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Ain't No Way Back Home: Nakoa's Story

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Spoiler: OOC: The Good, the Bad, and the Content WarningsShow


Chapter 0: The End of a Beginning


80 Phoenix, 1330


"Nakoa? It's me."

Nakoa crouched on the floor of her apartment in the Black Citadel, shedding pieces of crimson armor all over the floor. Her head snapped up at the sound of Shareth's voice and her teeth clacked together hard enough to make her jaw smart. "Aw, hell." Chunks of armor still clinging to her massive frame, she muscled open the door. "Give me one good reason not to put my fist in your teeth," she demanded before Shareth could even say hello. Nakoa flexed her fingers for emphasis, the armored joints of her gloves clinking.

The Black Citadel hulked skyward--an iron behemoth of a city, its metal joints clanking and whirring in the smog. A vile place. Nakoa felt right at home in all the worst ways. She'd rented a room--well, squatted in one, really--so deep in the city's industrial bowels that she saw the glow of the smiths' fires more often than she saw the sun. How Shareth had found her down here, outside the dump where she'd been living, was beyond her.

Shareth crunched her chin to her chest as if to make herself seem smaller. She was still a full head taller than Nakoa. Skinnier, yes, but not by much--and anyway, plenty of things were skinnier than Nakoa. She was trying to look contrite, Nakoa guessed.

It was eleven months too late for that. Shareth bobbed, auburn curls spiraling out of their braid and falling against the elegant line of her cheek. "I need your help," she said.

Nakoa busted out laughing. "I thought you were a twelve-tongued, snake-faced lying bitch--not stupid."

Shareth flinched. "Now, that's not fair--"

"Isn't it? Sugar, you oughta see the scar." Nakoa slapped her thigh. Beneath the layer of plate mail, a thick, knotted rope of scar tissue climbed from the outside of her knee nearly to her hip. "It was near on two months before I was walkin' right again, and the docs said that was lucky."

Shareth stared down at her boots. All around them, the city rumbled like an engine and gasped black smoke. "I didn't know."

"'course not. You lit out on me. What'd you think I was gonna do--send you a postcard? You still wouldn't know iffn you'd had the good sense to stay well enough away."

"He's comin' after me, Ko."

Nakoa sneered and turned her face away. Nobody much called her "Ko" anymore. Nobody she'd talk to, anyway--or nobody who'd talk to her. "Don't call me that."

"Did you hear me? Thayne is coming after me."

"Betcha that sucks." Thayne was a violent, powerful, terrifying man--well known (in places where such things are known) for running a weapons racket. Not quite a year ago, a smuggler named Sorinne sold him out and then hired Nakoa and Shareth to protect her as she fled Thayne's retaliation. Nakoa had completed that assignment. Shareth had not.

Nakoa turned to go back inside.

"Nakoa!" Desperation crept into Shareth's voice. "I know you know how Sorinne got out. Where she went to be safe."

Nakoa paused with one hand on the door frame. "So what? Whaddayou think I am, Shareth--sentimental? You think I care what happens to you?"

"I know you do."

Nakoa winced. "You think you know a lot, huh? You're screwed. Don'tcha come knockin 'round here no more--if you survive."

Nakoa shut the door before Shareth could wedge in another word and set the lock so fiercely the door rattled. She forced herself to stare into the trash-strewn gloom, ridding herself of the last pieces of her armor and thinking about how she should clean up, she should really at least try--a decent person wouldn't have all those beer bottles lying around, that sweaty heap of laundry wadded in the corner. For a long time, she felt Shareth's presence heavy on the other side of the door and saw her shadow moving beneath it. Nakoa ignored it. She ignored it until she couldn't, and then she wrenched open the door with an insult on her lips--Fuck off ya godsdamned backbitin--

There was nobody there.

***


Nakoa didn't sleep much that night. Maybe she had eaten too much. Maybe she'd gone a little too hard on the liquor. Maybe not. When she did sleep, her dreams tumbled back through all those dusty-booted days, before the business with Thayne and Sorinne. They'd beaten a lot of miles into the road together, she and Shareth. For almost two years, they'd made a pretty good team. A warm, steady confidence filled Nakoa's memories. The smell of those smoky campfire nights. Shareth's laughter. It was good to have someone who could tell a joke on nights like those.

She awoke alone in the black, nauseous, listening to the grumble of the city. "Shit," she muttered, and rolled out of bed. Eleven months was not such a long a time that she didn't know where to search for Shareth. She buckled herself into her armor, packed the things she knew she'd need, and plunged into the smoggy twilight of the Black Citadel.

There was a bar at the bottom of the city--the Chipped Claw, a greasy, dingy rat-hole of a place where no decent folks ever went. Nakoa and Shareth had been regulars there when they happened to be in the Citadel. It was one of the few places they could go without worrying about the charr, because the charr who went there had worse things on their minds than heckling humans, and the humans who went there weren't worth heckling anyway.

The Chipped Claw didn't abide by any seemly schedule. It must have been pushing four in the morning by the time Nakoa got there, but people crammed the bar anyway. She stood for a moment on the outskirts of the crowd, squinting through a haze of pipe smoke. No Shareth. She pushed past the hustlers and gamblers to the counter. "I'm lookin' for..." She hesitated. Shareth would know better than to use her real name. "For Teona Shingle."

The bartender was a massive, wiry charr missing one ear and the tip of the opposite horn. He snarled at her. "None o' yer business."

Nakoa had expected this. She laid a gold piece on the counter, making sure he saw it but keeping it pinned beneath her palm until he said, "Upstairs, third door on the right."

"Hah." People were cheap--or maybe it was just poverty that made them that way.

The stairs creaked under her weight as she made her way to the building's second story. People lounged in the hallway, blowing clouds of blue smoke and watching her pass with hungry eyes. "Need a hand out o' that armor?" someone offered.

Nakoa ignored them. She raised her fist to knock on the third door to the right--and stopped. It was already open. An inch of lamplight shone between the door and its frame. Maybe she was too late. Her stomach did a flop, and she tugged her sword from its sheath, edging the door open with her toe.

The room was in shambles. Someone had slashed the mattress, straw bleeding out onto the floor and bedsheets dripping off the frame. A splintered dresser lay on its face in a pool of water. Chunks of the smashed washbasin scattered the floor. The bathroom door stood ajar, blood seeping from beneath it.

Nakoa raised her sword and inched towards the bathroom door. "Anyone hidin' in there, you best come out while you got the chance, hear?"

There was a clatter and a scrape from inside the bathroom. Someone hitched open the door. "Nakoa?"

"Shareth?"

Shareth stood in the bathroom doorway, a knife in her hand, drenched to the elbow in blood. More blood splattered her chest and the tops of her thighs. Nakoa could see the outline of a body on the ground behind her. One of Thayne's people, she guessed. Someone sent to kill Shareth.

Nakoa lowered her sword, letting the tip come to rest near her feet. "How mucha that's yours?"

Shareth looked down at herself. Under the layer of blood, she was pale, shaken. Her hair clung to the sweat on her forehead. "Not much."

"You really are in deep shit, huh?"

Shareth lifted her chin and narrowed her eyes. Nakoa could see how scared she was--and how much she didn't want to show it. "Don't tell me you came all the way out here at this hour just to badger me."

"Hah. Serve ya right if I did." Nakoa swung her sword back into its sheath, turning away from Shareth to push closed the door to the hallway. "Clean yourself up--we got a long way to go, and fast, before someone comes up here askin' questions."

Shareth did her best to scrub the blood from her skin and armor, but there wasn't much to be done about the mess that had soaked into her clothes. She was running light and hadn't packed any extra--and Nakoa's nerves stretched thinner by the minute. Thayne was no one to toy with; Nakoa didn't relish the idea of running into him or his goons in the confines of an inn room. Or at all.

In the end, they stripped a blanket from the bed and fashioned it into a crude cloak for Shareth. The Black Citadel was a city used to violence, and Nakoa had never met a charr surprised by blood, but it couldn't hurt to minimize the curiosity. They left the body where it lay: Shareth had rented the room for the whole night, and they hoped no one would find the corpse until the morning. Neither one of them spoke about it. They'd killed a lot of people in their lifetimes--it was too late now to reckon with conscience.

The Chipped Claw had seen stranger things than Nakoa and her hooded companion. No one spoke to them on the way out except the same hopeful in the hallway, who offered a second time to help Nakoa out of her armor. Outside, the air hit their faces like a blast from an oven. The sky was only just beginning to fade from black to gray, and already the day was beginning to heat up. A breeze carried the tang of hot metal from the south, where the Imperial Smelter belched gasses to the sky.

Thayne clearly knew that Shareth was in the Citadel; he would have eyes on the asura gate. So they would travel the old-fashioned way--by foot, following the path Sorinne had taken into the Shiverpeaks. From the moment they stepped into the street, Nakoa set her teeth and did not unclench them until they'd passed the city gates. The temperature fell beyond the walls, smoke and fumes dissipating into the lightening sky. The sun was coming up, the great red rim of it flaming along the bottom of the eastern sky.

For a long, long time, they walked in silence. A year ago, that would have been neither strange nor uncomfortable--they had spent so many lazy, companionable hours together without a word spoken between them. This was different--a thorny silence that worked its way under Nakoa's armor and prickled on the back of her neck.

"Why did you come back?" Shareth asked at last. The sun was well up, now, staring out over the Plains of Ashford. Beneath it, Nakoa felt like a rabbit with nowhere to hide.

Nakoa didn't look at her. She was walking in front, her eyes doggedly fixed on the metal toes of her own boots, doing her best to keep her mind blank and empty of memories. "You oughta know better'n to question your own good luck."

"Let's pretend I don't." Shareth had such a pretty way of speaking, her syllables trimmed and sculpted, almost laughably prim--a rich girl on the wrong side of the garden wall. Toughest princess I ever met, Nakoa used to tease.

Nakoa chewed the inside of her cheek. Licked sweat from her upper lip. "Don't push it, Shareth. It ain't too late for me to turn right back around and leave you out here, and I've already got more'n half a mind to do it."

Shareth shut her mouth, then, and wisely kept it shut for a good long while.

Nakoa was used to walking long distances in her armor--you could never tell when you'd need to be wearing it--but even so, it was high summer, and by noon she was feeling it. Perspiration dripped between her shoulder blades and off her forehead. Her breath thinned to rough mouthfuls of hot air. Only a smattering of crooked trees forested the Plains, and by now they'd passed beyond most of those into broad, meadowed hills. There was no shade, and there was no water, so when they came across a thicket of low-lying shrubs, Nakoa stopped and said, "Rest here."

Shareth stopped, too, her eyes flicking across the empty landscape. Green eyes, dark and uneasy as the sea. "Rest?"

Nakoa had already gotten down on her knees, shucking off her pack and wriggling into the brush. She could see a wide swath of the landscape through the tangle of branches. Good--if Thayne showed up, she'd have a chance to spot him coming. "Well, I'm gonna. It's hot, and I ain't hardly slept. If you wanna keep walkin', that's your choice."

She knew Shareth well enough to picture her frown and the crease it made between her rust-colored eyebrows. "I don't know where I'm going."

"Oh, huh. Mebbe you should wait for me, then."

Shareth sighed and knelt with a clatter of armor, wedging herself into the scrub beside Nakoa. Not close, but not far enough, either--the thicket wasn't big enough for that. Nakoa shut her eyes, but she couldn't sleep. She couldn't relax. Shareth's breath--steady, even, too familiar--rasped like sandpaper on her nerves.

They'd lain like this a year ago, side by side on their backs in the Plains of Ashford, staring up at the night sky. Not on a job, then. That was before Sorinne. Shareth gazed up at the stars, pointing out constellations and spinning out of them all the myths that Nakoa had never been interested to learn. Nakoa, listening to the rise and fall of Shareth's voice, feeling soft and peaceful, still wasn't interested. Little, ordinary things filled Shareth with wonder--stars, bugs, the wind in the grass. Nakoa had long since lost the knack of that.

In the bush, now, with the sun glaring down on them, Nakoa tugged off her gauntlet and laid her bare palm over the metal that concealed the scar on her thigh. Their friendship was gone. Ruined. Better not to remember how things had been before. Enough to do what she'd come to do and wash her hands of the whole thing.

"Where are we going?"

Nakoa thought Shareth had fallen asleep, but apparently not. Maybe her thoughts ran the same way Nakoa's did. Nakoa took a moment to answer, wondering if she could pretend to be asleep, and decided against it. Shareth knew her too well for that. "Kletturborg. Some village in the Shiverpeaks," she said. "Friend o' Sorinne's, Heoden, can disappear you. You'd know that if you'da been there."

There was a little hiss of air between Shareth's teeth. "Friend of yours, too?"

"Well enough. I was holed up there for two months healin' after what you did."

Shareth was quiet for such a long time that Nakoa thought for sure she'd fallen asleep. Then she said, "I'm sorry--about what happened."

Twigs crisscrossed the sky over Nakoa's face. She blew out a breath and watched the leaves shudder with it. "Hah." Even to her own ears, her bravado sounded forced. "It's a lot too late for that, sugar."

"Oof." Shareth made a sound like she'd been hit. Then she rolled over, a clamor of metal armor and stung feelings, and maybe she finally did fall asleep.

They stayed in the brush until the sun began to sink and the earth began finally to cool off. Then they wormed their way out into the open again, counting on the twilight to hide them as they finished the trek to the Shiverpeaks. It wasn't far--not by the standards of any ordinary travel--but with the threat of eyes at their backs, it seemed like an eternity. By midnight, they'd passed from the foothills into the first of the mountains. The wind rose and the temperature fell as they climbed. One minute it would be silent, and the next a great blustery gust would come howling out of nowhere, roaring up from a chasm or ripping so fast along the cliff face that they had to stop and cling to rocks or roots until the gale stopped for breath. The trail banked sharply skyward as the land tilted at drunken angles on either side of it. It was narrow, barely broad enough for the two of them to edge along single-file, and in some places it had eroded to little more than a series of footholds. No sane person would have walked it at night. Not unless they were desperate.

They paused again when the path wheeled around a bend and brought them into the protection of a cleft in the rock. The remains of someone else's cookfire scattered the ground, and Nakoa stood longingly looking down on it. They couldn't risk lighting one of their own. Instead, she slung down her pack from her shoulders and rooted around in it until she found the little pouch of trail food that she'd brought--jerky and nuts and a few pieces of dried fruit, things that wouldn't spoil. "Here." She held out a handful to Shareth, who almost smiled, looking hopeful. Nakoa scowled. "I know how you get when you're hungry, and I don't want to deal with it. Eat, asshole."

Even in the dim light of the moon, Nakoa saw Shareth's optimism sour. "You know what? Fuck you." She slapped the food out of Nakoa's hand and peanuts went flying off the rock face, skittering down into the ravine below them. "You want to go, you go. I tried to apologize."

"Yeah, well, sorry don't cut it in this case."

"What does, then?"

"Nothing. Not one damn thing. Go on, if you think you can make it without me. This ain't my problem."

Shareth turned away, and for one terrible second Nakoa thought she would go and almost called out to stop her. Then Shareth spun back around. Gravel crunched beneath her feet. "Why'd you come back for me then? If you don't care, why not just let me die?"

"You left me behind." It wasn't what Nakoa had meant to say. She'd meant to fling back some other acerbic insult, something else pointless and hurtful. Instead, her voice was rising, getting higher, echoing off the mountainsides around them. She hated it when her voice got high. "Thayne's guys had us there, Sorinne and me, and things got hot and you turned tail and ran away. What the hell am I supposed to say, Shareth? 'It's okay'? 'I forgive ya'? 'Cuz I damn well don't. I almost died. Two years. Two years we was a team, and you just up and went and didn't even look back?"

"There were too many of them." Shareth's fingers flexed at her side, her eyes bright and fixed on Nakoa's. "You said it yourself--don't you remember? We thought we were all going down, and I've never been on the hunt for a noble death."

"Well guess what? I ain't dead. I finished that godsdamned assignment and got Sorinne alive where she was s'posed to go. I thought we was friends, you'n me. I thought you had my back."

"Since when have you given a turd about honor or loyalty? I've seen how you handle your friends."

"Not you."

"It could have been me."

Nakoa could feel the blood rushing through her hands. She balled them into fists and slammed them against the rock. "It wasn't. It wouldn't've been. Eleven months. You never came back in all that time. Did you even know if I was alive?"

"No." Shareth said it so readily, so baldly, that Nakoa dropped her hands to her sides and just stared. "I didn't know you were alive until I saw you yesterday."

"Did you wonder?" Nakoa asked--and immediately hated herself for asking. Her voice sounded so small, so fragile. She was not small or fragile.

Shareth's face closed as swiftly as if someone had pulled the drawstring. She turned her head away, exposing the elegant line of her profile, aquiline nose sketched in a spear of moonlight. "Are you staying or going?"

Nakoa grabbed up her pack and crammed a fistful of food into her mouth. "Yeah."

Shareth wedged herself out of the cleft without looking to see if Nakoa followed her, and Nakoa, wishing she wouldn't, did.

Gradually, the path leveled out--gentled and broadened, working its way onto even ground and away from the edge of the cliff. That was good for navigating by moonlight, but Nakoa almost wished it would stay treacherous. Safety left too much of her mind free to wander. The wind had died down, too. The night was quiet. Deep. Even the singing of the insects had fallen to a muted whistle--maybe they didn't like the altitude. The dull, rhythmic tramp of their own footsteps filled Nakoa's head: thud, thud, thud. No resolution and no relief. Thud, thud. An hour, maybe more, passed that way. Nakoa watched the moon work its way across the sky, her chest as heavy and tight as if her lungs had filled with sand.

"I did wonder," Shareth said at last. "If you were dead."

Nakoa said nothing--just kept walking, thud thud thud, letting Shareth's words drop into the dirt.

Shareth kept talking anyway. "I went back to Smokestead. Stayed there for a good long time. I knew you wouldn't go there--you'd go back to the Citadel, if you survived--and I thought so many times maybe I'd run into you by chance, or I'd even come to look for you..."

Something in Nakoa's gut twisted and curled over on itself. All this time, Shareth had been a forty-five minute walk away. "But ya never did."

"I knew how angry you'd be," Shareth said, quietly.

Nakoa laughed a little. She couldn't help herself. It wasn't a funny laugh--a broken-bottle sound that clattered on the rocks. Too many sharp edges. "Damn straight."

"And I knew how hurt you'd be."

Nakoa didn't have anything to say to that. She didn't want to be hurt. All these layers of armor, the years of training, her arms corded with fighting muscles, the sword strapped to her back. She should be untouchable.

Then Shareth stopped and turned around and said, "I'm sorry, Ko," and Nakoa felt all the air go out of her. She stopped, too--just stood there, doughy and blank and such a long way from untouchable. She dropped her gaze. Cleared her throat. Her anger had abandoned her, and all her words went with it.

Bang.

A shot split the night, hard and familiar as the edge of a blade. Her sword was in her hand before she'd made a decision to draw it--"Shareth, get down!"

Shareth was already down, lanky body folded and tucked behind the cover of a boulder. A second shot followed the first--Nakoa heard the bullet whistle overhead. Four figures appeared over the rise behind her: booted, narrow, all smaller than she. Sylvari, maybe. It was hard to tell in this light, and at this distance. Moonlight traced the barrel of a rifle, skipped off the muzzle of at least one pistol. The men scuttled up the path--bent nearly double, hunting. Their leather armor made not a sound. They must have heard Nakoa and Shareth a mile off in their platemail: Nakoa loved her armor, but there were times when it didn't do her one lick of good.

She flung herself down beside Shareth, clutching her sword and blaspheming under her breath. She owned a rifle. She'd left it at home, like any shithead idiot would do, and anyway, she wasn't much of a shot. Especially not in the dark.

Shareth glanced at her and lifted her brows. Nakoa could just see it in the gray haze of the moonlight, and she felt a split-second flash of the old camaraderie between them. They'd complemented each other perfectly--Nakoa with her greatsword and Shareth, who could beat a sniper at a game of darts. Shareth was already working her pistols loose from the leather holsters on her hips, struggling to keep her body crunched behind the bolder. "I'll cover you," she whispered.

"Hah. Like old times?"

"No time to be bitter now, Ko."

Shareth rolled one way, and Nakoa went the other, scrambling out from behind the rock. She could see Shareth from the corners of her eyes, running, firing at the men with both hands as she bolted for the twisted tree that offered the only other scrap of cover. The men ducked and scrambled closer, keeping to the grassy side of the path. The other side dropped away into the gorge below.

Nakoa came to her feet in a crouch, working in the other direction, hugging the edge of the cliff as she skimmed towards the men. Shareth had distracted them, but one of them turned as she got close, shouting a warning, swinging his gun around to face her--bang. The bullet clipped her shoulder pauldron. Shrapnel fanged her cheek and her skull rang like a bell.

Nakoa had two decades of hard training under her belt. Step--pivot--lunge--and then the familiar hot wash of blood working into the joints of her gauntlets. Human, then. Her sword went through him to the hilt, the leather armor useless as a nightgown against four vicious feet of steel. She twisted the blade--for efficiency more than cruelty--and shed his body from the sword with a foot on his chest.

The shot to her pauldron had wrecked her hearing. Her head felt muffled, lopsided. Someone shouted something, but she couldn't make out the words. Then one of the other men was in front of her, rifle butted to his shoulder.

Crack.

Nakoa flinched--but it was Shareth's gun. Nakoa's attacker toppled, Shareth behind him by ten or fifteen feet with a pistol in her hand and a corpse crumpled at her feet, her voice swimming down to Nakoa through the headache of static--"Ko--look out!"

Nakoa raised her sword and spun around--too late. Something hard--the stock of a gun--crashed into her head. Light exploded behind her eyes. She went down, the world reeling, sword slipping from her fingers even as she fumbled for it with both hands. Blood ran down into her eyes. She could just see the last gunman stepping over her, the black maw of his weapon aimed at her face, and a flash of Shareth's heels as she ran in the opposite direction.

Bang.

***


Nakoa woke up fighting, a fist lurching blind and meeting nothing but empty space. Pain zigzagged through her skull. A sound came out of her, loose as vomit, more of a gurgle than a groan.

Then a hand on her shoulder. "Quit it. You'll make it worse."

She collapsed under the weight of that hand. It didn't take much pressure to do that to her--her strength was gone, swallowed by the pain. With effort, she assembled the sounds in her mouth into a word: "Shareth?"

"Hi, asshole."

"I can't see."

"Your whole face is tied up in bandages. Doc says it's better that way."

"What doc?"

There was a rustle of fabric, a wooden scrape as Shareth adjusted something. The hand lifted from Nakoa's shoulder, and she missed it immediately. "Some norn. I don't know."

Nakoa worked her jaw, feeling all the places where it hurt. Her teeth felt too big for her mouth, and the whole right side of her face throbbed. "We safe?"

"I think so. For now."

It took a lot of effort for Nakoa to lift her hands to the level of her face, but she managed it and began to tear at the bandages.

"Nakoa--!"

"If I ain't dead yet, I don't reckon takin off this godsdamned blindfold's gonna do it." Light seared her eyes, stinging tears. The world was a watery blur--warm colors, firelight, wood. She blinked, wincing, and gradually her surroundings pieced themselves together: a lodge, ludicrously oversized to norn scale. Nakoa was a big person, and the bed she lay in would have fit three of her. Shareth sat on a stool by the bedside, still wearing her bloodstained armor, her eyes shot and runny from stress or exhaustion. A bruise purpled one cheekbone, her chin crosshatched with gravely scrapes.

"Don't tell me ya carried me here," Nakoa said.

Shareth didn't quite smile--a pathetic twitch of the lips, as though she lacked the energy for real humor. "Thayne's guys had raptors, you lucky bastard. I found them tied up down the hill. That's how they caught up to us."

"So now you're a raptor thief and a turncoat, huh?"

The not-smile vanished.

Nakoa, feeling awful about it, pressed ahead anyway. "I saw you run away, sugar."

"Well, sugar," Shareth began, her white-picket accent filed down short and sharp, "I guess you took that blow to the head pretty hard, because clearly you saw wrong. If I'd run away, you wouldn't be here. You'd be dead. You're welcome."

"You ran away, and then he shot me," Nakoa snapped back. "What'm I supposed to be thankin you for again? Havin too much of a guilty conscience to let me bleed out there?"

Shareth leaned forward, her fingers bunched in a fist, and pounded the edge of the bed. A dull ache reverberated through Nakoa's head. "He didn't shoot you, Ko, I shot him. You fainted."

Nakoa squinted, blinking when another wash of tears filled up her vision. "I...fainted?"

"Yeah. You took that knock, and he was going to shoot you, but I got him first. You passed out."

"...Huh." Nakoa deflated, shutting her eyes to parse this information in the relative comfort of darkness.

"You could say 'I'm sorry,' jerkwad."

"To you?" Nakoa put in a derisive snort because she felt uncertain and hated admitting it. She was not good at apologies.

Shareth held fast. "The same," she said.

Nakoa dawdled just until the silence turned sour, until her last shot at grace had curdled and gone bitter. "I'm sorry," she muttered, and for good measure added, "Thanks for savin me. This time."

Shareth sighed. Nakoa could picture the slump of her shoulders. "You never do change, Ko," she said. "Listen--I'm sorry, too. I know you don't believe me--"

Nakoa interrupted her. "I do believe you."

Shareth blew a slow breath between her teeth. She was silent for so long that Nakoa opened her eyes and hitched herself onto her side, grunting. Shareth had her hands folded in her lap. She sat with her head bent, looking down at her primly stacked knuckles.

"Hey. Look at me," Nakoa said, and Shareth did. "I don't think I can forgive you for whatcha did."

Hurt flashed through those stormcloud eyes. Shareth's chest rose--fell. She nodded.

"But I accept your apology."

"Then..." Shareth's voice faded to a question mark.

"Did you get us to Kletturborg?"

"Yeah."

"So I'll talk to my guy Heoden and we'll get you disappeared."

"And you and I..?"

Nakoa fell onto her back again, aching, a terrible scooped-out hollowness lodged between her lungs. "I reckon it's best that that's the last of us."

"Sure," said Shareth, softly, and left it at that.

***


Nakoa was concussed, but not seriously injured. She spent a day and a half in bed, under the care of a very stern norn healer who threatened to tie her down if she didn't stay put. She believed him, and so she stayed put.

On the afternoon of her release, Nakoa and Shareth walked out of town to a scrubby farmstead wedged in a cleft between mountains. It had been built for norns--the door frame towered high enough that Nakoa could have carried Shareth through on piggyback--but somewhere along the lines it had been taken over by Heoden, a rangy, wild-eyed human with a crunchy scribble of dark hair. He met them at the door, turning his head first one way, then the other, the way a rooster looks at the world through one eye at a time. "I know you," he said at last, flattening his wiry unibrow at Nakoa. "Sorinne's friend."

To call Nakoa and Sorinne friends was a stretch. They had been closer, perhaps, after Shareth skipped out--Sorinne had had enough of that in her own life to empathize--but Sorinne was Nakoa's client, and Nakoa Sorinne's contractor. At some point, real friendship became impossible.

Still, Nakoa arranged her bruised face into some impersonation of a smile and said, "Yeah, that's me. Look--I need a favor. We can pay for it."

One end of the unibrow tilted up. "I think you'd better come inside, then."

Heoden made tea--something dark and earthy that Nakoa didn't drink. She left it steaming on the human-sized table, which seemed as lost as a life preserver in the gargantuan kitchen. Shareth, seated too close beside her, took dainty sips between sentences as she explained her situation--leaving out the part about abandoning Sorinne and Nakoa.

Heoden didn't ask for more information. Sorinne had trusted him for discretion, and now Nakoa trusted him for the same reason. All he said was, "I can do it." Then he accepted his payment, and that was that. Shareth would stay and become someone new and unknown. Nakoa would go back to the Citadel.

Nakoa pushed to her feet. Her untouched tea had gone cold. "Guess that does it, then," she said, trying not to look at Shareth. "I'll--I'll see myself out."

Shareth got up, too--too quickly to be casual, her chair skidding backwards from the table. "I'll walk out with you."

"My sense of direction ain't that bad."

Shareth walked her outside anyway, and for a moment they stood awkwardly facing one another at the bottom of the steps.

"Well," Shareth said. She shuffled her feet. "Good bye."

"Yup," Nakoa agreed.

Shareth bit her lip. She turned to go back inside.

"Shareth--"

Shareth stopped. "Yes?"

Nakoa stripped off her gauntlets and tucked them into her belt. Then she grasped one of Shareth's hands between both of her own, their skin rough and warm where it pressed together. "Good luck," she said.

Shareth folded her own fingers over Nakoa's, tight. "You too," she said.

They broke apart. Nakoa gave herself just a minute more to look into Shareth's face. Then she turned and trudged back down the path towards town.

***


Nakoa returned to the Citadel, nursing her concussion, elbowing through burly crowds of charr to the door of her hovel. It smelled of old beer and her own sweat. She didn't care. She locked the door behind her and drank herself to sleep, and in the morning when she woke with a hangover she told herself the world was back to normal. Nothing had changed. Life would go on.

It did. A nosy stranger came to the door asking about Shareth, and Nakoa said she didn't know and didn't care. A rumor from Kletturborg told her that a mercenary had been found murdered on the slope outside town. A tall, redheaded human. Nakoa guessed that meant Heoden had worked his magic.

Or maybe not. Shareth could really be dead. That was possible, too, but she tried not to think about it.

Almost half a year after the whole ordeal had finished, Nakoa woke to the sound of a fist on her door. She rolled over, dislodging a line of beer bottles from the edge of her cot with a crash and a shatter. "Who's that?" she screamed at the door. "What the hell fuckin time is it?"

"Almost noon," someone called back. A human someone, high and thready. "I have a message for you."

"What?" Nakoa rolled out of bed, groaning, rubbing gummy sleep from her eyelids, and stumbled towards the door. "What message?"

The messenger was just a teenage slip of a boy. He startled back when she wrenched the door open, eyes wide, and Nakoa placed a silent bet that he wouldn't last another month before leaving the Citadel for someplace tamer. He thrust a battered envelope at her and disappeared down the alleyway.

"Fuckin kid," Nakoa grumbled, tilting a shoulder against the door jamb to rip into the envelope. A piece of rumpled paper fell out, spiderwebbed in looping script that Nakoa struggled to read. Thank you, it read. Then, in parentheses, (I know you care). A fluid letter S coiled near the bottom of the page.

"Hah." Nakoa chuckled. "You still think ya know a lot." She started to tear the page in two.

Then she stopped, folded it, and put it in her pocket instead.
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Chapter 1: How to Win Friends...


72 Phoenix, 1331

She'd only been in the Chipped Claw an hour, and already Nakoa was gratefully, dizzily, deadbeat-drunk. She woozed over her mug, staring down at the bubbles clinging to the sides and thinking that she probably should have spent the money on food, or a decent place to live. That would have been what a decent person would do. She lived from wave to wave of money, the tide always going out, and she'd put herself up in the cheapest, grungiest hovel she could find. Just about the only thing these godsdamned charr would rent to her.

Anyway, Nakoa was not a decent person. She was just happy to be drunk.

Charr stuffed the tavern--a mess of hair and cat breath, their voices a harsh growl of background noise. One hateful-looking asura nursed some toxic-yellow drink in the corner, but Nakoa was the only human. She'd gotten used to that, during her time in the Black Citadel. Almost proud of it. Not every human could make it work in the Citadel, but Nakoa could. It wasn't even the worst place she'd been.

Sorta close, though.

"A sandwich, please."

Nakoa's head jerked up so abruptly she had to grab the edge of the counter for balance--damn booze had gotten that far with her, already. Having gotten used to being the only human, she wasn't really happy to hear another human voice so close. She peered in the direction of the voice and saw a smith--Nakoa assumed she was a smith, anyway, from the equipment on her pack. She was as bulky as Nakoa and almost as tall, with dark skin and a fluff of bleached hair done up in braids. She leaned on the bar like she'd just marathoned the whole of Ascalon. "Just water," she said in answer to some question from the bartender. Even her voice sounded exhausted.

Nakoa had no sympathy at all. She tipped up her chin, making sure the smith saw her, and thought, Who invited you in here, anyway?

The smith raised an eyebrow, a flash of irritation tightening her face before she looked away.

Nakoa kept her eyes on the smith, too drunk to be ignored and too fired up over nothing to be rational. The smith slid into a seat one stool down from Nakoa's, glaring from the corners of her eyes.

Did I tell you you could sit there? Nakoa kicked her feet up on the barstool between them and wobbled her fingers into her chest pocket for her pipe. She'd just gotten it good and lit, the tufty smoke not quite muffling the fighting instinct in her brain, when the smith said, "Hey."

Nakoa glanced at her in time to see the smith swipe a big fingerful of condensation from the side of her water glass and flick it in Nakoa's direction. A fat drop landed in the bowl of Nakoa's pipe: tssss.

"Huh," Nakoa said. That had been a fresh bowl, too. She'd have to dump it out and start fresh--soggy tobacco tasted like dog shit. She put the pipe back in her pocket, stood up one foot at a time, and decked the smith.

The smith slammed back against the counter, elbows flying out to catch herself. Blood dribbled from the corner of her mouth. Nakoa had been thrown out of human bars for lesser offenses than this, but the charr just laughed. "Oho!" someone cackled. "Mousefight!"

Nakoa was a good brawler, but the beer weighed down on her response time. The smith dropped her weight and came back with a hook that caught Nakoa in the ribs. Nakoa's breath wheezed out of her. She grabbed the smith by the shoulders--half to slow her down and half to steady herself--and looped an ankle around the back of the smith's knee. They both went down, a pair of barstools clattering on top of them. Someone was yelling, "Mousefight! Mousefight!" and Nakoa was aiming another punch at the smith's face when a set of huge paws grabbed her under the arms and yanked her away.

"Enough!" It was the bartender. He dragged her to the door and pushed her out of it. "You're blockin the bar."

Nakoa threw back a string of curses she was too drunk to properly keep track of. A split-second later a bouncer appeared in the doorway and tossed out the smith the same way. The smith was big, but the charr threw her into the street with the same easy, underhanded swing he might have used to dismiss a housepet. These godsdamned charr. They'd walk all over humans and never think twice about it.

The smith landed in the street beside Nakoa and immediately whipped around to yell back at the door, "What about my stuff?!"

Her pack clattered into the road, and a second later, a sandwiched bounced onto the ground, too. Gingerly, the smith pinched it between two fingers, frowning at the spray of grit mushed into the bread.

Somewhere, mired in the sludge at the very bottom of her drunken brain, Nakoa knew she'd screwed up. The smith didn't deserve this. All she'd tried to do was buy a sandwich, and Nakoa had gotten her the boot and a split lip for her trouble.

Oh well. Conscience could come later. Right now, Nakoa was laughing. She clutched her bruised ribs and tipped onto her side, the Black Citadel smoking and churning above her.

The smith scowled at her. "I'm glad you think this is funny, asshole," she snapped, brandishing the sandwich under Nakoa's nose.

Nakoa felt herself go cross-eyed trying to get a look at that sandwich. It smelled good. She took a big bite, getting paper and a mouthful of sand with the bread. Whatever. She chewed. Dirt don't hurt.

"Agh!" the smith yanked the sandwich away. "What the..?"

Nakoa grinned. "I'm hungry, too. Damn, you can throw a punch." She pulled up her shirt to get a look at the bruise forming on her side. "That's gonna shine in the mornin."

"You're lucky I didn't break your ribs." The smith scowled at her bitten sandwich as though weighing the odds that she might catch something from it.

Nakoa poked her new bruise. It stung. "Yeah, probly."

Delicately, the smith tore off the bitten piece of sandwich and tossed it away before taking a nibble off the remainder. I'd've eaten that, Nakoa thought, eyeing the trashed bit. "I didn't even do anything to you," the smith complained between bites. "If you had any idea how far I've traveled today..."

Nakoa knew herself well enough to know that she'd have done it anyway, but she was just sober enough not to say it. "Where ya stayin at?"

"Shite, I don't know." The smith crammed the rest of the sandwich in her mouth and pulled her supply pack protectively into her lap. Nakoa, watching her, felt a little injured--I'm a thug, not a thief... "Normally, I'd find some beauty to let me share her bed." The smith puffed up a little. Then she glanced around herself at the Citadel and deflated. Nakoa was probably the only other human around for miles.

"Hey, ain't I gorgeous?" Nakoa leered, deliberately displaying her mouthful of crooked teeth. They'd grown in lopsided, and she'd never had both the money and the motivation to fix them. They were stained and showed big gaps between. They didn't hurt, but they looked horrific, and they came in handy when she wanted to make a bad impression. The smith winced, and Nakoa sealed her lips. "Don't answer that." She wobbled to her feet. "Lookit--I got a place. Ain't pretty, but it's got a floor, and you can stay there iffn ya want."

The smith wavered. She clearly didn't want to, but the sun had long since disappeared and her options were limited. "Are you going to punch me in my sleep?"

"Hah!" Nakoa cackled. "Naw. I'll wait till ya wake up. Whaddaya say?"

The smith glared at her. Nakoa shrugged. "Fine," the smith grated. "Since you got me thrown out of the tavern."

Nakoa waved her off. "They'da charged you an arm'n a leg and half your wallet anyway, and you still mighta got your stuff stole. I ain't gonna do any worse to you than I already done."


***



Nakoa's apartment barely fit the description. It was more of a shack--abandoned enough that she could depend on being left alone and decrepit enough that her tenancy counted less as "renting" and more as "squatting." She had no furniture--just her gear, scattered over the floor like debris after an explosion. Piles of empty beer bottles cluttered the corners. The walls were just bits of sheet metal strung together with wire joints, and they did nothing to dampen the clatter and din of city life outside.

Nakoa's bed was really just a rug, without even a blanket thrown over the top--it was summer, after all--but she flung herself down on it with a thud that made the whole place shudder. "Sweet dreams, asshole," she said cheerfully to the smith. Then she pulled an old dirty shirt over her face to block out the artificial glow from the Citadel and passed out in a matter of minutes.

In the morning, she woke feeling bleary and headachey and dimly regretting the night before. In other words, she felt completely normal. She stared up at the ceiling, her nose full of the familiar stink of stale beer and her ears full of the less-familiar sound of the smith's snores. Something was stuck to her ceiling. Something orange and gooey looking, like dry barbecue sauce. It had been there since she'd moved in.

Helluva place to bring a stranger. She rolled over and sat up, glancing across at the smith, who was barely more than a shadow among shadows. The sun hardly penetrated this deep into the charrs' metal city, and only a thin gray ooze of light dripped through the soot and grime to land on her windowsill. A plum-sized bruise darkened the smith's jaw where Nakoa had hit her, and Nakoa felt a sting of remorse. The smith really hadn't deserved that. Nobody did.

Well. Nakoa was shit at apologies, but she could cook. She staggered to her feet, plucking at her shirt, which had a big smudge of spilled beer down the front. She couldn't remember spilling beer on herself, but it didn't surprise her much that she had. Stripping to her boxers, she went about the work of setting up her stove and getting breakfast on. It didn't matter to her if some stranger saw her chest--nothing much to see, anyway. She had all the feminine figure of a cave troll.

By the time the smith rumbled awake, Nakoa had gotten her pipe lit and squatted over the little makeshift stove, flipping eggs and vegetables in a frying pan. Metal screeched in the alleyway behind the apartment, and the smith's foot kicked out, overturning an empty beer bottle as she scrambled upright. "Where--who--?" She squinted at Nakoa. "You."

Nakoa flipped her pipe to the other side of her mouth, her teeth clicking on the stem. "The very same."

The smith glared. Nakoa didn't look up at her, but she could feel the heat of it. "Whatever you're cooking smells good." She sounded real sour about it.

"I try to be a good host," Nakoa said--and barked a laugh at her own joke. "Naw, fuck that. I'm a terrible host. Great cook, though." She flipped the pan again--this time just for show. "Don't got company often. Hungry? Come over here'n eat, huh?"

The smith rolled upright, wincing. She'd slept in her armor, and Nakoa knew from experience how good that felt. Chunks of it clattered amidst the rubble of trash on Nakoa's floor as the smith stripped, revealing a lot of tawny brown skin and chiseled arms smudged speckled with soot and old burn marks. Frowning, cautious, she scooted closer, mumbling "Thanks," as Nakoa sloughed food onto their plates.

Clean plates. Maybe nothing else she owned was clean, but damnit if Nakoa's dishes didn't sparkle.

"Yeah." Nakoa held out one of the plates like a peace offering, trying not to stare at that bruise, thinking I'm sorry and not saying it out loud. Just like the dumbass she was.

The smith stuck a forkful of food in her mouth and her eyebrows went up. "This is actually really good."

"Toldja." Nakoa snorted. "I might be a bastard, but I ain't no liar. Hah--see that? Double negative. I might be a liar. Probly not, though, unless I'm lyin about that, too. What's your name, anyhow?"

The smith arched an eyebrow and jabbed in Nakoa's direction with her fork. "Now you're just fucking with me. Smith. Or Smithy, if you like."

"Smith, huh?" Nakoa glanced at the smith's hammer, which lay on the floor near her bedroll. She couldn't blame the smith for using an alias, under the circumstances. Getting punched in the face and all. Still, she felt a little sinking disappointment. She had such a knack for making enemies. "That's fine, then. You can call me 'hey, you,' or else just don't."

"Hey, you. Where'd you learn to cook?"

Nakoa chuckled, chasing a hunk of potato around her plate with her fork. "Taught myself. Figgered I oughta be good at sommin like decent folks do. Where'd you learn to punch, Smithy-boy?"

There was a long hesitation while the smith filched scraps of food off her plate. "People who told me I couldn't learn how to smith inspired me to learn how to punch. What is your name? Or at least something polite I can call you."

Nakoa glanced up at the smith from beneath her brows. Paused. One of them might as well be honest. "My name is Nakoa."

"That sounds badass." The smith nodded--a sharp, approving jut of her chin.

Nakoa laughed at that. She'd never thought her name sounded particularly badass. It was just a collection of syllables someone had assigned to her, and she'd gotten used to having it shouted at her. "It is, thank you," she lied. She'd already finished her food, so she rolled out of her squat to go rummage in her pack. "It's mine. And now you've got me at a disadvantage, huh? Do I still gotta call ya smith?"

The smith rolled her eyes. "Are you always so picky? Gazsi."

"Picky? Me?" Nakoa threw out an arm to indicate her room without looking up from her pack. "I gotta tell ya, that's probly 'bout the first time anyone's accused me of pickiness. Here." Her hand closed on a vial of yellowish ooze and she tossed it over her shoulder to Gazsi, who fumbled with her plate and barely caught it. "That'll clean up that lip o' yours right quick and bring down the swelling some."

"Right--what?" Gazsi popped open the cork and dumped a fingernail-sized puddle of ointment onto her fingertip, sniffing carefully before spreading it over her skin. "Is this how you usually make friends?"

Nakoa clipped shut her pack and flung it on the ground with a muffled whump and a clatter. "Naw. I don't usually make friends." She flopped down on the ground, her body making a very similar sound to her pack. A line of beer bottles tumbled over like bowling pins. "Move around too much. You know. Or mebbe not. You workin here in the Citadel?"

Gazsi found a waterskin in her own bag of gear and poured out a few drops onto her now-empty plate, scrubbing it clean with a threadbare work rag. Nakoa, watching her, thought it awfully upstanding of her to bother to wash the plate. "Making friends is hard work," Gazsi said, though that wasn't really what Nakoa had meant. "--And yes. I hope to apprentice here for awhile. The charr have some of the largest workspaces I've ever seen. And their engineering..." She trailed off with a little awestruck sound in the back of her throat.

"Sure," said Nakoa, who couldn't have given one crooked copper piece about charr engineering. She laid back, propping her head on her pack and returning to the business of eyeing the goo on her ceiling.

"Well, I wouldn't expect you to care." The vial of ointment bounced onto Nakoa's chest, and she jumped. She'd been too focused on the stain to notice Gazsi throwing it. "I'm out. Thanks for breakfast."

Nakoa waved without lifting herself to look. "See ya around, Smithy-boy."


Credits:
Nakoa Morin ... Me
Gazsi Csilla ... TotallySnail

All characters who are not mine are used with permission of their creator, and their actions/dialogue are represented as they appeared in the original roleplay.
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Chapter 2: ...and Influence Enemies


When she first got out of prison, Nakoa had spent a lot of time broke.

Well. Half a decade on down the line and she still spent a lot of time broke, but this was a different kind of broke. She'd hit the streets out of prison without a single copper piece in her pocket--no job, no friends, just a lot of old enemies who all dug in their heels when they heard that she'd be released early. Her Da had made it clear that she wasn't welcome back home in the Reach. She'd had nowhere to go and no options. That had been a standing-on-street-corners kind of broke, a might-not-make it broke. This was just loser broke, drank-all-my-money broke, "I can change whenever I want" broke. Give or take the hangover, it was a more comfortable sort of broke.

At least, that's what she was telling herself as she stuffed all her belongings into her pack and walked away from the closest thing she'd had to a home for a year and a half. Not that she'd miss it. Nakoa paused once to look back at her apartment, at the busted door that never would lock quite right and the tin walls that leaned like playing cards against one another. Naw, she wouldn't miss it, though it did cross her mind that from now on, Shareth--or whoever Shareth had become--really would have no idea where to look for her.

Shitty, pointless, sentimental thought. Nakoa scowled at herself for having had it and jammed her helmet on over her head. It was hard to be rational when you were so godsdamned lonely, and it was hard not to be lonely when you were the kind of person who made introductions fist first.

She'd sold out her apartment because she'd gotten a lead on a job. Nothing pleasant, but a way to get some more money in her wallet for the next round of drinks. Or living situation, or hot meal, or whatever. Someone owed someone else money and, yada-ya, they needed a little convincing to pay up. It was the sort of thing Nakoa was good at. Intimidation had always come naturally to her--or so said everybody who'd known her as a kid. A grungy windowpane flickered her own reflection back at her, and she smirked. She cut a terrifying figure in her armor, all that gory-red platemail with the spiky pauldrons shooting up fit to pierce her ears. That expressionless wall of a faceplate with the eye slit like a claw slash across it. Pay day, here I come.

She'd only covered half the distance to the asura gate when the sound of a familiar voice stopped her in her tracks: "...and how about I put this hand up your ass and this hand down your throat and play your heart like a fucking accordion?"

Nakoa laughed, the sound echoing and thunderous in the cavern of her helm. I'm gonna have to remember that one. Across the street from her, inside the three-walled enclosure of a forge, Gazsi was screaming at weatherbeaten charr. "I am a godsdamn good blacksmith," she yelled. "Let me be your apprentice. I made this." She clanked a fist on her chest. She was wearing the same armor she'd been wearing when Nakoa first met her: a tidy piece of work with gold filigree on the breastplate. Nakoa hadn't thought much of it before, except to think that gold was a stupid metal to use in armor, but now she took a second look. It was a beautifully crafted set, and if the gold wasn't practical in the sense of war, it still made for a gorgeously assembled costume.

"No." The charr kept his head down over his work, pounding some piece of equipment into submission against his anvil. The ring of the hammer almost drowned him out. "Humans working the forge would slow down production. I don't have time to teach you."

Bullshit, Nakoa thought. She crossed the street to stand with her arms folded just outside the forge.

Gazsi, her back turned to Nakoa, folded her arms, too. "But you have time to teach other charr," she snapped, cold enough to douse the forge.

The blacksmith grunted in agreement, and Nakoa drummed her fingers on her bicep with a series of little clinking sounds. "Hey," she called, her voice distorted behind the metal faceplate. She shouldn't get involved--she knew she shouldn't get involved, she had things to do and places to be--but she thunked a foot down on the floor of the workstation anyway. "Whaddayou got against humans, eh?"

The charr stopped mid-hammer to look up at her, and Nakoa smiled to see him hesitate. Her armor was doing its work. His jaw worked for a minute before he got the words to come out. "H-humans are like mice." He paused to get his stutter under control. "Small. Prey."

Gazsi turned around, too, and she recoiled from Nakoa with a small "shit." Nakoa liked that less than she liked scaring the charr. Gazsi recovered herself quickly, though, and slammed her hands down on the charr's workbench. Tools rattled on their pegs. "So let me prove I'm useful and not a mouse or prey!"

Nakoa tugged her greatsword from its sheath. It was a plain, undecorated thing, chipped and practical and stained from years of use. In Nakoa's opinion, that made it scarier. The point came to rest on the ground between her feet: she had no problem escalating things out of proportion. "She don't look so mousy to me, kitty cat."

Gazsi flexed a thick bicep to underscore the point, but the charr just set his jaw and went back to hammering.

"I swear." Gazsi threw up her hands. "I will personally dump a jar of fleas onto you if you don't give me an apprenticeship."

Nakoa stepped the rest of the way up onto the platform, dragging her greatsword over the ground with a stony hiss of metal. "And I," she added, "will cut off your tail. I tellya, I know a tailor in Hoelbrak'd love to line a collar with that sucker."

For a long minute, the charr stood stone-still with the hammer raised halfway off the anvil. Nakoa could tell that he was taking her very seriously. Smart--she was being very serious. "Tomorrow morning," he said to Gazsi at last. "Early. Meet me here, and if you're late, you're fired." His eyes flicked to Nakoa one last time, and she thought she saw him shiver.

Good. She almost laughed and stopped herself. Instead, she stepped backwards off the platform and sheathed her greatsword with a flourish and a two-fingered salute at Gazsi. It still wasn't a proper apology, but maybe she was one step closer to making up for that stupid unnecessary punch to the face.

She'd just about gotten around the bend in the road and made it out of sight when Gazsi jogged up behind her and called, "Hey."

Nakoa stopped, turning around to squint through her eyeslit at Gazsi.

"Listen." Gazsi glanced away, tense. "I'm not usually the kind of person to accept help from others. Feels weird, but--eh, let me buy you a drink. I've been trying to get a teacher for weeks."

She doesn't recognize me. Of course not. Not in all this getup. Now Nakoa did laugh, the inside of her helm ringing with it. "Aw, no, Smithy-boy, I think we're square."

Gazsi stiffened. Her gaze snapped back to Nakoa's, brows pinching together. "You--! Nakoa?"

Nakoa hooked two metal-clad fingers under the jawline of her helm and tugged it up over her head, grinning, passing a hand over her shaved scalp. "Well, ya don't gotta be too happy to see me, huh?"

Gazsi scowled. "Being indebted to a stranger would be easier."

"I toldja--we're square." Nakoa tapped her fist against her own scarred lips as a reminder.

Gazsi's scowl didn't let up at all, but her eyes shifted from Nakoa's face to her outfit. "Your armor is incredible," she admitted--grudgingly. "It's horrifying. Who made it?"

"Aw, shit, I dunno. Do I look like I buy my clothes new? Got it off some--well, that don't matter much, eh?" Sometimes, the truth didn't win Nakoa any friends. "Out here in Ascalon. Mebbe I had it embellished a little bit, though, 'cuz y'know a little drama goes a long way." She brandished the helmet for emphasis, bloody red light glinting off of it. "That was done here in the Citadel."

Gazsi scooted closer, greedy as a raccoon in a trash heap, her eyes gleaming. "Design is top notch," she muttered prodding one of Nakoa's shoulder pauldrons. "Citadel metal, of course, but a commissioned piece...wholesale would have been made of a weaker alloy..." Her fingers tapped across to the breastplate. "...brilliant way to stain armor. Must have used a cadmium in conjunction with an oxide...leather is wearing thin..."

"Whoa, now," Nakoa stumbled back, clattering, holding up both hands in defense. "Where'd you get those manners? You oughta at least buy a girl dinner, first, you wanna get all up inside her gear."

Gazsi crossed her arms and rolled back on her heels. "Are you saying that if I buy you dinner, you'd let me get that armor off of you?"

Nakoa blinked, startled, and made a broad pass at bravado. "Hah. Sugar, you buy me dinner and I'll let you do just about anythin. I ain't got time to be classy about it."

"Just about anything, huh? So I could maybe..." She lingered, her gaze falling from Nakoa's, and Nakoa felt it wandering lower over her body. Nakoa froze, her grin nailed in shape, a pins-and-needles tingle running the length of her spine as she waited for the end of that sentence. This was not the turn she expected this conversation to take. "...fix those belts holding your leg pieces together? They're just about worn through."

Leg pieces, huh? What was this? Some kind of con? Who followed up a punch to the face with a dinner date? "Well, I think that depends, eh?" Nakoa rolled her shoulders, awkward and trying not to show it. If it was a con, maybe she was in the mood to get conned. "Can I watch you work?"

"Sure. I'll try not to be too boring."

"Great." Nakoa crushed her helmet back on over her head, glad to have some way to hide her face. She was way out of her depth here. "So, I, uh, I'm workin--or about to be--and I dunno how long I'll be gone. Mebbe be back tomorrow, mebbe next month. Never can tell." She had to get to Brisbane and back. Stupid job. Why couldn't dodgy welchers ever stick around to have their legs broken locally? "Sold out my room this mornin to some worse bum than even me. I'll come 'round lookin for you with that asshole charr when I get back and we'll find some fine eats?"

"Yeah, sounds great." Gazsi shrugged and turned away with a nonchalant wave of her hand. "See you then."

"Right. Um...bye." Smooth, Ko. Real smooth. Really aced that one. Nakoa tried to rub the back of her neck and failed at it, her gauntleted hand rattling against the back of her helmet. She sighed, breath pluming behind her faceplate, and fled for the asura gate.


Credits:
Nakoa Morin ... Me
Gazsi Csilla ... TotallySnail

All characters who are not mine are used with permission of their creator, and their actions/dialogue are represented as they appeared in the original roleplay.
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Chapter 3: Ten Years Ago


Spring, 1321

The first warning we get is a shout from the western wall--rough, jagged, a startled sound torn off too abruptly, a scream that makes the hairs on the back of my neck prickle. There's a visceral twist of fear in my gut: my body knows the danger well ahead of the rest of me, and by the time my brain has caught up I'm already pounding up the stone steps to the top of the wall. Ours is a little fortress--just an outpost, really--and usually you can't see much of anything except trees and more trees from up there. Now, in middle of the night, the trees are just spiky black triangles, like teeth snarling up at the bottom edge of the sky. I can see nothing beneath them in the dark--

No, wait. Something. A flicker of movement. And I can hear hoofbeats now. A glint of moonlight on armor.

The Tamini.

"Hivven! Get down!" Someone grabs me by the shoulders and jerks me to my knees, below the protection of the rampart. An arrow clatters against the bricks. My breath hisses against the backs of my teeth: I am eighteen years old, and I've never actually been in a battle before. Only trained for one.

It's Captain Linna who grabbed me--our teacher, our mentor, our unquestioned leader out here in the sticks--and a wave of relief washes through me. Everything will be all right. Linna can lead us through. Then she lets go of me and scrambles along the edge of the wall, and I see a shadow crumpled there that I didn't notice before. One of the night watchers. Probably the one who screamed. In the dim, I can just make out the shape of an arrow jutting from his neck.

Bile rises in the back of my throat, and I swallow hard. I've never seen someone die before, either.

Linna crouches over the watchman just long enough to determine that he's really dead. "The bell!" she snaps at me. "Go!"

She means the alarm bell that hangs in the southwest corner. It should be ringing already--the scout on the southern wall should be ringing it. The fact that she's not makes me think that maybe she's already dead, too. I race along the wall towards it, bent nearly double to keep out of the way of arrows. Behind me, Linna shouts orders, mobilizing the outpost.

I've almost reached the bell when something crashes into the front gate right below me. The wall shudders, and I have to grab hold of the rampart to keep from falling. A battering ram. I feel a sting of panic. They're going to bash down our gate.

The warning bell shivers with the weight of the blow from the ram, and I leap the last few feet to grab the pull. The gong booms through me like the shot from a cannon. I ring it again, and again, until the noise of soldiers in the outpost doubles. Triples. Torches flicker to life. We don't light many at night as a rule--better not to draw attention to ourselves--but since the attention's already been drawn, we could use the light. I look for the scout on the southern wall, but there's no sign of her. No corpse, either, as far as I can tell.

The ram crashes into the gate again and there's a great, splintery crack that makes my stomach turn. "Hold the front! Hold the front!" Linna's shouting. Below me, I can see a surge of movement as the other Seraph cluster in front of the gate to meet the Tamini.

I draw my sword. It comes out awkwardly, almost slipping from my grasp, and I have to remind myself of the basics they taught us in training. I try to think about my stance, my grip, but all I can really think is, This isn't sparring. Their swords aren't wood.

I head for the stairs anyway. Captain Linna's down there. It's gonna be fine.

The last crash of the battering ram spikes my eardrums like a nail. A piece of the gate flies over my head, and I make it to the fortress floor just as the first of the centaurs bursts through the shattered wall. I've never seen one up close--they're huge. Much bigger than horses.

My twin sister Daiolle used to scare me with stories about centaurs. She's never seen one in real life, either, so all either of us have had to go on is hearsay--the old, "half human, half horse." It's not until now that I really consider that centaurs are neither horses nor humans. Not even partly. The humanoid torso dwindles to a grotesque join with the equine body, one rib cage leading to another, the space between neither chest nor hips but something else supported by a weird twist of spine. Too fast, too strong, its six limbs moving in a way that reminds me more of an insect than a mammal.

Not it. He, I guess, because I've heard they're as smart we are, but something in me shudders to think of this creature as a person. Surely, the same gods that made me cannot also have made it.

Its chest is bare, but its face is almost completely covered by gleaming, expressionless steel. A pair of tortuous horns, decorated with bits of leather and fur, lance from either side of the helmet. I can't see its eyes, but I can feel them.

I hesitate, the point of my sword wavering towards the ground. Then someone--one of my comrades--shoves me hard to the side and screams, "Move!" just as a spear sings through the air. It catches him in the shoulder and I hear a dull thunk, like an axe hitting a tree, when the point strikes bone.

I feel sick, but there's no time for that now, so I do the only stupid thing I can think of and plant myself in front of him as he wobbles to the ground. Centaurs are pouring into the outpost, now, plowing over the top of the Seraph ahead of me. Weapons clatter and flash in the torchlight. Somebody screams. There's a crunch as a hoof goes through someone's ribcage, and suddenly there's a centaur right in front of me. I swing for it, but my sword slices only air. Light shivers down the edge of the centaur's helm. Its muscles seethe as as it pulls back its arm, and I dodge to one side--

Daiolle always did tease me for having slow reflexes. When the spear goes through me, I don't even feel it at first. I'm aware of it as a crackle of armor and a distant pressure in my gut, like something that happened to someone else. I look down at it sticking out of me and think, This is bad, but I don't even really believe it at first. The centaur looms over me, not even looking, its blank faceplate turned somewhere else. It yanks the spear from my belly.

And then the pain starts.



Credits:
All characters are mine this go-around.
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Chapter 4: Roommates


The business in Brisbane dragged on for almost a month, and by the time it was done, Nakoa was dirty, exhausted, and hurting from a half-dozen injuries that ranged from annoying to very annoying. A gash sliced across her upper arm where she'd been clipped by a bullet, and new bruises purpled her ribcage. It could have gone worse, though. She'd only threatened to cut off that mayor's fingers.

She'd killed his butler, though. The butler's fault. He shot first, but Nakoa had impaled him through the fragile wall of a closet. She didn't feel good about it. She'd killed a lot of people in her lifetime--it was her job--but afterwards, there was that grimy feeling, layer on layer building up on her soul, a sour, yellow-brown guilt. She'd killed twenty-seven people, now. Still, when it was over, she had a pocket full of gold and a plan, and she walked into the Black Citadel with her head up pretend-high, like she had something to be proud of.

The first place she went was to that same little card-house shack where she'd been living in before, but as soon as she got there, the guy who'd taken it over from her leapt out with a string of chaw-tobacco spittle hanging from the grease on his lower lip. He screamed at her and threw a bottle that burst like a firework on the pavement--which pissed her off, but not bad enough for her to do anything worse than leave: liquor bottles were her non-lethal weapon of choice, too.

The next place she went was to the public fountain, where she washed herself as best she could with an old rag and all her clothes still on, operating on the theory that the cleaner she was, the less likely Gazsi would be to shoot on sight. She didn't have a mirror, but when she was done, she at least felt fresher. Her hair had grown in over the month in Brisbane--a whole half-inch of annoying brown fuzz that dripped water down the back of her neck.

When Nakoa left for Brisbane, Gazsi had been apprenticing at a forge on the wide, grubby center strip of the Canton Factorium. Today, though, the forge was cold and dark by the time Nakoa reached it. Only one scruffy-looking charr youth puttered around in the dust, straightening the work stations and brushing ash from the hearth. Nakoa ran a hand across her prickly scalp and butted one shoulder against the doorframe of the forge. "Hey, I'm lookin for that human, Gazsi," she said, counting on Gazsi's race to make her obvious.

The kid snickered--a wet, growly sound that would have been distressing from a human. "Not here."

"Where?"

He picked up a pair of pliers. Snapped them, and pointed with the jaws into the street. "Pickin a fight."

Nakoa swallowed a smile, rocking back on her heels to look where the charr pointed. A crowd had gathered at the end of the road, a tight ring of backs that Nakoa recognized immediately. "Thanks," she said and headed for the cluster.

She had to elbow her way in, wedging her body between the larger, hairier bodies of the charr. A dozen or so had circled up around Gazsi and a massive charr in smithing duds. A different, new smith--not the one Gazsi had apprenticed to a month ago. Nakoa wondered what had happened to the old smithing teacher. Claw marks slashed great drooping tears in the side of Gazsi's shirt. The charr was worse off, though--panting, stumbling a little as he threw a punch that Gazsi ducked.

Nakoa stuck her hand in her pocket, feeling the weight of the gold that hung there. "Hey." She kicked the charr beside her in the shin to get his attention. "I'll put three gold on that human."

It was more money than she had any right to fool with. She caught the greedy spark in his eye, his lips rolling back over gleaming fangs. The left one was capped in gold. "Your loss."

He'd barely gotten the words out when Gazsi's fist crashed into her opponent's nose. He staggered back with a yelp, one paw clapped over his face, and Gazsi pressed her advantage. "I yield! I yield!" he grunted. "You start in the morning." Blood oozed from between his fingers. "Make that the morning after."

Nakoa quirked an eyebrow at the charr with the gold tooth, who scowled and handed over the money.

"Fuck you, I'm human!" Gazsi pumped her fists in the air, circling the ring. No one cheered. It didn't matter what you did around here--human was human, and it was never good enough. A couple members of the audience stepped around Gazsi to help the smith to his feet. Gazsi's hands fell to her side, and she slouched, ignored, to where her pack rested against the curb.

Somebody oughta tell her she did a good job. Disentangling herself from the rest of the crowd, Nakoa circled around to meet her. "You bargain with the charr like an ax bargains with a tree," she declared, squatting on the other side of Gazsi's tool chest. "I respect that."

Gazsi lifted her head like even that took a lot out of her. Nakoa could see the exhaustion written on her face. "I wondered if you'd ever be back."

"Me too," Nakoa admitted, rocking back to sit with her wrists draped across her knees. "You look in fine shape for a night on the town."

Gazsi scowled and found a jar of something greenish in her pack. "Is that supposed to be a compliment?"

"It means ya look real hella messed up. Anyway, ya won the fight, and that's the important bit." Optimism in the face of injuries was one of Nakoa's strong suits. "Say, you know someplace indoors where I can hole up for a bit? Ain't got no place but some gutter to stay right now."

"Hmph." Gazsi winced as she smeared goo from the jar over her wounds. Finally, she said, "You could stay with me for a bit, but it'll cost you."

"Cost me what?" Nakoa had a good amount of gold from the Brisbane gig, but she never had been good with money. It came and went like a bad girlfriend: there for awhile and gone when she needed it, leaving her hurting and bewildered and wondering when it all went wrong.

A smirk squeezed in amongst the bruises on Gazsi's face. "Two meals a week."

"Well, shoot." Nakoa laughed, startled. "Whaddayou think I am--an honest worker? Hah! Okay. Fine. You got a deal. You only wanna eat twice a week, that's your business--and no take-backs, so don't get smart. You buyin the ingredients? 'Cuz if you ain't, you're eatin a lot of oatmeal."

Gazsi's smile withered. "Ugh, fine, shit. I'll buy the food too. Well--hey, since I'm buying the food, five times a week."

."Pah! Wha'd I say about not gettin smart?" Nakoa shook her head, but she couldn't get the grin off her face. "Not every day I get asked to do somethin I like. Five times a week. When I'm there t'do it--I ain't rearrangin my whole schedule for this. Sleepin on the ground ain't never hurt me none."

Gazsi threw up her hands. "There's the deal. It's your call, pal. Take it or leave it."

"Don't act like you're gettin nothin outta this." Nakoa appealed to the sky like she was the one doing Gazsi a favor. She didn't need to bargain so hard, and she didn't need to be such an ass about it, but old habits die hard. Ain'tcha ever been nice to no one, Ko? She stuck out her hand. "Deal."

"Fine." Gazsi slapped the hand aside.

If their positions were switched, Nakoa wouldn't have shaken her hand, either.


***


Gazsi had gotten a room, somehow, under some tavern on the nice side of the Citadel. The tavern keeper nodded at them as they came in, and Gazsi led the way down a long, steep set of metal stairs into the basement. It was chilly down there, and dank, with reddish lights glaring out from the corners and pipes squirreling along the ceiling, carrying with them the metallic murmur of conversation from upstairs.

"In here--" Gazsi pushed on a dark, narrow door that Nakoa hadn't noticed, and it swung inward on a tiny supply closet of a room.

Nakoa blinked, squinting into the dark and waiting for her eyes to adjust while Gazsi fumbled her way inside and lit a lantern.

The room was small--but neat. One half made up the kitchen--or what stood in for a kitchen: a washbasin and a cupboard and a little wobbly table with cardboard jammed under one leg. A bed lurked against the opposite wall, tidily made up in cotton bedclothes. Nakoa could hear the chunk chunk chunk of machinery grinding away next door, and the air smelled faintly of sulfur, but it was still better than almost everywhere she'd stayed since getting out of prison.

A beetle scurried over the table and out of sight as soon as the light came on, and Gazsi sighed at it like she'd been used to better. "Ta-da," she monotoned, waving a hand in mock-fanfare. Immediately she grimaced: she had a gash on her shoulder that looked pretty bad. Whatever gel she'd put on it had slowed the bleeding, but it wanted more attention than a little goop.

Nakoa dropped her things in an unoccupied corner and jerked her chin at the cut. "You want me to stitch that for you?"

Gazsi glared at her. "You know how to give stitches. You've done that before."

Nakoa smiled--a little ruefully--and bent her attention on untying the straps of her bedroll. "On myself, mostly."

"Why?"

Nakoa didn't want to get into the details if she could help it. What Gazsi didn't know couldn't hurt her. "I'm good at it. Got a kit 'n' everythin right here in my bag. Want me to stitch ya?"

Gazsi took a long, long moment to think about it. Then she sighed, shrugged, and winced. Some more blood oozed out of the wound. "Should I be smashed for this, or nah?"

"That depends." Nakoa rocked back on her heels, looking thoughtfully up at Gazsi. "What kinda drunk are ya?"

"A chill one." Gazsi struggled out of her shirt, hissing as the fabric brushed her injuries. Underneath, she wore a plain cotton bra that flattened her heavy breasts to her chest. A pair of signet rings swung from a chain around her neck.

Nakoa cocked her head in curiosity. Touched her own chest where the rings hung. "What're those?"

"Absolutely none of your business, that's what," Gazsi snapped. "If you're going to be nosy, you can just let me bleed to death."

"Okay, okay. Just askin." Nakoa passed her flask into Gazsi's good hand. "Have as much o' that as you can stomach. This ain't gonna be fun."

"Thanks," said Gazsi grimly. She took a pull, coughed, and then took another.

Nakoa let her drink while she washed her hands in the washbasin and retrieved her medical kit, coming to sit on the mattress in front of Gazsi. The sheets were so clean and pretty and Nakoa was so...not that she almost hesitated to touch them, but Gazsi wasn't exactly a model of cleanliness right now, either. Nakoa kicked off her boots and pulled up her legs beneath herself. "This gonna sting," she warned, tipping alcohol from a jar onto a clean rag.

"Yeah. I thought stitches would tickle," Gazsi drawled--and coughed again. Nakoa could smell the liquor on her breath.

"Hah." Nakoa swabbed the edges of the wound, and Gazsi sucked in a hasty breath. "Toldja."

"Just get it--ow!" She yelped as the needle pierced her skin.

"Well, don't look at it!"

"What else would I look at? You?"

"Close your eyes or sommin. Have another drink."

Gazsi glowered at her, gulped down a swig of whiskey, and coughed.

"Quit movin," Nakoa scolded. "I'm gonna sew ya where ya don't need to be sewed."

"Betters not." Gazsi's words were already starting to blur together. Hopefully, that meant she'd sweeten up a little. "So," she said. "What do you do? I honestly can't figure it out, and trus' me, I've tried."

"I'm surprised ya didn't ask me that before you invited me to stay with you." Nakoa was almost afraid to ask, but curiosity demanded--"What've you guessed?"

Gazsi fumbled with her fingers as she tried to count off the list of professions. "Pirate, doctor, knight, chef, delivery boy, bartender..." Her tongue stumbled over the words. "Youanyah those?"

Nakoa laughed and had to sit back with the needle for a minute to keep from sticking Gazsi in the wrong spot. "Hah! You got it, Smithy-boy. All of the above. 'Ceptin mebbe bartender, 'cuz the only things I know how to serve are rotgut and beer. And I ain't no knight." She almost had been, once, though. Screwed that up pretty royally.

"So's your a birate, doctor, chef, and delivery boy? Alla those?" Gazsi swayed, the thread leading from her shoulder to the needle going taught as fishing line and making them both wince.

"Easy." Nakoa steadied her with a hand on her good shoulder. "Yeah. You got it. All of those, I guess." She got the last stitch in place and knotted off the cord, swabbing the spot with alcohol again. "There. I reckon that'll do the trick."

Gazsi, in her drunkenness, would not be distracted. "You guess yer alla those?"

"Ain't you too drunk for all these questions?" Nakoa dabbed a little ointment onto the stitches and wrapped the whole shoulder in bandages. "Leave this on 'till it's too grubby to stay on anymore. Don't get it wet."

"Hnh." Gazsi made a sleepy, incoherent sound in the back of her throat. Nakoa could feel the limpness in her body as she tied off the bandages and tucked in the tail.

"Get some sleep." Nakoa eased her down onto the bed and shifted herself off the mattress. "If you're lucky, mebbe you'll feel better in the mornin."

"Hnh," said Gazsi again. She didn't need to be told twice.



Credits:
Nakoa Morin ... Me
Gazsi Csilla ... TotallySnail

All characters who are not mine are used with permission of their creator, and their actions/dialogue are represented as they appeared in the original roleplay.


NEXT CHAPTER TO BE RELEASED SATURDAY, 11/3/18
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Chapter 5: Best Behavior


By the time Gazsi woke the next morning, Nakoa was already up and bumbling around the kitchen in her boxers, her pipe in her teeth, muttering as she mapped out the kitchen. She'd gotten together a pan of something halfway decent and had it sizzling on the stove, and the smells of garlic and sage mingled with the tobacco smoke from her pipe. "What'sis--lentils?" She frowned into the depths of a burlap sack from Gazsi's cabinet. "Pah. Orphan food. Better get some meat on that list..." She had a shopping list wedged in her fingers, written as much in pictographs as in her own childish lettering. Reading was not her strong suit.

Behind her, Gazsi groaned. Nakoa grinned over her shoulder at her and carried a jar of water to the bedside. "Aha! The bear awakens! Drink up, Smithy-boy. Food's on in a bit, but ain't no cure for a hangover 'cept water and time. How them stitches treatin ya?"

Gazsi jumped and took the water with shaky hands, glaring daggers. At least she'd live. "Stitches." She glanced down at herself, and her eyes went wide. "Fine, I guess?"

"Hah!" Nakoa laughed, sauntering back to the stove to poke at the pan of food. "Lookit you. Swear I didn't do no breakin and enterin. D'you remember invitin me to come'n stay here?" She crossed her fingers in front of her chest where Gazsi couldn't see, praying Please don't kick me out.

Gazsi was quiet for a moment. Then, "...for five meals a week." A beat. Brightly, she added, "and I beat a charr into the ground! Thanks, uh, for stitching me up."

"Psh. First-aid's free t' those what need it." Nakoa exhaled and uncrossed her fingers to ladle breakfast into a pair of bowls. "That charr took home worse."

"Good." Gazsi looked so adorably self-satisfied that Nakoa laughed when she turned around to bring her breakfast. "Gods." Gazsi massaged her temple with the tips of three blunt fingers. "What was in that flask?"

"A promise and a secret." Nakoa winked, which earned her such a vicious frown that she backtracked. "It was whiskey, sugar. Cheap, hard-ass whiskey. I don't fuck around with my liquor."

"Yeah, well, I probably shouldn't fuck around with it, either." Gazsi relaxed a little when Nakoa put the bowl of food in her hands. "So, you said you're a pirate, a chef, and a doctor, and the only thing I believe is that you're a liar. Out with it--what do you do?"

Nakoa leaned against the cabinet, concentrating on her food. "Sail, cook, and doctify," she lied.

Gazsi pointed at her with her spoon. "Try again."

Nakoa pushed her food around the bowl. "Do we haveta talk about this?"

"You want to stay here?"

Nakoa looked around at the little apartment. Say goodbye to warm and dry. She sighed, braced herself, and said, "I'm a hitman. Mostly. I'll do most anything that pays."

Gazsi stared at her. Nakoa wasn't looking, but she could feel the weight of that stare. "Were..." Gazsi stopped, and she stayed stopped for so long that Nakoa looked up from her food. Gazsi was tense and bunched up on the bed, her bowl listing dangerously to one side. When Nakoa's eyes met hers, she collected herself and looked away. "Were you hired to come after me?"

"I don't play with folks, Gazsi," Nakoa said. It was the first time she'd used Gazsi's name, and it felt weighty and sharp on her tongue. "If that's why I was here, you'd be dead. No--I ain't got no work right now. And I don't take jobs where I'd be...compromised, iffn that makes ya feel any better." Gazsi said nothing, and Nakoa wondered if there was a reason why someone might go after her. Nervously, she added, "I'm 'bout the most dishonest bastard I know, but if ya want me to go, I will."

Gazsi put another spoonful of food in her mouth--chewed, and swallowed like it took some doing. "I thought you wanted to be here."

"Do I seem like I want to go?" Nakoa hunched her shoulders, shoveling food into her mouth without tasting it and struggling to talk between bites. "Naw." She swallowed. "Look, but if you're gonna make me leave, there ain't nothin I can do but go, so I'd rather know now than get a bad surprise later."

Gazsi pressed her lips together as she thought, and Nakoa started doing the dishes to hide her own amped-up nerves. At length, Gazsi asked, "If I let you stay, would you protect me?"

Elbow-deep in soapsuds, Nakoa paused. "You need protectin? From what?"

"Oh..." Standing, Gazsi dumped her empty bowl into Nakoa's basin of water and began to pile tools into her backpack, favoring her injured arm. "Never hurts to be prepared," she evaded.

"Huh." Nakoa squinted at her for a second. Then she shrugged. "Wouldn't do me much good for my roommate to get beat up, would it? Yeah, sure. If sommin comes up, I gotcher back."

"And you'll cook five times a week. Lay one finger on me, and you're out. Got it?"

Nakoa thought regretfully of the way Gazsi had offered to get her out of her armor. That hadn't made sense even at the time, but she guessed it was way, way canceled now. "Deal. You're gonna let me stay?"

Gazsi nodded cautiously, and Nakoa broke out grinning. She could've hugged Gazsi, except for the new no-touching rule. "Right. Okay. Look--uh, be careful with your stitches today, okay? They'll pull out if you're rough on 'em. And don't get 'em wet. Duh. I'mma finish up these dishes and--how do I get back in here without you?" She was babbling. She knew it, but she was so relieved to have a roof to sleep under that she couldn't stop herself.

"You knock," said Gazsi flatly. "And if I'm not here, you wait. I'm not giving you a key."

"Sure." Not the friendliest rooming situation she'd ever had, but she wasn't about to complain. "I can be patient."

"Good." Gazsi finished packing, slung the backpack over her good shoulder, and left Nakoa alone to glow over her good luck.

The reasonable thing for Nakoa to do would have been to go out and look for work, but after she'd set the last dish to drip-dry on the table, she sat back down on her bedroll, looked at the closed door, and thought how nice it was to have a door to sit behind. Sucker even had a working lock. Damn. She didn't have to see a soul if she didn't want to.

Except for Gazsi, of course, but maybe she had a couple hours before that rainstorm rolled back in.

Nakoa lay back, listening to the boiler clunking away in the next room and the muffled ruckus of a fight breaking out upstairs. She felt perfectly at peace. I could get used to this, she thought, reaching for her pipe. She wanted to get used to this.

By the time Gazsi came home, her good arm weighted down with groceries, Nakoa had made a decision: She'd fucked up a lot of things in her life, but for once, she was going to do something right. Be trustworthy. Maybe even honest, if she could manage it. She smiled lazily up at Gazsi, remembering their knuckle-to-jaw introduction and thinking that she owed her at least that much. "Lemme help you with that," she said.




Credits:
Nakoa Morin ... Me
Gazsi Csilla ... TotallySnail

All characters who are not mine are used with permission of their creator, and their actions/dialogue are represented as they appeared in the original roleplay.


NEXT CHAPTER TO BE RELEASED SATURDAY, 11/10/18
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Chapter 6: Take Me to Church


Nakoa and Gazsi's first few days as roommates were uneventful, and gradually, they began to relax. Gazsi's stitches healed. Nakoa stayed sober on the theory that she was more likely to behave herself that way. She missed the liquor, but whenever she thought of it, she reminded herself that she liked sleeping indoors. She drank way too much, anyway. Her liver would thank her--in its silent, functional way.

During the day, she went out looking for work, which she didn't find. She tore down fliers she could hardly read and hit up old acquaintances who didn't want to see her. In the evenings, defeated, she returned to the apartment and made dinner for Gazsi.

It was laughably domestic, and Nakoa loved it. She was not a domestic person. It all felt like a grand game of make-believe to leave her sword and armor piled by her cot and fire up the oven for Gazsi's supper. She pictured herself in a flowery apron and chuckled aloud as she served a casserole onto the wobbly table, where Gazsi was doing something with a screwdriver and a rusty poleyn.

"No tools at the dinner table," Nakoa joked.

"Don't tell me what to do." A screw flew out of the poleyn and bounced on the floor, and Gazsi sighed and tucked her work under her chair. She was wearing her not-scowling face, a sort of lesser grimace that meant she was in a good mood. It took some doing to get a real smile out of her. "What did you make?"

"Shoot, I dunno." Nakoa did know. It was scalloped potatoes--or some cousin thereof, anyway.

Gazsi dug in with the serving spoon and scooped herself out a big, cheese-stringy lump. "Well, thank you."

Nakoa was duty-bound to cook if she wanted to stay, but she didn't bother to point that out. She enjoyed the illusion of being appreciated. Fishing out a deck of creasy cards from her trousers, she dealt them each a hand. They'd gotten into this routine, gaming in the evenings, almost like real friends. Gazsi hadn't figured out yet that Nakoa was cheating.

Gazsi picked a crumb of potato off her full lower lip and frowned at her cards. "So," she said.

"Nnh." Nakoa had mostly crown cards and was trying not to grin about it. For a liar, she was a terrible actress.

"About that dinner I promised you." Laying down points, not looking at Nakoa, Gazsi asked, "Are you still going to let me get your armor away from you?"

Nakoa almost dropped her cards in surprise. "I am? I mean, I am. Shit. Yes." Nakoa swallowed, stunned, thinking for sure that this was a con and hoping Gazsi wouldn't be too disappointed when she realized Nakoa had nothing worth stealing. "Really?"

"That is why you came looking for me, isn't it?"

"I mean, yeah, but..."

"Tomorrow night, then." Gazsi calmly discarded onto the top of the deck.

Really? Nakoa moistened her lips with the tip of her tongue. "Okay."

"Good." Gazsi sat back, folding her arms over her chest, canting her head at the cards spread out on the table. "I win."


***



"So, where we goin?" Nakoa asked the next day. It had been another long, fruitless search for work, and she could use some good food in her stomach. Gazsi had just gotten home and bent over her pack, unloading it onto the bed before putting each item neatly away in its proper place. Nakoa watched her with some bewilderment. She'd never been that tidy--not even when she had a place of her own.

"I was thinking we could just catch some grub upstairs," Gazsi said, and half-smiled at her own pun. The tavern she lived under was known for grub steaks. Greasy ones.

"Upstairs?" Nakoa cast a disparaging glance at the ceiling and then at Gazsi. "Sugar, I thought you was gonna buy me some food, not a slice o' wood with a side of sewage. Ain't no one up there can cook fit to serve a rat."

"Uh, sorry?" Gazsi turned around to stare at her, fisting both hands on her hips and lifting her eyebrows. "It seems fine to me. I don't know what you think I ate before you came along."

"Trash," Nakoa declared, so seriously that Gazsi choked on a laugh. "That's what'm here for, right? 'Cuz you can't cook and you got no taste? Hah--I'm kiddin, I'm kiddin about that last part. I know you got taste 'cuz you like my food. Lookit--okay, I'm gonna take care o' you tonight. You get me some other time. I know where we'll go for dinner. You got sommin nice to wear?"

Gazsi made a sour face. "Wait--you're going to treat me?"

"You gonna complain about it?"

"I thought you didn't have money. I thought that's why you were here."

Nakoa raised her chin and repeated, "You gonna complain?"

They locked eyes and stayed like that for a minute, staring one another down, until at last Gazsi gave up and blew out a breath. She pushed a handful of bleached curls off her forehead. "Yes, I have nice clothes I could wear."

"Me too." Nakoa ignored Gazsi's open skepticism. "C'mon and get fancy, then, 'cuz we we can't go nowhere nice lookin like this. It's a hassle, I know, but lemme tell ya, it's worth it. Just wait till you taste it. Oh, sugar, you think I can cook." She paused. "Well, I can. But they can, too. You'll see."

Gazsi eyed her like Nakoa had proposed snipes and snake oil for dinner. "Get fancy," she breathed. "Fine. I'll...trust you, about this, I guess." She rummaged for a minute in a box from under her bed and went upstairs to change in the tavern's bathroom.

By the time she came back, Nakoa had unearthed her one and only dress from the bottom of her pack. It was crimson and rumpled and did nothing to flatter her, but she loved it anyway, because how often did she get to wear a dress? People mistook her for a man as often as not. Sometimes they even mistook her for a man while she was wearing the dress, but all that smooth bloody-colored silk made her feel a little better about it. The dress was low-cut for a much bustier woman, with a waist meant to hug curves that Nakoa didn't have. When she sat, it bunched weirdly around her thighs. I look beautiful, she told herself, smoothing her palms over the fabric and almost managing to believe it.

Then the door swung open and Gazsi stepped in, looking impeccable in a suit cut for a king, tucked and nipped and angled in all the right ways with just a hint of gold flashing at the throat and wrists. Her eyes swept from the crown of Nakoa's head to the hem of her skirt and she said, "I wouldn't have figured you for the dress type."

Nakoa felt suddenly very small. She squared her shoulders and bit back a half-dozen cutting things she wanted to say, because Gazsi hadn't meant to be hurtful. "People surprise you, sometimes," she said, gruffly, and brushed past Gazsi to the door.

Gazsi moved out of the way, her gaze laser-hot between Nakoa's bare shoulder blades. "Yeah," she murmured, "I guess they do."

They trudged through the city almost to the very top of the Black Citadel, to a rooftop restaurant which, for the charr, was very elegant indeed. It jutted out into the sky on a wrought-iron balcony, and a pair of well-groomed charr stood sentry at the door.

The larger of the two flattened his ears to his head and narrowed his yellow eyes as they approached. "Do you have a reservation?" he asked, sounding like he knew for sure they didn't.

Nakoa didn't miss a beat. "Ask Kaliphet," she said.

The sentry glanced at his companion and then back at Nakoa, lips peeling back from his fangs in a smirk that looked like a snarl. "Of course. Table by the corner."

"Of course," Nakoa echoed, and winked at Gazsi as the sentry held the door for them. It helped to know people.

The west side of the restaurant was one big glass window, and through it the sunset shot bars of reddish gold light into the building. Tables decorated with elaborate sculptural metalwork dotted the floor, and a live string band played on a rotating stage in the room's center. To Nakoa, they sounded vaguely like a litter of angry kittens.

The chairs were iron and built big for charr bodies, and Nakoa had to heave to pull one out for Gazsi. "Ah, thanks..." Gazsi mumbled, looking like a kid with her feet swinging off the ground when she sat. Her head swiveled as her eyes flicked around the restaurant. "This is...they had some very talented smiths work on this stuff."

"Huh?" Nakoa followed Gazsi's gaze and chuckled. "Damn. Didn't even think o' that. 'specially good place to take you, huh, Smithy-boy?"

The waiter, when he arrived, gave them a sidelong glance but wisely chose not to comment. "May I bring you something to drink?" he asked, and cut off Gazsi's gawking by putting a menu in front of her.

Nakoa tugged out the drink list and made a show of bending over it and humming over her choices. She could read it, maybe, if she puzzled over it for a minute, but she'd be damned if she was going to sit here in front of this waiter sounding out letters like the flunky schoolkid she was. Instead, she looked at the prices. "A bottle of this, please," she said, and tapped her selection with the end of one blunt finger.

"The Ascalonian Red. Excellent choice." He said excellent choice the same way he might have asked, would you like fries with that? "Anything else?"

"Some water to drink."

"All our guests receive water to drink, of course," sniffed the waiter, and Nakoa had to stop herself from snapping at him that she wouldn't know that because she didn't come to places like this often.

Instead, she said, "Just checkin," and he huffed and left them alone.

Gazsi drummed her fingers on the tabletop, muscles tense beneath the fine fabric of her suit. "There's a lot of charr in here," she whispered.

"Relax." Nakoa leaned back and folded her hands behind her head, feeling anything but relaxed herself. Two puffs of pit hair popped out from under her arms like dogs loosed from a kennel. "Anyone got sommin to say to us, I got sommin to say to them, and my buddy Kaliphet knows it. Ain't no one gonna bother us."

Gazsi ran her hands over the metalwork along the edge of the table, looking not at all comforted. "Who is this Kaliphet, anyway?"

"Fella who runs this joint, and mebbe a couple other seedier ones, too. Someone who owes me a favor."

"Oh, well that makes me feel better." Gazsi scowled at a particularly beautiful engraving.

"C'mon. We got wine comin. We got the nicest damn food you're ever gonna eat, and we got this music sounds like twelve sad Toms. You oughta enjoy yourself."

"You're going to share that wine with me?"

Nakoa made a face. "Lookit, yes, I could probly drink a whole bottle o' wine all on my own, but that'd be a helluva thing to do now, right? While I'm treatin ya to dinner? Look, I'm tryin t'be nice to you."

"Why?" asked Gazsi immediately, and Nakoa winced to realize that her kindness was suspect.

"Well," she said, hiding behind the menu she couldn't read, "mebbe we's not friends rightly, you and I, but you're doin me a kindness--what with the room, you know--and elsewise I'd be up here on my lonesome enjoyin this finery. No thanks. I get enough alone time."

Gazsi made a fidgety sound from the other side of the menu, and there was a click of fingernails on the tabletop. "Yeah, well...thanks."

"You're welcome." Nakoa lowered her own menu enough to peek over the top at Gazsi, who was drumming her fingers as she pored over the dinner options. "Pick sommin good. I mean, it's all good. Except the vegetables, 'cuz whaddo charrs know about cookin vegetables? Shit, that's what. Get sommin with meat."

The waiter reappeared at the table just in time to hear Nakoa disparaging his entire race. He didn't say anything about it, but his lip curled up to reveal one perfectly-filed fang, and he set down the bottle of wine with more force than was necessary. "Are you ready to order?" It sounded like a threat.

Gazsi hid a smile with a sip of water. "Uh, yeah," Nakoa said to the waiter. "I'll have..." She squinted at the menu and made out the word elk, "the venison." She tapped the page and handed her menu back to the waiter.

"And you?" The charr rounded on Gazsi, who held her ground with impressive aplomb.

"The grub steak, please." Gazsi looked at Nakoa as if daring her to say something.

"Fifteen minutes," said the waiter. Nakoa gave him her most angelic smile, and he stalked back to the kitchen.

"So." Nakoa picked up the bottle of wine and righted both of their glasses. "Smithy-boy." Yes, maybe her pour was a little heavy-handed on purpose. She handed Gazsi the full glass and watched as she took a delicate sip. "Here we are livin together, and I don't hardly know a thing about you. What're you doin way out here in cat hell? You got family around here or sommin?"

"F-family?" Gazsi made a sort of surprised gargling noise and took a bigger gulp of the wine Nakoa pushed into her hand. "No--ah, no. What about you? I guess you're not...'here for family'."

"Hah! Family. Who needs 'em?" Nakoa elaborately rolled her eyes in an attempt to set Gazsi at ease. She could understand tough family situations. "I was mined outta the ground like a chunk o' rock. --Naw, shoot, I got folks in Divinity's Reach, I guess. Probly." Which was to say--definitely, but she doubted she'd ever see her Da again. "Where ya from? Big blacksmith like you--you got the air of a country kid, mebbe?"

Gazsi swilled her wine in the glass, the stem pinched between her calloused, dark fingers. She wrinkled her nose, which struck Nakoa as adorable. "Kessex Hills."

"Hah! Damn. Even a blind cat catches a rat every once in awhile, huh?" She laughed.

Gazsi took another sip of wine, dainty as a sommelier.

"Ya miss it?" Nakoa asked, glugging down some of her own wine. "This damn city stinks like the gods' own toe jelly, I swear it."

Just then, of course, the waiter reappeared, frowning so fiercely that Nakoa actually recoiled a little. "Enjoy. Your. Food," he hissed, and their plates banged down in front of them.

Gazsi jumped. Nakoa made a face at the waiter's retreating back and muttered to Gazsi, "Someone ain't gettin a tip."

Gazsi glanced sideways at Nakoa and actually chuckled, which made Nakoa instantly forgive the waiter. Mebbe I'll tip him double. Nakoa topped off Gazsi's wine.

"I miss the weather," Gazsi admitted, softly, her eyes on the fragrant heaping of food that piled her plate. The portion sizes were small--for charr. Nakoa figured the leftovers would carry them at least through tomorrow. "The farms. The animals. The goats would wander into my brother's--." Abruptly, she stopped talking and put a bite of food in her mouth.

Nakoa downed the rest of her wine, not even buzzed yet, and began to saw delicately into the edge of her steak. A little red juice dribbled out and turned the parsley to a gory mess. "Your brother's what?" she probed.

Gazsi fidgeted, looked away, took another bite. "This is good food."

"Toldja." Nakoa popped a chunk of steak into her mouth and half-closed her eyes, taking her time about the tasting, chewing, swallowing. She hitched up her skirt to adjust her legs. "Tough family?" she hazarded.

Gazsi grimaced, nodded, and vivisected a potato like it deserved it. "This mercenary-hitman thing--how long have you been doing that?"

Nakoa winced. Touché. She opened her mouth to say, Since prison, thought better of it, and amended: "Uh, shit. Six years?"

A moment passed between them. Nakoa refilled Gazsi's wine glass again, timing herself on asking another question about Gazsi's family, satisfied to see that Gazsi's fork was already getting a little haphazard with the grub. "So..." she said at length. "Are your folks proud? Got a kid out here beatin the charr at their own game. They got your art on the wall or some such?"

Gazsi snorted and her fork missed her food by an inch. Broth splattered off the plate. "My family," she said, and Nakoa knew she'd hit a vein. Gazsi got the bite of steak into her mouth and didn't even wait to swallow it before draining her wineglass, which Nakoa helpfully refilled. Again. "Proud--no. Ha-ha, that's funny. We haven't spoken in years."

"Whoa--sore spot, huh? You're scarier with that fork'n I am with a sword." Give it up, warned a voice in the back of her head. She don't wanna talk, don't push it. Change the subject. Instead, her eyes trained on her meal, Nakoa asked, "What happened?"

Gazsi was quiet for a long, long time. The only sounds between them were the clink of Gazsi's blundering fork and the mewling of the band onstage. Finally, Nakoa looked up from her venison to catch a glimpse of Gazsi's face.

A tear landed with a fat plop in Gazsi's wine.

"Aw, shit." Now ya done it, Ko. "Hey, Gazsi, look, um." Nakoa set down her fork and leaned forward to pat the back of Gazsi's hand. Then she remembered the new "no-touching" rule and withdrew, slapping awkwardly at the back of her own neck instead. "Look, I'm sorry, it sounds like this sucks. They ain't worth it. They--they don't even know what they're missin, right? Lookit--you beat up a charr last night. A charr. That ain't nothin to scoff at. So now you're on--what, your second apprenticeship with these hellish sonsabitches? Betcha your folks can't beat that. You ain't gotta take no shit from your family."

Gazsi sniffled and smacked at her cheeks with the backs of her wrists. "Sorry," she mumbled. "It's--the wine. It makes me weak."

"Sugar..." Nakoa shook her head. Stopped, backtracked, and gentled her voice. "Gazsi. Listen. I know a thing or two about weakness, and this ain't it. You go on'n cry if you need to."

Gazsi snuffed again and looked at Nakoa from beneath her thick, damp lashes in a way that made Nakoa want to bundle her in blankets and feed her soup. It'll be okay, she wanted to say, but she knew from experience that sometimes it just wouldn't. Those first few weeks after she'd been arrested, she'd cried buckets. It had never been okay.

Gazsi finished her wine, and this time, Nakoa didn't refill it. She put a bite of elk in her mouth and waited for Gazsi to put herself back together.

"Does..." A remnant of tears made Gazsi's voice quiver. "Does your family know what you do for a living?"

"You mean does my Da know I'm"--a big fuckup--"a mercenary?" Nakoa shrugged, as much to loosen the tension in her shoulders as to feign nonchalance. "Yeah," she said shortly. "He's got the gist of it."

"Oh."

They didn't look at each other.


***



They plodded in silence back to Gazsi's apartment. It was chilly, and Nakoa no longer felt sexy. She felt thick and unwieldy in her too-small dress, but she guessed that this whole weird evening had all been for the sake of Gazsi's con. Whatever that was, Nakoa kind of wanted it to succeed. This was the part of the evening when sex was supposed to happen, she guessed, so as they stepped into the apartment she leaned over and slid an arm around Gazsi's muscular waist.

Gazsi froze and said, "Uh," which made Nakoa freeze and say "Uh," too.

"Do...you...want a hug?" Gazsi edged out of the circle of Nakoa's arm.

Nakoa started with, Do I seem like the huggy type? and then switched to, You started it, but both of those seemed like bad responses, so she just stood there, tongue-tied and awkward.

"I said no touching." Even in the dim of the unlit apartment, Nakoa could make out the force of Gazsi's frown. They were in full-on scowl territory, now, and things were getting out of hand fast.

"I--I thought..." Nakoa stopped, struggling to get her thoughts under control. "What was all that shit about gettin me outta my armor?" She plucked self-consciously at the bust line above her nonexistent bust.

"Well, yeah." Gazsi lit a lamp and went to squat over the cast-off heap of armor that sulked beside Nakoa's bedroll. "I wanted you out of it because I can't do a thing with you in it. I mean, look at these buckles--they're not going to repair themselves. And I bet there's a maker's mark somewhere inside this helmet." Her eyes shone with excitement. "It's still cool, right? That I get into it now?"

"Well, shit." Here was Nakoa, about ready to crawl out of her own skin with embarrassment, and Gazsi was just giddy with nerdy blacksmith glee. Nakoa turned away and peeled abruptly out of her dress, like a banana with an itch. She still had her boxers on underneath. "Yeah, sugar, yeah, it's cool. It's, um." She scrounged a grubby tank top out of her pack. Naked was not something she wanted to be anymore. "Dwayna's drippin acne, I got that one wrong," she muttered to herself. "Oughta move myself on outta here to, shit, like, Caledon. The bottom of the sea. Sommin."

Gazsi picked up a piece of wire, fashioned it into a hanger, and then she undressed and hung up her suit on it. Nakoa stared in amazement, because who makes a hanger, just on the spot like that? That was some next-level tidy, right there.

Beneath the suit, Gazsi's body was soft and heavy--muscular, but with a sweet, comfortable layer of chub that made Nakoa want to hold her. Nakoa flopped down on her cot to keep from looking. "Hey," Gazsi said, pinning Nakoa with a sudden, curious stare. "Were you going to...I mean, did you want to..." have sex? She didn't say it, but Nakoa understood anyway.

Nakoa had no pillow to hide her face in, so she smothered herself with a pile of dirty laundry instead. "Forget it," she mumbled. "Have fun lookin for that maker's mark or whatever the fuck."

Gazsi didn't move. Nakoa could feel her not moving, even from the other side of the sweat-smelly shirt over her face. Just go play with my armor...

"Was that a date?" Gazsi asked.

"A date?" Nakoa erupted in an explosion of laundry, so startled that she forgot for the moment to die of embarrassment. Gazsi ducked a flying sock. "Hah!" Nakoa cackled. "Could you picture it? Me? Girlfriend material? Pah. Crock o' shit. I ain't took someone on no date in--oh, shit. It don't matter. Long time. Naw, that wun't no date, that was..." She had to hunt for a descriptor. "That was church. Didn't you taste that food? The gods themselves ain't been eatin better than that. Worth every damn copper I paid for it, I swear." Which was good, because that was a lot of coppers. If Nakoa hadn't been broke before, she probably was now.

Gazsi laughed--she actually laughed--and peeled Nakoa's shirt off her work bench. "That was...it might have been the best meal I've ever had," she said, seriously. Then, just as seriously, "Thank you."

"Sure, sure." Nakoa collected the scattered bits of laundry. "Now you had the good stuff, so don't you try'n tell me that shit upstairs is anythin better'n rat food. Guess it's fine if you need not to starve, but whatever. That's what you got me for."

A chair squeaked as Gazsi sat down at the table, arranging Nakoa's armor across the surface with a series of metallic scrapes. "I'm--sorry if I mislead you about sex," she said. "I'm flattered you--um, didn't find the prospect repulsive." She made a little nervous sound in her throat, some sad approximation of a giggle.

"Repulsive?" Nakoa squinted at Gazsi. "You ain't repulsive, Gazsi. Hell. You're a real looker, actually. Where'd you get that idea?"

"Ah..." Gazsi's cheeks darkened with a blush, her fingers still wine-fumbly as she turned over bits of armor. "Thanks. I'm just...big. Bulky. I don't get a lot of attention like that." She bent her face low over the armor, mumbling about its make and design.

"Hey, me too." Nakoa flexed to make her biceps pop, coaxing the barest trace of a smile from Gazsi. "I like the way you are. Big like me. Strong. Trouncin a charr in a fistfight like that--hey, that's sexy, Gaz. It really is."

"'Gaz'," Gazsi murmured. She sounded...happy. Flicking Nakoa's helm, she bent her ear close to listen to the long, low ring of the metal. "You know," she said, turning the helmet around to stare into its empty eyes, "this is the most fucking terrifying piece I've ever seen."

"Hah--yeah? Really?"

"It's awful. I love it."

"Good." Nakoa grinned, touched, and took the kind of joyful tumble backwards into the pile of dirty laundry that most people might take into a heap of flowers. Maybe, she thought, she and Gazsi just might get along.



Credits:
Nakoa Morin ... Me
Gazsi Csilla ... TotallySnail

All characters who are not mine are used with permission of their creator, and their actions/dialogue are represented as they appeared in the original roleplay.


NEXT CHAPTER TO BE RELEASED SATURDAY, 11/17/18
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Posted Sat at 10:18 am · OP · Last edited Sat at 10:20
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