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Ryder
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Comfort Crumpets (Nightshade)

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20th Ashan, 718

What was that smell?

Ryder pondered the thought as he walked slowly down the road, head low and weapons at his side. It had been a few days since the horrific torture he had endured, and the man was yet to find a way to cover his face, leaving a moderately fresh brand in the shape of a cross on the mercenaries cheek. It attracted a lot of attention, as was expected from a fresh brand on someones face. It evidently wasn't for slavery, but that just left more mystery to it.
Stopping to take a glance at the small building where the smell was coming from, Ryder couldn't help but be overwhelmed by it. Something about it stood out, the beautiful scent coming from it making the rest of the world disappear around him. It was comforting, otherworldly warmth wrapping around the ice cold mercenary and melting the pain away for just that one moment.

Inside the building was a young man with what Ryder could only assume was his partner, as the two kissed while no customers were in the place. As he went to look away, the man broke from the kiss and noticed the mercenary. A smile spread across the strangers face and he waved to Ryder, the woman then looking over too. As both smiled at the mercenary, he found himself walking in without thinking about it.
"Morning, sir" the man said with a smile on his face, his girlfriend going back to another room to work on a few things. Ryder gave him a small nod, before looking over the selection of baked goods that sat in the place, all looking as delicious as the other. Hungry eyes glazed over everything, wondering what he should get and eat.

As the thought went through his head, Ryder heard the man welcoming another customer as another entered the building.
word count: 326
"The most dangerous people in the world are not the tiny minority instigating evil acts, but those who do the acts for them" ~ Suzy Kassem
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Nightshade Eld
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The half-breed was having a fairly okay morning. Or, at least, she had been. And then she'd woken up. There was a pressing feeling on her chest and she thanked Chiren for the fact that it wasn't in her stomach. She didn't think she could deal with the stabbing pain that felt like daggers going through her at a constant rate, making her want to whimper and lie on the floor. It wasn't something that easily went away either, it was almost always there, sometimes it was just in a different spot or a lot quieter. Like now, when the stabbing pain turned into an intense jittery feeling resting right in the center of her chest like something was slowly trying to break out. But that something could only use its feathers to get free. Like, a bird without talons was stuck in her chest! It flew about with reckless abandon running its feathers along her heart, her lungs, her ribcage, making them all freeze up and shiver with the intense feeling that wasn't a tickle but wasn't a stab. Then when it found its way to her stomach, then it got its talons back.

She was less happy than she could have been that morning but she still tried to put up an appearance of joy and warmth that she'd gotten so used to wearing. It wasn't like she was acting, or actively trying to deceive anyone besides herself. It was more so a defense mechanism she'd built up after living with The Master for so many years. But every minute that she allowed the fake mask to rest on her face it seemed to burn. The smile got a little tighter, her fingers slowly turned into a fist. She wanted to punch something, to release all this energy that started to get pent up behind her eyes. Her thoughts fogged over and it was hard to keep track of them all. Maybe she should go fight something. Was it bad that she would feel better should she decide to actually go fight something?

Her question was derailed by a thick, sweet scent that permeated the air and turned her attention in the direction she wasn't supposed to be going but intended to go anyway because why the heck not? The smell, it reminded her of sweet moments in her childhood spent with her father and quiet nights spent next to a roaring flame. It even felt warm, the rolling sensation in her chest seeming to come to a complete halt the closer to the source she got. Eventually, she came to a building that she assumed was the source of the scent and pushed open the door. Indeed she was correct. As she walked in she came to face the owner who smiled warmly and greeted her. Someone else was standing on the other side of the counter, assumably another customer.

She looked at Ryder, trying to take stock of him as quickly as she could without letting her gaze linger long enough to be rude. She got used to looking quickly and then looking away. Looking at The Master for too long often led to... Happy thought, this was a place and a time for happy thoughts. And it looked like the man before her could certainly use a lot of them. Her heart wrenched slightly. The poor dear. She hadn't even caught sight of the brand yet and in her eyes, he already looked like he needed some serious love. From the way, he carried himself, the clothing he wore. She'd seen people with hard lives before, she'd gotten accustomed to their appearance and how they acted. Ryder most certainly without a doubt fit the bill. Poor baby.

Without thinking about it much she quickly announced "I'll take whatever he's having and I'll pay for us both." She'd said it so quickly and abruptly it took her a moment to realize what she'd said, but she didn't think twice about it. She had enough money, she could buy some poor guy his pastry with him look so out of it as he was.

"Common"

"Ith'ession"
word count: 717
Common ~ Ith'Ession ~ Lorien
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Whatever he's having and I'll pay for us both.

Ryder's eyes glanced aside as those words left her mouth, his face barely making an effort to turn and see the woman. His brand burned a small burn on his cheek, though he knew it wouldn't last. After all, he was different now to how he had been at the start of this season. He was very, very different. Perhaps the most different he had ever been, the man considered. Yet despite what he was capable of thanks to Syroa, the man had no interest or desire in hiding his brand through it.
He was ashamed of the brand, he was disappointed by it. But magical means weren't the mask he intended to wear for this. With the branding had brought out a new side to the man, a fury and a vengeance. With that came more than just hiding it with the powers of a god. Ryder would find a mask to hide it, one that would allow him to remain hidden from the rest of the world. A new persona that he could wear in Al'Angyryl while remaining the same old Ryder to the rest of the world.

"I appreciate the gesture" the man started, eyes finding themselves on the woman, his face rough. She seemed friendly enough, with good intentions at least. He wouldn't be the kind to turn down a nice offer, or to be rude to the woman no matter how bad his day was going. Hell, maybe there was a friend to be made in the woman. Maybe.
"Ryder" he smiled, nodding to the woman and smiling slightly, though the smile was mostly forced. Ryder wasn't used to general politeness, especially when people bought him things. The last person to do that in a long time had been Noth, and he was somewhat different to most. But the mercenary would try his best.

"It's a pleasure."
word count: 338
"The most dangerous people in the world are not the tiny minority instigating evil acts, but those who do the acts for them" ~ Suzy Kassem
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She turned to him only when he spoke to her, her eyes staying locked with his own. Her expression was gentle and warm as she smiled at Ryder, not even so much as once glancing at the brand. If her eyes even did skirt away from contact with his own, it as so that she could look at the man behind the counter who was slowly getting their items. On one hand, she seemed like she was completely at ease and utterly relaxed with everything going on around her, and on the other, it was obvious to anyone with combat experience the way her shoulders twitched and her hand grazed her hip every time she heard a noise. Her head tilting ever so slightly towards anything foreign.

"Nightshade. The pleasure is all mine," she returned. A gentle warmth seemed to glow in her eyes as she spoke. "Would you care to sit with me while we eat? I had the full intent of going home after I got my treats, but I'm feeling in need of some companionship. No need to talk and if it annoys you I won't talk either, but humans are social creatures and sometimes it helps just not being alone. Even in silence. I know a good place that serves tea a couple paces down the road," she spoke the invitation with the purest of intentions. There was nothing malicious in her gaze, she wasn't trying to flirt, she didn't want anything from Ryder. Not anything he could give her anyways. If someone could give her Noth on a silver platter with all his negative traits ripped from his body that would be lovely. But that seemed a lot to ask of a random man she'd met in a bakery around 3 in the afternoon.

There was part of her that still flinched at the idea of walking into random shops and buildings. The prices had always been just a little bit higher and they'd always closed a couple breaks early when the half-breed first got into the city. There was a certain amount of training that had come along with those experiences. Instant feeling of being unwelcome before she even walked it. It could even be a building owned by someone who owed her favors and favor, and she'd still be reluctant to think herself welcome. It was hard to break a 24 arc old habit.

"Common"

"Ith'ession"
word count: 419
Common ~ Ith'Ession ~ Lorien
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As the two conversed, Ryder found himself unknowingly analyzing the girl. Despite every nice gesture she was doing for this man, and the kind smile she wore, he had no trust for her. With the life he had, people were only nice like this if they wanted something. Even Noth, rewarding him in exchange for his work for Al'Angyryl. Ryder didn't mind in most cases, but he liked to know what they want - and he had no idea what this girl wanted.
Yet nothing seemed to come to light, as the girl introduced herself and asked to eat with the man, even offering silence as they did so. Ryder paused for a trill, realizing that his paranoia was getting the better of him. It normally did, after all. You get taken out of your bed at night and branded and it does things to you, makes you more on edge. As if that wasn't enough, having it done by people that are meant to be on your side just made it that much worse.

Snapping out of his trance, Ryder glanced back to the girl with a weak smile. "That sounds nice" the man nodded, turning and giving a forced smile to the man that served them. Shortly after, he looked back to the woman, before making his way to the exit of the area, assuming she would follow after. He glanced back to her and spoke as they walked, his eyes shining with a little more light than before.
"Forgive me if I'm being rude. But why me?" he asked, his look nothing but innocent curiosity. Perhaps it sounded rude to most, but it wasn't Ryder's intention to be, and at this current moment in time being rude wasn't a high concern for the man. "Of all the men and women in Etzos, why me that you ask to sit down and eat with you? Not that I have any complaints, I'm just curious."

Ryder glanced around as they came close to their destination. As long as he had spent in Etzos, he'd never truly enjoyed it. Shopping was rarely done for this kind of luxury, but more for weapons and training. His entire life had revolved around violence for as long as he could remember, so the idea of going to a cafe for a warm drink seemed strange to him. Perhaps, if the day carried on like it was, Ryder would do it again some time.
When they arrived, Ryder took a seat and glanced to the woman, before pulling a gold nel from his pocket and rolling it over his knuckles. "If you don't mind, I'll pay for this one. I don't like feeling indebted to someone."
word count: 471
"The most dangerous people in the world are not the tiny minority instigating evil acts, but those who do the acts for them" ~ Suzy Kassem
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The question Ryder asked her struck her a little odd at first. Of course, as she thought more about it the question wasn't that strange. In fact, the strangest thing about the situation was likely Night and her actions during it. Not everyone went out of their way for a total strange. Warm, amused kind of smile crossed her features as she gently placed a hand on Ryder's shoulder. "Because I enjoy helping people, and right now, you seemed like you could use a little help," she said simply, smiling a bit wider as she removed her hand from his shoulder. She hummed quietly when the pair left the store. There was complete certain in her humming, as though she knew the tune by heart and it wasn't made up. Yet Ryder never would have heard anything similar. The notes themselves were reminiscent to nursery rhymes of lullabies, but none that Ryder would be able to list off the top of his head.

Nightshade herself didn't often shop for luxury, but it seemed to be the thing that Ryder needed most right now. Luckily she knew just about every location within the city walls by heart, given how many time he'd drawn maps of those locations and painstakingly written down a number on every building and then on a list and corresponded that number to whatever the building was all for the sake of people out of town who wouldn't even glance at it if they were trying to find somewhere specific but bought it none the less because reasons she guessed? At the very least it gave her a better understanding of the city than most.

She glanced at Ryder who began to play with a nel, becoming curious as he spoke. Indebted? "A gift is not a debt, it is something given freely and if someone asks for something in return it isn't a gift. It's a trade. And I have no intention of making this into a trade," she chided. Her voice wasn't harsh but it was firm, almost matronly in a way as she held onto her own coin purse. The woman seemed stubborn and determined to be the one to pay. If Ryder truly wanted to pay it would end up being a battle of wills. Of course, her action wasn't aggressive. There was actually something playful dancing in her eyes, a smirk slowly growing on her lips as she dared Ryder to try and pay before she could. It was taunting but never danced the verge of turning mean. There was always something gentle in the way she acted like she knew he was fragile and close to breaking.

"Common"

"Ith'ession"
word count: 465
Common ~ Ith'Ession ~ Lorien
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It wasn't as if Ryder didn't appreciate it, but he never understood the concept of just helping people. It wasn't as if he didn't, Serah was proof of that. He saved as many people as he deemed it necessary. But the people he saved were from death, from a situation they might never recover from. Anything other than that, they had the power to save themselves. Everyone did. No matter how bad the situation, there was always another way, a choice.
As the two walked, Ryder listened to her hum. It almost brought some peace, one that he'd never experienced before. Music had never played a part in his life. Taverns occasionally had some playing, but hearing it over the sound of shouting and laughing was relatively hard. Ryder almost memorized the notes as they went, unknowingly taking in the tune and holding it in his head.

As the woman told him that this was no debt, Ryder saw a glimpse of challenge in her eyes, though had no intention of fully taking it. Truth be told, money saved was no bad thing as far as the mercenary was concerned. If this woman was so determined to pay there is nothing the man would do to try and stop it. After all, he had things that needed to be bought, why make that harder for himself?
"Very well" Ryder shrugged, rolling the coin back over his knuckles, keeping eye contact with the woman. It was as if the man was allowing himself to be read, giving Nightshade a chance to judge whatever she needed to. Usually Ryder kept to himself, almost hiding himself away from people. But as this woman was being so kind, he opened up, even if just for a moment. Perhaps she would like what she saw, or perhaps she wouldn't. Anything could happen.

"So, miss Nightshade. What is it that you do in Etzos? There are bandits, mercenaries, traders, politicians and everything in between. What are you?"
word count: 345
"The most dangerous people in the world are not the tiny minority instigating evil acts, but those who do the acts for them" ~ Suzy Kassem
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Night ordered quickly enough, knowing what she liked by now and then falling silent for Ryder to order his own choice of drink. She paid for the pair and found a place for the two of them to sit while they enjoyed their food. She regarded Ryder with a curious kind of warmth, never giving any indication that she saw anything wrong with the man. She did. But it never showed on her expression. She didn't allow the way she noticed how he carried himself, or the way he spoke, or his extremely subtle subconscious actions reflect in any of her own. After all, while she was taking stock of his nature and appearance, she didn't judge him for it immediately. She wanted to take her time to analyze the man properly before she jumped to an assumption on one or two factors alone. For that reason, she continued to speak to him with a certain fondness and a gentle expression.

"That question is a bit... harder to answer," she paused for a moment as she spoke trying to figure out how to word it properly. "I suppose most would call me a mercenary, however, that isn't necessarily the entire story. I suppose I would call myself a hero. That sounds a bit more conceited than it did in my head, wow." Blushing slightly she laughed at herself before she continued to speak.

"I do what I can to help the people in the city for as cheap as possible. I fancy myself a decent swordswoman and I use that to protect those who can't protect themselves. I know it sounds a bit like the whole 'stereotypical good-guy act' but I really do act the way I do because I want to help people. Then again a lot of people have called me a spineless coward because I'm willing to put my sword down and take someone into town for arrest if I possibly can. I wonder why the people of Etzos find a refusal to kill so cowardly, it seems as though it'd be the other way around," she mused as he looked down at her cup of tea, watching the way that the liquid moved with the cup as she breathed at it. There was something very melancholic in her voice as she spoke the last couple sentences of her words, but she quickly straightened up once more and put the warm smile back on. "And you?"

"Common"

"Ith'ession"
word count: 426
Common ~ Ith'Ession ~ Lorien
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"Whatever she's having" he smiled politely to the server, before taking a seat with Nightshade and enjoying the food and drink. It wasn't often that he got the chance to eat anything more than he could find, often just food from the tavern or something a mercenary friend might cook. Nothing as heartwarming as this, though perhaps it was the company. Ryder didn't have many people that offered this kind of warmth to a day, and the ones he did he spent more time trying to protect than actually enjoying himself with.
When the girl called herself a hero, the man already knew what she meant, even before her explanation. He'd met many people like it, people that put their skills towards making the world a better place, that couldn't stand the sight of injustice. During his time in Etzos, he'd met a fair few. Commander Norris had been one, and look what happened to him. His life taken because of Ryder's actions, and all he wanted to do was save Southguard. Now he was just the body of a Sessfiend, and Ryder had all the fame he should have had. No - heroics weren't Ryder's thing.

Once she'd explained, Ryder smiled almost awkwardly. While this girl surely had good intentions, there was only one road that she could end up going down as far as the man was concerned - and it wasn't one she would like the end of. It took more than just determination, mercy and a good use of a sword to save a place like Etzos. It took exactly what Ryder and Al'Angyryl was doing. Every man and woman they killed, they did for progress. Everyone they went after was an obstacle - and obstacles had to be removed.
"Me?" he laughed nervously, glancing aside. He'd never liked being asked about himself, but it was only fair. Besides, he'd already opened up to the woman. What could go wrong with this? "I'm a Mercenary, have been since I was twelve years old. And on the road to Etzos, every one of my friends were killed. So when I arrived alone, I took whatever work I could."

"Now, I just freelance. I choose my jobs carefully, but I'm well associated with killing, so killing is what I do. Evil men, assassins, corrupt guards. Anyone that had their chance and blew it, I'm sent to deal with" he muttered, glancing his eyes down at the table, speaking loud enough that only Nightshade could possibly hear. As if the weapons at his side didn't give his proficiency with murder away. His cold eyes glanced back up to the girl, with that same pained look in his eyes.
"Everything I do now, I do for my daughter. If Etzos isn't safe for her to be in, then I'm not doing my job for her. I want her to love where she lives, not fear it. When my own people put that hot metal on my cheek" the man started, the final sentence causing him to snarl with anger before stopping himself, the memories of her face when she found him making a tear run down his cheek. What ten year old girl had to see her father figure getting branded and blame themselves for being too late?

Ryder cleared his throat. "I'm no hero. But I sure as hell try to be."
word count: 589
"The most dangerous people in the world are not the tiny minority instigating evil acts, but those who do the acts for them" ~ Suzy Kassem
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The woman nodded along quietly as the man in front of her spoke, simply enjoying her drink while she listened. She wasn't sure exactly what to say in regards to his story, and she worried that anything she could say in an attempt to ease or console him would have been wrong. So instead she remained silent and let him speak. At the very least she could be someone to vent. Hopefully, she could at least provide something akin to warmth and comfort. Sometimes that was all a person could do. "Sometimes that's all we really can do, even when things seem pointless," she said with a small and quiet smile.

Cowardice, that was the best way to explain the thought that there could be no good in the world without first bringing it about using bloodshed and torment. It was like trying to say that law and good couldn't exist in the same breath. It was stupidity and cowardice. That's why she always found those stories of great heroes falling to be the stupid ones. She had a distaste for them, and when she was little she'd always demand something different from her father. The idea that all paladins fell, the thought that there needed to be bloodshed in order to usher in peace. It seemed stupid to her. If a paladin fell, they either weren't very smart or a very good paladin to begin with. The world was full of choice and option. It was stupid to expect life to present you with simple black and white choices on a platter, but by that exact same logic, there was no way for all choices to be grey. In the full experience of the half-breed, there was always a third option. Maybe it took more work, but it wasn't impossible. It was idiotic ignorant lunacy that was nothing more than a simple lie to make someone feel better about their own lack of effort. Maybe not everyone was as strong at heart as the half-breed, but didn't that still mean there was another option? Didn't that still just mean whoever had 'fallen from grace' was too pathetic to dare speak of justice?

Perhaps such a thought was harsher than was actually intended. But the point still stood. No matter how idyllic or foolish it might seem to others. The half-breed was a woman of honor above all else. She wasn't going to use a coward's excuse. She took a deep breath and sighed as she finished draining the contents of her cup. "Oh fiddlesticks, is it already starting to get that late?" She questioned with a quick glance in the direction of the sun. "Ugh. If you ever have to change professions or take up a second profession of work never become a Cartographer! The senior members are all donkeys in their finer moments. They're going to stick me sketching again if I'm late. I should never have taken a second job," she huffed in a semi-annoyed voice. There there was a certain degree of lightness to the claim that implied that her words were meant with the intention of good humor.

"Common"

"Ith'ession"
word count: 550
Common ~ Ith'Ession ~ Lorien
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