The bangle is heavy. It clinks annoyingly, with a clear, distinct sound, even when he tries to hide it under the folds of his thick, layered shawl. The fringes of the ratty thing hide the attached chain. The people here, however, seem far from perceptive. Many are just drunks, gorging on appetite and money, while others are drowning in women and perfumes. They were nothing like the thieves he was accustomed to from Bolderfall. But one never knows. The Fool's Bangle is not a famous piece of attachment, but anything is possible, as the thief has learned.

Therion had only just stopped by the bazaar in Sunshade. That damn butler had thrown him into this whole goose chase without so much as a notion of where to find the damned dragonstone. He'd had the brilliant idea of looking towards the north. As rotten luck would have it, he barely made it past the crags north of the Cliftlands before the beasts of the Woodlands chased him out. The beasts of the forests near S'warkii were something else. Alone, a thief could rob a man blind, but to fight head-on was not of their forte. And a beast was sharper than a man and had none of the reason. The rampaging boars up there are too tough in the head to be felled by a stolen sword and old knife.

After dodging the frogmen of the Riverlands, he came to the desert and ran into the local lizardmen. So here he was, down in the southern Sunlands, taking the long way about, all the while keeping open ears for whispers on these elusive stones. He could have stopped and asked for a hand back at Bolderfall, yes. But what fool of a thief would trust other thieves? Everyone there knows the unspoken rule: "Thick as thieves" is nothing but a lie for the newbies to the profession. One look at that bangle on him would tell the entire underworld of his failure.

Even if the other thieves were useless and untrustworthy, they were so very kind enough to have mentioned here and there the trick merchants use to navigate the unforgiving desert. One, keep your head covered. Therion used his scarf. Two, watch out for the pits of the sandworms, which are basically antlions for humans. And three, use the red strips of cloth set down by previous travelers as markers. They stand along the routes for all the ways through and out of the desert. Your supplies are your own problem, as are the monstrous encounters along the way.. The lizardmen here were much more susceptible to his strikes, so he made it with relative ease to Sunshade.

He needed a drink, but it wasn't thirst from battle. He'd seen something rather sickening, rotting in the sands as he came by. Near the border of the city of a thousand pleasures looked to be a small burial site. Initially, he had thought to pick the bones dry of any earthly attachment. But then he saw that fresh body. It was of a young woman, with light brown hair, only carelessly covered with a scrap of torn rag. Her body told of abuse that he cared not to investigate further, and he went on his way into the city with that image fresh in memory. True thieves, masters like him, avoid murder and bloodshed when they can, and will only go as far as incapacitating inconveniences like fellow humans. That scene was something he never wished to see.

He gazes down the town's main path of bustling commerce, past the square. One look at the extravagant tavern here told him there would be pockets for the picking. It's the biggest one he's seen yet. He had seen several of the wealthy dressed walk in there. He also saw the hovel where the dancers and entertainers came from. Something reeked in places that looked too good to be true. He learned his lesson with the Ravus Manor.

The sellers cry out their wares: lizard skin pelts, ornate feather sabers, cait's tail, even rare quatrait blooms. None of this particularly aroused his fancy. He was supposed to be looking for a stupid rock, for Aeber's sake. When a fruit seller hauling a basket of apples on his back passes by, he snags one surreptitiously and just stands there to snack on it. His attentive ears are tuned to pick up tidbits dropped from loose lips, perhaps something about odd stones.

He had merely stood there, before she bumped into him, with a slight stumble. He drops his fruit onto the cobbled street. Neither of them falls over, but their eyes met for the briefest moment that would prove to be one of the most important in their lives.

The two of them, wary individuals quickly assessed the other in the split moment they had to recover, their perceptive eyes roving.

He saw a dancer. Long, brown hair in a ponytail, brown eyes...pale body, no comment. It's a dancer's body, lean and sinewy. Makeup isn't too caked up that it's distasteful. A beauty mark on the right side of her face, under her lip. She would probably be called beautiful. Red revealing dress clothes with gaudy attachments. All the bells and whistles. There's that necklace on her that might be worth something. Otherwise, she was pretty much exposed. He could see something attached to a strap near her waist. A dagger. Looks nice. Nothing else really that valuable to be noticed. He espies some blood on her feet and a handkerchief clenched in her hand. An injury?

She saw a likely hoodlum. White, messy short hair that covered one eye mostly. Green eyes and skin a shade darker than hers. Rather heavy bags under those eyes. Dark purple scarf and a thick, woolen shawl, probably to hide stolen goods or even weapons. Regular black pants with strapped leather boots, nothing interesting. From the shape of what she can glimpse of his neck and face, he has little fat and a lithe body under that shawl.

There was a slight clink when she made contact with him, like that of chains though. That should be a bit worrying, but she ignores it. The customs weren't flowing today, so they would need all they can get. There are always the surprise rich, who only dress like paupers to avoid the attention of thieves. She's grasping at straws a bit, but Helgenish is impatient.

"...Watch it." He says brusquely.

"... A thousand apologies, m'lord," She curtsies lightly, "Wouldn't you like to come join me for a drink?"

Ah, a prostitute. He detected something off about her attitude, like something else was there, besides submissiveness. Her voice, very luscious and throaty, also surprised him initially.

"... Maybe later."

She points at the tavern he had stared at moments ago, "Allow me to repay you there for the injury I gave you. I assure you, m'lord, it will be no disappointment."

She leans in and he can smell her sickening parfum. But it wasn't so cloying like the samples these sellers here on the bazaar advertised. He just did not like these sweet smells, and so he pulls back a bit, readjusting his scarf.

"... What're you doing with a knife?" He eyes her closely.

"... Come and you will find out." Ah, for him to see that, means he's a more perceptive one than all the men here. She'd have to be a bit more careful.

"He-ey! My favorite dancer!"

She turns to greet someone, a familiar regular it seems. She smiles the whole time she talks with him in trite banter. Therion was never good with people. He relied on the instinct of thieves, which advised that you hit or run first and ask questions later. But in her, he saw almost a perfectly faked smile. Perhaps he imagined it a little, but there was something else under that submissive veneer. Though he spotted it, he could not be sure of what it was.

She leads the regular away, towards the tavern. Before totally out of sight, she tosses him a slight side glance. He looks down to see if his fruit remained where it had fallen. It has rolled to the other side of the road. A child, very young, and very dirty, scrambles by, in place of a rat, and picks up the leftover before scurrying away.

This is no place for children. "The City of a Thousand Pleasures" is but a name, a disguise, for just another dirty place. The mountain blocking out the sun is not the only thing shady about this place. Therion scowls slightly, his expression hidden. It was like Bolderfall... but somehow it was worse, in its own way.

I'll just take the damned drink and go.

Under the crescent of the waxing moon, he starts moving and walks to the tavern, picking up some souvenirs along the way, which he did not totally need. But a thief steals not only for necessity. He steals from those unworthy of their possessions because they cannot be trusted to keep them. A child had a single piece of candy. Therion pops it into his mouth and sucks on it a bit as he goes up the tavern steps, past the half watchful guard and drunk bouncer.

"Ehehe..eeh-hey..." The bouncer is red-faced with a bottle in hand, waving to Therion and others passing to enter, with a silly look of drunkenness on his face.

Inside is a vision of a bacchanal paradise. Wisps of smoke waft and soften the lights in the room, mixing with the scents of perfumes. Padded seats and cushions allow for customers, easily distinguishable by their exorbitant dress, to enjoy their drinks at their respective tables, crowded with wenches and dancers. Therion notes that most of the dancers wooing the men at their tables wear the same drab green. Supporting characters maybe. That means the one earlier... was a star of the show or something.

"Table for one, m'lord?" A petite woman, with short, dark brown hair in a blue dancer's garb walks up to him in a timid voice.

Therion just nods, taking in more of the place as he is led to an empty standing table. If he decided to make a failed robbery at the last minute, at least he'd see all the exits this time before then. How's that for foresight, Heathcoate?

This is probably one of the largest taverns he's been in, even bigger than the beer halls he recalls scampering through in his hometown as a kid. There is a second floor leading to guest rooms, lining the main hall as an open balcony level, where some other customers sit at higher vantage points, staring at the stage. The stairs up there is on the left. Doors on the side of the stage probably go to the preparation area, and the kitchen and bar are on the right. The stage takes up about a third or quarter of the main hall towards the back, and there is a large chandelier hanging there overhead, casting light down on what is supposed to be the main focus. All the other lights in the hall are relatively dwarfed.

"Anything to drink?" The dancer asks after he reaches the table, "Oh, m-my name is Yusufa, by the way, if you ever need to request-"

"Just an ale," Therion cuts her off, looking at the three green dancers on stage.

Yusufa nods quickly and scurries away. She's called off to another man in a keffiyeh, who already has two other women with him. His ale probably won't be coming any time soon.

"I'm glad you could make it, m'lord."

He feels the touch on his arm the same time that familiar voice addresses him. Out of instinct, he nearly draws his dagger, pulling his shackled arm away hastily. The chain jangles. It's her. The dancer in red. She definitely heard that sound. But how in Aeber's name did she sneak up on him like that? It must be the rowdiness of the place.

"... It seems I have a habit of surprising you, hm?"

"... Well, I'm here," Therion half-growls brusquely.

"Yes. Consider your first ale on the house, as repayment for earlier."

"What, do you have the authority to lose a few leaves?" He quirks an eyebrow.

She smiles slightly, in a childish, laughing manner, "No. But I know now you wouldn't be interested in what else I could offer."

Therion could kind of guess what those other goods would have been. He shifts an eye slightly to see some women lead their customers upstairs.

"... Did I offend your arm, m'lord?" She lightly reaches for the shackled wrist. He roughly pulls it away, beneath the folds of his cloak.

"No."

Her face shows no surprise, and her eyes are inscrutable. With a slight motion, she leans in a bit, so he can hear her voice in a low tone despite the loud atmosphere.

"It's a chain, isn't it."

He doesn't give anything away, staying silent.

"... Enjoy yourself, m'lord," She says that quietly, blinking slowly as she pulls away.

A voice calls for her maybe. Therion heard "Rose." She lightly adjusts the necklace around her neck before going towards the stage. The thief glimpses some red marks the necklace made on her nape from behind. A chain, hm? Did she know what she was talking about? Looking around, he sees that maybe she does. The dancers wear practical collars on their necks. Hers is just more embellished. Still a collar... a chain.

But that doesn't mean sympathy for their plight. Therion drums his free hand on the table as he waits for the drink to arrive. He stops when he starts feeling some stickiness along the surface. The banter around him is pretty much utter drivel, laced with sexual comments. The tavern is a frequent watering hole for him to gather information on viable places to rob. But, for all the grandeur it boasts, there is little concern with such gossip.

On the stage, the red dancer steps up, and the crowd around the thief roars with approval at her arrival. She puts on quite the cutesy act for them, before drawing a dagger and a fan. It's not the same dagger he glimpsed. That one was a bit more ornate and straighter. This is a weird, curved one.

Without further ado, some low, beating music drums up. Her movements start with the sound and follow it to the beat. If her body seemed plain before, it was no longer. It grows into a hypnotizing moving image. But that was irrelevant, and he wasn't going to say anything about it.

"H-here..." Yusufa brings him the long-awaited beverage.

"... Thanks."

As he drinks, Yusufa seems a bit lost in the moment, watching the woman on stage. Her movements are what anyone might find seductive and enthralling. With a flourish, she throws the dagger once, and it makes a clean swishing sound in the air as it sails. But then, it surprisingly returns to her, like a boomerang. That got Therion's attention. He didn't even see any string attached there.

"Isn't she amazing..." Yusufa breathes next to him.

"...Hmf," He leaves the very bottom of his flagon coated in the alcohol. Not the best quality drink, since it probably goes best with women. Despite what he had thought earlier, he lingers with his thirst sated, eyes on the stage.

She does more of those tricks with the knives, revealing there to be several hidden within the fan. With an unworldly grace, she leaps and prances effortlessly, slinging daggers. It's like a horizontal juggle in wide, gravity-defying arcs across the room. The patrons are careful not to stand in excitement, lest they lose an eye. When the blades return, one could easily have lost their fingers catching them. She always gripped them at the right place, at the right time, on the right beat. He was inwardly calling her a showoff when she caught the returning knives with the fan.

At the end of the show, there are several standing ovations, catcalls, and the drunken shouts of horny men. Whatever injury he saw earlier was of no effect on her at all. Either that or the dance was a weird one. Therion doesn't know his dances. Many dancers did not look the happiest with her hogging the attention. Yusufa's eyes never left the girl on stage.

"... What's her name," Therion sips the flagon dry.

"H-huh- O-oh... Primrose... m'lord."

"Hm."

Primrose. Weird name. He actually contemplates leaving a leaf as a tip. As he passes the coin between his fingers, he thinks back to the performance, and how the dance had taken all the attention he should have paid on her face to her hips. At the last moment, before the shouts for encore began, he glimpsed it. Her mouth is still set on a plastered, practiced smile. There's not a hole in that defense. Her eyes were just a bit unfocused on the scene before her. She wasn't really looking at them.

"Thank you, you are all too kind..." She blows some kisses to her adoring fans.

Even that line sounds trite. But all these guys just eat it up, uncaring of whether there is a presence of sincerity behind it. They probably would say stuff like that, in the same way, all the time. It's a bunch of masks here, and she has the best one of all. Therion can pull an act, sure. But he usually wouldn't, and definitely not for long nights.

When she steps off the stage, Therion decides to keep his coin, and makes for the exit. A man, dressed in sleeveless dark clothing, pushes past him roughly to exit first. He doesn't even stop to acknowledge the thief. Before he's out the door, Therion espies an ornate tattoo of what looks like black feathers on the left exposed arm.

Then, she goes pushing past him too, the dancer named Primrose. He stands back a bit, seeing her hurry. For the half-second she took to pass him, he saw the mask slip. Her face was that of something like urgency and anger. Before she even reached the welcome mat, a man blocks her way. He's rather large and fat, with a ridiculous mustache, and a sleazy looking face with a ruddy nose and bald head. His clothes are nice but wasted on him.

"And where might you be going, kitten?" Oh gods, his nasally voice is like a wood rasp to the ear.

"M-master..." Her voice betrays surprise, but she recovers quickly. Something was wrong though, as it wasn't as convincing as it should have been. It must have something to do with that rude tattooed man, whatever it was that made her lose her cool.

"Hm," The portly man, the master of the dancers probably, looks over his shoulder out at the darkening night, down into the town square, before setting his eyes back on the dancer with a look of hunger and relish, "Well, well, well. Curious, are we? Love at first sight, kitten?"

Her hand beside her clenches as her shoulders sag a little and her head dips down. She says it again, with a bit of a pleading tone, but just barely, "No, master..."

"Then get back to work. I won't have you abandoning our paying customs before the night is over!"

She remains rooted. He scowls slightly and steps closer, shoving his face at her own. His voice goes low and hissy, so it is harder to hear. But it oozes with malice.

"Need I repeat myself? Need I remind you..." His hand yanks slightly on the necklace, "...what happens to strays who have crossed me?!"

She still does not answer or move. Therion half expected him to strike her, before realizing his arrival had just about emptied her of whatever will or flame she just had. There was no need. The master roughly shoves her out of the doorway as he enters. She limply remains standing, looking down.

Taking it all in silently, Therion resumes his departure out of the establishment. He passes Primrose a bit slowly, eyeing her just a bit. She seems totally distraught.

Well... I'm not going to let that bother me.

A casual stride returning to his step, he walks out into the night. Ah, he's stayed a bit too long. Getting to Cobbleston will have to wait until tomorrow, it seems. Sunshade is the place of night life, and so with the wane of the light comes a surge of man's darkest desires. Therion turns a blind eye to it all and goes to the inn, paying for a room with some coin he stole.

This is all I have...

I can't just let it slip through my fingers like this. Helgenish is eyeing me closely now from his spot at the bar. I resignedly return to greeting the customers, new and regular. Despite my slackened demeanor, I keep at least a semblance of my face up, and the customers hardly seem to notice as they fawn over me like usual.

"Oh ho ho ho, you seem more beautiful every time I see you..."

"I'll be here, if you'll have me..."

"I'll have another, lovely..."

So many of the same, trite faces... and all I can think of... is that mark on the left arm of that man...! I never forgot it. It was no mistake. He is here. At long last, after 10 years... But he is slipping through my fingers as we speak! I may never get this chance again...

"And then I- gyaah!"

The yelp brings me out of my daze for a moment. One of Helgenish's men is wrestling with a customer, twisting his arm behind his back and shoving his face down onto the table. Likely a non-payer. Struggle as he may, the goons drag him out by the pits. But that is not all that happens. Helgenish can be as cruel to customers who cross him as well as staff. He sips his dark wine, paying minimal attention to the scene. I feel a curse coming under my breath.

"What's wrong, Prim?"

My thoughts are interrupted by the voice of Yusufa behind me.

"... it's nothing..." I take a breath to steady myself.

"... He'll be at the inn..." She murmurs quietly so only we two can hear.

"...what?"

"The one in the dark clothes and the tattoo," She whispers rushed, "I heard him talking to another customer... He's leaving before daybreak..."

The tavern is open much too late. But it is possible I may have a chance after closing then. At least I would be able to sneak out of the dormitories at that time. I can't even begin to fathom how much that thought calmed me down. There was still a chance...

"...Thank you, Yusufa..."

"Ehe, oh it's just dumb luck..."

"Hey, fill 'er up!"

She's called away to a waiting customer. The gossip relieves me of most of that worry, for now. I can serve and flirt easier again, but still... that thought forever lingers now. I mustn't waste any more time.

"Oh, Primrose..." One customer, an older man in a fine suit, feels up my forearm as I fill his tankard, "I think I'd very much like a personal visit from you tonight..."

I laugh lightly and smile. There was no way. I finish pouring and look sweetly to him.

"Is that so? I'll have to give it some thought then."

He chortles and drinks. I rinse and repeat for the rest of the customers tonight. For a moment, I realize that the one from earlier, with the purple cloak, had left. He was an odd one alright. But it's not unusual for an interesting comer every now and then in this desert oasis.

Helgenish gestures for me to fill his cup. As I do so, a man in normal traveler's clothing walks over from outside up to the bar. He furtively slides Helgenish a piece of paper. The master takes a quick glance at it as the man makes his presence scarce once more. I slow my pouring and lean over just enough to glimpse the contents. I see the word "inn."

Now isn't that somewhat suspicious.

Before his attentions return to me, I refocus on the cup, which is near overflowing. After I stop, he takes a deep sip, before getting an appreciative handful squeeze of my rear.

"The seats are nicely filled, kitten." He chuckles to himself as he drinks, "You can expect a treat tonight."

"...You honor me, master."

"Oh, how I'd love to honor you some more tonight… Alas, I have some business. So, do sit tight for me, kitten."

Helgenish likely knows the man and is going to convene with him at the inn. It could just be a coincidence, but I would not mind striking him down alongside my father's killer.

Another stranger enters through the doors. Without being greeted and helped to a table, he waves to Helgenish, a smile under the messy sandy hair. The master plasters on a nervous grin. Odd.

"Helgenish."

"M-Mattias."

Helgenish waves me away dismissively. The two men sit at the bar and talk about frivolous events regarding business in Flamesgrace and the Kindling pilgrimage of the vicennia. Such matters of faith… do not concern me. I step away and just go attend to the rest of the tavern.

The rest of the night passes in a daze. We are not allowed to close until the last paying custom has departed the main hall. Dancers leave first and leave the bussing to the workers like Wilk. As we walk through the crowded streets back to the dorm, I stop by where the old man, Sadiq, stands. He has long stood at the gates of the town, merely a stone's throw away from the dorm. From since my first steps here, he has always smiled to me and other dancers. I cannot say he is not senile, but he is certainly friendly to us as humans. I've never seen him come to watch a show.

"Oh, long night today, eh?" He scratches his beard in one hand, another hand adjusting his turban as he smiles, crinkling the dark skin around his aged eyes.

"Yes... rather busy."

"I reckon it might rain soon…"

There isn't a cloud in the horizon. But I say nothing and nod along.

"Sadiq…"

"There is something coming, or something here," He babbles, "Ah, I keep forgetting exactly what… But the fruit was firmer today, and it was a bit sour, you know?"

People think him an old crazy man, a native Sunlander, who showed up with no memory. That I cannot affirm nor deny. But he is strong. He had once fended off a group of lizardmen threatening to scale into the city. After that, nobody minded his drabble as he stood by the walls of Sunshade, its loyal watchman. Some people leave him their scraps as alms. They say he is so due to staring at the sun all day, from dawn to dusk. I wonder sometimes what his mind has lost.

But at the moment, that is not what I need most from him. He is a polearm fighter and a good one at that. For a while now, I have been dropping by with hints of allure on him, doing small dancing gestures, and the like. I believe him to slowly be falling for me. As for why, well, I need assurance. My own strength is not wholly developed, having mainly trained only with my father, and so it would be useful to have someone with more combat expertise.

After working in the tavern for so long, I have built a repertoire for seduction. Call me a dark sorceress if you wish, I don't care. This power of mine, inherited from the bloody shield of the Azelhart house, will serve like everyone else to my goal as a tool.

"I will probably be leaving tonight, Sadiq," I murmur quietly so only the two of us can hear, "Likely forever."

"Why ever for, m'lady?" He strokes his beard, looking out tentatively out to the sands beyond, "Don't you have that boy, Umar, waiting for you at home?"

"Sadiq… I will be dancing elsewhere. And I might… need your help," I lean forward to him, smelling the desert air off his disheveled self, "There will danger ahead that… I cannot face alone."

His eyes widen at me. For the first time, I see them up close with some variance of clarity. They are a hue of blown-blue…

"Will you assist me, Sadiq?" Please, let my allure pierce that damn fog in your head…

He blinks once, twice, three times. There is a slight inhale as I see some spark in his eyes. Slowly, one of his weathered hands goes to brush my face. But what I see is not a look of lust as I have witnessed too often. His expression… is the same. The same as that of my father the night he said goodbye to me. My own eyes widen and I pull back before my shields can be breached.

Sadiq holds his hand out still, not having reacted to my movement. His lips move, obscured by his grayed mustache and beard. For a moment, the clarity in his eyes appear watery. I hear the lowest sound, a name perhaps, fall from his lips. But only a part of it, for he was much too quiet.

"…fa…"

"… I will see you again later tonight, Sadiq."

Brushing off whatever weakness I may have shown, I hastily retreat to the dormitories. Lily and her posse remain, mostly gathered about in gossip. Yusufa looks up immediately to me. Wordlessly, without meeting her gaze, I sit down on the shaggy carpet a pace away from her. It will be lights out soon after we are fed whatever meager slop Helgenish deems us worthy of. And then, I shall make my move.

Wilk opens the door with a high stack of something on a cloth-covered plate. We all look to him expectantly.

"Food's up."

The cloth pulls off to show stale pita. Ration food, really. I can hardly swallow a few bites of my first bread, the anxiousness to action eating me inside out. Yusufa fills my tin cup with water for me, which I down thirstily.

"…Thanks," I mutter quietly.

"Is your foot alright…?" She asks in an equally low tone.

The sting of the thorn hadn't hurt while I was on stage dancing. But as I was serving customs, I became acutely aware of some pain from the prank Lily and her group pulled. But I can't pay it any mind now…

"I'm fine."

"Alright ladies," Wilk claps the pita crumbs off his hands, "Lights out in a few."

"That's it, Wilk? We've been dancing all day!" Maria whines, "No meat?"

"Sorry," Wilk shrugs apologetically, "I've been working all day too, you know."

Maria sighs in resignation. She, Lily, and Yvette retreat to their cots in the next room. Me and Yusufa remain as Wilk picks up the plate, cloth, and cups.

"Sleep soon. You got another day ahead," He says as he leaves, closing the door.

"There's always another day…" Yusufa mutters miserably.

I stare into the flickering candle lighting the place in silence. It no longer hurts my eyes after a while.

"Ah, Prim, I saw you go talk to Sadiq…" Yusufa's voice trails when she sees me looking elsewhere, "Uhm… Prim?"

I sigh, "… yes?"

"When are you getting out?"

"… You… shouldn't get involved, Yusufa… You'll get in trouble for something you have nothing to do with…" I don't look at her.

"But Prim, I'm… I'm on your side," She blurts.

That catches me off-guard. "…My… side?"

Girlie, I get where you're coming from, I'm totally on your side…

Yusufa nods, "I may not know what you're thinking or… well, you wouldn't tell me what's wrong either. But I saw you get flustered tonight… And so, I know it's important. And I want to help…"

"…Why…" I feel my barbs pricking up a wall of defense. This can't be … why is she…

"… I … lived back in Rippletide, with my mum and dad. He named me Yusufa, because he was from the Sunlands. One day… I don't know. He got sick and never came home. I was probably… six then? ...I still remember the touch of his hand..." She chortles softly and tucks a bit of stray tuft of hair behind her ear, "Anyway, mum remarried… and when the wartimes came, and things got tough… I was sold here to work before I was even thirteen…"

"…"

"… It's… lonely, you know?" I hear a brittleness in her voice creep in, "I mean, you see it too. It's a cesspool … everyone's so miserable… so they try to make everyone else like that by being cruel… I thought it'd be like that forever, miserable and lonely… with no friends."

For a second, she draws her knees up to her chest quietly, then looks to me with shimmering eyes. I realize they are watery, and that look… is familiar.

"Do you remember, Prim, when we first met?"

"…Yes. I was your junior in the business…"

"Ehe, not that the title mattered… you outshine all of us on stage. You… were different, I could tell, from when I first saw you," She smiles a little, eyes still shimmering, "No matter how bad the days were, you always walked so tall, and danced so proudly… You're… inspiring, Prim."

The last part was like a confession. It had taken something out of her to say it. I myself… could scarcely believe my ears. Was this sincerity? Or am I being lulled?

"…I …"

"Prim, we're… I mean… I want-"

I want you, little flower.

I briskly stand and go to the candle and blow it out, cutting her off. The room turns dark, but our eyes quickly adjust to the lights from the night outside.

Yusufa squeaks slightly, "P-Prim?"

"Goodbye."

I grab my small hidden pouch of belongings and go out the side window of the dormitory. We used to sneak out this way, many of us dancers, when going to steal some food from the armory next door. But they had since caught us, and we had stopped using it. Now is the last time I will step out of this building again, likely.

The guard by the door is sleeping standing up, having nodded off. Quickly, I make my way to the city gate to see Sadiq. The pain on my foot is stronger.

Damn it all… why did she… have to go telling me… These damn thoughts now bubble to the surface that I had long tried to shove under and keep down. I have heard such sweet words before. I remember the faces which spoke them. They were liars, who promised me the same. That they would help me find my father's killers, that they were on my side... How many times had blind hope led me into compromising situations?

Crows? Well, I don't know them, but since you're here, how about I hear you caw?

Oh, you're so beautiful, dainty Primrose…

I can't… let my guard down again…

Sadiq is there, as he always is. However, he is standing, gripping what looks to be a Sunland spear. When I approach him, he faces me. I test the waters carefully. Slowly, I step forward and feel a slight surge of magic throughout. I am aware of his consciousness. It is like a certain tune I can see and hear, and I alone can tune to it. Moving my body to its rhythm, I twirl slightly, once, until I am right before him. In his clouded eyes, I see my own are a slightly darkened scarlet. I know this is it, the culmination of my allure.

"Come now," I say airily, with a low sultry tone, "Don't you want to see me dance forever?"

His eyes barely widen, but they grow soft and glib. Success. His lips move, moaning a bit as he speaks in confession.

"Ah, I cannot resist the way you move…"

I smile.

"Then pray, come hither…"

For as long as he could remember, the thief could never sleep normally, nor should he. When he closed his eyes, he would relive that moment and those memories. Darius and him, on that cliff. He had run this over a thousand times by now in his head. The ending always was unexpected and jolted him right out of rest, even though he'd lived it before. He would wake always wake up more tired than he was before.

So, he just stopped sleeping.

Or so he tried. After about four days, he would usually reach a point of collapse. But the fatigue seemed to be able to keep the nightmares at bay, and he would rest like a brick. Then, rinse and repeat. There were also those moments when drinking managed to wash away some of the unpleasantness in his mind, but it often also augmented the terrors. After nearly burning down a tavern when he woke up screaming, he no longer drank himself until he blacked out.

Today, it seems it would be one of the better days. The trek across the desert was rather tiring, and he can feel his eyelids pulling like weights, trying to close. Great, then he can be rested by tomorrow.

A loud slam interrupts his near slumber. These walls are thin, and people are rude. He makes a sound of disapproval before turning over. His trained ears pick up on any noises from any conversation occurring.

"…bishop… lanthorn…"

"M...ster Rufus…"

"…meon… sidians…"

Three people are talking. And one of them is a bit familiar in voice. But it's not really any of his business.

"…Cianno…"

A violent twitch runs through Therion, like the cold prick of a dagger from behind. Now, he was much more awake.

"Dragonstones... ate of Finis..."

Oh gods. The accursed stones now too.

"… friends, Helgenish?"

"Y-Yes, of course!"

There is a scuff of chairs and footsteps. The opening of a door and the clink of a coin. The doorway out. Therion rolls over onto the floor and peeps out the small window of his room down to the street. The man with the tattooed arm again. He goes to the right from the inn. A sandy-haired man exits after him and goes to the left. Therion hears a slight grunt from the tattoo man when the sandy-haired one says a parting formality. That responding voice is the one that mentioned the name of that damned family and stones.

When all is relatively quiet once more, the men left their respective ways. Therion remains tense, by the window. The Ciannos… no matter where he runs, it seems futile. The past won't let him go. And the dragonstones too... what in the hells did that damn Ravus family throw him into.

Before he is about to book it and just hike the night to Cobbleston, he sees movement from the building corner. From the side of the inn, that dancer pokes her head out. It's her, Primrose.

She looks around a few times before darting in the direction of the tattooed man. Like an experienced sneak, she hides behind some barrels and whatever else there is on the street, occasionally gesturing to the man with a turban and a spear following her. Before long, they've run off and out of his proximity.

Now that's just odd…

"…"

He'd had nothing to lose, having not even a hint on the dragonstones other than this. That is what he tells himself when he goes after her.