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Although there were still a few hours of daylight left, Svadilfare decided to stop for the evening. Anthropinos was a day's travel away; a few extra hours wouldn't hurt. The warrior assassin was covered in scrapes and bruises, a few deep cuts. His arms and legs burned with exhaustion, even his back started to hurt as he was forced to carry all his gear. He'd been thrown from his horse during his first Dragon encounter, the mount running opposite the direction he was being chased. Svadilfare found a shaded spot away from prey trails and dropped everything he carried. It was still a bit early to set up camp, so instead he laid down for a well-deserved nap.
An hour later, the Kryoan woke to a warm rain falling from a now grey sky. His body felt stiff and ached even more than before. Groaning, he sat up and wiped the rain from his face, not that he minded it being there. He rotated his left shoulder slowly, wincing slightly at the pain doing so caused. He'd bruised it earlier when the Manticore knocked him into a tree. The skin was purple and tender to the touch. With a sigh, Svad got up and rummaged through his pile of belongings to find his canteen and took a long sip once he found it.
The stars yawned and rushed to make the sky perfect for the moon's arrival. The moon smiled, grateful for how hard the stars worked, always worked, to make sure she enjoyed her day. The air was cooler now, now that it wasn't being harshly scolded by the sun. Instead it was being gently caressed by the moon's soft light. Small insects called to each other in the dark, but other than that, the only sound was the crackling of burning kindling. Svadilfare sat beside his fire, cooking some of the rabbit meat he had. At the edge of the forest, in full unobstructed view of the moon, sat his Moonstone. Astral had told him he should replenish its power at night if the moon was out. He'd retrieve it in the morning before the sun came up. After eating and putting another log on the fire, he laid down and stared up at the canopy, listening to the crackling wood and frantic insects. He thought of his children back home and hoped they were behaving--they always did... for the most part.
The next day passed uneventfully. Svadilfare arrived at Anthropinos by last light and immediately went to the nearest inn, rented a room for the night, and stored his belongings there. He left the inn and went in search of his client.
Last edited by Svadilfare on Wed Oct 18, 2017 4:43 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Despite the odd meeting location, the Kryoan had been given directions to get to it. He went out of his way, visiting all the other stables in the city first. When he no longer felt like he was being followed, Svadilfare circled back round. The stable was close to the area of the city criminals operated from. There were two horses inside. One was solid black, a male. The other was a heavily pregnant brown-and-white female. The female was laying down and in the process of giving birth. Svad knelt beside the equine and pat her neck while his head rested on her stomach, listening to her vitals. "There's a good girl," he whispered as he raised his head and pat the horse again. "Let's see if the little one is ready to say hello."
Several minutes later, with Svad's help, the new mother brought her offspring into the world. It was a healthy all brown girl with a white patch on the left side of her neck. "What shall we call her, hm? How about... Millie?"
"Millie is a fine name... for a horse." A woman stepped out of the shadows and leaned against the side of the stable. She was clad in the typical clothing of a woman who worked at tavern. Her hair was black, shoulder length, straight with slight curls at the end. Her eyes were hazel. Her skin was pale but it didn't make her look sickly like some people. Her fingers were thin, almost bony, but again it worked in her favor.
"Yes. You're my client." he said matter-of-factly. There was something familiar about the woman; her appearance; her voice. But Svadilfare wasn't consciously aware of this. He was, however, aware that she wasn't what she appeared.
"You aren't surprised. You get a lot of female clients?" the woman asked as she moved away from the wall and walked over to the Kryoan. She knelt beside him, not at all concerned with the muck and dirt and evidence of birth. Her slender hand raised to pet the foal and her mother. A small smile crossed her lips.
"No, but enough for it not to surprise me. So, who do you want me to kill and how much will you pay?"
"You get right to the point, don't you? How refreshing." The woman stood, not bothering to brush the dirt and bits of hay off her dress. "The person I want you to kill is someone who will be difficult to get to, even for an assassin of your skill. You'll need my help. As for your payment... I'll pay you double if you impress me."
The warrior frowned. "I work alone and I want half now."
"I don't negotiate. You'll get your coin, I give you my word. And I thought assassins were supposed to be able to adapt."
Svadilfare was suddenly glad this women had chosen to meet at night. She didn't seem to have any problem throwing the word "assassin" around. He stood, brushed off his pants, and started pacing in front of the stables. For a few minutes he pondered the woman's demand. "Why do you want them dead?" he asked without looking up or pausing in his pacing.
The woman shrugged at the question, almost as if to say, 'why not?'. Her gaze lowered to the ground as she replied, "He took my family away from me... Well, I better get back before those brutes help themselves to the good mead. Meet me here again tomorrow night, assassin. With your answer." She melted back into the shadows before Svadilfare could reply, making her way back to whatever tavern she came from.
Svadilfare stood there for a minute. There was something very usual about the woman. Shaking his head, he turned to walk back to the inn, this time without the detours. He went to sleep almost instantly, his bruised shoulder burning as he lay on it.
Last edited by Svadilfare on Fri Oct 13, 2017 1:59 pm; edited 1 time in total
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The woman said nothing for a long moment. She watched the rain fall, watched as droplets collided so hard with the ground they bounced back into the air. She knew it wasn't a question; he knew exactly what she was and only sought her confirmation of the fact. With a slight chuckle she asked, "How did you know?"
"It is easy to spot one of your trade. For blacksmiths, it is their permanently stained fingers. For us... it is the way we move in a silence so perfect, one who was not trained as we couldn't dare hope to achieve it. It is the way we melt into the shadows as if we were born of shadow itself. It is the way we can go unnoticed until we want to be. And you're not dressed as a tavern maid tonight." Indeed, she was dressed more like a hunter than someone who waited hand and foot on drunken idiots.
The corners of the woman's mouth turned upward in a small smile. She shook her head at the last sentence. "What I wear now and what I wore last night means nothing. Maybe I wear this to keep warm, it is raining, you know. As for everything else, you were helping a mare give birth, you were distracted. A drunk could have sneaked up on you. And anyone could "melt into the shadows" at night. It's all just coincidence."
"Hm. And is it coincidence that you have the eyes of one who has killed?"
She had been looking at Svadilfare while waiting for his answer but now looked away. "Your eyes are cold. You have no conscious, no remorse. You don't stop to think if the kill is truly just even though you've been assured it is."
"No, I don't, because I have other things to worry about. You have too great a conscious." For several minutes neither said anything. The rain fell with more speed than before, then just as quickly faded back to its original speed. Finally, the Kryoan said, "I should like to know who my employer is... in case something goes wrong."
"Tali. Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, why don't we get to work?" Tali stepped away from the shelter of the stable and waited for her fellow assassin to join her. Svadilfare patted Millie then joined Tali. She led him through the deserted streets and out of the city. Svad was going to question why they left Anthropinos when they arrived at a small house, Tali's house.
It was nothing special; a simple four-walled structure with a roof. There was only one room but it was just big enough for two people. Under her bed Tali kept a few scrolls. She gave them to Svadilfare. "Blueprints of our target's home. I've studied them for years. Standard noble's quarters. We could get in through the cellar..." Svad listened quietly while she described the place in detail, as if she'd been there before.
When she finished, he asked, "If you can get in through the cellar, why haven't you killed him yourself already?"
"Because it is bolted shut at night. I'd need a way to get through the house and back outside after the deed is done without drawing attention to myself during the day." she answered as she put the scrolls back under her bed.
The Kryoan raised a brow. "And no such occasion has ever presented itself?"
"Plenty. He hosts parties almost every day. And yes, I could easily get in..." she said as she looked at him, like she knew what he was going to ask. "What I need is help getting out. That's where you come in. We'll pose as husband and wife. You aren't loyal to me, you chase any decent-looking female that walks by. I'm looking for a better man, set my sights on the host, convince him to take me to his room... And then we get out through the cellar."
"Sounds easy enough. You've thought about this a lot." Svad remarked as he breathed new life into the fire that had been left to die.
"Every day. When I was younger and less likely to be noticed, I sat across from that house and imagined how I would kill the man who lived inside. Don't bother with the fire, you aren't staying." Tali said as she wrung the water from her hair.
"I didn't intend to. Tali... what's your surname? You seem familiar."
"I'm sure I do. Tomorrow we'll find you some suitable clothes. Goodnight."
Svadilfare left without saying anything more. Back in his room at the inn, he sharpened his knives. He tried to place Tali in his mind. He knew pretty much every female assassin there was, because he'd competed against them all over a target at least once. Even though some of his jobs were special requests, most were actually a first-come-first-served deal; whoever came back with proof of the kill first got paid. But this woman was a mystery to him. She felt like an old acquaintance, yet was surely a new assassin, judging by their conversation at the stable. "Hm." Giving up on trying to figure it out, Svadilfare finished with his knives then went to sleep to the sound of rain rolling off the roof.
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Tali led Svadilfare through the wealthy streets of Anthropinos. She explained that her extravagant clothing was... borrowed.. from a friend. The ring was a family heirloom of sorts; it belonged to her sister. They found a tailor who worked hard and talked little. He took Svad's measurements and found out from Tali what her husband wanted, then told the pair to come back in a few hours.
While they waited, Tali took Svad back to her house so they could go over the plan again. "What if something goes wrong?" Svadilfare asked as he threw one of his knives at a block of wood on the other end of the room.
"Get out of there," she answered with a shrug. "I made it my purpose in life to kill this man. If I die trying, so be it."
The Kryoan walked across the room and retrieved his knives, inspected them. "What did he do, anyway?"
"He killed my twin sister... your wife."
Did he drop his knives? He wasn't sure. He didn't care. Forever he stood there, trying to determine if he had really heard what he did. His voice was barely audible, "....What?"
Tears were already rolling down Tali's cheeks and onto the blueprints. Her hands slowly closed into fists, bunching up and crumpling the parchment. "He killed her," she repeated in a soft whisper. "...I asked her to come here. To help me with an assassination I was hired for. Her first husband moved here after you two got married. I was hired by his current wife to kill him. I knew Yosanji would want to be there, maybe even do it herself. Turns out his new wife was a noble. They hosted parties all the time. So we decided to go and get him alone. I'd lure him away where no one would see, then Sanji would kill him... But..." She trailed off and turned around to lean against the table.
"But what!?" Svad yelled now that Tali's words were sinking in.
Tali flinched and continued. "But... it-it went wrong. She hadn't done any assassin work since she was pregnant with--" she paused, unable to recall the child's name.
"Clementine." Svad said through gritted teeth.
Tali nodded, suddenly remembering the letter she had gotten from her sister. "She didn't... move the way she used to. She tripped over something. He recognized her right away... I told her she should have worn a mask. We tried to take him down. I-I got knocked out. When I woke up, we were in a cell and... and she was almost gone. It was dark and I really couldn't see but I think he beat her and... other things. Her throat was cut..."
Svadilfare didn't feel the stinging in his eyes. He didn't hear his anguished cries. He wasn't aware that Tali now cowered in a corner on the floor while he destroyed the few things she had in her house. He didn't even remember going outside to punch a tree relentlessly for daring to exist. He didn't feel the blinding pain in his right hand as every bone in it was shattered, didn't feel the blood dripping off his mangled knuckles onto the ground. He barely felt the hand that touched his shoulder or the pained voice that whispered to him. "I'm so sorry, Svadilfare..."
Tali didn't wait for him to answer, not that she expected him to. She went back into her house and started cleaning up. For half an hour she tossed bits of mangled table, chairs, and bed outside. She picked up parchment and placed the most important ones in a box that was under a floorboard. When she finished she brought a bowl of water and bundle of cloth over to Svadilfare. He didn't protest when she grabbed his destroyed hand and put it in the bowl; he probably wasn't even aware that she had. When his hand was washed off, Tali carefully wrapped it in the cloth. She would apply healing herbs and a salve to it later. She dumped the water in the bowl then left to go back into the city. She picked up Svad's clothes from the tailor, bought some herbs and a salve, some food for two. Tali returned home an hour later to find Svadilfare hadn't moved at all. He still stood at the tree, his forehead pressed against the splintered, bloody wood, his hand once again dripping red as it soaked through the bandages. The only thing missing from the depressing, heart-wrenching sight was rain.
With a small sigh, Tali went inside to start cooking the deer meat she bought. While the fire licked at it, Tali crushed the herbs and mixed it with the salve. She spread the mixture on a clean strip of cloth and went back to her brother-in-law. Again he remained motionless and likely unaware as she cleaned and bandaged his hand. This time she gently pulled him away from the tree and back to the house. With her chairs being broken she sat him down on the floor then turned her attention to the deer. "...I managed to break us out of the cell and drag her home. She held on the whole time, like... like she was expecting to see you when we got here." When Svadilfare didn't say anything, she continued. "It wasn't a clean cut. I think that was on purpose, with a dull blade. He wanted her to suffer. I tried to make her comfortable. She... she called out for you. I asked if there was something she wanted me to tell--"
"What did she say?" he asked quietly, cutting her off.
But instead of answering, Tali walked over to the loose floorboard under which she kept her box. She pulled it up and removed a piece of parchment from it. She gave it to Svad and returned to the hearth.
Svadilfare slowly unfolded the parchment. It was stained with his wife's blood--and now his, given he had a little on his fingertips still. He lifted it to his face and inhaled deeply, hoping somehow Yosanji's scent had been trapped in the fibers. At some point he finally worked up the courage to read the letter.
Svadilfare, my love
I'm so very sorry to have denied you our dream of dying old or in battle together. I'm sorry to leave you to raise our children alone. I'm sorry I didn't tell you about the job. I thought my sister and I could handle it. I meant to tell you about her one day, when Clementine was old enough to travel, so we could visit. I'm scared, Svad... With every breath my life slips farther away and you aren't here to hold me in your arms. I wish I had brought you with me. Please my love, don't be angry with Tali. I know you. I know you'll blame her. It was my choice. If you want to be angry with someone, for once in your life, be angry with me.
I don't have much strength left to say everything I want to. I thought it might help me to imagine you sitting beside me, taking care of me like you did when I was sick last year. But I'm afraid it's only killing me faster. Don't push Aurelius and Clementine away because they remind you of me. I love you with every fiber of my being but please, please don't deny yourself happiness by holding on to me. Don't deny another woman the honor of being loved by a rare man like you. I promise I'll find a way back to the living world and disable your other shoulder if you do.
Tell the children I love them. Tell them the truth about me, about us. I don't want them to be ashamed about their parents being assassins--even if I wasn't much of one. My time is almost gone. I love you so very much, Svadilfare. Wherever I end up, I will wait for you to join me.
Your liebe, Yosanji
The wood beneath him swelled with water, salted water from his eyes. By some miracle he had been able to see through the tears that kept his vision permanently blurred and finished reading the letter. At some point Tali had finished cooking and set Svad's food near the hearth to keep it warm. She sat on her bed and ate.
When his body was no longer capable of producing tears, Svadilfare stood and walked outside. He picked up the axe resting against the house and went over to the tree he had taken his anger out on. He cut it down, cut it up, constructed a table and chairs and bed frame. He carried the finished furniture inside and put them in their proper places. Tali thanked him quietly and resumed eating at the new table while Svad put the mattress on the new bed frame. He sat down at the table after but without his food; he wasn't hungry. He held Sanji's letter in his hands, neatly folded again. Again he tried to draw some trace of her from the parchment, again he could swear he did.
When Tali finished eating, she took Svad outside and led him a little ways away from the house. There was a large, old tree beside a small stream that made a point of avoiding it. A small stone stood in the shade of the tree. It was clearly a grave marker. Tali stayed back while Svadilfare went up to it. Svadilfare dropped to his knees and placed his hands on the stone. "Yosanji... I'm here, my love. I'm sorry I'm late." For hours he knelt there, speaking to his wife, telling her about their children, about his adventures. Tali had long since gone back home. Svadilfare had no desire to sleep. As the sun rose he fought to keep his eyes open. He held on for another half hour before collapsing with exhaustion. The broken man slept there atop his wife's grave for two days straight.
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One month later....
Svadilfare was mentally numb. The only coherent thought in his mind was the fact that his wife was gone. He forgot about their children, he forgot about Astral/Celestia. If he had control over it, he may have even forgotten to breathe. His body wasn't fairing much better. He was caked in a layer of dirt, he was thin from lack of food. In fact, the only other bodily function he seemed to have was relieving himself; it was also the only time he left the grave. To keep himself alive--which surely must have been done subconsciously--he drank water from a small puddle whenever it rained, oblivious to the fact that Tali actually filled brought him a bowl of water each day. His eyes were bloodshot and his cheeks stained with salt. His hair was longer, disheveled and now he had a beard. It was only because of Tali that he hadn't lost his right hand; not that he would have cared if he had.
As a new month began, Svadilfare dreamed.
"Didn't I tell you not to hold on to me?" San asked as she leaned back against Svad, his arms wrapped around her. She watched the waves roll over the sands of the beach they stood on. The sun was setting and the sky slowly turning dark.
"When have I ever passed on an opportunity to hold you?" he replied with a kiss to the top of her head.
"I'm serious, Svadilfare. You're going to waste away to nothing. Do you really want to kill me a second time by forcing me to watch that?" She found his hands and intertwined their fingers.
"I know. And I don't. I just... Do you remember when we got married? When I promised I would never let go of you? Never let anyone hurt you again?"
"I remember," she murmured softly. She let go of his hands and turned around. Her eyes locked onto his as she raised a thin hand to Svad's face. Her thumb lightly grazed his cheek. "I remember that day and those promises. But do you remember what I told you?"
"'The life you lead... the life we lead... means that at some point one of us will be taken from the other too soon. If I'm that one, you can't let it destroy you. Die in battle or protecting our children, not of a broken heart. Move forward with your life'. I remember every word, liebe. But I don't think it's possible. Even if I did, I'd always think of you."
"You only think it's impossible because you're ridiculously stubborn." she said with a soft smile. "And you'd better think of me. Every single day. I want a dream, too. Like this one... just, you know, with you smiling more."
Svadilfare closed his eyes and leaned into her hand. He sighed at her reply, but his tone was just as playful. "If anyone is stubborn, it's you. You insisted on waiting until we got back home before giving birth to Aurelius."
"What was wrong with that?" she asked, raising a brow. She already knew the answer.
"We were nearly two days away! You could barely walk."
"Nearly isn't the same as exactly. Besides, we really got there in only one with you carrying me until it got too dark for you to see. And it wasn't so much being stubborn as not wanting my son to be born in the wilderness."
"Obviously you don't remember me having to stop every two steps because you were writhing so much it was impossible to carry you. I could have built us a nice shelter." He reached up and brushed a stray strand of hair from her face.
"I know you could have. But I knew you wouldn't drop me." She smiled as he brushed her hair back. "I'm going to miss that. I'm going to miss you calling me your liebe," she whispered as she rested her head on his chest and closed her eyes.
"Mm, how will you miss it if I'm supposed to meet you here every night?" He pulled back slightly and lifted her chin, placing a soft kiss on her lips.
She returned Svad's kiss then melted into his embrace again, feeling his arms pulling her tighter against him, lowering the hand on his cheek down to his chest. She gripped his shirt and let the sound of his heart beating wash over her like the water over the sand. "I'm not going to meet you every night, that's why. You'll never move on that way. But I won't abandon you completely, not at first."
"So you're going to wean me?" he asked with a light chuckle.
"Hm. In theory. Something tells me it'll actually be harder than weaning the twins." She replied with a chuckle of her own and a teasing tone. She opened her eyes and looked up at him. She didn't try to hide the sadness she suddenly felt. "Speaking of which..."
"Well that's not a fair." Svad sighed softly when she looked up at him. He already knew what she was going to say. "Do I have to?"
"Yes... I don't want to force you."
"What makes you think you still can?" He knew she was being serious, but he couldn't help it. He didn't want to wake up. He wanted to see her smile again.
"Please, Svadilfare. Don't do that." She buried her face in his chest, muffling her next words. "I'll smile when you're back to your old self again. And trust me, I definitely can."
"Smile for me now. Smile for me, liebe, and I'll eat a whole deer when I wake up." He tried to lift her head but she resisted and groaned into his chest.
"Don't do that either. I'm not going to give in just because you call me that." She gently pushed him away, but only until there was half an arm's length between them. "Go. Fatten up, regain your strength. But don't eat a whole deer, you'll just make yourself sick. And do something about that beard. An eternity won't be long enough for me to try to get used to it."
"Yes you will. You always do." He let her push him away. "And why do you care? We're in a dream. I can make myself look however you'd like me to." Svad pulled her back against him. San didn't protest.
"Shut up," she mumbled with mock hurt. "And I care because I don't like the way you look with a beard. This is only a dream for you. You can make yourself appear any way, but I can see what you really look like. And don't you dare say 'make me'," she said, knowing how he would respond to her having told him to shut up.
"Fine, I'll shave. And I wouldn't dream of saying that," he lied. "I'll think it though."
Sanji considered punching him in his left shoulder. But since she didn't know whether it would affect him in the real world, she decided not to. She did give him a harsh look; he only smiled. She sighed softly.
"You're supposed to be waking up."
"Well I'm trying to, but you keep talking."
"Liar. You're trying to make me smile first. I told you I won't."
"No, you said you wouldn't give in to me calling you liebe." He lifted her chin and kissed her again.
San kissed him back, silently cursing him at the same time. When she pulled away she mentally kicked herself for the smile she could feel tugging at her lips. "I love you, Svadilfare..." She stood on her tip toes and pressed a kiss to his forehead. "I hate you for that, but I love you."
He grinned triumphantly when San smiled, even if it was a small one and she was visibly trying to resist it. "I love you, too, Yosanji. And no you don't."
"You got your smile. Now go. And you'd better thank Tali for keeping your miserable hide alive." She smiled again and this time willingly. Then she backed away from Svadilfare and turned, walking into vast darkness that had suddenly replaced the warm beach.
Svadilfare was jolted awake by a loud clap of thunder. The sky was black, the wind howled, rain mercilessly pelted the ground. Lightning moved from one end of the sky to another. The thick canopy of the tree he lay under kept him relatively dry; a few drops made it to him occasionally. Svad sat up wearily and turned to look at the stone. He slowly ran his hand along the mound of dirt beneath him. He could almost feel San's thin fingers on his cheek. Was it really just a dream? he thought. It had felt real. He stood... eventually. For the first time he realized just how frail he had become.
His legs buckled under him as stood upright. He fell. When he managed to get back up by using the tree for support. A single step took way too much effort and resulted in him lying on the ground again. After five minutes of this he wanted to give up and crawl. He could almost hear San threatening to give him a real reason to crawl. He wasn't sure how long it took, but eventually he got up and managed to stay up. By the time he finally reached Tali's house, he was drenched and chilled to the bone.
Tali gasped in surprise when her door opened and Svadilfare's thin figure filled it. She sprang from her bed and reached him in time to prevent him from falling. She guided him to the bed and laid him down. She had long since bought him a set of clothes and now rushed to get them. Returning to the bed she quickly stripped him of his soaked clothing and put the new ones on him. They were a little too big, but would suffice for now. After wrapping the blanket tightly around him and laying his wet clothes by the fire, Tali set about cooking a stew.
Svad ate slowly because he really wasn't hungry. He had a fever. Tali forced him to eat the entire bowl of rabbit stew but let him eat only half of a second. Then she tended to his fever and hand. Either her sister had visited her in a dream as well, or she wasn't a fan of the beard either, because Tali shaved it off while he slept. She also cut his hair.
For the next two months Tali nursed Svadilfare back to health. When he got over the flu she started forcing him to take a few steps each day. She barricaded the door at night so he couldn't go back to San's grave; she knew he didn't have the strength to even get out of bed, but it made her feel better. By the end of the second month Svad could make it to the other side of the house by himself.
Two months later...
Svad could walk on his own now, though his steps were still cautious, slightly unstable. He made his way to Tali, who was sitting at San's grave, telling her of the progress Svad was making. "...You'd be proud of him," she was saying when Svad finally got there.
"T-Tali..." It was the first thing he had said in three months.
She turned and looked at Svad, a shocked expression on her face. She hadn't expected him to ever speak again. She jumped up and hug him tightly, tears welling in her eyes. Svad almost fell over. He raised his arms to hug her back. When his eyes closed he found himself back on the beach with San.
That night, for the first time in three months, Svad thought of how he could get his revenge.
Last edited by Svadilfare on Tue Oct 10, 2017 10:42 pm; edited 1 time in total
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"I don't know yet. But however I do, he will beg first." Svadilfare could hardly believe it had been two months since the first time San came to see him. It had felt like an eternity.
"Good." But San didn't like the coldness in his tone, how dark his words sounded. That wasn't the man she knew and loved. It was hard to blame him; she probably would have felt the same way if he had died. Looking up at him, she smiled and asked, "So where are we going?"
Svad was glad she changed the subject. He didn't know how many times he would get to see Sanji; he didn't want them to be depressing for her. "You'll see." he replied with a smile of his own. At the end of Brysur's beach was a cove. It was where Sanji was headed on the day they met. He'd find out later that she often went there for an hour's peace from her kids or shelter from her then-husband.
The water at the cove was warmer, clearer and green. One could almost see to the bottom. Further away the water was cooler and blue. There were many large rocks to climb, flat ones to sit on. There was also a small beach beneath the shade of a large arching rock formation. As breathtaking and secluded as the cove was, Sanji's favorite thing about it was the small cluster of dark blue roses perched on a cliff. She could never get to them and never tried... but Svadilfare could. As they grew closer to the cove she thought back on the first time he brought her one of those dark blue roses. She smiled at the memory.
Svad looked over to see her reaction to finding out they were going to her favorite place. "The roses?" he asked when he saw her smile.
"Mhm," she gave a light nod. "I always wondered how you managed to get up there."
"Simple. I thought of how much you'd smile when you saw me coming to you with one in my hand." He helped her up a slick rock then they walked down onto the cove's beach.
"Hm. Did you really love my smile that much?"
"Well, you never smiled when we first met. I decided to make it my life's mission to change that."
"You certainly did." She leaned up and kissed his cheek before sitting down to watch the waves. Above them, the small cluster of dark blue roses swayed gently on the breeze. "How's your hand?"
Svad sat down beside her and looked at his right hand. Of course, being he was in a dream or whatever world San inhabited now, his wounds didn't exist. But back in the waking world, it was still damaged, still wrapped in cloth and covered in salve every day. "I can move my fingers a little... Tali said it could be years before I regain full function, if ever."
San lightly trailed her fingertips over his hand, as if she could see what it really looked like. "I wish there was something I could do. I don't even know if I'm allowed to be seeing you like this."
Svad chuckled. "I won't tell if you won't. It'll be our secret. And... you've done enough for me." He wrapped his arm around her and she leaned into him. For a long time they sat in silence, enjoying the tranquility of the cove.
San started humming softly. It was a simple little song, one she had always sang to her children to get them to sleep. The cove seemed to provide its own music: the waves crashed against the rocks, birds cried, the wind howled as it moved through the arching rock. After the first few lines, Svadilfare joined her, adding a deeper tone that somehow blended perfectly with the lighter one. Another smile crossed San's lips and reached her eyes when she heard Svad humming too.
"It's almost time for you to wake up," she whispered. They were laying down now, staring up at the night sky. The stars stared back at them.
"Time passes too quickly here. You don't visit often enough." Svad tore his gaze away from the stars and looked at her. He raised her hand to his lips and kissed the back of it.
"I don't control that. And how else am I going to nudge you closer to another woman?" She laughed at her choice of words though she knew Svad wasn't happy to hear it.
"By not doing it at all. I'm perfectly happy spending the rest of my life alone with the kids."
San sighed. "Do you want a smile tonight?"
"Then don't say things like that. For now, don't think about what you'll feel when you wake up. How terrible you'll feel. Just think about how you feel right now."
"Hm. I feel you could visit me more often." He gave her a small smile.
"Promise me you'll move on when it's time. Better yet--give me your word."
Svadilfare groaned. They both knew he would never go back on his word to her, no matter what it was. He looked at her with pleading eyes, but Sanji showed no sign of giving in. He let out a heavy sigh. "I give you my word, my liebe."
San smiled and sat up. "Good. Then I'll come visit you more often--for a while. Or, you know, until whoever governs this place realizes I'm doing what I shouldn't." She stood and brushed the sand from her clothes.
Svad stood as well, brushed himself off, then pulled San into a tight embrace. "I wish you'd visit every day."
"I want to," she whispered as she rested her head on his chest. "But that would only make saying goodbye harder. Besides, you're not the only one I visit, you selfish man. I see Tali, too. We talk about you."
"I think I'm allowed to be selfish. And good things, I hope?"
"Mm, only the very best things. You are the Pride of Kryo, after all. There isn't a bad thing about you. If we had to complain, though, you could give some sign that you aren't as mad at her as you seem."
"I don't mean to be. It's just... two years, San. For two years I thought you might come home. For two years you were here, dead."
"I know. But she felt just as you do now, maybe even more so. Can you really blame her?" San sighed softly. "I am sorry. I wish I could go back and not do it, convince Tali not to either. Then we'd be home and raising our five children."
"Six... I was hoping we might try for another girl."
San lifted her head and looked at him curiously. "Oh? And when were you going to bring that up? Suppose we had had a boy instead?"
Svad tried to suppress his smile and failed. He cleared his throat. "Ahem... Well, maybe once Clementine was a little older. Two? And, uh, if it had been a boy... then we would have had to try for twin girls.."
She raised a brow at him. "I see. And where were you going to put all... eight of your children?"
He smiled more. "We were going to move to Brysur and I was going to build you a big house in the cove."
"I would have liked that... Maybe in our next life." She kissed his cheek. "Now you really should be waking up. You have to get back in shape if you're going to avenge me."
"Next time you see me, we'll be able to spar." He gave her a dark blue rose, which she raised to her lips as she smiled. As San inhaled the flower's scent, Svad pressed a kiss to her forehead.
Svadilfare spent the day trying to convince Tali--and himself--that he didn't blame her for San's death. He offered to accompany her to the city, to carry things. He chopped wood and moved it into the house, tended the fire. He offered to prepare dinner. He even asked her for help with things he was capable of doing himself. None of this really made Tali think differently, but she appreciated the gesture.
After putting fresh bandages on his hand, Tali asked, "What do you dream about?" When he didn't say anything she added, "Sometimes you mumble things in your sleep."
"It doesn't really feel like a dream to you, though, does it?"
"No. She told me she visits you."
Tali nodded slowly. "It's nice to know there is an afterlife, huh? That you can still see your loved ones. So..." She examined her work on his hand then started, gently, to force him to bend each finger.
"I want to begin training," he said before she could finish her thought.
She raised a brow. Just like San, Svad thought. "What sort of training? You can't overdo it."
"I know. Just something simple. You tie a few logs to a rope and the other end of that rope around my waist. And I'll pull them along behind me... It'll strength my legs."
"I guess we have different ideas of 'simple'. Okay then. And we have to start exercising your hand, just a little bit each day."
Svad nodded then pushed himself up and started to make his way outside.
"Going to see Sanji? Say hi for me."
The next day...
Svadilfare struggled to pull the heavy logs behind him. But he wouldn't allow Tali to remove a log or two, or even end the training altogether. When he felt his legs would give out, he looked toward Yosanji's grave and suddenly found new strength. He could manage to move the logs a few inches more. At midday, with the sun beating down on his frail body, Svadilfare had gotten halfway past Tali's house. Tali brought him some water and insisted that he come inside for awhile. Being the stubborn man he was, he refused. For the rest of the day and well into the night, he tried to reach the tree that bore his blood.
Eventually, the Kryoan reached the tree... He slumped against it and breathed heavily. His left hand untied the rope from around his waist before his legs gave out finally and he slid down to sit. Svadilfare remembered when he could have dragged those logs from one point to another in no time. It had taken him all day to travel a distance that once would have taken him a couple minutes at the most.
As his breath started to slow and his heart didn't pound so heavily against his ribs, Svad's gaze lifted to the sky. The moon was out. His Moonstone glowed brightly in its namesake's presence. For a moment he wondered what Astral had been doing all these months. Then his thoughts turned to Yosanji. Would she visit him tonight or let him rest? He prayed for the former; nothing would help him rest more than to know there existed a world where he could embrace his wife again, take in her floral scent, see that smile he loved so much. His eyes fell to his right hand. He wondered if he could learn healing magic from his Moonstone, at least enough to make his hand more usable. Maybe later. Right now he had to build up the muscles in his legs. And he could stand to put on some more weight.
He wasn't sure when it was he returned to the house, or whether Tali had helped him. All he remembered was laying in his bed--Tali had bought him his own bed a month ago--and listening to the crackling of burning wood. Eventually, the sound faded away as he fell asleep.
To be continued...
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