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Numair closed his eyes and breathed in the scent of the woman pressed between him and the wall. She smelled of perfumes and soap; no trace of earth or musk. Soft, delicate, hands slid around his neck as he deepened the kiss and he slid his own through her smooth, perfectly tamed hair. He pulled her more firmly against his own body, hearing the rustle of skirts and tried in vain to wash away the feelings that had plagued him since midwinter. Despite his efforts he still saw blue eyes and callused hands when he closed his eyes so he kissed the woman even more deeply, pushing her hard up against the stone. Forget, forget, wash it all away.

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Normally she wouldn't have put much thought into it, but that day Daine had spent hours trying to decide what dress to wear to the midwinter ball. She had changed between her pale blue and lilac gowns over and over again, trying to choose the one that made her look better, more adult, ravishing, anything. She had finally decided on the blue gown, hoping that the clerk would like it. She never saw the clerk that night but the smile on Numair's face told her that she had made the right decision.

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It seemed as though they had known each other forever. They joked, conversed, fought, and lived in nearly perfect unison. They knew almost every little quirk, nuance, habit and flaw of the other. That's why she couldn't understand why Numair was so hesitant to be lovers. Wasn't it just a continuation of their friendship? The natural next step? It wasn't until the first night  he took her to his bed that she really realized that something entirely new was beginning.

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Numair sat staring at Temptation Lake as Daine prepared for bed, wondering what kind of cruel joke created the place. How many before had succumbed to it whether willingly or not? Strange things to be thinking at such a time--funny how you can be fighting for your life and still have the energy to ponder such matters. He was startled out of his reverie and Daine rested her hand on his shoulder, wishing him a good night before slipping into her bedroll. He shivered and blushed as her hand slid across his shoulder and imagined how those hands would feel on him in his dreams that night. No, he needed no more temptation.

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In truth he had ran out of things to teach her years ago. He still, however, insisted on daily lessons. They now consisted of pretty much anything. They would stargaze and he would tell her about he constellations or they would walk through the woods. He remembered one particular 'lesson' where they had spent the entire afternoon scaring pages by any, and progressively worse, means possible. He knew that she also knew he had nothing more to teach her for her magic, but she never complained.

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"What did you say?" Daine asked, looking up at him in shock, and Numair's mind reeled.

They were standing behind a pair of great oak doors; waiting to be presented to the court to celebrate the victory in the immortals war. They were heroes now, after all. They had been talking and joking without care; he remembered commenting on how pretty she looked and they had continued their teasing. What had he said? He swallowed, trying to control himself. She had said something and he had laughed and said 'gods, I love you' without even meaning to. He opened his mouth, suddenly dry, as she stared at him but before he could speak music blared and the great oak doors creaked open and they were ushered swiftly out to greet the entire court.

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He gritted his teeth as he watched the clerk steal her away into the gardens. There was a war going on. Surely everyone had better things to be doing?

Not that he should really be talking. Who was that boy anyway? He made a mental note of the youths appearance and vowed to find a name. Suddenly Daine reappeared and Numair's heart jumped; had she left the boy? It sank again as he realized that she was leading the clerk by the hand and they soon disappeared again. Where was she leading him? He stomach twisted at the thought of them heading back to her rooms. He stared at the empty garden for a few more moments before taking a deep breathe; this wasn't right. He shouldn't be spying on her. Another voice interrupted. What if he hurt her?

Numair clenched his fists before releasing them and taking a deep breath. She was a woman now; not his responsibility.

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Numair's heart felt as though it had stopped and he asked her to repeat what she had last said. Gods above had she really told him that she loved the boy? She laughed in return and the sound, usually so sweet to him, felt as though it were tearing through him.

"Well, not actually love love." She said, still giggling. "Friend love, y'know? I mean, It's Evin." She made a slight face but he didn't ask why, nor was he in the mood to correct her grammar. Slowly the tension inside him faded, but questions still remained.

"Not Evin then?" He asked slowly, making sure.

"No, I'll just leave him to Miri." She laughed again; her comment invoking curiosity in him but he ignored it.

"No one then?" He said, relishing and fearing the answer all at once. She shot him a curious look and giggled a little.

"No, I think I'm a bit young for all that nonsense." He ignored the brush off and continued.

"Love is anything but nonsense, magelet." She looked at him, her eyes piercing, and he realized what dangerous grounds he had brought their conversation to. Clearing his throat he changed the subject. "So Miri and Evin?"

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At first the name magelet had irked her, but it wasn't long before it began to grow on her. Before she knew it she cherished the nickname and the way he said it; it only belonged to them. She couldn't remember when this switch had occurred; when she came to love it. She could, however, vividly remember his face when she let 'stork-man' slip.

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He knew when he had realized that he was in love with her, that early morning when the barrier had broken. What he didn't know is when he had fallen in love with her. There was no memory he could call upon that could give him a specific moment. He wondered if maybe he had always loved her. Thinking back he remembered one afternoon when he had gone to her rooms when she had been late for lessons. When he got there he found out that it was the first anniversary of her mother's death. He had curled up on the bed with her and held her as she cried. Thinking back he thinks that that might have been the moment when he first started falling in love.

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"Have they returned yet?" The redhead asked Onua as she helped her prepare her mount and she shook her head.

"Soon hopefully, they didn't have to go that far." She said, the exhaustion and constant worry of war long set in. Moments later the sound of hoof beats approached the stable, fast, and with her well-trained ear she guessed that there were two.

"Maybe that's them now," she said, moving quickly to the stable entrance. "Oh gods." The whisper left her mouth and she broke into a desperate run towards the rider-less steeds. "Alanna, come quick!"

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She found solace in the fact that even if she couldn't always speak to them that her parents were literally watching over her. She knew she was loved and that they were watching out for her in the way that they could and it was nice to know that she had not been completely abandoned. Her lover on the other hand never really considered the fact that her parents could literally watch over her until the morning after the first time he bedded her. He was extremely careful of hunters these days.

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He would always remember the first time he commented on the resemblance between her and her father. He had meant it as nothing more than a casual observation but her eyes had widened and her hands had flew up to her hair, checking for horns. It took him so long to stop laughing that she had walked away by the time he stopped.

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He finally had to admit to Alanna that she was right when she had told him Daine needed other females around. He also had to admit that he was not capable of handling any situation. This had all occurred rather quickly when he had frantically contacted the lioness via speaking spell and told her to come to the tower immediately. Stormwings he could handle. Shape-shifting was a walk in the park. Krakens? No problem. A girl becoming a woman, however, and he was entirely out of his depth.

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She had always been instinctual; it came with the animal territory. So many things had come naturally to her despite her protests that her success was due solely to practice. Archery, hunting, even her magic she had grasped quickly and with an ease that had shocked him. Now as she slid her hands under his shirt to tease the skin at his waist and nibbled on his ear in an absolutely sinful way he realized he had one more thing to add to the list.

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It was unbelievable to think that just five years ago she had been a shy country bred girl who had never even heard of Carthak. It had been only four years ago that he had laughed of the very thought of taking her as his own, the idea ridiculous to him. He would have laughed himself breathless if anyone had told him back then that at this very moment he would be holding her, the hero of Tortall and demi-goddess, in his arms as the morning light sifted through the window and he contemplated how to ask for her hand in marriage once again.

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He had been in the service of the kingdom for years, and over that time had become undeniably devoted to it. No price was too high to pay for the land that had given him new life. His time, his magic, his life; none would be too much to give. Her life, however--now that would be far too great a price.

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He could tell that she had been slightly surprised to see that Alanna had not been joking about the state of his tower since he had fired his last housekeeper. He had noticed that she seemed less than pleased at the noise his experiments made at three in the morning. However, it wasn't until a lotion he had left lying around had turned her hands blue for a week did he realize that he had never really given her sufficient warning as to what living with a mage really entailed

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Truth be told his passion had surprised her. She was a wild thing, after all, and had always thought that he would be rather polite when it came to the more private aspects of their relationship; all gentle and soft.

He did have his prudish moments, to be sure; in public he was always strict when it came to keeping their affectionate displays to a minimum, nothing more than holding hands or a swift chaste kiss. There was a time and a place with him; he would often chastise her for trying to distract him when they were supposed to be somewhere else.

That did not mean, however, that he wouldn't have her up on the kitchen table with her breeches around her ankles while they were supposed to be entertaining in the other room when the need called for it.

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Mithros Minos and Shakith, what was he supposed to do now? How was he even supposed to be around her?

He had known her when she was thirteen; she had been so young and he already had so many sins on his hands at that time.

She wasn't thirteen anymore though, she was definitely a woman; all grown and with a mature mind of her own, fully capable of making decisions. She was still innocent though, far too innocent and he could trick her into his bed so easily; she wouldn't even see it coming. He was so much older than her after all, that experience gave him an unfair advantage. Fourteen years was far too great a gap. Although, come to think of it, there were many marriages, many of them very successful, that had equal or greater age gaps. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair as he poured himself a drink; there were far too many sides to this.

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There was always a part of him, a terrified place in the back of his mind, which was waiting for it but nothing could have prepared him for it when it finally came.

The day was clear and bright as he sat in his study absorbed in a tome; the only sound that of the turning pages. Then it came; the heart-stopping scream of agony and fury as the animals shrieked their loss.

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Needless to say, he had not been amused the first time he woke up to find their bed filled with porcupines.

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He had been forbidden to stay with her through the fever; they said it was too dangerous, but he had done so anyway. He had to make sure she was okay even if it meant he would be in harms way. He barely slept, sitting by her bedside for days on end. She finally woke up and called him an overprotective dolt.

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They always sent letters when they were apart, without fail. Most of the time there wasn't even much to say but the little things that happened during the day, but that was fine with them.

It did turn out, though, that when a letter was not of great importance Numair tended to get very sloppy with his writing. She didn't have the heart to tell him that she usually couldn't understand half of what he wrote so she mostly just responded to what she could figure out and wrote 'I love you' a lot so that he wouldn't notice.

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There were times, especially those of war, in which they both found themselves wishing that they could be normal. Sometimes they longed to be nothing more than simple country—folk with a little home out of the way of things.

The truth was, and they both knew it, that it was only because they were both so far from normal that they ever found each other.

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He had always thought that she had the best facial expressions. He'd always been particularly fond of her slightly embarrassed face or the cute little glare she got when she was disgruntled about something. Though since they'd begun to explore the new physical aspects of their relationship he'd found a whole new set of expressions to compete for his favorite.

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He loved everything about her. Being with her, her smile, her laugh, her voice, her body; everything.

He never tired of being with her, she always made him laugh, the sex was fantastic, the conversation stimulating.

That night, however, as she cracked the third joke at his expense he found a little part of himself missing how shy she used to be. He had been respected then; well, at least a little bit.

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He had to admit that his productivity in the name of the crown had drastically decreased since she had moved into his rooms.

On the other hand, his productivity in other aspects have been positively spectacular if he said so himself.

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"Numair, you come to this bed and canoodle with me right now or I'll tell Kit to set your favourite breeches on fire."

Numair smirked; nobody ever said that ultimatums had to be particularly difficult choices.

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"What's the worst that can happen?" Numair asked, flashing her a roguish smile and she couldn't help the feeling of foreboding that was quickly settled in her stomach.

Sure enough, two hours later they were covered in mud, stranded in the middle of the royal moat, chained together, and had a new story that they could never tell their friends.

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She tried to remember what the last thing she had said to her was.

She shoveled the final pile of soil onto the charred heap, one of many, and she tried to remember. Cloud stood to the side, her breathing clashing with unbearable weighing silence. She looked at her hands, no trace of skin visible beneath the blackened earth that consumed them. She suddenly felt much older; she felt as though her skin was stained with the earth of a thousand nations though she had never traveled beyond the neighboring hills.

She picked up the shovel once more and tried to remember what the last thing she had said to her mother was.

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She never told him but sometimes, every once and a while, she was terrified when he left her. Sometimes it was when he was leaving on a journey but others it could be for the week or merely for the day.

He would kiss her goodbye and she would be terrified that it would be for the last time.

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She had always felt as though a part of her was missing when she didn't know who her father was. She was always the bastard; always incomplete.

She thought that if she knew—knew where she came from—that it would somehow complete her. She considered this over dinner as she looked at her father, all green streaks and antlers, and she couldn't help but feel that he hadn't really changed anything.

She turned to her teacher, him shifting uncomfortably under the gazes of the gods, and and knew that she had found her place years ago.

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Traveling became a lot more fun once they were sharing a bedroll.

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There were a lot of things that worried him when they returned to Carthak for Kalasin's wedding. He had been fretting about, and had prepared for, numerous disasters and had steeled himself for the worst when it came to their return.

He had not, however, prepared himself for a dinner seated between Daine and Varice.

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He knew it was wrong—that they could never be together.

He knew that he was far too old and that she deserved someone her own age. There were far too many reasons keeping them apart, and he could never allow himself to act on his feelings.

Despite all of this when he hands her her birthday present and she smiles in that radiant way of hers and kisses him on the cheek and gives him a lingering hug he can't help but feeling as though he's made a little progress. At moments like this he allows himself to think, if only for a second, maybe someday

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They thought they knew everything about one other.

Every quirk, every flaw, every scar; there was nothing that was unknown to the other. But, as he laid her down onto his bed for the first time and they slowly shed their defenses, it was like meeting each other all over again.

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At pirate's swoop there was a lavish and expensive party underway to celebrate the fifteenth birthday of the Wildmage. The planning had been going on for weeks, and Daine had gotten a new dress and slippers for the occasion. This would have been very well and all if it had not been for the freak snowstorm that had trapped her and Numair at his tower for the night.

Instead of celebrating in style with all of their friends they were huddled in front of the fire, wrapped in a thick blanket, with Kit. There was a small pile of presents from Numair lying on the ground and a somewhat sad looking cake that he had tried to make in order to cheer her up about how the night had gone (there were also scorch marks in the kitchen to prove this). As he gave her a quick hug and whispered happy birthday to her, the wind causing the tower to creak loudly, she couldn't help but thinking that this was the best birthday she had ever had.

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In retrospect, It was hard to understand why he had fought so hard against his feelings.

How he could have thought that it was so wrong for them to be together, it just didn't make any sense to him anymore. He blinked in the morning light and rolled over, pulling her close and burying his face against her soft skin. If this was a sin then being virtuous was greatly overrated.

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Sometimes it literally stopped him in his tracks. To him she was Daine; just Daine.

She was this woman who made him smile every time he saw her, who bit her nails and still thought that owning three cotton dresses was luxurious.

It stopped him dead sometimes when he remembered how powerful she was. That in his arms, snuggled into his chest, was a literal goddess.

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He smiles at her and pulls her into a half hug before walking from the room. It's a commonplace action between them; something that's happened a thousand times before in the past three years.

This time, however, she feels herself blush and her stomach drop a little. There is a moment in which she catches her breath before she shakes her head. The heat must be getting to her.

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Sure, it had been fair aggravating in the beginning when he'd treated her as if she were made of glass. Nothing but chaste kisses and soft, modest caresses to fill the evening hours for the first few months of their relationship.

She had thought it would take forever for him to stop treating her so delicately, that progress would always be painfully slow. It turned out, however, that all that waiting had paid off for her in the end. All that waiting had only resulted in him finally losing all control and now, as he pressed her against the stable wall and hungrily ran his tongue over that weak point on her neck, that amazing point that made her head spin and her knees buckle, she couldn't help but think how worth it it had been.

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"It's called a gimlet." She slurred, brown curls sticking out in odd angles.

"And how many have you had?" Numair laughed, reaching out a long arm to steady the girl, who latched on to him gratefully.

"Two," she said after a pause, holding up three fingers. "I'm glad you're here," Daine looked up at him and smiled, head rolling against his chest.

"Me too, magelet," he chuckled and smoothed her hair. The next thing he knew her lips were on his. It was clumsy, but soft. He closed his eyes, sinking in, before realizing what was happening. He drew back sharply. "Daine,I—" he faltered.

This wasn't supposed to be how it happened. Sighing, he looked down but she was already happily asleep on his shoulder.

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Numair settled into his chair, beaming with pride as he watched Daine coo at their newborn daughter.

He wanted to remember this moment forever. Nothing had ever been more perfect. Sun shining, the smell of salt air wafting through the open windows on a warm summer breeze, and the sound of his infant's clumsy fussing. He sighed contentedly and reached for his tea but stopped suddenly.

"Daine, did I just hear you call our daughter your favorite little accident?"

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Hiding his feelings—pushing them away—was second nature to him now. He had accepted the situation and his role in her life. It was a personal tragedy he had made peace with.

And then she would smile at him in a way that was altogether his. She would look at him with an expression he had never seen her grace another soul with and he would think what if...

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"What did you say?" She was incredulous. He froze, wracking his brain for what on Mithros' name had possessed him.

She had told him her swain had proposed. He shouldn't of been shocked—she had been smitten with this one and they had been courting for the better part of two years. He was surprised that any man so lucky would have waited half as long to ask for her hand. If he thought he could win her affections he didn't think he would have lasted a month.

Gods, he wasn't supposed to say that out loud.

He floundered, fumbling over words in an incoherent mess.

She shook her head, "Why would you say that?"

"Daine, I—" he grasped at straws for the words he needed-anything to fix this, to hide it again.

"Why now? After all this time?" She looked at him and his stomach dropped to see her eyes over-bright. He faltered, confused at her reaction. She looked away, shaking her head again, before turning back to him. She was all resolve, and anger, and something he didn't recognize.

She stood, straightening her tunic, and he rose to his feet with a jerky motion. When he opened his mouth she held a hand up.

"I'll be back and we'll talk," she drew an exasperated breath, "but I need to go take care of something first. Just wait here."

With that she was gone and he slowly sank back to his chair. Whether for better or worse he couldn't guess, but he felt that everything was about to change.

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In his role as a teacher one of his most important responsibilities was to impress upon his students that magic has limits. These limits have serious consequences.

Every gift was different but for most of his students those boundaries could increase, or stagnate, at a predictable pace.

Then she came into his life. Her power developed at a rate that startled even him. She met barriers and blew by them within weeks. For the first time he was the one struggling to keep up.

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He stalked the rampart, eyes glued on the horizon. The battlefield still smoked, the last of the bodies barely cleared from the ravaged earth. The healers had given up on trying to confine him to his bed the day before though his body ached to remind him of the toll the last few weeks had taken.

Two days and there was still no sign of her. Reaching the end of the rampart he turned on his heel, wincing as his thigh cramped, and came face to face with Daine. She was naked, dirty, and tired—practically swaying on the spot.

He started, choking on his words, and embraced her within his cloak. She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him, as lost for words as he was. They were consumed in one another, basking in the feel of their bodies against each other and that those bodies were still alive. Finally, they pulled apart with a gasp.

"Oh, magelet," he brushed matted curls from her face. "Are you hurt? You need to eat, and then a bath and sleep I think." He studied her, investigating for wounds he knew she would try to hide.

"No," she shook her head and kissed him again. "Take me to our rooms."

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Daine sighed, breaking the silence that had settled between them. She rested her chin on her knees, arms wrapped around her legs, as she gazed at the flickering lights in the valley below.

"Are we ever going to talk about it?"

"Talk about what?" He twirled a blade of grass between his fingers, the faint sounds of music carrying up to their perch high on the hill by the summer breeze.

She didn't look at him.

"That we're in love."

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He tried to be a good man. He wasn't always. His past held more shadows than he cared to think about by day and, like any man, he had his temptations. Power. Knowledge. Women, surely. Some would say books, but he maintained that to be a virtue.

He had done a lot of things he wasn't proud of, but he was trying. Trying to move forward into each dawn and be a little bit better; actually be the man she saw him as. Not the one who thought of her in the dark of night—another shadow creeping into the daylight.

Now, the forest around them all but erasing the sounds and flickering firelight of Beltane, those shadows grasped for him. Grasped like the hands of his young friend at the ties of his breeches. Like the lips of his far too young friend moving against his neck and murmuring his name.

This was not the man he was trying to be. That man wouldn't be unlacing her dress, or sliding his hand along her breasts, or finding ecstasy in the sounds he drew from her.

But, like any man, he had his temptations.

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He glared at the boy from across the mess hall, eyes narrowing as the youth reached out to brush smoky brown curls from her face. He did it so easily, so naturally, and she accepted the gesture just the same.

He fought the urge to stride across the hall and loom over the boy until he fled, like so many before. He had promised not to, though. A long time ago now.

He just wanted to protect her. He knew what young men wanted. He knew that their intentions were anything but honorable—nothing more than a tumble and a notch on their belt.

He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose and wondering when he had become so cynical. He could be different; he could want to do right by her.

Her swain could intend to take her hand, instead of taking her to bed.

Truth be told, he wasn't sure which was worse.

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He stumbled, scraping his knee on the crumbling remains of a pillar and narrowly avoiding the scattering of smoldering coals that had spilled from the overturned brazier.

He trembled as he pushed himself to his feet and moved through the gates, towards the menagerie.

He knew those gates. He had walked through them as a youth—his best friend at his right and his future wife at his left as they loftily chattered about the life they would lead together.

He had imagined those gates much like this, crumbling to ash under the weight of his fury—his enemy on the throne and his ex-lover in the ballroom as he wasted away in the dungeons.

He had never had the talent of prophecy but he had seen this as clearly as if he had willed it from all those years ago. No. Not this, exactly.

In the end, his fury wasn't Carthak's undoing.

A melted trail of bones scattered the path ahead of him. Even in the dim light still afforded by the few intact lanterns he recognized it. A beast long dead, along with all of its kind. A giant who was never again supposed to know this world.

A shiver ran down his spine. He thought he knew power. Because of him, Corus had magical protections in place that were the envy of the Eastern Lands. Because of him, the City of the Gods had revisited their stance on the abilities and applications of simulacra. Because of him, somewhere just south of the Swoop, a man who used to be a tree and was now named Qiom and tended to his orchard.

He faltered, Kaddar moving past him and urging him on with words that he did not hear. He looked around, taking in the wreckage of what, just hours before, had been an empire.

This was power.

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"I should have checked on you sooner. If you hadn't regained consciousness-"

"I never lost it."

"You didn't? Why didn't you say something sooner?"

"I'd barely gotten on my feet, Numair."

"I'm surprised you can even stand if it took you that long."

"I wasn't more than a moment."

He pulled her more closely against his chest, careful not to exert too much pressure on her battered body. She leaned back against him, looking small and vulnerable in a shirt far too large for her frame, and he released a breath he hadn't realized he was holding.

"It felt like much longer."

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He walked below deck, away from his student. Former student; the thought came unbidden. The girl who left her home his student and, whether or not she yet realized it, was leaving a foreign land a legend. The girl who brought an empire to its knees.

He closed his cabin door behind him. Behind it, the sounds of the bustling crew faded. The smell of dirt and spices was overwhelmed by that of wood and salt. He was going home. He was going home free.

The boat rocked, carrying him away from a land that had cast a shadow over him even from across the Great Inland Sea. Now, he was truly free of it in a way he had never hoped to believe he would be.

He sat on his cot, rocking with the motion of the ship, and wept.

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She shivered, but not from the cool stone pressed against her back. Laughter and music wafted through the air and lingered in the last remnants of summer air. Somewhere, not so far away, the rustling of leaves served as a reminder that the garden was not theirs alone.

He leaned forward, supporting his weight against the wall so that she was caught between his arms. The shadows that embraced them offered little privacy for crossing lines they had toed for years—but a little was enough.

Her body felt like a snake coiled and ready to strike as every part of her hummed with excitement, but he didn't touch her. That last bit of distance still remained between them; the last rise to conquer after a long journey. The sleeve of his robe brushed her arm, the heat of his body close enough to warm her belly and breasts. His lips hovered over hers, breath hot and wanting as it mingled with her own.

The last rise after a long journey, and a moment's respite to savor it.

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"Where's your assistant, Merron?" A red-robed mage asked the shorter, and somewhat portlier, man.

"Ah, Tybalt?" Merron looked around, scowling. "Probably still sleeping. I can't say he took to the journey-"

"Do any of us? I'll still be sore when it's time to leave." Aaron of Stone River joined the group, rubbing his back for effect, as the older men chuckled. "Isn't that why we have students? To carry our things and set up camp?" Another round of chuckles.

Numair cast a sidelong glance at Harailt who returned it, but seemed to somewhat sympathize with the group at large.

"Aaron, I've heard promising things about your student have I not?" Harailt piped up, redirecting the conversation.

"Boy makes the best damn hangover drought I've ever had the displeasure of needing, but i'll eat my robe if he doesn't get chased off by an angry maid's father before he masters anything of consequence." He jerked his head at a sandy-haired youth who was earnestly chatting up a pretty girl with freckles and dimples that promised mischief. If he wasn't mistaken, she was the assistant of a weather-mage he had met at the summit's opening feast the night prior.

"At least he can do that. I found Javon napping in a cupboard last month—all the droughts had boiled over. We had to start over. Two weeks work, gone!"

Numair found his mind wandering, imagining Lindhall complaining to his peers of Numair's own youthful indiscretions. He combed the huddled mass of students, not seeing his own. Finally, his gaze settled on her; across the hall a young woman was speaking quietly to the attending Master Mage. The elderly man's eyes her alight with interest as she spoke to him, pointing out various areas on the young dragon he held.

Turning back to his conversation he couldn't help but smile.

"You've taken someone on, haven't you?" Merron asked Numair who nodded in response. "What do you think? Time to retire apprenticeships? We can send them all to University and be done with the headache."

He smiled, politely. "I'm quite fond of mine, actually. Headache and all."

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Specific prompt: Two characters talk about one of the only things they have in common. One is holding something very peculiar.

Daine slipped outside, and steadied herself against the balcony railing. She felt her arms tremble under her weight. Even after sleeping for days she still felt weak at the best of times.

She was thankful for what little breeze the balmy night air afforded her. She turned, realizing she was not alone.

Varice leaned with her elbows against the bannister, looking off across the river. The deep blue of the her simple gown nearly matched the bruise that crept along her cheek.

Daine straightened, willing her body to stop shaking and finding herself lost for words. If Varice felt the discomfort she didn't show it. She stared across the bank, turning something over in her fingers. Daine paused, trying to make it out. It was lumpy —a rock, maybe? —but there were hints of a form, and eyes.

As if sensing her curiosity the woman spoke. "He made this for me. A long time ago."

For a moment Daine thought she was speaking of Ozorne, then realized who she meant. Of course.

"He was always fond of animals, even then." Varice stopped playing with the object and turned it in her hand so that Daine could see it more clearly. "I never have. Dirty, troublesome," Varice glanced at Daine then; a look that said a thousand words. "But there was this one cat who used to sit on the windowsill in the kitchens. A pretty thing."

Varice stroked the object delicately, a shallow cut running the length of her finger —glaring against her fair skin. "White and lustrous. She would sit in the sill and preen and watch me while I worked. Her I was quite fond of. I would sneak her fish, sometimes. She liked perch."

Daine saw now that the eyes rested below what could be two pointy ears, and the rough lines might have been attempts at whiskers.

"Then one day," she sighed, "one day the butcher ran her over with his cart." She tapped her nail against the figure. "And so he made this for me, so she could still keep me company. I put it on the windowsill and it's been there ever since. Until now."

Silence stretched out between them. The knowledge of the physical intimacy between this woman and her teacher irked her, but proof of their emotional intimacy —she pushed the thoughts away. This wasn't her place.

"I'm glad you're okay," Daine said, finally.

Varice scoffed and Daine couldn't help but note that she still managed to sound like a lady. "Of course. You hold me and my aspirations in such high regard; I'm sure you would have thought me to a great loss."

"Just because we don't have anything in common doesn't mean I wish you ill," she replied, slowly.

Varice turned to look her over as Daine squirmed under the scrutiny. Finally, Varice sighed and shook her head.

"We have at least one thing in common," she said softly, as she placed the little clay cat in front of Daine and walked inside.

Chapter Text

She didn't even pause between lifting the bow and taking her shot. Her arrow struck true, as expected.

"I need to get back to practicing with my sling one of these days," she said, wiping sweat from her forehead. "I'm fair rusty. You know, I used to be better with it than a bow?"

He laughed, "Magelet, I don't think you need to be that good with anything else."

She turned to grin at him and he felt himself flush, suddenly wondering if a bow was her most dangerous weapon after all.

Chapter Text

The midnight bell tolled and he heard her shift in the seat next to him. Unbidden, she raised her hand to her mouth to chew on a nail —a habit that she had never quite been able to break. Just as unconsciously his own met hers to stop her —a habit he'd developed since meeting her.

A moment passed before he turned from his book to look at her. The bells had stopped ringing and there was nothing but the kind of quiet you only find in the wee hours of the morning, and her gaze on his —lips parted, a question in her eyes. He looked down to where his hand held hers, his thumb tracing circles on her palm.

He blushed and pulled his hand away. They returned to their work.

Chapter Text

He didn't particularly enjoy talking while eating. He really didn't enjoy talking while eating sub-par food.

In his years at the palace he had developed a fondness for a page-delivered meal in his study, where he could absorb himself in a book. If he had to be social the banquet hall would do. If he could not possibly get away without being rude he would quietly pick at what passed for food in the barracks.

And then he met her and didn't even seem to notice that as much as he adored his books and his cozy reading chair and his page sponsored delivery service, he liked her more.

Chapter Text

There were things that went without saying. Unwritten rules.

Leaving no doubt as to the platonic nature of their relationship was one. The unfortunate side effect of her shape-shifting aside, there were firm lines of decorum and decency that governed their interactions.

Keeping their wits about them on the road was another. Though neither of them were particularly prone to imbibing at the most appropriate of times, alcohol was not something that crossed their campfire.

So it was not without confusion that Numair found himself, one winter night, soaking in a thermal spring near the Scanran border with a flask of mulled wine passing between him and his young friend.

Chapter Text

"Too easy," she laughed, face flushed and hair wild. "You really don't think I know all the old, useless languages you know?" She grinned and he scowled in response, taking a swig from his flask.

"Alright, my turn." She clutched her mug to her chest, and he couldn't help but smirk at the way she swayed. "Alright, I have a pony named Cloud —"

"Daine. Who do you think you're playing with?" Numair rolled his eyes, and she giggled. "Weren't you the one who insisted the reason we drink while we play is to learn new things about one another?" If he wasn't mistaken, his own voice was beginning to carry a telltale slur.

"You make me sound like a bad influence." She seemed offended and amused at the same time.

"If the shoe fits," he shrugged as she stuck her tongue out at him.

"Alright, fine." She bit her lip, "My first kiss was with that clerk, Perin." She was focused on her mug, still clutched to her chest, and missed the way he bristled at the mention of the youth.

"Sometimes, in the summer, Miri and I go skinny dipping down at the pond —one year Evin came —and," she looked at him, flushing again. She paused, suddenly thoughtful as she studied him from beneath long lashes. Finally, she spoke —voice wavering. "I've never been in love."

Chapter Text

"What?" He faltered, struggling to form words he couldn't even begin to find. She bit her lip, dropping her gaze and wiping dirt from her breeches.

"Please don't make a fuss over it. I wondered if I should even tell you—" she slipped her hand into his. Her skin felt warm against his suddenly clammy palms. "Besides, being a goddess sounds like nothing but a headache if you ask me."

Chapter Text

"Your teacher certainly is an accomplished equestrian—look at his form! Is he teaching you to ride?"

Chapter Text

He dodged a nip from Cloud as he approached the familiar form balanced on the fence. He smirked at the sight of her—perched on the fence in her festival finery with a strand of hay sticking out of her hair and murmuring lovingly to the ponies that surrounded her. An odd sight to most, but one endearingly familiar to him.

He reached over and plucked the hay from her hair and she jumped, wobbling precariously. He would bet a gold crown the wobble was as much the fault of the flask he could see peeking from the tie around her waist as it was his for startling her.

"Numair," she broke into a grin when she realized it was him, clutching his arm as she regained her balance. The ponies wandered away, irked not to have her to themselves. He knew the feeling. "I wasn't expecting you." She tugged on his sleeve to pull him closer and he leaned back against the fence.

"Were you expecting someone else?" He blushed, thankful for the darkness that enveloped them. "Never mind, don't tell me. I'm sure I don't want to know about the intentions of any young man sneaking away to see someone who looks as pretty as you—don't scoff, you look lovely—on a night like tonight."

He could see her grin in the moonlight, a look that was all mischief and daring. "And what are you doing creeping off to see someone as pretty as me on a night like tonight?"

The innuendo ignited a blush that he was sure traveled to his toes. He paused, taking stock; the last few months had been different somehow. She had been different. There was something bolder about her. Something that worried him, and excited him.

"I am a gentleman, magelet." He pleaded the fifth, ignoring the incredulous laugh he drew from her. "And a gentleman does not approach a lady with any scandalous intentions."

She turned to him, moonlight illuminating her face, and cocked an eyebrow. "Could I persuade you otherwise?"

Chapter Text

"Would you like to come eat? Dinner is laid out," he motioned behind him, back inside to where the delegation was seated.

"I know." She kept her hands clasped in front of her, the setting sun casting golden shadows that shimmered against the fabric of her veil and clashed starkly with the bruise spread across her cheek.

"Oh course," he faltered. Even in the worst of times you could always count on Varice to throw a party and, he supposed, this may just be the worst of times for her.

Another time, another decade, and he would have moved to comfort her. Now, though, he stood his ground with his hands thrust in his pockets as the sun set on what was left of the empire.

He didn't move to close the gap between them, but neither did she.

A few days prior, even years apart and a sea between them hadn't seemed to erase the connection they felt; not entirely.

Now though, something lay between them that couldn't be traversed. Something he couldn't put his finger on. Disappointment, perhaps. Loss. Anger, fairly enough. Rage. Time. A girl with a knack for animals. A demigoddess, evidently.

Hands that grasped at one another days ago now did not so much as reach towards one another.

He pushed the thoughts that suddenly seemed to crowd him away. They were for another time—or, perhaps, some would be best forgotten entirely. He focused on her. As beautiful as ever but so foreign to him now.

"I just thought," her voice cracked but if you didn't know her you might not catch it. "I thought I should say goodbye." She looked at him, her practiced demeanor betrayed by the tremble of her lip—a quiver when she met his eye, but gone just as suddenly.

"I always wished I had been able to say goodbye to you. Back then," she shook her head and looked off across the garden. "Wondered if it would feel less—" another shake of the head as she turned back to him.

"I wanted that. Closure," she sighed. "This isn't what I thought it would feel like."

"Me neither," he replied, softly. He half-shrugged, the motion feeling callous even as he did it but what of it? There was something so acutely matter-of-fact about this moment. If we were ever asked about it he wondered if he would be able to describe it accurately.


"No," she shook her head, "It's okay. We had a lot of each other once—maybe all of one another—and that time will always be ours."

He nodded and offered her a smile, wondering if it was the first truly genuine one he had shared with her since he was a gangly teenager. She returned it, looking younger and so much like the girl who had first stole his heart that for a moment he almost felt sad to see her go as she disappeared into the gardens—almost.

Chapter Text

He tried to remember the last time he had been cajoled into taking shots.

The eve of receiving his black robe —Ozorne, Varice, a jug of what the locals called firewater. Even the burn as it made its way down couldn't dull the glory of that night.

Varice had called it a night first —always the sensible one —and after that, well, things were hazy. There was more firewater and a trip to the river in the deep hours of the night where no one who wished to avoid being eaten by the crocodiles had any business being, and waking up with Lindhall's tortoise with a hangover that made him swear 'never again'.

Shots always seemed to start with the best of things, and end with the worst.

Like tonight, on what might possibly be the finest Midwinter he had yet to experience. No war, famine, or trans-dimensional catastrophes loomed over the realm. It was the perfect summer evening and spirits, including his own, were high.

Daine, in what seemed like a bold move for even her, had cajoled him into a drink and then another. And then another drink turned into many tiny drinks, close together.

And now, in the deep hours of the night he once again found himself somewhere he had no business being with her in his lap, hands threaded through his hair, and lips moving against his own. And, once again, he had a feeling he would wake up somewhere other than where he should be.

Shots always seemed to start with the best of things, and end with the worst.

Or was it the other way around?

Chapter Text

"Numair," she smiled, shifting her weight to re-position Kit on her other hip.

"I wasn't expecting you." He opened the door wide, gesturing for her to come in. "Always a welcome surprise."

"Oh, I can't stay. I was just wondering," she bit her lip and paused so briefly that anyone who didn't know her may not have caught her hesitance. "Could you take Kit tonight? If you aren't busy?"

"Of course," he reached to take the dragonet who was already reaching for him. He clutched her to his chest where she nuzzled against his shoulder. "Is everything alright?"

"Yes," she replied, too quickly. "I just think I'm going to be busy tonight, and you know she gets fair cross she gets to be left alone."

He chuckled, "That I do. The company will be a welcome change," he offered a small, playful bow that drew laughter in response. "It will just be me, a dragon, and some Old Thak—what more could an old mage want in an evening?"

She rolled her eyes, not dignifying him with a response, and reached out to turn Kit's muzzle towards her. "You behave now." Kit trilled in response.

She thanked him again as she left and he returned to his favorite spot by the window, murmuring softly to Kitten.

He settled in and stretched his legs out across the window seat.

"Careful," he chided as Kit approached the window, "she'll be vexed if you fall out." He pulled the dragonet away from the ledge, seeing movement far below as he did.

"Speaking of which," he murmured, recognizing the mound of curly, brown hair. Whatever he had meant to say, however, was pushed from his mind as he watched her—and who she was with.

She was with a youth he recognized from the barracks. A youth who slipped his hand into Daine's readily, and pulled her into the corner of the courtyard in a way that shocked Numair. In a way that, if he had been kissing a woman in such a manner, left no doubt as to where he hoped an evening may end. In a way that Daine returned readily—hungrily.

He stood, abruptly, pulling Kit with him and moved to a seat by the hearth. Moved away from the window and things he could not unsee. Tried to push the thoughts that plagued him just as far away.

And so, he spent the night a mage with old thak, a dragon, and nothing more he could think of worth mentioning.

Chapter Text

Daine tugged at the shirt as it slid down her shoulder. Even magically resized, a garment meant for Numair was not a good fit for her. Fine thing with all the wonders of these realms that the gods couldn't spare them a little extra help so her clothes would fit.

"Daine." Numair's voice broke the silence that had settled over them some time ago. Their trek seemed endless, and somehow always just a little uphill.

"Yes?" She slowed, scuffing her boot against the pebbled underfoot, but did not stop.

"Yesterday," he paused and sighed, shaking his head. "Nevermind."

"Mouse manner. Out with it."

Another sigh. "Yesterday, when you realized how I feel about you. That I'm in love with you." He said this last part quietly, as though he was still worried it might be a secret.

"Yes?" She grinned, despite herself.

"You seemed surprised."

"Well, it was fair surprising." She shrugged, not following his consternation.

"I understand but before that you were still," he faltered again, sighing. "You were still—" He stopped, motioning vaguely. She turned to face him, too tired and hot to play games.

"Still what?"

He ran a hand through his hair, further pulling it from its already failing tie. "Daine, before I told you how I feel—"

"Had me tell you, really" She jibed and he sighed but ignored her.

"—before I told you how I felt you were still very receptive to me." She stared at him, not comprehending, and he pushed on. "Physically."


"What what if I hadn't?"

"Hadn't what?"

"Told you what this was for me." He pinched the bridge of his nose, "I just mean that you seemed so surprised at how I feel about you, so it must not have occurred to you and yet you were quite open to physical intimacy."

She grinned, comprehension dawning. "Well, I'm very attracted to you." She stepped closer. "Sexually." She added, relishing in the brilliant blush that spread across his cheeks. It was enough to make her bluntness worth it and he smiled, though she could tell he was trying not to.

"So," he tugged at his ear, a motion she knew meant he was choosing his words carefully. "If we had not discussed the emotional component but you still knew I was interested in you physically, what would you have done?"

She paused, feeling herself blush and choosing her own words carefully. "Long term, I can't really say. I know what I feel for you but," she bit her lip, "we'd hardly be the first friends to enjoy some casual canoodling."

He blanched. "You'd have let me take advantage of you?"

"It's not taking advantage if the other party is more than willing, Numair." She cocked an eyebrow at him and he shook his head. "You can't tell me none of your relations haven't been more casual than not."

He held up a hand, stopping her. "I think that's all the new conversation I can take for now. You were right before, this is a fair weight already."

Chapter Text

"And I've been here since," he said, softly, playing with the cuff of his shirt. "But there is still a price on my head, if I were ever to return and their majesties have risked a great deal for my sake."

He knew she was aware he'd had 'a spot' of trouble in Carthak, as she had so matter-of-factly put it, but after she had shared what had happened in Snowsdale he thought it was only fair that he be more honest with her. And so, with a twist in his gut that always pulled taut when he so much as thought of Carthak, he explained to her why that 'spot' was more of a giant, overwhelming mess.

He didn't want to look at her, worried that the trust he had begun to build would be overtaken by fear. Numair, the fugitive. Arram, the war criminal.

"Well," she said when she was sure he was done, "I'm glad you're here even if you had to go through a fair awful time to get here." Her tone was matter-of-fact but when he looked at her he saw sympathy written clearly on her face.

"I'm glad I'm here too," he said softly, touched by her reaction.

"And for Ozorne, he sounds like a right dolt if you ask me."

"Dolt?" He broke into a grin; amused at the thought of anyone ever saying such a thing to the ruler face.

"Well, if you really must know —" and then she called him something so foul he couldn't help but laugh outright.

Chapter Text

He winced as he picked his shirt off of the stable floor, trying in vain to dust it off. Daine peered around the stable wall, checking if anyone was about, as she plucked strands of hay from her hair.

"We're very late."

"You're the one who kissed me."

"Well, you're the one who was looking so kissable."

Chapter Text

Three is all it took.

One inhalation and she's looking at him a way he doesn't recognize.

Another, and the distance between them is shrinking.

A third and her lips are on his, and from there he is breathless with the feel of her.

Chapter Text

They had ventured to Carthak in pursuit of peace. A last-ditch effort to avoid a war that would be costly to Tortall—or so they said. What they knew was that they were going to avoid a war they were not sure they could win.

He was under more scrutiny than anyone else—Arram the rogue mage, the treasonist, the traitor to the Imperial Crown. He knew that his ever step must walk the line. For peace.

Peace was worth everything and anything.

Numair had prepared for the worst. Prepared for what he knew Ozorne wanted—for him to walk, freely, back into his clutches and pay for his perceived crimes. He had prepared for this, and in all his preparation he had failed to see that there was something else the Emperor Mage had set his sights on.

He had barely controlled his rage when the proctor read the letter Daine was accused of writing. His whole body shook as the delegation returned to the docks. Then, more than ever, he would need to walk that line. He needed to do his part to salvage any hope of that peace they had so hoped for.

Peace was worth anything.

And as he slipped away, a simulacra seamlessly taking his place, he knew that if she did not survive this he would do everything in his power to unite the Eastern Lands and bring a fury raining down on this wretched land like the world had never seen.

Peace was worth anything, but not her.

Chapter Text

Despite his formative years being spent in what most would call an exotic land, he did not have an adventurous palette. She, however, would try everything and anything—at least once.

She had developed a particular fondness for a spicy jam Thayet always made sure to put aside when a shipment found its way through from the Copper Isles. To the casual observer she preferred meals with exotic spices and foreign aromas.

Numair, however, knew that what she liked most of all was butter. She had been nearly fourteen when she had first tried butter. He hadn't realized that it wasn't a staple in the north and still remembered the way her eyes lit up when she had first savored what he took for granted.

She would never admit it, but he knew that on more than one occasion she would sneak to the kitchen in the dead of night, and pile a roll high with what could only be considered an obscene amount of butter.

He knew, because he requisitioned extra for provisions at his tower.

Chapter Text

Numair blanched, ale raised half to his mouth, as she sat down next to him.

"Fancy finding you here," she giggled, swinging her legs around so that she faced the front of the box. "Mind if I join you? This looks much more comfortable than the cheap seats."

He fumbled a response—from her grin and his immediate, abject horror it must have been an agreement. Below, the narrator walked onto the stage and the audience began to hush itself though a low, boisterous hum lingered in the air.

Of all the places he expected to see her he would not have wagered it would be at a play so bawdy it wasn't even allowed to be performed in the theater district. It certainly wouldn't have been in his box, which she would very well know he would have had to arrange in advance.

He flushed, realizing there was no way he could pass his attendance off as a whim and not a performance he had enjoyed at least half a dozen times.

He was wracking his brain for an excuse—a friend brought him? These weren't the tickets he bought!—when she leaned over and whispered, "The first act is the best, don't you think?"

Chapter Text

He sat in his favorite chair, not registering its familiarity nor is comfort. Perhaps it was the sleepless night but nothing felt familiar anymore. Everything had shifted—again.

He remembered looking into a rulers eyes—a newly crowned emperor, a best friend and an enemy—where he found malice that seemed to reach out as if to annihilate him.

A few words; a royal decree.

"Your charge is treason, Draper."

And just like that everything changed. Weeks—months?—in the dungeons until he was sure it was death that had opened the door, not a teacher with flyaway blonde hair and a penchant for smuggling people out of an empire. Fortunately, it was the latter.

And just like that he was leaving home.

That was a long time ago now.

Miles and years began to multiply, taking him further and further from the man, the child, called Arram Draper. Then, last night…

He remembered looking into a rulers eyes—a king struggling to protect his people, a friend when he could be—where he found sympathy that seemed to reach out as if to comfort him.

A few words; a royal decree.

"I need you to go to Carthak, Numair."

And just like that he was going home.

Chapter Text

In his defense, the pages needed to learn not to interrupt mages at work—he could tell more than a few unpleasant stories from his time at university as to what happened at those who carelessly waltzed into a mages workroom at the wrong time. One involved tentacles.

The following lecture on impertinence, he would later admit although reluctantly, may have been spurred on more by his irksome mood than necessity.

So imagine his mortification when it turned out that the frightened boy was not trying to argue with one of the greatest mages in the world, but to meekly tell him his robes had caught fire.

Chapter Text

He sat by her bed, irked by the healers who hovered near the open door which they had propped open with a vase hours earlier. Even unconscious a girl without a chaperone was no better than she ought to be here.

How knew things would change under Ozorne's rule but this was not the country he remembered leaving. The land he had fled still offered hope of a better life for some and, while not as progressive as the country that had a woman as champion, was not so judgmental of someone just because they wore a skirt.

He was shocked by how quickly culture could change in what, really, had not been so many years.

Then again, it had shocked him how quickly Ozorne had changed. Looking back, he knew exactly when it had started—when the first rumblings of the avalanche to follow could be heard.

Power was a funny thing. Many think there are two types of people in the world: those who hunger for power and those who don't. He wished it were so simple.

In truth, most don't even know to reach for power. They've never had enough to develop so much as a taste so why would they crave it? That's the dangerous thing about power, though. Once it sets roots it can spread through your veins like venom.

What does a boy seventh or fifth in line for the throne care about politics? That boy wants to run away to the mountains. A boy second or, gods above, first…

He rarely thought of before anymore, when he knew Ozorne as well as he knew himself—better than Varice in some ways. Girls still scared him back then.

When he thought, no, knew his friend was a good person.

All it took was a taste of power.

He leaned back, staring out the window at the smoldering wreckage of the once magnificent palace.


A shiver ran down his spine.

A boy who wanted to run away to the mountains once found out he could sit on a throne, and wrought famine on a nation. Imagine if he had tasted divinity.

He remembered Ozorne coming back after that last Imperial funeral—so many in so few years—and there being something different in his eyes. Something Numair didn't recognize until it was far too late.

He wanted her to wake up, to see that it was still her when she did. To look her in the eye and see the blue-grey of a stormy sea and not venom.

But, he feared that this could change her and that, for the second time in his life, he may see his best friend travel a path he could not follow.

Chapter Text

"Well, aren't you a vision," He bowed and took her hand—which truth be told she had put out to steady herself—and brushed a kiss across her knuckles. The gesture was polite and well rehearsed.

"And aren't you a flirt," she rolled her eyes, waving him off. "I've no time for your silliness." Her tone was dismissive and teasing but her hand tingled where his lips had touched, and she felt a flush creeping up from her neckline.

Not, like in the past, the kind of pleased blush a stranger on the street can give you with a well-times compliment. This was the heated kind, that traveled down to your toes and made your stomach coil and made you want to find a dark, private place where you could savor more of the taste you just had.

She shook her head, pushing the intrusive thoughts of her friend from her mind. There had been tall tales about them for years, always with a sympathetic glance cast at her.

And Why not? It was a tale as old as time. A love struck girl pining for an older man. In this case, a man who had options far more enticing that she could ever be. No, she had no interest in being that girl.

Chapter Text

Numair turned the page of his text, enjoying the warmth of the fire and Daine's occasional and gentle murmurings to Kit. He had meant to have a quiet evening alone but Daine had knocked on his door shortly before dinner complaining that the barracks were chaotic, to put it kindly, and she wanted to update her notes on Killer Unicorns before she forgot the details of their last unfortunate encounter.

Now, he was spending a quiet evening with his friend which, he could happily admit to himself at least, was altogether more pleasant.

"Interesting," he murmured. "Magelet, did you know that in certain villages in the Yamani Islands there are matchmakers who specialize only in matching gifted couples?"

"Why's that?" She looked up at him, setting her quill down.

"Apparently they believe the color of your gift provides insight into your nature," he held up his hand, black fire laced with white appearing around his fingertips. "And for a couple to be well-matched the colors of their gifts must be harmonious."

She lifted her own hand, squinting past it at him. He could see the copper strands in her skin glow brighter as she called her magic forth.

She made a face and giggled, winking at him. "Well, if that's the case, I suppose it's fair to say we won't be seeing one another in any pools come Midsummer."

He laughed, politely, and returned to the tome. "Seems a little superstitious if you ask me," he added, after some time.

Chapter Text

"You almost seem more interested in what makes those orbs work than what I'm saying," Varice chided.


"No," she laughed and it almost sounded genuine. "It's nice to know that some things don't change. I remember what it was like to try to pull you away from a book."

It was his turn to laugh. "You give me more credit than I deserve, and less flack for my avoidance strategies than you should." He smirked, "it's nice to know that some things don't change."

They reached the end of the corridor, where the hallway split into two. They turned to the right, following the circular route it led for the third time.

A bird broke free of a bush in the nearby gardens, disturbing the quiet that fell between whatever information they could share that did not feel too close to home.


"Daine," he corrected, "and I wouldn't suggest letting her hear you call her anything else." He would let her draw both meanings—the humble distaste of her given name, the pain of the one that followed.

His stomach twisted in an odd way to be speaking of Daine. Specifically to be speaking of Daine with Varice. It made no sense but these were worlds that felt like they were never meant to intersect.

"Daine," Varice sad tentatively, following his lead fluidly as only someone so socially brilliant could. "Is she—" She sighed and Numair steeled himself for the accusation to come. A familiar one, but one he didn't want from her of all people.

"Is what the tribesmen said true? Is her father a god?" She said it quickly, in a low voice as she looked behind them along the long, empty corridor. He was more taken aback by her sudden shift in her demeanor, the intensity in her eyes, than he was the question.

"I don't know the details of her birth any more than she does." It was a problem he had decided to delve into another time and also one that, ultimately, was not his to solve. He sighed, "but I think so."

When the Bankiju had addressed her it was like puzzle pieces falling into place. He had no proof, but some things you just felt in your bones.

He opened his mouth, excited to connect the constellation of her birth now that it had been broached but faltered at the alarm in Varice's eyes.

Varice continued to walk but steered them towards the edge of the corridor where the shadows were deeper. She brought a hand up to the pin holding her veil in place at the shoulder of her dress. The Imperial Crest—a trinket that seemed to catch his eye no matter how he tried to ignore it.

Fire, faint but visible to his sight, erupted around the crest and Varice. Not merely a trinket, he realized. Multi-color fire woven in and out of each other in layer upon layer. He marveled at the complexity of the spell, not to mention the spells to conceal the spell. Even he was having trouble bringing it into focus.

She continued walking, straightening her veil. To a passerby they looked as though they were spending their stroll in quiet contemplation, but her voice came clearly to him and him alone. Underneath the fire he could see her form flickering like a ghost as she spoke.

"Are you mad? You saw the way he collects immortals in the menagerie—do you think he views people any differently? You bring a god-child into his house and expect him to let her walk away? You may as well put her on the table when you're bargaining for peace."

And just like that the fire was gone and her voice was pleasant, and vacant, once more.

"And how are you dealing with the cold, Numair? I hear the winters are dreadful?"

He wasn't sure if he had ever been as cold as he was right at that moment.

Chapter Text

Daine stood on the steps, watching the gates. She shifted, impatiently, when she realized the caravan was led by guards and merchants and none of the people she was long to see the most.

Naziim leaned over and whispered into her ear.

"You must be excited, mea mel." He used a term of endearment common there, and dressed in Siraj blue for the occasion. She found the color striking against his dark skin and hair—striking enough that he had spent the night in her rooms more often than not in of late and probably would that night.

She could only nod. Letters took so long to reach her and things changed—what if they were waylaid? Or not coming?

Strange and dangerous new immortals lurked the eastern deserts of Carthak, past the tumultuous Siraji lands, and at Kaddar's behest—and Numair's rage—John had agreed to send her on a short journey of goodwill to alleviate the problem.

A short journey had turned into years.

Numair had threatened everything short of what could be considered chargeable treason, but at the end of the day they both knew their duty to the realm. Now, with the phenomenon in the region escalating and no solution in sight Kaddar had once again summoned aid.

The Tusaine and Tyran delegations had arrived together a fortnight ago, and a small party of mages from the Copper Isles just that morning. An international crisis and what may be the most impressive summit of mages in recent memory and all Daine could think about was seeing her friends.

Alanna, Harailt and Numair were all en route and she would be lying if she said she wasn't looking forward to seeing one person in particular. She would be lying if she said, after all these years and nothing but letters to keep them connected, she didn't think about one person more than any other.

She was as worried as she was excited. Would it be the same? Did she want it to be?

Before she left things had seemed different, as though they were shifting in a way she couldn't explain but that excited her. And then she was gone.

A shocking tuft of red hair caught her eye and she snapped from her daze. Alanna, looking hot, tired, and vexed led the company in Tortallan colors. Harialt, always in perpetually good spirits, beamed at the receiving party.

And there he was: tired, sun-darkened skin, hair shorter than she remembered. He scanned the crowd, head moving back and forth until he found her. He beamed and she felt herself do the same—unbidden and independent of any self-control she could have even attempted to exercise.

The horses in the courtyard fidgeted and she severed her connection, barely able to stop herself from running down the stairs, much less a herd of desert ponies.

She settled for keeping her eyes on him, and taking one small step down the stairs and away from the man who she wouldn't be inviting to her bed that night. 

Chapter Text

"Numair?" She came around the divider and he jumped, hissing at the pain in his side as water sloshed over the side of the tub.

"Daine, I'm not decent—"

"Hush," she clicked her tongue, and quickly draped a towel across the width of the basin where it settled into the water and he pulled it to cover his groin. "The healer is in the next town over for the night and with the storm I doubt they'll be back before morning so you're stuck with me."

She disappeared again, only to return with a handful of small bottles and a stool which she set behind his head.

"I'm fine," he sighed but from the way his breath hitched he doubted she believed him.

"I think you cracked a rib," she ignored him. "What else hurts?"

"Everything." He smiled, amused with himself but could practically feel her roll her eyes. "But that's the worst of it."

"Well, let's get the worst of you tended to then. Just sit back, try not to hurt so much and let me do what I need to do."

He complied, too tired to argue about things like decency, and closed his eyes allowing himself to sink into darkness.

Outside a storm raged and rain clattered against the tin roof. The sound was joined by the crackling of a fire—a combination he had always been fond of. The gentle clinking of glass bottles and rustling came from behind him.

Soon the smells of comfrey and arnica filled the room, and teatree—he wasn't sure the point of the latter but it was one of his favorite scents and he felt himself relax despite how much it hurt to breathe.

He hissed as she found the cut on his shoulder and bit his lip, tasting dried blood and the wine he had drank earlier to try to wash it away. She murmured to him as she worked on the cuts. Whatever she had added to the tincture had a wonderful numbing effect that, goddess bless it, kicked in quickly.

She moved from cuts to bruises, working her hands over his neck, and arms, and chest as she gently but thoroughly coated his skin with a balm that seemed to take away the worst of the pain but still left him breathless.

He sighed, lids feeling heavy even though they were already closed. As she worked her hands through his hair, rinsing the dried blood and dirt from his locks, he leaned into her touch and felt the oddest sensation of pain vying with contentment for his focus.

Chapter Text

She looked out the window across the rooftops of Port Legann, illuminated in the moonlight.

The last full moon she had spent here had filled her with awe. Silver light cast across a fiefdom that seemed to melt into the sea. She had found it oddly enchanting, still taken with any town bigger than Snowsdale back then. She liked them best at night, when the town rested and you could take in the scope of things without all the bustle that came along with it.

Now the silver of the moon clashed with the golden light of fires scattered across the port and no one slept; not really. Occasional voices, shouts sometimes, carried on the wind. All necessary in a time of war.

Now, instead of marveling at the night she could do nothing but worry about the day to follow and what it brought. The day that would bring them face to face with Ozorne, and Inar Hadensra. One fight she was not sure she could win, and another she needed to be won.

"Daine?" Numair murmured, voice thick with sleep. "What's wrong?" His hand found the bare skin of her back, fingers caressing her spine as he sat up and smoothed a curl from her face with his free hand.

She leaned back into his chest, feeling his warmth and the rise and fall of his breathing against her.

"I'm not ready." She said it quietly and he leaned in to hear her.

"For what?" He wrapped his arms around her, kissing her temple.

"Tomorrow," she turned to kiss him. "I need more time. I need tonight to last."

Chapter Text

Numair stood on the deck, knuckles white where they clutched the taffrail. On the horizon a hazy speck had appeared—Carthak.

"Are you okay?" Daine appeared next to him, or maybe she had been there all along.

"Yes, magelet." He said through clenched teeth.


With anyone else he would have lashed out, but she was different. There was always something different about her when it came to him. An understanding of who he was on a deeper level, perhaps. An understanding of surviving some of the more horrible trials life could throw your way, certainly.

"I escaped once, barely. I was half-dead when I managed it, and I'm not so sure I would be able to again. I swore I'd never go back," he said it quietly enough he thought she must not have heard him over the wind.

She was only choosing her words, though, because her voice came clear and in stark contrast to his own failing one.

"You didn't have me then." She reached over, placing her hand over his. "We arrive together; we leave together." She watched the horizon with him.

"Daine, should anything happen to me you have to get out. If anything goes wrong at all, you know our orders."

"I do," she nodded, "and I also know people will have fair bigger problems than a misbehaving girl if it comes to that." She squeezed his hand again. "We arrive together; we leave together."

Chapter Text

She set the bottle on the table with a clink, followed by two glasses. Numair raised his head from his hands, looking up at her from where he sat.

"You look miserable," she said, pursing her lips and dragging a chair from the corner.

"That wouldn't be completely hyperbolic," he replied, warily.

"Good." She set the chair down with a thud, smirking at his wince, and sat across from him. "We have a problem."

"Do we?" He leaned back, crossing his arms—a telltale sign that he was about to be obstinate.

"I'm twenty, Numair. I'm twenty and been handling my own life for years; whether or not I want to pursue the company of men is my business and mine alone." She stared him down and mirrored his position, prepared to more than match him in whatever games he wished to play.

"I know," he shrugged.

"You do?" She quirked an eyebrow, "Because someone who knows that wouldn't undermine any interest I did receive until the poor man ran away with his tail between his legs."

He scoffed, "I didn't—" He was cut off as she held a hand up to silence him.

"Now, someone who did not think much of your wits might think you didn't know that. You're known to be fair sharp though, so there wouldn't be many of them." She reached for the bottle and uncorked it. "Someone who thinks you an honorable man might say you're protective." She shrugged as she poured out two portions.

"Those who think less of you, well, they might gossip that you're jealous." She looked at him as she said it, and he blanched at the implication. "Now me," she sighed, "I'm not really sure what to think."

"So," she pushed a glass towards him, "we are going to sit here and talk about it until we figure it out."

He eyed the glass, gaze moving between it and the woman sitting across from him. He opened his mouth and faltered several times before producing words. "Have you considered that I may just not like them? You're hardly overly friendly to my lovers."

"Yes, well," she took a sip from her own glass, "that's the other thing we need to discuss."

Chapter Text

He was awoken by a mass slamming into him. He yelped, and tried to jump to his feet only to find that he was pinned in place.

Black fire had collected around him before he had even processed what was happening and exactly what kind of danger had descended on him.

He opened his eyes and saw hog warts. Great, giant, hairy warts on the snout of a sow half laying on him as her piglets fought to pile on top of what bit of him wasn't already claimed.


Chapter Text

"He told me I'm too strange, too bizarre," she spit out the last word and kicked her slippers off so that they landed in front of the hearth. "He said he liked me well enough at first but that I wasn't like other women."

She was seething, but he could see the hurt clearly on her face. She had been sweet on this one and they had been courting for the better part of the winter—until tonight.

A feast always seemed a callous time to end a courtship, and he always preferred a less dramatic route—like letting women tire of his absentmindedness and busy schedule all on their own.

He placed a mug of mulled cider in front of her, and seated himself across from her. "He's not wrong about you not being like other women, to be fair," he said, matter-of-factly. At her withering glare he put his hands up in self-defense. "If you'll let me finish, I was going to say that that's not necessarily a bad quality. Depending on your point of view it may very well be a very positive quality."

He gave her a sympathetic look, "but not everyone is for everyone. I'm very sorry it took him so long to figure out that you were not the match he was looking for."

She scoffed, "I think it was less of him figuring it out, and more that he doesn't need something to pass the winter nights anymore." She muttered the last part, and he thought he must have heard her wrong but from the blush staining her cheeks that was likely not the case. He cleared his throat, but she was still ranting.

"—too wild, he said. Too much for him to handle."

He blushed at the implication of her words when combined with her previous admission. He chastised himself for letting his thoughts wander to such a place, but another part of him couldn't help but think well, that doesn't sound like a negative no matter how you look at it.

Chapter Text

Pieces fell into place with an impact that shifted her entire world. The letters, the answers to secrets about herself she hadn't even thought to seek, why someone she had never met seemed so familiar…

Thrown off kilter, she took a breath to steady herself and push back the keening voices of the hyenas from behind her. They fed off of her distress, their instinct urging her to turn it to rage. Attack...

Arram Draper, the Emperor's Mage, watched her with one eyebrow raised.

"Center yourself," he murmured. Where she used to have only written words, a voice suddenly filled the spaces in her memory.

Not just Arram Draper, then—the Emperor's Mage; the most dangerous mage in the realms. Also Numair, her teacher of a sort. Letters that started to appear months earlier speaking of things like wild magic.

She'd had no reason to trust the sender except for the information they gave her started, for the first time in her life, to help her control her strange power—a little, at least. Even Alanna and Harailt hadn't been able to give her that.

Numair, who told her why she was the way she was. Numair, who was the only reason she didn't constantly live in fear of going mad. Numair, who'd insisted she keep him a secret.

Arram, the Emperor's Mage.

Numair, Arram, Numair, Arram—both had told her coming to Carthak was a mistake.

"Numair," she started, voice low and shaking. There was recognition in his eyes—confirmation of what she already knew.

Voices could he heard approaching the enclosure and he shook his head so slightly she almost missed it before striding from the enclosure to answer Varice's call.

Chapter Text

"I just don't want to see you get hurt, magelet," he sighed. "I don't know him, but I know what a lot of young men like him are looking for and it's not what I would consider honorable."

She stopped, arms crossed, and cocked her head. "And what makes you think my interest in him is all that honorable?"

Chapter Text

Carthak, Ozorne, damaged him in ways he wasn't sure he would ever really recover from. Physically his only reminder was the dull ache in his knee when it was about to rain, but mentally…

The ease and eagerness with which he had connected with people in his youth was gone. Oh, he could put on a good facade when he needed to but there were few who really knew him. Those who did, well, it took years for him to let down his defenses and willingly expose himself to the tragedy of human connection.

And then this girl comes waltzing into his life like it's no harder than a stroll on a spring day and she's in before he's realized what's happened.

Chapter Text

His country is on fire, the barriers between the realms have disappeared, he is trapped from the war he needs to fight and lost in a realm that threatens to overpower him at every turn, chaos is on the loose with Ozorne at her right hand and the world has never been further from what it should be. Nothing is good. Nothing can get worse.

And then he thinks she is dead and the world gets so much worse, but this time in a way that can't be fixed.

But then she's not and she's in his arms and kissing him back and the world has never been more as it should be.

Chapter Text

"These days we understand it's a lot more complicated, but they used to think everything we see was made up of just a few elements." He strode up the hill at a pace she could follow as she handed him honeysuckle she had picked during their ascent.

"What were they? The elements?" She asked, curls flying wildly in the wind as they conquered the rise of the hill. Corus could be seen in the distance and the day was bright and pleasant and full of life.

"Well, air would be one," he smirked as the wind picked up at his bidding and she scowled at him as her curls went from troublesome to a menace.

"I didn't realize this was a demonstration," she muttered darkly and smoothed back her hair before pulling a tie from her pocket to secure it the best she could.

"Everything is a demonstration, magelet," he grinned, eyes sparkling. "Next is earth." He focused on the ground at their feet where indentations began to appear. Lines drew themselves in the earth, running this way and that until they connected to form words.

"Numair is the best teacher. How humble," she rolled her eyes but grinned despite herself.

"Water is another, and fun to combine with air I might add." He flicked his wrist and a little cloud appeared above her, sprinkling her with water before dissipating. She laughed, and wiped droplets from her face.

"I'd prefer not to burn anything down," he muttered as he looked at their surroundings. Reaching out he took her hand and held it clasped in his own between them. Black fire enveloped them, shifting and shimmering with streaks of white. "Not the most traditional representation, but you get the idea. Fire."

His gift faded but he kept her hand in his own, lost in thought.

"Are there more?" She asked, looking at where he held her.

"Yes, lightning," he nodded, eyeing a tree down the slope before thinking better of it. "I'm afraid I don't have a particularly non-destructive way of demonstrating that one."

Unbidden, his thumb stroked the palm of her hand and she felt every hair on her body stand on end as the pleasant, tingling sensation that had been present since he reached for her turned to a coursing hum that ran through her body.

She drew her hand away, shoving it in her pocket as she turned away from him. "I think I get the idea."

Chapter Text

She sighed, happily, and moved back from the table to lean against the wall. Hers was a happy little corner, with an entertaining view of the festivities, just enough ale to keep it entertaining, and just enough shadow to stop her being noticed by anyone who might make her join in.

The corner was made happier by the fact that she was not alone. Next to her, Numair leaned into the corner—sleepy and content.

"Have you had too much ale?" She asked, nudging him with her elbow.

"No," he laughed, "just not enough sleep. You?"

"Yes," she nodded earnestly and he laughed again.

"Shouldn't you be dancing then? By this hour all the drunks are supposed to be making themselves foolish." He couldn't help but tease her.

"I've had quite enough dancing for the evening." She shifted so she was further concealed in the shadows.

"There are a number of young men here tonight who would say differently." He nudged her now and she blushed, rolling her eyes.

"Not half as many as there are women who are sore you're hiding, I'm sure." she scowled and he scoffed.

"That's a bet I might actually take." His tone was not altogether light.

She giggled, feeling bold. "Careful, you know what kind of rumors start up when you wile away the hours with me, and I know how much you hate those."

"Daine," his tone was warning and questioning at the same time.

"Oh, hush. I'm just teasing. I know what you think of me." She grasped her mug and took a deep sip, sighing and leaning her head against his shoulder. There was a long pause—her content, him struggling to understand a deeper meaning he wasn't sure existed—before he spoke.

"What do you mean, what I think of you?" His voice was low and she had to strain to hear him among the din.

"Well," she shrugged, "you have women who you like as lovers, and women who you like as friends. I'm a friend."

"Of course," he said, chuckling as his body relaxed from a tension neither of them realized he was holding. "I will admit that the rumors do vex me, though more for your sake. It's one thing when it comes to my reputation, but for people to think you'd take up with a man of my age…" he shook his head, taking a swig from his own mug. She laughed and he looked down at her, eyebrow raised.

"You always go back to that. I don't know why your age has anything to do with the price of peas in Persepolis." She looked up at him and stopped laughing, abruptly. She drew away, sitting upright and studying him. He shifted uncomfortably under her gaze.

"You always go back to that." She was talking to herself now. "Numair, what if circumstances were different?" She blurted, inhibitions blurred by ale and a sudden, overwhelming feeling of being on the verge of something.

He swallowed. "I'm not sure I'm following…"

"What if you didn't think you were too old for me?"

Chapter Text

He had always thought cold was the bane of his existence, but luckily for him he had the joy of discovering it was actually humidity.

A leave granted to both of them by their majesties had seemed like a perfect opportunity to track down some of the species Daine was most eager to see, and Numair most eager to study her communications with.

So, into the jungle they had gone. The hot, sticky jungle.

He grumbled as he pushed vines out of the way, feeling them leave a powdery residue that clung to his sweaty arm—poisonous, no doubt.

He paused, suddenly aware of the faint vibration he could feel beneath his feet. Before he had a chance to mention it, the vibration had turned to thunderous shaking. He reached out, grasping Daine and pulling her close as he tried to remember what you were supposed to do in an earthquake.

He needn't worry about that, however, as soon they were surrounded by giant grey bodies tumbling through the jungle as a herd of elephants raced by them. Numair held them close against the trunk of a tree until the rumbling had subsided and he could let her go without fear of them being trampled.

He gasped, not realizing he had been holding his breath, and sat against the trunk as his shaky legs threatened to give way. "Are you alright?" He asked her, voice hoarse with fear.

She hadn't heard him, however, and turned to him with a giant smile. "That was amazing!"

Chapter Text

"Well, dearie, we finally have a moment to ourselves." Where before there had been nothing but empty space and his thoughts to keep him company, the Graveyard Hag now cackled.

He sighed, not moving from where he leaned against the banister, and watched the palace burn across the river.

"Why do I have the feeling that was more your choice than anything?" He glanced at her—she wore a tattered robe, no shoes and had a thick ear cuff of what appeared to be many entwined, golden rats that glinted against the stubble on her scalp. She shrugged, looking the picture of terrifying innocence.

"It's been a long time," he said, finally.

"You took a long time to become the man you needed to be." She grinned at him and winked. "I always knew you'd grow up handsome."

He shook his head, exhausted. "I suppose you're here to tell me something troubling?"

"I'm hurt. You don't think the gods ever just want to chat? You've toppled an empire; maybe I'm curious as to what you think you'll do next."

"Retire, ideally. Spend the rest of my days in my tower with books and a  cozy fire. Daine can come too, if she wants. Everyone else can just go away." He tried to jest, but wistfulness bled through.

The Hag leaned against her gnarled walking stick, picking at a nail.

He sighed, "it's not over, is it?"

"Not by a long shot." She was serious now and the effect was more unsettling than when she seemed half-mad. "Miles to go, my pet."

"I don't suppose you'd want to give me any more information than that." His fingers tapped against the banister. "Or can you?" He turned to her, brow knit. Gods always talked in riddles and he found it terribly hard to discern what they actually did or did not know.

She glared at him. "I'll let your insinuation that I am anything less than divine slide, but only because the new boy seems much better suited to my liking than the one you helped boot." She met his eyes, studying him. "Do you want to know?"

He gaped, not knowing the answer. Knowledge could be a terrible thing. Finally, he shook his head. "No, thank you. You know I've never put much stock in prophecy."

She cackled, "we both know that's not true! You believed well enough until Enzi told you something you didn't like. What a fit you had."

He blanched and felt a hot blush rise up his neck at the memory. A boy of seventeen, bookbound and blind, standing on the banks of the Zekoi and yelling at the crocodile god that he would marry Varice and the deity knew nothing of love.

When he turned to the hag there was nothing but empty air where she had stood, but her cackling last words hovered around him.

"Be prepared, mage! Now things are about to get interesting."

Chapter Text

Numair slid from his horse as gracelessly as always and, as always, Daine couldn't help but wince.

He beamed when he saw her, dusting the dirt from his tunic as he came over. "Well isn't this just about the nicest welcoming party I've ever seen."

She grinned at him, opening her mouth to speak but found herself breathless as he drew her into a hug. One just like he had given her a hundred times before, after just as many absences—but this time she felt like he had set her on fire. She ached where his body touched hers and she felt a hot blush rising in her cheeks.

She plucked Kit, who had been anxiously pawing the ground at being left out, off the ground and handed her to the mage, turning away so that he would not see her blush.

"Why don't you go get settled? I'll take care of Spots for you."

Chapter Text

"You're young. This is the time to enjoy being a little irrational. Go and have fun." He nudged her, urging to go with a group of her friends disappearing down the embankment. "Just don't drown." He eyed her—was he swaying or was she? Were either of them?

"Exactly," she grinned wickedly, "we're both young, so why don't you come with me?" She pulled on his tunic.

"Not a chance in this realm or the next," he scoffed.

"Too dignified, Master Mage?"

"Too cold." He shivered for effect. "It's dark and September. I have no interest in freezing. Also, I said you're young."

"I'm not going to dignify your silliness, but you're right about the cold." She bit her lip, looking back at the barracks. Light spilled from the windows and music filtered from it like a beckoning call. "We could challenge Sarge to that jig he's so fond of?"

He laughed, remembering his first and last attempt to do so. "It should be something with at least a chance of being enjoyable, magelet."

"You're not being helpful."

"I never agreed to this."

"You're going to make me think of something irresponsible we can do together all on my own?"

"Yes, then it can't be my fault," he shrugged, but the motion was cut short as she clutched his shirt and pulled him towards her to press her lips against his.

Chapter Text

"What did you think?" He asked as they finally broke free of the crowds ambling from the theater.

She bit her lip, not wanting to be ungrateful when he had treated her to the outing.

"Go on, I won't be offended," he laughed. She thought it was unfair that he could read her so well.

"It was a little sappy for my liking…" she said slowly, bracing herself for the laughter he readily providing.

"You're supposed to swoon."

"Perhaps I'm the wrong audience."

He nudged her with his elbow, "Don't get ahead of yourself. Give it a couple years and you just may swoon when some young man comes to you and says, 'Daine, I will list a hundred reasons I adore you each day I live if you but look my way.'" He quoted the play, throwing his hand across his chest and proclaiming it in an overly dramatic air that made her elbow him in hopes he would draw less attention to them. 

"Fine," she rolled her eyes, "let's hear them then."

He stopped, surprised, and looked at her before bursting out laughing. "A hundred reasons I adore you?"

"Full of empty promises are you? Can't give me a hundred?" She clicked her tongue in mock disappointment.

"A hundred? I'm afraid not," he sighed and continued walking. "Ninety-nine though. That's easy."