorities. He simply glared at puppy-kicker across the divide that the other patrons had created, lips pulled into a disdainful sneer. Until Lec arrived, at the very least.

    A few words were all Lec needed to convince the man holding Issa to let him go, much to his surprise. Even then, Issa wasn’t entirely sure what he wanted to do with his newfound freedom. Puppy-kicker deserved more of a beating than he’d gotten, but trying to throw himself at the human again seemed like a monumentally stupid idea, considering his current circumstances Thankfully, Lec made his decision for him. His guide ordered him onwards in a tone that suggested they would brook no argument, and Issa was quick to obey. He followed them from the inn, feeling both thankful that they had stepped in, and ashamed that they had needed to.

    The streets beyond the inn were as empty as Issa had ever seen them. The sun had well and truly set now, and the dark was kept at bay only by the strange glowing lights that the humans had lined the streets with. After how crowded and stuffy the inn had been, the open space and growing cold were borderline refreshing, though they likely wouldn’t stay that way for long. Even so, Issa dared not marvel at the change. His attention was fixed solely on Lec as they led him through the streets. The mere sight of them was enough for his memory to dredge up the foul things he had heard the other humans saying, and the thought quickly stoked his anger anew. The silence between them was almost deafening, but after his folly, Issa dared not break it prematurely. Best to mind his tongue, and give them both a chance to cool off.

    He slowed to a stop at the same time they did, once they had led him all the way out to the boardwalk. Had he been of more sound mind, Issa doubtless would have wondered why Lec had chosen this spot. Why they had led him here, of all places, directly away from the forest. As it was, however, his focus was elsewhere. Lec’s apology caught him slightly off-guard at first. Issa had been expecting a sharp rebuke, not…this. Lec’s body language practically radiated shame, and the sight of them, reduced to this, was enough to make the Lucet’s blood boil anew. His hands clenched into fists by his sides, and Issa had to force himself to take a deep breath. He needed to relax. Those foul-mouthed scumbags might have caused this, but they weren’t nearby. Not anymore. It was just him and Lec. He wouldn’t take his anger out on them. Not after everything else they had been through tonight.

    A stark contrast to him human friend, Issa didn’t look away when it was his turn to speak. He held his head high, despite the blood on his lip, and the bruises that must’ve been forming on his face. He held Lec’s gaze with neither remorse or pity, the look in his eye defiant, or determined, if not outright furious. Any shame he might have felt over causing Lec problems was burned away by the sight of their apparent meekness.

    “You didn’t hear the things they were saying about you, Lec.” When Issa spoke, he did so softly, but his tone was undeniably hard. Uncompromising. “I’m glad you didn’t, truth be told. But if you had, then you would understand. It was disgusting.” While not quite an admission, his words would doubtless confirm Lec’s growing suspicions anyway. “Nobody should talk about another person like that. Those bastards deserved worse than they got."

  9. #69
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    Issa’s eyes burned with a conviction Lec could not understand. The longer they tried to make sense of it, the more fearful they felt. There was no remorse upon his face; rather, there was something more akin to pride, and the knowledge that he’d do it all over again. That thought was enough to shake the hands idly drumming in their lap. Issa was an outsider and a monster, and despite the days they had spent together trying to prove the opposite, this was Lec’s reality check, one that settled in their chest. They forced themselves to look back at him, meet his gaze, but as his anger furrowed his brows and tugged at his lips, Lec realized he looked exactly like their father.

    Issa’s explanation for the outburst did little to alleviate the anxiety rumbling up their throat. Lec turned away, cheeks burning. Issa had started a fight… for them. The thought was humbling and enraging and flattering and terrifying all at once. They didn’t know what to say. Their fingers began to drum against their thigh in a rhythm, counting the beats, the breaths, a fruitless effort of calming themselves down. They hated this, hated someone starting a fight for them, hated people getting hurt because of them, and they hated the way their tongue dried and failed to form any words. But they couldn’t hate Issa, nor the vigor with which he defended them, and they let out a shaky breath.

    “Issa, listen,” they said softly, cursing the tears forming at their eyes. They were suddenly all too aware of his gaze on them, of the muscles hid by their father’s shirt, of the fingernails or teeth that could extend into claws and fangs capable of tearing their skin to shreds. Lec looked to their hands, to the beats they were counting, hoping Issa would not see the attack rising from within them, the memories they could not escape. “I’m sorry they offended you. People say a lot of hurtful things, but words aren’t equal to actions or physical violence. Whatever they said about me… You get used to it quick, and you learn to not let it get to you. They don’t know me, so their opinions of me will never matter.” Lec didn’t know what was said, but they had their ideas, had heard plenty of things like them before, and even if such comments often left a lingering pain, they told Issa to not let it matter just like they’d told themselves.

    “You can’t just… attack anyone who says something you don’t like. I don’t know how things are in your country, but in mine, there are laws about that. A judge would take one look at you before throwing you away without a fair trial. That’s just how things are here to…” Our enemies felt all too apt after seeing what he’d done to those other men, but Lec reconsidered their words. “… to people like you. Trying to protect my honor against some idiots who don’t know a thing about me isn’t worth your freedom.” They looked up at him, their expression neutral despite the turmoil their thoughts were in. They cleared their throat, then prompted, “Okay?”

    The blood on Issa’s face and the pale bruises blooming along his cheek were impossible to ignore. Lec braced themselves for Issa’s reaction, for an attack, for the countless irrational scenarios they thought up. Later, they would reevaluate the situation, would realize Issa had fought for them, wouldn’t hurt them now, but for now, they could think of nothing but the fire in his eyes and all the ways they could get burned.

    “I’m sorry,” they added in a rush, before he had a chance to say anything. It was only a fraction of the apologies they felt they owed him. “I didn’t mean for things to go like this.” Their gaze fell away to the sky, the stars blinking down at the city. “Your family must be worried,” they continued. “We should get you home. I’ve got things to take care of now, back at the inn.” That was thanks to him, but they kept their lips sealed about that. They got up from the bench, expecting Issa to do the same. They turned away from the sea, towards the distant forest, the place that had haunted them, the place Issa called home. “Come on.”

    They were shaking. Their costume was doing little to shield them from the chill of the night, but their body trembled for a different reason. Their breaths burst out of them unevenly, not quite hyperventilating, not yet, not with their fingers still drumming, still counting, still keeping them grounded. A cold sweat dipped down their face to raise the hairs on the back of their neck. And through it all, they were fighting it, trying to look normal, in control, at least until Issa was home, at least until they could properly break down.

    Before they took a step, they half-turned to Issa, a bare foot pawing at the wooden planks. “Um,” they mumbled, “thank you.” They swallowed the lump welling in their throat. “Thank you for standing up for me like that. It was brave—reckless, but brave—and I’m glad I have someone like you on my side.” For now, they thought before shaking the thought. “But please, Issa,” they begged, “be more careful. I grew up here, so everyone knows me, and I can get myself out of trouble. You’re an outsider, and at the opposite end of our war, and we can’t get away with the same things. Learn to pick your battles. What you did today… you could have really gotten hurt, or worse, and I… I worry about you.” Their face burning, they turned away from him again. They didn’t want to think of what would have happened if they hadn’t stepped in when they had. If Issa had gotten his wish and more severely hurt those men, or if they had more ferociously attacked or even killed Issa; which would have scarred them more? Lec swallowed the thought, unable or unwilling to decide.
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    Issa’s expression was nothing short of incredulous as he listened to Lec speak. Of all the possible reactions he had considered, of all the scenarios his mind had come up with, this certainly hadn’t been one of them. He had expected to be reprimanded for half a dozen different things. He had expected a little bit of understanding, once he had explained himself, if not outright thanks. He had expected an explanation of what he had done wrong, of the human customs and unspoken rules he had broken. Not for once second, though, had he expected Lec to take their side. And yet, that certainly seemed to be what they were doing, at least to begin with.

    Several harshly-worded responses sprung to the front of the Lucet’s mind, but Issa was careful to avoid letting any of them fly prematurely. He retained just enough self-awareness to realise that his blood was still boiling. If he were an animal right now, his hackles would undoubtedly be right up, his claws out, his fangs bared, He didn’t want to hurt Lec, specifically. Just find an outlet for his outrage. Anything he said now would be born of spite, designed to do more harm than was strictly necessary, and he didn’t want to catch his one human friend in the crossfire. And so, the Lucet made one of his wiser decisions of the night, and bit his tongue – for now, at least.

    Indeed, the longer he listened to Lec speak, the more sense their explanation began to make. The other humans wouldn’t care about who had been right and who had been wrong, once they had noticed Issa’s eyes. If anyone in the crowd had hated the Lucet enough to try and kill one on sight, then his actions would have given them the perfect excuse to do so. Even beyond that, whatever system of laws they had in place would doubtless look unfavourably on one of his kind. Yes, his guide’s words made sense, and he needed to listen to them. The whole reason he had wanted a guide in the first place was to avoid unfamiliar pitfalls like this one, wasn’t it? Their presence would mean little if he just threw all that away in a moment of hot-headed emotion.

    The calm logic behind Lec’s words, and the soothing tone of their voice. The soft rustle of the waves against the boardwalk, and the cool, ocean breeze, gentle against his burning cheeks. All of it seemed to conspire against Issa, working together to smother his outrage. And yet, it wasn’t enough to completely extinguish his disgust at the things those people had been saying. When the hotter part of his anger had burned out, it left behind something colder. A firm, smouldering belief that those humans had been wrong, no matter what everyone else believed. Quieter than the burst of emotion he had felt before, but more unshakable.

    When Lec changed the topic and suggested that they get Issa home, the Lucet turned his gaze skyward momentarily, before he responded to their suggestion with a single, sombre nod. It would be the dead of night by the time he got home now, and his unexpected lingering would doubtless raise questions. He still didn’t trust himself to speak – not quite yet. But even so, he rose to his feet, and moved to follow his guide, as he had done so many times over the past two days. He was more than a little surprised when Lec stopped so suddenly, and half-turned to face him again. The apology that followed struck him as much more heartfelt than all the words spoke prior, and Issa suddenly found himself unable to meet Lec’s gaze. He turned his attention back out over the ocean, whilst trying to force his tongue to cooperate again.

    “I…okay.”

    His words were pathetic – a mere shadow of what he should have said. For now, though, they would have to do. Thankfully, Lec didn’t seem inclined to dwell on his awkwardness. It wasn’t long before they turned away again, and started leading them back through the quiet of the city. Issa matched their pace, lingering just two or three steps behind at all times. And yet, for the first time, he paid no real attention to his surroundings. There were no awestruck stares, no observant glances. The Lucet kept his head down and his hands buried deep into the pockets of his unfamiliar clothing, whilst he mulled things over. As such, he had no idea how far they had come when he finally found his voice. When his brain finally seemed to find the right words, and place them in the right order.

    “The other Lucet have always told me that the humans consider themselves to be civilized, while they view us as ‘woodland savages’. But I struggle to imagine any sort of civilization letting its people talk about each other like that.” His words were soft, again. So much so that he wasn’t entirely sure Lec would hear them, despite how the city had quieted. This time, however, they were distinctly more gentle. There was a note of pleading to them, almost. As if he were quietly begging Lec to see sense, to understand. “How long before words like those, left unchecked, lead to action? You might have thick skin and powerful magic, but what about the next person they target? Would you have been able to restrain yourself, if you heard people like those talking about Soren?”

    It was a flawed comparison, Issa knew. As he had already pointed out, Lec had the means to defend themselves, whilst Soren did not. Besides, they were siblings – they had a much closer relationship than the Lucet and his guide did. Dragging Soren into this was a low blow, however you looked at it. Even so, it was the best his mind seemed able to come up with. Would it be enough to give Lec pause? Would it just make them angrier? Would they even stop, or were they too keen to be rid of him, so they could set about cleaning up the mess he had made? Issa would have been hard-pressed to blame them if they didn’t.

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