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Lohse regrets hitting on the beautiful elven woman in the belly of the ship.

The woman gives her a slow once-over, a coy smile on her face that doesn’t go away despite the woman’s slightly threatening tone. A sliver of something like appreciation shines in her eyes—the deep kind Lohse feels when she spots something she really likes before it flickers away like starlight on a lake.

She also slightly regrets offering her arm for Sebille to coldly lick over, like a cat.

Sebille straightens up. “When all the others were asleep last night, you were sitting up and staring lovingly...at me.”

Lohse grimaces. “I… kind of forgot about that.”

The singer has been struck by the silver features of the elf, sharp and elegant like that of a human noble, her bearing light and precise. Lohse wrote some lyrics in her mind, waxing love to the woman’s beauty as per her profession as a bard and keeping the music in her forefront of thoughts. When she had the chance to speak with her, she leapt.

She thinks she shouldn’t have now.

Sebille laughs, “My, aren’t you a pretty cup of sugar and spice? Don’t worry, darling. Your secret is safe with me. I don’t lick and tell.”

It’s hard to tell whether or not she’s being serious, but Lohse swears she catches the elf flick her gaze over the bard once or twice more than necessary. It’s flattering until Sebille laughs and starts rolling dice again like a fanatic, muttering under her breath all the while.

Lohse slinks away, a voice in her head mocking her for attempting to reach out, and the bard grits her teeth, reminding herself why she’s on a slave ship to Fort Joy in the first place—to find a solution for her demonic possession.

Later, when Lohse runs down to save as many prisoners as she could on the sinking ship, she spots the elf nodding gratefully to her as the bard comes back for them. An unreadable expression comes over Sebille as she studies Lohse, something almost wistful and yearning before she darts past to the escape ladder. Lohse makes the foolish decision to stay behind to save the wounded magister, and both of them go down with the ship with a massive sweep of the invading kraken’s arm and the flush of the salt water down their throats.

When she inexplicably survives, thanks to the disembodied voice in her head, she sets off to find a way to remove the collar from her throat. She does find her fellow prisoners on the island, having survived themselves, and she’s relieved.

Lohse also later regrets walking up to Sebille on the beach outside Fort Joy and commenting on her intense glare at a sleeping lizard. “What does a girl around here have to do to get a look like that?”

Short of dying to a needle, it was to let Sebille enjoy a pleasant round of stabbing Stingjoy in the belly, despite the lizard trying to dream to save them all or something like that.

Sebille smiles, waving her bloody needle before wiping it clean on a spare piece of cloth she picked up from Stingjoy’s camp. “Regret inviting me along? Thinking about how you’ll sleep at night?”

Lohse thinks about the hard expression on Sebille’s face, the look in her eyes of something fragile breaking. The bard shakes her head, swallowing her uneasiness, and reaches out to take Sebille’s hand. “I’m more worried about how you will sleep at night. That can’t have been easy.”

Startled, Sebille snatches her hand back. “No, I...” She clears her throat. “It...I am not used to someone’s touch like that.”

Lohse furrows her brows. “Like what?”

“Gentle. Compassionate.” Sebille turns her face away. “I...will be all right.”

Lohse isn’t sure if that is believable. She gets the sense that Sebille has not been all right for a while, but she doesn’t press the issue.

No one trusts Sebille to sleep next to them, even Lohse. Sebille seems to be just fine with that, sleeping at the edge of the campsite or eating the farthest away from everyone else. It gets so bad that when it is Beast’s turn to cook, he shoves two bowls into Lohse’s hands and tells her to deliver it to Sebille.

“Why don’t you just call her over?” Lohse protests.

“I like to keep my hide where it is—on my person.”

“And what? I don’t?”

Beast waves her off while he ladles out more bowls of stew, and Lohse frowns before she turns and walks over to Sebille, who sits the furthest away she can from the fire without being in the darkness.

Sebille’s golden eyes seize on her when she approaches as Lohse offers a meal of whatever Beast boiled. The elf’s nose wrinkles. “Trust me, best to get it over with while it’s still hot.”

Sebille eyes the stew before sighing and reaching for it. “Thank you.” Her eyes narrow when she sees Lohse sitting down with her own bowl. “What are you doing?”

“Eating with you. It’s what companions do.” Lohse shivers. How in Rhalic’s name does Sebille not freeze out here?

“You do know that I only plan to be around as long as our goals align?”

Lohse hides the sinking feeling in her stomach with a practiced shrug. “You mentioned that once or twice.”

“I have no need for fellowship. I am on a mission to take down a man who owes more than he could ever repay.” Sebille scowls after she takes a sip. “Also, this is horrible.”

Lohse tries it herself. Yup, Beast was never going to cook again. “It is better than starving.” She takes another spoonful, makes a face, and quickly gulps the rest down in the hopes that pure speed would outmatch the taste. When she finishes, she grimaces and reaches immediately for her water skin. “Besides, more people helping you kill those in your way is useful, yes?” Lohse is so proud of herself for learning how to speak murder-elf.

Sebille considers her words. “It is the more pragmatic choice.” She sets her spoon in her bowl and pushes it away, looking uneasy.

Lohse nods in sympathy, starting to feel queasy herself. “I know. I’ll cook next time.”

“It’s not that.” Sebille glances up again, those pretty cat’s eyes cautious and guarded. “Why are you doing...this?” She gestures between them.

“Being...friendly?” Lohse’s brows furrows. “Do they not teach you how to have a conversation in assassin school or wherever you picked up your skills?”

Sebille scowls. “My Master taught me what I know, and he did not do so with kind words and praise.” She looks startled before narrowing her eyes at Lohse. “Why am I telling you?”

“I’m a good listener?” Lohse picks up a second water skin to wash down the taste. “You’re going to leave anyway, and you like an audience? I smell better than anyone else?”

Sebille shrugs. “All true enough.” She leans back. “And you’re not too bad of an audience to look at either.”

“My heart gallops like a runaway horse at your enchanting words,” quips Lohse dryly. “If you don’t want to talk either, I’m happy to just sit here too.” And think about how to procure a cookbook for Beast, so he doesn’t make up recipes as he goes along.

Sebille studies her for a long moment. “Suit yourself,” she says before she lapses into silence. Lohse does come up with a way to cobble together something of a book for future cooks while Sebille stares out into the stars, ignoring her.

Ifan calls them both to sleep as he takes up the first guard shift. Sebille’s on her feet and passing by Lohse before the bard stands. Still, Lohse takes it as a massive victory when Sebille does not turn away Lohse’s company after the first night, though the bard still wonders if she’ll get a needle to the eye if she tries to sit too closely too soon.

They manage to break into Fort Joy’s prison, kill every single magister, and steal out into the swamps north of the fort. The swamps are horrible—full of poison, undead fighters, and these corpse-weapons called Shriekers that would slaughter someone on the spot if they wandered within range.

Despite all the dangers, Lohse is pleased that her motley crew has neither robbed her and left her for dead nor betrayed her to another yet. Even better, some of their moods improve, such as the Red Prince admitting to enjoying the adventuring life, Ifan sharing some of his Lone Wolves experience, and even Sebille offering to examine some of the blade wounds Lohse gets in battle.

Sebille hums quietly as she neatly stitches up the most recent cut along Lohse’s arm. “Should really be more careful. Someone could have poisoned you with that blade.” She peers closer, brows knitting together. “In fact, I’d say they did.”

Lohse nods before keeling over. She wakes up to the sight of Beast doting over her, peering at her and poking at her face with a rather thick finger. “I reckon she’ll survive.” He reaches over for a water skin when he sees Lohse shift. “Lucky that Ifan knew the cure, or we would have been burying you next to the giant lizard corpses.”

“Not the lizards,” Lohse moans, vision and thoughts swimming. She drinks greedily at the offered water skin before Beast lays her gently onto her back.

“Best you get some sleep. I’ll be watching you, lass. Don’t worry about it.” Beast’s baritone fades out of Lohse’s awareness, and she falls into an uneasy blackness, tinged with the faint sounds of disgust from somewhere inside.

When she wakes next, it is night time, and their surroundings have changed from an open beach to an unfamiliar camp with Lohse lying in the infirmary tent alongside other wounded survivors of an unknown battle. She turns and coughs, catching a pair of glinting golden eyes at the tent’s entrance and looking up to see Sebille scrutinizing her.

Lohse groans, “If you are here to finish me off, I specifically request no flaying or amputation. I would like to go out as good-looking in death as I was in life.”

Sebille snorts, “Manage your disappointment. I came by to see if you were dead. It’d be a bother to lose someone useful at this point of our escape plans.” She turns to walk away.

Lohse mumbles into the thin pillow beneath her. “Thanks. Love you too, Sebille.”

Her eyelids slowly slide shut, but not before she spots Sebille stopping, long ears twitching, and turning so slightly that Lohse thinks she imagined it.

She quickly forgets the memory as she drifts into a dreamless sleep. When she wakes, she’s quickly caught up to date by a visiting Ifan who mentions they were in a camp of Seekers, and their leader has gone missing. Without his knowledge, they may not be able to procure a boat to escape.

Lohse adds the request onto her to-do list and gets Fane to teach her a healing spell in case something like this happens again. Once she masters it, she goes around healing the wounded when she’s well enough to stand, much to the newly promoted healer’s relief and gratitude. When she’s well enough to leave, they depart for the ruins on the north part of the island, swinging by the undead merchant Zaleskar, who seems to be a popular man to speak to if Sebille’s and Ifan’s urgent demands to speak with him is any indication.

They continue their path northwards, running into a bizarre village of eternally burning pigs, whom Lohse concluded were people who majorly pissed a powerful wizard off. They find Gareth fighting off the magisters in the ruins further north, and Lohse figures out how to turn the pigs back into normal people.

When they break for camp, this time it’s Sebille who approaches her, beckoning for a moment of her time away from the prying ears of the others. Fairly certain that Sebille has no recent reason to murder her, Lohse follows, keeping a hand on her weapon.

“I only wish to speak.” Sebille hesitates. It’s the first time Lohse has ever seen her do so. “Your reputation precedes you, but I wonder how much is exaggerated. Can you sing back any manner of song you hear?”

Lohse’s pride stings as she puts away her weapon. “Excuse me? I am a bard. Music is in my blood.”

The elf sits down, cross-legged, and waves a hand to invite Lohse to join her. “Let’s prove that, shall we?”

Sebille sings a melody that flows and ebbs like a gentle wave along a beach. Lohse pauses for a moment before she sings it back perfectly, an answering echo. The elven woman looks at her with a strange look on her face, somewhat smiling and yet uncertain at the same time. “How much can you match, little bird?”

“A lot more than you can give.” Lohse puffs up her chest and rises to the challenge. She’s proven right when she can repeat each song, note for note, and Sebille eyes her with a calculating look. “What? It’s not that hard. C’mon. Say you were wrong.”

Sebille snorts. “Never.” She gets up before glancing at Lohse’s expression and sighing. “All right. I did not give your singing skills the credit they deserve.”

“Damn straight.” Lohse stands, spotting something that looks like a faint smile on Sebille’s face before the elf turns away.

“We should get back to the others before they start wondering if we turned into pigs as well.” Sebille waves airily as she leads Lohse back to their companions.

Exploring the swamp goes as expected when nearly everything can kill you, though Lohse does have a moment one evening where her vision blacks out as they sit down for supper. When she comes back to herself, she finds herself at the centre of bemused and uneasy looks. Everyone in her party stares, and Lohse’s face heats as hot as one of Fane’s fire spells.

“I just need to go wash my face,” she stammers, quickly darting away into the trees and underbrush in the general direction of the river. When she stumbles onto the lazy stream, she quickly kneels down and splashes her face, praying to Rhalic that it wouldn’t come back.

Something touches her upper arm, and Lohse whirls, sparks ready at the tip of one hand before she sees Sebille quickly withdraw with a wary expression. “You followed me?”

“I wanted to see the situation.” Sebille studies her face carefully. “Are you all right?”

Lohse smiles automatically, one of her most charming versions she uses in front of audiences. “Absolutely, darling. Sweet of you to worry about me.”

Sebille doesn’t look convinced. Her eyes track the trembling of Lohse’s hands, the strain at the edge of her eyes. “You’re scared.”

Lohse swallows and glances down. “It’s nothing.”

“Your eyes went black, and your expression became ominous.” Sebille’s tone is dry. “I would wager most would not call that nothing.”

Lohse goes silent. “Why are you here?”

“I was curious. I needed to see if this new power of yours is something I may need to watch and potentially eliminate in the future.” Sebille crosses her arms, posture relaxed. The lines around her eyes are tight. “If you prove to be a threat to my plans—“

Lohse sighs, running her hands through her hair. “Your dreams of vengeance are safe. My problems have no quarrel with them that I know of.” She turns to the river again, kneeling. “If you’re done, I’d like to be alone.”

She glances into the water and noticing Sebille’s reflection on the surface. For a moment, the haughtiness slips away. Sebille almost looks concerned, tentatively reaching out a hand before her expression clears itself, and she snatches it back. She straightens up. “You’re demonically possessed. Is that it?”

Lohse slowly turns, meeting her gaze. “Yes. Yes, it is,” she says quietly as Sebille surveys her.

“So, what is your plan for getting it out? For winning your freedom?” The elf crosses her arms. “Who do we need to kill?”

“You would help me with that?”

Sebille turns her face until the bright mark of her scar shines in the sunlight. “I, of all people, understand what it is like to be enslaved to a horrible master.”

“This thing is not my master,” Lohse insists.

A cold smile appears on Sebille’s face. “That is what I said as well.”

Lohse exhales. She shakes her head. “I don’t know yet, but...I heard there might be a man somewhere on this island who could help.”

“If you need him dead, I would be happy to help.”

“I hope I won’t need to resort to that, but...thank you.”

Sebille waves her off and turns to leave. “I might as well amuse myself until I reach my own goals.”

Lohse snorts. “Nice to know you care enough to help out of boredom.” She takes a step forward, biting her lip. “Wait.” When the elf pauses, Lohse quickly asks, “If I get out of control, if it takes over me and I try to hurt someone, promise me you’ll stop me...even if that means taking my life.”

Sebille gives her a sidelong glance, another one of her inscrutable looks that Lohse can’t decipher. “Done.” She continues on into the brush as Lohse’s shoulders relax. She follows shortly behind.

Lohse wonders later on about what happened before she shakes her head to concentrate on her own goals. She needs to find a demonologist. Fast.

They did find one in the bowels of the Fort Joy prison who pawns her off to his mentor—a specialist wandering around on Reaper’s Coast—and that solidifies Lohse’s determination to escape Fort Joy more than anything.

Over time, her companions grow warmer to her, almost cordial with some like Ifan and Beast being friendlier than others. Others show their developing attachment in odd ways.

The Red Prince peers at Sebille sitting at the campfire staring at Lohse, and he shudders. “It seems that creature is fond of you. To your detriment, I suppose.”

“What?” Lohse turns to meet Sebille’s gaze, who doesn’t look away. “It looks like she’s sizing me up.”

He waves lazily. “It may be the same thing to her. Perhaps, a few threats to your life to warm up before the actual courtship ritual.”

Lohse does not feel assured. She wakes up in the middle of the night and turns, pinpricks running down her spine. She nearly screams when she sees Sebille kneeling over her, eyes like twin pools of gold above her.

“It’s fascinating how you sleep with no reserve, as if you are not scared that, one day, someone might not end your life when you’re defenseless and stab you. You trust a great deal more than I am used to.”

Lohse puts Sebille’s bedroll at the opposite end of camp from then on.

Sebille shrugs one slender shoulder. “I was merely curious.”

Lohse’s tone is flat. “Wonderful.”

Beast later pulls her aside when they are gathering brush for their next campsite. “Make sure not to get too injured next fight. It makes us all uneasy to see the elf fretting over you so much.”

Lohse’s brows furrow. “Fretting?”

He shakes his head. “Aye, lass. You’ve got a long way to go with the ladies.”

She’s not that bad. She even gets Sebille to talk about her scars a few days later and offers the elf a drink to take her mind off of it.

Sebille takes everything from Lohse’s flask.

Witch.

She smiles slightly as she hands the leathery bag back. “It does warm you up from the inside up.”

Lohse sighs as she takes her empty container. “Feel better?”

“Very.” She glances over. “I may even let you ask about my scars again.”

Lohse trails nimble fingers across a slender arm, golden eyes watching her the entire time. “Another time, perhaps.”

The eyes darken briefly before Sebille looks away. She does not withdraw her arm, though she does eventually walk away, departing almost reluctantly as she treks down the hill with the rest of the party. Lohse watches from above, the last one to descend. Her eyes linger on the easy grace of which Sebille climbs, the flex of the muscles in her thighs, the pretty shape of her mouth pursed in thought. The bard shakes her head. “Ugh, that is one beautiful woman.”

Shame that she likes to go all stabby-stabby on Lohse.

Sebille seems to appreciate Lohse’s attention as well, since the elf tends to smirk whenever she catches the bard looking, which is embarrassingly frequent.

“Enjoying the view?” Sebille sidles up to her when the party pauses alongside a river to refill their water skins, nearly brushing her hip against Lohse’s. “You seem to look over so often that I wonder if something drew your gaze.”

Lohse’s thoughts spin from the proximity, the smell of Sebille like the fresh scent of forest. She nearly drops her bag into the water. “Sorry, what?”

Sebille smiles, a dark look that makes her golden eyes glow. “I was wondering if looking is all you intend to do.”

Lohse can’t help herself. Her eyes flicker over Sebille. “Depends on if that’s all you’ll allow.”

Sebille’s smile sharpens, suddenly wicked. “Best for you to keep dreaming then.”

She slips by Lohse who turns enough to see a flash of something that looks like regret on Sebille’s face before the elf disappears. When Sebille is gone, Lohse exhales and glances to the side to see Ifan sitting on a nearby rock when enough time passes. “How long have you been there?”

“Just popped in at the last moment to catch the gist of your conversation.” Ifan shrugs. “You’ve got it bad, haven’t you?”

“What—I do not—“ Lohse flips her hair back. “I don’t get that woman one bit at all.”

Ifan tilts his head. “She’s not adverse to the idea of being touched by you or touching you herself.” He takes a swig of his flask. “As a former slave, I would imagine they would furiously guard physical contact and especially by whom.”

Lohse’s heartbeats thud hard in her chest. “What does that mean?”

Ifan’s mouth curls slightly. “It means you have a fighting chance, little wolf.”

Lohse sighs. “She’s so gorgeous.”

“And knows it too.” Ifan leans back, studying her. “You’re not too bad yourself.”

Lohse snorts. “Was that encouragement?”

Ifan shrugs. “Or poor advice.”

“I would like to think of it as the former.”

“Suit yourself.”

They continue travelling through the godforsaken marshes, boots squelching in the water. After rescuing Gareth and accidentally stumbling onto Alexander in the northeastern ruins, they slaughter the bishop and his team, releasing the famed Malady, who was promised to help them get off the island.

Malady, a Sourceror with a golden mask on half of her face, looks entirely bored and exasperated at the sight of them. “I suppose it was too much to ask the Gods for more...hope in the matter.” She goes into a terse explanation of what they need to do to halt the Divine Order before she stops and gives Lohse a lookover, an appreciative smile appearing on her face. “Well, I suppose I will need to look after you. Good thing you’re easy on the eyes.”

Lohse blinks as Malady’s eyelids lower, eyelashes like white fans against her cheeks. The half-elf and the bard exchange a few more words before Lohse leads her party away from the Lady Vengeance, having a few more things to do before they depart.

Once they leave the stone arches and abandoned camp behind, Lohse feels a light touch on her, and she turns.

Sebille’s lips thin. “She was flirting with you.”

“Amidst a field of corpses, yes. I was there. Look, I can’t stop everyone from fawning over my good looks.” Lohse picks her way over a patch of brush. “At the very least, she’s got a...commanding presence.”

Ifan’s voice rumbles behind her. “Be careful. That’s a woman who’s trouble like the wind is unpredictable.”

Lohse shrugs. “What woman have we met isn’t?”

Fane clambers over a branch. “Frankly, the lady with the kiss that had you spitting bees was the funniest.”

Lohse grimaces. She was pulling out stingers from her tongue for hours. “Anyway, let’s move on. Killed the divine’s son and all that.”

The Red Prince remarks dryly, “Far be it for us to delay Malady’s affectations with you.”

Sebille goes quiet on her other side. Lohse looks over, and when their gazes meet, the elf shrugs. “The bees were quite hilarious.”

Lohse scowls. “Traitors, all of you.”

Still, Sebille seems to draw a pace closer to Lohse, almost protectively. Her face seems less guarded, shoulders more relaxed since Lohse asked for a chance to comfort her after meeting her god. The odd thing in Lohse’s opinion is that Sebille is so outwardly caustic to the point of being hostile, and yet she never turns down an opportunity to be heard, to be touched in a comforting way. At least, she never declines one from Lohse. Once in a while, she catches Sebille looking at her with furrowed brows as if trying to tease out a tangle that puzzles her.

After the maze with the talking gargoyle, Sebille wanders around with a scowl. “Undead, skeletal dwarves flirt with you.”

“Well, between me and the two bone bags, I’d pick me too.” Lohse frowns as she packs her backpack. “It was not the most flattering pass, I admit, what with her wanting to use my soul to escape and all.”

Sebille purses her lips and runs her gaze slowly up and down Lohse. “I can’t fault her. You are gorgeous.”

She slips away before Lohse processes the words, dropping a one-handed mace on her foot once she does. The singer bolts up, searching for the elf who disappears into the brush. Lohse holds her hands up dramatically to the sky. “Curse my unyielding good looks. Why was I born so attractive?”

No one answers her, but Lohse hears the faint squealing of burning pigs in the distance. She sighs and gets up onto her feet, already packing her bags again to be prepared to deal with them.

Once they tie up all of their loose ends on Fort Joy, they head back to Malady to finally leave.

The sailing along the Lady Vengeance goes smoother than Lohse expects, given their last adventure on a boat. She travels through the floors of the ship, inviting her companions to rejoin her, and several do with clear signs of relief. Finding Sebille on the lower level, she pauses and studies the elf who straightens in her seat on a wooden box and turns around as if waiting.

Her gaze is calm, focused. Her throat works. “I would like to adventure with you once again...if you will have me.”

Lohse’s answer comes quickly. “Yes.” She coughs. “We could use someone of your many talents.”

“Good.” Sebille stands, something like relief passing across her face. She gives Lohse a look that is hard to decipher—scrutiny and an odd softness to it. “Well,” her voice is gentler than the bard expects, “we best get started.” She looks at Lohse’s hand, and her own twitch in return. She does not raise it.

Her voice comes out softly. “I was...uncertain if you would invite me back to join you.”

Lohse crosses her arms. “Well, you haven’t murdered us in our sleep yet. That’s one thing going for you.”

“There’s always time in the future,” Sebille replied airily before looking at Lohse and frowning, seeming to struggle for words.

When she lapses into silence, Lohse waits for a bit before commenting, “The ship’s as scarred as you are.”

Sebille snorts. “Back when I was taken, people were classy enough to take elves as slaves.”

“Mm...I suppose you’ll go home after all of this.”

“There’s none to return to,” Sebille says quietly, staring out into the floor. She straightens up after a while. “The world is our home. After all, we are Queen of the World.”

Lohse snorts. It sounds like a Sebille ambition.

“And you...you shall be ours. The Knight of the Needle!”

Raising an eyebrow, Lohse does a flourish before bending into a grand bow. “My life is naught but dedicated to your service.”

Sebille laughs as she pulls Lohse up. “Thank you for playing along. We won’t forget that.” Her hands linger on Lohse’s, ghosting across her palms before falling away.

A sound of steps approaches them, and they turn to see Beast stopping in the doorway further from them. “Malady wishes to speak to Lohse.” He raises an eyebrow. “Am I interrupting something, ladies?”

Sebille steps away. “Nothing of importance.” Her lip curls as she turns to Lohse. “You should hurry if you wish to speak to your ...friend.”

Lohse surfaces onto the top, ruffling her hair with one hand as she makes her way to the powerful mage. “I don’t get it, Mals. Why do ladies give off such confusing signals?”

“Because you’re talking to the wrong ones, darling.” Malady turns, “Why throw yourself after a woman who doesn’t want you when you have another right here? One who understands you.” She leans forward, trailing her fingers under Lohse’s jaw slowly. When she reaches the end, Malady almost pouts before she straightens up. “Alas, we need to attend to business first. You have Godhood to chase, do you not?”

Lohse closes her dropped jaw. “Uh...right.”

Malady gives her a brief rundown of who she needs to find to ascend. Lohse nods quickly, keeping simple notes in her head as her mind spins over the last couple of encounters. She chooses to discreetly ignore thinking about them until she gets her demon issue resolved.

They hit Reaper’s Coast, and, immediately, they have to battle through a carnage of caravan, Voidwoken, and the near-execution of the Meister they seek. Their party sighs with collective relief once they reach the Black Bull tavern in Driftwood. Ifan immediately heads to the barkeep to barter for room and dinner for the night while the others scatter to the various tables and rooms, some keeping to themselves, others encouraging the performer to sing a tale of Lohse while one in particular slips upstairs to be alone. Lohse follows Sebille out into a carved balcony lit faintly by the orange glow of nearby candles on the table.

Sebille glances backwards and gestures for Lohse to join the railing beside her. Lohse does so, keeping a respectful distance between them, though she would love to close it. The tavern lights from the open doors throw Sebille’s features into sharp relief, the scar on her cheek somehow softened in the glow of the nearby torches. “Enjoying the view?”

Lohse jerks upright, flushing. “What?”

Sebille gestures to the sleeping town behind them, glimpse of houses caught in the occasional torches here and there. “It has been a while, since I have been in an actual place where people can rest and have lives of peace. Relatively.” She turns around, resting her elbows on the railing and coming a little closer. “It is nice to be part of it again, if only for a while.”

Lohse eyes her. “Did you used to have a home like that?”

“I…” Pain flashes across Sebille’s face, and she seems to be struggling with a headache. “I cannot recall. My memories prior to my training are scant.” She frowns, holding a palm to her forehead before she straightens up and shrugs. “No use worrying about it. All I need to focus on is reaching Roost.” She glances over, looking deliberately casual. “So, any undead women flirting with you in Driftwood yet?”

Lohse rolls her eyes. “I get hit on by one skeleton dwarf lady…” She notes a corner of Sebille’s mouth quirking up, the tip of a fang pointing out. Lohse sighs, “Shockingly enough, they are not my type.”

Sebille’s expression looks bored. “And what is?” If not for the look in her eye like an animal on alert, Lohse would almost be convinced she doesn’t care. “Some pretty little thing with too much ale in her and not enough brains?”

“You’ve got one thing right. I do like pretty.” Lohse fingers ghost over Sebille’s from where their hands lie close together. Sebille’s eyes flicker briefly, like golden coins flipping over, but Lohse is the one who moves away first.

Lohse raises a hand without looking back. “When you’re done with your elfy brooding, I’ll be at the counter. We have a dwarf to find.”

Ten minutes later, Sebille’s scowling again in the world under the tavern as Effie flutters her eyes at Lohse. “What a pretty little kisser to stumble down here.”

Five minutes, the scowl looks deeply stitched upon the elven face as Dorotya, the Decadent One, comments on Lohse’s looks as well. Lohse, being curious, followed her around a corner alone when Dorotya beckons, only to shout and have her companions come running to save her.

“Falling for every woman who flirts with you?” Sebille wipes off of her blades. “Some seductress will be the end of you.”

“Seriously, how would I know she was going to turn into a giant were-spider?” Lohse finishes picking over the body. “Most ladies who want to kiss me aren’t trying to eat me. Literally, I mean.”

Ifan smirks but tastefully holds his tongue.

“Anyway, apart from all this talk about ladies eating me—“ Lohse wishes her mouth would stop talking of its own accord at times, “—we should get on with it. You know, people to find, murders to commit.”

Reaper’s Coast is full of traps, assassins, and harmless and not-so-harmless encounters that sets Sebille’s fury off.

Sebille’s eyebrow twitches. “The chicken was flirting with you.”

Lohse smirks as they stroll back to their rooms at the Driftwood tavern. “Tall drink of tallness was a new one.” Her shoulders slump. “It is getting cumbersome having women hit on me one moment and then wanting to eat my soul the next. It’s enough to drive someone to find a lass who won’t cut your heart out when you’re sleeping.” She rubs her neck. “Probably got bigger things to worry about like finding an exorcist for my inner demon.”

Sebille huffs and turns away. “Good luck.”

“For which one?” Lohse looks over.

Sebille doesn’t answer. Her scowl deepens when Lohse calls her over to rescue her from a pack of children who corner the bard as they make their way to the tavern.

Lohse gestures to the approaching elf. “See? This is my wife. Would the real Lohse be married?”

A girl with a rough haircut screws up her eyes at Sebille. “She could have done it in secret! That lady looks like her type!”

Lohse sputters while a corner of Sebille’s mouth quirks up. The rogue seems strangely satisfied once they manage to detach themselves from the children.

“Honestly! Their imagination.” Lohse doesn’t look at Sebille as they stride away. Her cheeks burn.

“You can’t blame them for thinking you would have good taste.” Sebille shrugs. “They’re too little to know better.”

“First of all, ouch. Second, if I had a type, it would be…” Lohse bites her tongue as she looks over Sebille who raises an eyebrow. Beautiful, mysterious, articulate—damn, that little girl called it. “...well, let’s make it fun and keep it a secret.”

Sebille smiles and leans against the wall of the tavern as they ascend the steps. “You were with others like me before?”

Lohse wants to scream. “Some brief romances here and there. Nothing too long, considering my troupe was always moving.” She glances over. “What about you?”

Sebille hums. “Perhaps, I had some prior to my capture, but none afterwards. Too busy being locked in a box and killing people, I suppose.” She furrows her brows, biting her lip slightly. Lohse stops herself from making an appreciative sound. “I always wanted—“

Sebille meets Lohse’s eyes, something soft and yearning in her expression, and Lohse takes a step forward without thinking. Sebille drops her gaze to Lohse’s mouth for a long moment before she straightens up, shaking her head. “We are getting distracted. The others must be waiting.”

“Wait.” Lohse catches Sebille’s arm. “I want to hear what you have to say.”

Sebille smiles—a surprisingly warm expression. “Perhaps, later. Roost is still alive in any case.”

He isn’t for much longer once they find Culwood Mills and use Ifan’s ties to get in.

Ifan stares at the carnage in Roost’s office that used to be the man himself, his dogs, and his guards. “You could have waited until I turned in my contracts,” he says ruefully to Sebille.

“Sorry, darling. Revenge waits for no one.” Sebille exhales, staring at Roost’s body as if she wished to resurrect him so she could tear him to pieces again.

Lohse lightly touches her arm, and Sebille tenses for a long moment before she relaxes. “We should go and return Saheila to her people.” She jerks her head to the blind elf shivering on the cold wooden floor.

Beast helps the poor girl up, and they fight their way through Culwood Mills because, of course, they heard the fight upstairs. After slaughtering their way through Ifan’s former contacts, they make their way to the elven camp where Saheila reveals the secret she’s been hiding since she met Sebille.

Sebille looks stunned. “Me? Prime Scion?” She nearly collapses when Saheila steps up to her, forcing her to remember. The grateful smile she shoots Lohse when the bard offers an arm to support her sends Lohse’s heartbeat thumping, and the bard has to will herself to focus on the conversation.

“...I suppose death and domination are the only things I know.” Sebille’s voice is quiet, almost mournful.

Lohse gives a slight squeeze. “Death and domination...I understand completely.”

Sebille smiles and strokes Lohse’s cheek. “Thank you.”

The look that passes between them catches the attention of the elves who glance at each other with raised eyebrows. Not Saheila though.

The blind seer steps forward, pressing Sebille about her duty until they leave, a deep furrow between the elven woman’s eyes as Sebille thinks over what they’ve been told. She becomes so silent that Lohse has to wait until they camp to approach her, the elf sitting on a nearby flat rock, brows still drawn together.

“Silver for your thoughts?” Lohse sits down with bowls of stew that Ifan made, the group having decided quickly that he was least likely to cause their deaths with inept cooking. “Or nothing at all? Don’t mind me. I’m just here if you want to talk.” She places Sebille’s meal down before starting to dig into her own. A touch on her arm makes her look up into Sebille’s searching eyes.

“I do wish to speak about it if you would like to listen.”

Lohse nods and pushes away her steaming fish stew. “Were you thinking about what Saheila said?”

“Yes and no. I was reflecting on what had happened earlier with Roost.” Sebille goes silent, eyes watching Lohse’s expression carefully. “You saw the remains of what he did to people in his office. You spoke to the spirits of those children. He has never felt an ounce of remorse for what he did. He is a monster through and through. Does such a creature deserve anything less than death?”

Lohse exhales and leans back, looking up at the sky. “I may be naive, but I have always held hope that one can change if they want to. No one is beyond redemption.”

Sebille’s expression doesn’t change, but she exhales quickly. “Do you truly believe so? Let me elaborate. I have enjoyed slaughtering and tearing apart the ones I was sent after and the ones who got in my way. I relished the art of death, and I feel no guilt for the things I have chosen to do.” Sebille goes quiet. “Does such a creature like me deserve anything less than death?’

Lohse glances down sharply into Sebille’s eyes. “I repeat: no one is beyond redemption. There are only those who choose not to be redeemed.”

Something works behind Sebille’s eyes. She deliberates silently with herself before she holds up her needle, examining it with the same questioning look she gave Lohse. “I hope that can be true. Beyond the blood, there is only a desire to be happy, however undeserving.”

Lohse touches her arm. “You deserve it, Sebille...to be safe, to be loved. No one as strong, smart, and remorseful as you deserves less. At least, that is what I believe.” She sits back. “I believe that you deserve more. You’re beautiful—inside and out.”

Sebille’s eyes glow, her expression unreadable, but she reaches out to squeeze Lohse’s hand before dropping it.

The topic changes to her memories of being Prime Scion and what that entails. She goes on describing her life as a young elf in the woods, the horrors of when she was captured with such vividness, Lohse could tell Sebille relives those moments far more than she lets on. Maybe every time she closes her eyes.

As she describes the howls of the hounds finding her, the terror she felt, Sebille stills, shaking. Without hesitation, Lohse pulls her into an embrace, fully expecting to feel the bite of a needle in her side. To her surprise, Sebille doesn’t resist. In fact, she turns her face into Lohse’s shoulder.

Sebille sighs, “Thank you.”

Her hands drift down Lohse’s back, almost stroking the line of her spine with her fingertips before Sebille regretfully lets go after a few minutes. She looks as if she could continue to hold on. She falters through the rest of her tale, and Lohse listens attentively, nodding when she speaks and giving her a tender squeeze when she pauses, uncertain. Lost. Sebille almost seems grateful for the contact, and she draws as close as she could to Lohse, sending the bard’s heartbeat spiralling into a crescendo of its own.

When Sebille finishes, they sit in silence for a time, gazing up at the stars with their hands together, palms warm against one another. Sebille breaks the quiet first, looking at Lohse with something approaching tenderness. “I appreciate you taking the time to listen to...everything I’ve been through, for always being there. Perhaps, it is my training, but at times I do wonder why you do this.”

“Everyone has a story, one worth sharing.” Lohse looks down at their clasped hands, their physical connection. “And if I don’t truly hear them, am I worthy of being called a friend?”

Sebille looks startled before her expression turns deliberate, intense. “I wouldn’t quite call you that.”

Lohse doesn’t get what she means, and the comment stings. She lets go.

Later that night when they sit at the campfire with Beast singing a song so bawdy, Lohse swears that even Fane blushes, Sebille comes up to the fire and settles beside her. The elf curls one arm around Lohse’s waist and nestles her head into the crook of the bard’s neck, sighing. Lohse doesn’t move, her eyes sliding slowly over to Sebille before meeting the gazes of her silent group.

Ifan’s mouth curls slightly into what looks faintly like a smile while the Red Prince cocks his head, going, “Huh.” Beast looks amused. Fane seems bored.

Fane gestures. “The punchline, dwarf?”

“Shh.” Beast closes his eyes. “I’m gathering inspiration for when it’s lonely in my bed roll at night.”

Lohse snorts, “That’s disgusting!”

“They assume far too much.” Sebille stirs but doesn’t open her eyes. “Don’t mistake this for sentiment. I’ll be beside you as long as you fulfill your own brand of usefulness.”

“Thanks.” Lohse’s tone is dry. “Lucky girl, I am.”

Ifan smirks and discreetly takes a small bag of coin from a grumbling Red Prince. “By all means, don’t let us stop you.”

Lohse gives him a rude hand gesture. Still, when they settle down for the night, Sebille brings her bed roll closer than usual, near enough that Lohse can feel the press of Sebille’s leg against her own. The bard notes that she no longer feels jittery when Sebille is around, no longer expecting a knife to the heart when she sleeps.

Lohse frowns, wondering what that means as Sebille’s breaths slow into a rhythmic pattern against Lohse’s nape, almost comforting in their own way.

The next day, they continue along their way along Reaper’s Coast, running into bull-headed magisters torturing innocents as they usually do.

Lohse finishes running one through with an ice spike when she feels a tingling sensation on her nape. She turns to see Sebille looking at her with a strange expression before turning away, sheathing her daggers.

When they set up camp for the night, Sebille watches her across the fire with something like confusion and molten agony in her eyes. Whenever Lohse asks her what’s wrong, Sebille merely goes silent and shakes her head.

As they lay down to sleep, Sebille suddenly turns around and touches Lohse’s shoulder in a motion that’s surprisingly tender as if afraid the bard might disappear.

“Go to sleep, Sebille,” Lohse grumbles. “I’ll still be here in the morning.”

Sebille’s eyes are bright golden coins in the dark. “I know...but one day, you won’t.”

Lohse blinks and looks over, but Sebille has already curled into her bed roll and turned away. Something in her chest laughs, and Lohse feels herself tighten at the words. How much longer will she be herself?

In the morning, they don’t mention the incident as they trek along the grasslands outside Cloisterwood, and Lohse has to pry Ifan’s hands off of Hannag’s neck when he confronts the lizard about the Deathfog device she created in the war.

Ifan grows bitter after they walk away, cursing himself out for his blindness, for his error. Lohse listens, hearing his confusion and adding her own suggestion of using that experience to do what is right in the future, their other party members respectfully lagging behind the pair. They stop in a clearing to check their weapons, and Lohse digs deeper into his story. The gratitude in Ifan’s eyes at being able to share what has been eating at him could be seen even from afar.

The glower Sebille shoots Ifan after Lohse gives him a bear hug could melt flesh from bones. Ifan seems to notice and backs away with an awkward pat on Lohse’s back while the elf goes back to sharpening her daggers. Pointedly.

Ifan coughs, “Well. Thank you for the camaraderie. I’m going to grab a bite to eat while I still have both of my kidneys.” He jerks his head towards Sebille while giving Lohse a not-subtle look and leaving.

The bard inhales, smoothing down the front of her dress to stall for time.

Sebille speaks first. “Ifan is quite handsome.”

“I admit I do like tall, dark, and broody.” Lohse slowly looks over to see Sebille watching her with a grim expression. “But I haven’t been wanting ‘handsome’ for a while.”

Sebille stills, eyes going dark. “I should hope not. Not after everything.” She goes back to sharpening her blades, and Lohse’s disoriented by the sudden shift. “You should pack your bags before we set off.”

“Uh...right. I’ll do that.” Lohse stumbles away, completely confused by the encounter.

Afterwards, Sebille becomes almost possessively affectionate towards her. Lohse would sporadically feel a light press against the bard’s lower back, a squeeze of her hand, or simply spot Sebille being physically near as if reluctant to let Lohse travel too far from her. At night when they eat around the campfire, Sebille quickly takes her spot by Lohse and presses into her side like an affection-starved cat.

When Lohse nearly dies during Jahar’s exorcism, she wakes up to Sebille’s frantic expression, golden cat eyes wide with terror. For a vague moment, she thought she heard Sebille shouting to her across the darkness. That is before a wave of nausea rises up, and Lohse promptly rolls over and vomits.

Jahar rubs her soothingly on the back. “I am sorry, Lohse. This demon was more powerful than I imagined. I will need to go and face him directly to rid him for you.”

“Uh-huh,” Lohse murmurs into the ground. She hears a hiss, and Jahar’s hand disappears from her back. Another replaces it instead, lighter and surprisingly gentle. Lohse smiles at the touch before she passes out.

When she wakes, night has fallen, and she’s lying close to the campfire with her head in Sebille’s lap. Odd.

Beast shakes his head at her. “Gotta stop making a habit of this. Starting to spook us.”

Fane points to Sebille. “Especially her. Hasn’t let any of us touch you since you fainted.”

Sebille doesn’t defend herself, merely pulling Lohse closer, which confuses the bard.

A few days later when she fully recovers, she asks the nearest party member what is going on and gets a mocking response in return.

The Red Prince polishes off a hunk of dried meat. “She’s marking you. Contrary to popular belief, elves are remarkably jealous with their lovers. Or maybe that’s just Sebille.”

Lohse’s brain fumbles and blanks. “I’m sorry. Their what?”

The Red Prince rolls his eyes and sighs. “When two people lust after each other very much—“

“I know what a lover is!” Lohse snaps, heat crawling up her face. “I just don’t understand why.”

“Again, when two people would really like to fornicate—“

“Why me?”

“Then, wouldn’t it be better for you to ask her?” He points out, being insufferably right. “What would I know about what goes on in that hell-bent woman’s mind?”

Lohse does not ask. The gods have given her grace by dint of hard fighting at the Blackpits, so much that she doesn’t have a moment to have an awkward and potentially embarrassing conversation. Something does seem to be tight in the air between her and Sebille if the looks she gives Lohse are any indications. For one thing, the elf expresses displeasure whenever Lohse touches anyone but herself.

Sebille wrinkles her nose when Lohse gives the Red Prince a hug after he loses sight of the woman of his dreams. She glances at the bard sidelong as they make their way to find Almira. “Do you make a habit of befriending your acquaintances?”

“Sure beats making enemies of them. I’ve got enough people trying to kill me as it is.” Lohse meets her gaze. “Why do you ask?”

Sebille shrugs. “An observation.”

The elf nearly bursts a vein when Lohse is rewarded by Almira for their help in saving both the succubus and her lover. “A kiss? She needs to help you discover your Source powers through her mouth?”

“That was a bit ...awkward.” Lohse wipes her lips. “She seemed to be enjoying herself too much at the end.”

“So did you,” Sebille throws back.

“Listen. I got a strange succubus lady exploring my tonsils, and I can either choose to make it weirder or enjoy what I can.” Lohse smiles. “What can I say? I’m an optimist.”

Sebille’s expression goes cold. “I was a fool.” She shoves her way past the bard to the front of the group while Lohse’s grin falters.

Lohse exhales and slows her steps, hands shaking, mouth going dry. Ifan turns and raises an eyebrow at her as Sebille passes by. He approaches Lohse at their next rest. “Trouble in paradise?”

“Ha ha.” Lohse rolls her eyes. She pauses. “Actually, yes. Gods, please help.”

“Perhaps, you should stop kissing other ladies.” Ifan strokes his beard. “That may help your relationship with your current one.”

“Ugh, we don’t have a thing!” Lohse throws her hands up. “We never spoke about it.”

“Maybe you should. Seems like the most reasonable solution to your problems,” Ifan points out.

Stupid Ifan and his logical suggestions.

Once they stop again for the night, Sebille stalks off into the brush, and Lohse sighs before following her, steeling herself for a deeply uncomfortable and terrifying conversation. She crunches through the underbrush until she comes to a clearing where Sebille waits for her, arms crossed, looking deeply troubled.

Lohse inhales, already wanting to flee. “Right. So, we should talk.” She gestures awkwardly between them. “About...us.”

“Is there even something to be said about that?” Sebille keeps her gaze unreadable. “When you go off flirting with demons and kissing whatever pretty woman comes across your way?”

“Okay, look. She was a succubus, who could only give me Source powers through a kiss. She said so. You were there!”

Sebille’s mouth goes hard. “That’s the problem. I’m always there when other women touch you or flirt with you, but you never seem to see me.”

“That isn’t true,” Lohse says, quietly. “I am very aware of you.”

Sebille approaches her, and Lohse stills her trembling hands. “Are you? You don’t seem to return my affections.”

“Affections?” Lohse furrows her brows. “Are you saying…”

Sebille stares before she shakes her head. She steps into Lohse’s space, gripping the front of the bard’s shirt before exhaling and releasing her hands slightly. “I see. I have been going about this all wrong. I had thought my intentions were obvious, but, clearly, they were not understood.

“I am fond of you in a way that is more than friendship, more than comfort. I crave your touch, your presence by my side. I feel...safe when you are with me, and I want to explore more of what could be between us. Not just physically.” She looks at Lohse with eyes like amber ready to crack, throat working. Her shoulders are slightly hunched, ears lowering. Lohse has never seen Sebille look so scared. “Am I wrong to say you feel the same?

“No.” Lohse reaches to squeeze Sebille’s hands. “You would not be. I’ve wanted you for so long, since the—“

Sebille smirks. “Since we first met?”

Lohse raises an eyebrow. “I thought you didn’t lick and tell.”

A slow smile spreads across Sebille’s face. “I don’t need that to guess.”

Lohse feels her cheeks heat. She steps forward and buries her face in Sebille’s neck, if only to take a moment and hide the hunger in her eyes.

Sebille pulls her closer, nuzzling Lohse’s hair. “I have felt you were special from the moment you came back for me on the ship. You just kept proving it time and time again.”

Lohse’s breath hitches. “So, you also—“

“Yes,” Sebille sighs against red strands. “Though I have only come to realize it recently.” She lets go reluctantly and steps back. “The next woman who flirts with you gets a needle to the throat.”

“Duly noted. I will warn her.” Lohse can’t help the smile that cracks across her face. “Hell, why would I even notice when I have you by my side?”

Sebille smirks. “Good answer.”

When they return to camp with their shoulders brushing, the others quickly look over and let out sighs of relief.

“Thank the gods.” The Red Prince rubs his temples like he has a headache. “If I had to put up with any more of you two dancing around each other, I would have entered you into a contest.”

Ifan smiles at Lohse. “Good job.” He holds up another bowl of stew. “Want seconds?”

They finish up their meals and head to bed, Sebille pulling her bedroll closer to Lohse’s until her front is nearly pressed to the bard’s back. They fall asleep quickly and return to the Lady Vengeance to head out to the Nameless Isle.

The sailing goes smoothly with everyone save the sailors having a chance to enjoy the view, the sparkling of the sunlight across the ocean. Lohse is up on deck, admiring the beauty of the world when she feels a hand slip into hers. She turns and sees Sebille smiling, a heat to her eyes. “My dear, sweet Lohse.” Her expression grows serious. “I hate to wreck the mood, but I need to speak with you about the Master.”

Lohse sees the look on Sebille’s face and takes her aside to discuss the weight on her heart. After Sebille shares her slave song with a fragile expression on her face, Lohse reaches out and squeezes her hands in reassurance. “Thank you for trusting me with your song.”

Sebille looks fierce. “You’ve earned that trust,” she says hesitantly, the words clearly difficult to say. “I lay my life and my liberty—my hopes and dreams—in your hands with the trust that when the time comes, you will sing to free me from his bind.”

“Of course,” Lohse says as they rise from the ship’s deck. “I know what it’s like to have your freedom robbed by another.”

Sebille’s gaze softens. “And in time, we will free you too.” Her eyes close, and she leans in for a kiss. Lohse presses her mouth against Sebille’s, and warmth sparks between them until Sebille pulls away with a breathless expression, looking flummoxed for the first time Lohse’s seen her.

“I—that was wonderful.” Sebille keeps her eyes on hers. A noise catches Lohse’s attention, and she turns, leaving Sebille an opening to pat her affectionately on the bottom. “We should do that again sometime.”

They climb off the boat and onto the strange island, making their ways past tangles of vines and sinister temples. At some point, they follow alongside a river with Sebille eyeing the clear water with interest. “I could go for a swim.”

“You could use a bath!” Lohse pipes up.

Sebille laughs, and Lohse is amazed at how easily she takes the comment. At times, she gazes at Lohse with such clear affection, it spooks the others.

The Red Prince puts out their latest campfire with a kick of dirt across smouldering ashes. “Frankly, it is more familiar when she looks at you with murderous intent. This...new Sebille makes me miss the old one.”

Lohse somewhat agrees. While she appreciates not having Sebille’s needle pushed tight to her throat anymore, the lingering looks and frequent touches startle her enough that she feels as if she stepped into another dimensional plane yet again. They travel from temple to temple, moving southward, closer to the master that haunts Sebille.

Agitation ripples through Sebille’s shoulders, and she inhales sharply when they near the lair of the Shadow Prince, heat from the surrounding lava making them all sweat. “Here it is.” She presses a quick kiss against Lohse’s cheek. “The moment of confrontation.” Looking back for a long moment, she nods once before leaping ahead.

The Shadow Prince is strangely amicable, polite. He sings a song that makes Sebille bow to him, and Sebille turns to face Lohse, pure hope and defiance in her face as if the thought of potential treachery never crossed her mind.

And the trust is well deserved. Lohse sings—a perfect rendition of the melody Sebille taught her that silences the Shadow Prince. Sebille’s shoulders fall, and she exhales as if a weight has been lifted from her. She whips around and stabs the Shadow Prince in the throat, his defenders leaping into battle around them.

They make quick work of his minions, and the Red Prince interrogates the ghost left behind while Lohse walks over to Sebille who parks herself a little ways off from the tent, shifting as her hands tremble. “Are you all right?”

Sebille lifts her head, smiling gratefully as Lohse reaches forward with both hands to squeeze hers. “I am now.” She exhales. “Only one more thing to do.” She slips her needle out of her pocket and slices through the Master’s name on her arm, blood welling up and pooling over ivory skin. Lohse leans in and places a hand over the wound, whispering a healing spell as the skin knits itself back together, the scar tissue swallowing the ink on Sebille’s skin as if the name was never there.

“I am free.” Sebille turns to Lohse. “And it is all thanks to you. I...I owe you everything.”

Lohse leans in for a kiss, and Sebille eagerly rushes in to meet her. “You owe me nothing.” The voice in her chest rumbles in laughter, a mocking sound as if in amused of how touching the moment is. “You don’t owe me.”

“But I do.” Sebille grows solemn. “You have released me from the darkness of fear, from the loneliness that grips me. I know I shall not be lonely again...if you will only love me a bit.”

Lohse smiles. “I’ll do better than that.”

Sebille laughs, “And I will gladly take it.” Her eyes are open, relaxed, and her expression is utterly fond, warm like a welcoming fire on a winter night. “My darling Lohse.”

A cough sounds out behind them, and they turn to see the Red Prince and Ifan standing nearby.

The Red Prince strides past them. “If you ladies are done, we can move on. I have gotten all the answers I needed.”

Ifan follows, shooting Lohse a wink. “Save it for the ship, yes?”

Their rest of the chase for divinity falls into uselessness when Dallis steals it from them before their eyes, and they have to abandon the ancient temple with Malady saving their lives.

Lohse looks out at the sea that night, hands tight on the railing, shaking. To come so close and to falter at the last second…

A touch on her arm, and Lohse turns to see Sebille before her, lips slightly parted and eyes scanning Lohse’s expression. Quietly, she takes Lohse by the hand and guides her towards the stairs leading down into the ship, and for a night, Lohse forgets the hunt before them, the world on the brink of collapsing. She only knows Sebille, and Sebille knows her.

And she lets her.

When they wake, Lohse groans, feeling like she’ll be sore and tender for days while Sebille lies face down on her front, exhausted, before turning her head towards her. “Ready for round five?” Sebille pants.

Lohse laughs, “Think I need a break.” She reaches out and runs a thumb gently down the curve of Sebille’s cheek. “I appreciate this. I really do. I’m going to love you for the rest of my life...however, long that is.”

Sebille’s smile slips off of her face. “Don’t say that.”

Lohse shakes her head. “Thanks. For the time you spent with me. It meant a lot.” She exhales, closing her eyes. “And I know you will keep your word when the time comes.”

Sebille’s eyes narrow, and she opens her mouth to retort when a call sounds out from above. “It seems they need us up there,” she says, keeping her gaze on Lohse.

“Let’s not keep them waiting then.”

The expression on Sebille’s face says the discussion isn’t over, but she gets up and helps them get dressed, looping an arm around Lohse’s waist as they stagger upstairs together.

The trip to Arx is...explosive to say the least.

“The Lady Vengeance.” Lohse touches a section of the torn deck buried into the ground. “She didn’t deserve this.”

“She’s free now, which isn’t something you can claim for yourself,” Malady coughs, spitting blood onto the gravel before them. “And you will never be if you don’t kill the doctor in Arx.” She straightens up, wiping at her mouth. “I have an idea about how to weaken him beforehand. If you want to know more, meet me at his house.”

Lohse furrows her brows, but Malady walks away before she can ask any questions. Reluctantly, she turns her attention to the others who await, glancing uneasily at the burning city in the distance. “Not quite what I was expecting for a welcome for sure,” Lohse comments, taking her place at the front of the group with Sebille and Ifan at her side.

They slaughter their way to the gates of Arx, demonspawn crawling all over the gates and spewing hellfire, and trek across the town to arrive at a lavish iron gate of a beautifully kept mansion. Malady paces back and forth, muttering to herself and wringing her hands. “Finally. We need to cross into another dimensional plane to attack Adramahlikh’s weak point. Are you ready?”

Lohse nods, stepping forward when she feels a tug backward on her arm. Glancing back, she sees Sebille looking at her with thinned lips while Malady scowls in impatience. Lohse turns, squeezing Sebille’s wrist. “I’ll be fine. Promise. I’ll come back to you this time.”

“You’d better.” Sebille meets her gaze, something hard and brittle in her eyes like cracking glass. “I’ll be waiting.”

Lohse reaches up to kiss her on the cheek before walking over to Malady who hurriedly ushers them through a black portal. She expects a fight for her life. What she doesn’t expect is snuffing one a million trapped souls for hers alone.

Even Malady looks uneasy when she transports them back, and Lohse trembles on her feet. She wonders if she could even look at herself in the mirror the same after that.

“Well,” Malady brushes herself off, “I have done all I can. Good luck. And if you survive, I—“

“Yes, yes. Want a favour in return.” Lohse goes quiet. “Thank you.”

Malady nods as she heads out the gate, looking ashen and drawn. Lohse’s party steps up to her with inquiring gazes, and the bard nods at them. “It is done. We can face the good doctor now.”

Just before they cross the threshold, Lohse turns and picks up one of Sebille’s hands, kissing the back of it very gently as Sebille’s eyes soften. “Remember, you promised me.” She reaches over and pulls a dagger from their sheaths on Sebille’s belt and places it in her hand, rubbing her own cheek against the knuckles.

Sebille nods, but in her eyes, it looks like something beautiful is dying inside, like a long winter without the hope of spring. “I’ll find another way.”

“When have you been so averse to killing?” Lohse shakes her head. “You always get your mark. I trust you.” She turns, facing the huge wooden doors and avoiding Sebille’s expression. Not when she felt the tremble in her hand when she let go.

The doctor is handsome, tall, his voice spewing the taunting words that haunts her all of her life. “About time you came home to me, Lohse. Such a naughty girl. Always running away. Forgetting what we could accomplish together. You were always so emotional. I’m glad you came to your senses.”

Lohse grits her teeth, swaying when she feels a strong hand grabbing onto her shoulder. She glances over to see Ifan holding her up, keeping his gaze on the doctor with an expression like a snarling wolf. On her other side, the Red Prince quietly pulls his shield and sword from his back, eyes flitting around the room as if searching for structural weaknesses. Beside him, Beast holds his crossbow out while Fane distances himself a little, electricity already dancing between his finger bones. And Sebille gazes over from behind Ifan, the look of complete trust in her eyes as if she’s waiting for Lohse to sing and free her once again.

Lohse straightens up and grins, pulling out her weapon. “Eat it.”

The doctor clucks his tongue. “Such violence. After all I’ve done for you. But no matter.” Smoke twists around him, his face stretching and warping. “I only need your mind, not your consent.”

A massive snake demon explodes from his body, but there’s something tremulous about its movement, a flash of confusion across its face that Lohse takes a cue to charge.

When the battle is over, and the doctor is dead, Lohse turns to see Sebille staring at her with an agonizing amount of relief in her eyes. The elf rushes over, heedless of the corpses around them, and picks up Lohse in a hug, spinning her around. “Is it you? Are you truly Lohse?”

Lohse touches her face, feeling her skin beneath her fingertips, the beating of her heart. A voice murmurs in the distant background of her mind, and, to her amazement, Lohse realizes she can turn away from it.

They make their way out of the dark house. Lohse steps into the bright sunlight of Arx, the darkness from the doctor’s encounter sloughing off of her like a ratty cloak being dropped. She opens her arms to the world and breathes in the clean air, feeling lighter than ever, like she is truly herself. “This is what freedom feels like. It’s amazing.”

A touch on her shoulder, and Lohse turns to see Sebille with a serious expression. “It is. Congratulations on reaching it too, my love.” She leans in to press a kiss against Lohse’s cheek, but the bard turns to catch her mouth instead. Sebille smiles against her lips, letting out a short laugh.

Lohse glances at the others passing by, pointedly ignoring them. “Perhaps, we should save that for when we get back to the ship.”

The Red Prince rubs his forehead, looking exasperated, as he walks by. “Yes, please do.”

Sebille murmurs while the others conveniently wander ahead to give them a moment of privacy, “We’re free. Truly free. Both of us.”

Lohse laughs shakily, happily. “Yes. Yes, we are.”

“So, what now?”

“Now, we continue on with what we have been looking for.” Lohse turns her head in the direction of the barracks. “Divinity.”