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Woodrow had taken a habit to talking to his sword lately. The sword, because none of his past ones had ever been much for conversation, none of them ever had names, and she notices, memorizes the strange way he looks at it sometimes, even when she doesn’t fully understand—she can’t, because he never talks to her, not about the things that matter, and isn’t it odd how faraway he still seems, even when she’s standing right beside him? He’d probably laugh, if she ever said that out loud, even though it’s not funny, really, not funny at all.

It stings, of course, that he’d rather entrust his secrets to the company of a weapon, and the fact can’t even hear its voice feels like rubbing salt on the wound, but the sword had belonged to his father, she knows, and when she thinks of it that way, a part of her understands, maybe.

Her parents hadn’t left much behind besides memories—tender ones, but perpetually blurred at the edges, her earliest years like a storybook with half its pages torn out, sentences dusted gray with the ashes of war.

Her father's bow had once been heavy to her three-year-old self, but now Chelsea carries it just fine, and the ribbon in her hair never frayed, never broke, not like the memories of her mother untangling the knots in her hair, strands slipping between her slender fingers as she bunched them up, far too gentle and careful not to pull.

She was a happy child, surely. She must have been, if only to make up for the glaring emptiness where her parents should have been, watching her grow up. She’d always had a good imagination, but that’s all it is, really, and then she has to remind herself that she’s an adult—that she knows better than to indulge in these banal, childish pretends.

On those days, Chelsea picks up her bow and shoots at pinecones, dropping one after another, until her wrist smarts and the sky’s caught fire and dimmed out, and she feels tired more than anything. They’re not in Phandaria anymore, but the night cold bites her skin in a way that’s nearly familiar, and that makes her feel a bit better, somehow.

She presses her knuckles against the tree bark, arching forward. The thing about trees, she thinks, is that they don’t laugh; they don’t pretend like you’re too silly to understand what you’re talking about, and they most certainly, absolutely, won’t ever tell him that if she had her way, that stupid sword of his would have long bent before it remembered how to talk again.