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A note from Ringo Farr

I'm releasing this chapter early because I have a backlog now. Backing the logs~

All anyone could talk about was how the war was going, inside and outside of the Welcome Center. River People and their Partners were all largely terrified and now folks were starting to flee all the way to Teh Se Bang in an effort to stay alive. The Pony Migration had all but ended in the past week with the ‘Moon and Shadow’ having passed over the town. After a lot of thought and plenty of patience, I halted my music for the time being until I was sure that they were gone, though in that time I was actually presented with a title before becoming a tutor at the Welcome Center. With my ‘mastery’ over Grata-non-Aquix, decent command of Gratana-nuva-Longinus, and apropos with Arca, I earned the title of ‘Trademaster’. It was a step below ‘Onemaster’ which in turn was a step below ‘Grandmaster’. Apparently breaking up fight after fight for the Welcome Center had me considered as one of the most powerful guys around town because I was one of the few willing to keep the peace between more than three or four people, which is right around the time my life got complicated. Granted, the three months of peace had been nice during my stay, but the going never stays good, in my experience.

There was another Onemaster that I’d kept hearing about that came to town last night. It didn’t take him long to start making a fuss at the Welcome Center, but I was at home with Alana when all of that was going down. We’d chosen maple bourbon as our drink for the night and we mostly just relaxed to the sounds of other musicians. I’d made a habit of listening to other people for inspiration, but Alana often made the assumption that I just didn’t think I was good and had stopped playing for the same reason. I told her it wasn’t true time and time again, and last night was no different. She eventually went home since she had work in the morning, but I didn’t have to be there until noon. I usually walked with her anyway since the early morning can be a bit dangerous in Holloway Halter, but it’s not like Alana couldn’t reasonably handle herself. I didn’t like risking it, but it wasn’t because I thought she was incapable. There was just no room for trust in my heart for the average person anymore after someone had tried to rob the shop Coma worked out. He didn’t kill the woman, but she was still in the hospital all the same.

Anyway, we rose separately and walked to work together, finding evidence of yet another brawl. For the hundredth time that month, cleaning staff was setting the foyer back in order and it was as tedious as it was the first time, if not more so. Alana and I pitched in despite it not being our jobs, but then again most of the Welcome Center staff help out to keep the second home looking good. Once everything was cleaned up and we had the story in all its pieces, I agreed to stay up front with the Greeters just in case the guy came back. Lo’ and behold, he returned a little earlier and saw me glaring at him as he swaggered his way in. Halfway down the carpet, he froze, my eyes widened, and I hopped over the counter to go greet an old friend.

I walked up to my former sub and extended a hand. “Damn. Been a while, boyo.”

“... Ga-Gatian?” He asked, his hair longer than before. It was still well-kempt, just in his eyes now. “... That can’t be you…”

“Sup, Max?” I raised a brow. “Heard you were raising hell in here last night and I wasn’t even around to play anything.”

His face brightened and I got a hug, giving one back in turn. “Holy shit, it’s really you, bruv! I thought you died after Algmund got Gloss home!”

I patted his back. “Nah, you know nothing takes down Gatling Gatian, Max. How’ve you been, man? I’ve heard about the Onemaster thing.”

He let me go, scratching his ruddy cheek. “Uh… I’ve been better, I guess… Sorry about causing trouble on your turf, mate.”

I gave him an easy smile. “For a friend? All’s forgiven. Why don’t you try playing nice this time and I’ll introduce you to everyone?”

“Ah, that’s not a good idea… I’m not going to do anything else, but you should really be more ready to defend yourself, mate. It’s not a good idea to leave your home turf unprotected these days.”

“I know, but it’s not like I should be doing patrols or some shit, right?”

He shrugged. “No, but… Raphtal has a presence here in Thesuvia too, Gatian. You’re still an honorary member if you have the badge.”

I stared at him for a moment, pulled out my trusty, over-worn wallet and produced the seal. “Damn. I forgot I had this.”

He beamed, his cheeks pink instead of red. “... Glad you kept it, mate…”

“Of course. I also kept one of your drumsticks.”

Alana came up beside me, a little shaky. “U-Uh, Ga-Gatian?”

Max shot her a dirty look before he noticed the finger in his face. “Hmm?”

“You might outrank me, but that’s my sweetheart, Max. My vaski.”

“Oh. Oh. Oh… Yeah.” He tapped his chin, looking at her. “You always did like the tall ones best, didn't you?”

“Taller and sweeter I find them much neater.”

“Hm… I guess after so much time I should’ve figured you would’ve gotten the uumpas out of your system.”

“I don’t know what that is, but I don’t like where this conversation is going. Alana, Max. Max, Alana.” I introduced.

Max nodded at her. “Treat him well, okay? I’ll rip your hair out otherwise.”

Alana paled. “O-Okay…”

“Max, don’t threaten my vaski.”

“You used to threaten mine all the time! I remember you spanking her on more than one occasion!” He snitched brutally, making Alana’s hands fly over over her mouth and making the peanut gallery gasp.

I glared at Max. “You didn’t need to say any of that. It was a different time and a different relationship.”

Gatian!” My girlfriend gasped.

I gave her a pleading look. “I’ll explain later, Alliebear, just not now.” Turning back to Max, I said, “Can I talk to you? Outside?

“Embarrassed of me already?” He pouted.

I leaned in real close and whispered, “Daddy’s about to pound that ass raw, no lube, if you don’t shut the fuck. Up.

His eyes widened and he blushed deeply. “... I see. I’ll be waiting outside.”

He backed away. I looked at Alana and her disappointed face. “Yeeah… I’m sorry, baby, I used to be a deviant when my Partner first abandoned me. It’s not what it sounds like, but it’s kinda what it sounds like. That’s not me anymore, okay?”

She touched her cheek. “I… I believe you, but… Why… Why didn’t you tell me you had a past?”

“... Because I thought everyone in that past was either dead or had abandoned me?” I tried, not really sure myself.

“... That’s a… That’s okay, Gatian. You don’t have to sound unsure.”

“I’m just not sure if that’s all of it, vaski. I’ll be back in a bit, okay?”

“Okay… Just… Don’t get hurt, okay?”

I prepared to answer her and rethought it. “No promises, but I will be back.”

And so I left with the crew watching me go, greeting Max when I got outside. He looked back at me and said, “You’re straight now, aren’t you?

I pulled a face. “Yeah, pretty much.”

Damn.

“Sorry. Spent so long without another guy in sight I just lost the taste for them I guess.”

He shrugged. “That’s okay… Do you mind if I bring Gloss to come visit you sometime? I know she’d love to hear that you made it at least.”

I nodded. “Feel free. Say, do you know anything about the Weavers?”

Max rolled his eyes. “Sootina’s fake secret-group-thing? Yeah, whatever it was, it had the Mare in her head half the time and staring at her nails the other half.”

I looked him dead in the eye. “You really don’t know anything about the Songweavers?”

“Who writes songs these days besides you and people who want to get stockaded?”

He had a point and a truth in his eyes. “The Songweavers are real, Max. Sootina sold me out to them.”

“... What?”

“Sootina was cursed by an old organization and she sold me out to them. It’s why she was so friendly to me in the first place.”

His face fell. “Sootina… She… She was working two sides?”

“Yeah.”

Damn...

“Sorry, but I know you had to hear it.”

“Does… Does that mean she had something to do with the Char?”

“I don’t think so, but I do know that she was some kind of wicked. I killed her for betraying both me and you.”

Max, patted my arm, looking down. “... I guess… I guess I knew Sootina was always a snake… Thanks for telling me, Gatian.”

“I owe you a lot, Max. If you ever need to get off your turf for a while and kick back, you’ve got a place in my home. I live in Docile Eight, by the way. It’s one of the bigger ones in the Holloway High-Reach.”

“Oh, one of the Halter Heights? You have your own place?” He asked, raising a brow.

“You know the banks of Gerritt and Chorell are still up and running, right? Plus I had plenty on me from my travels and work.”

“Wow, so you would’ve been a great target!” Max chuckled, glad for the change of subject.

“If you could survive the encounter. I’ve killed a few people since last we met.”

“Haven’t we all? It’s the tides these days, and being a Onemaster comes with plenty of challenges.” He sighed. “I’ll put the word to Raphtal that Holloway is our grounds now. Things ought to get cleaned up around here before winter sets in.”

“I have no problem joining the fold, but what do you mean by ‘cleaned up’?”

“Raphtal is housing refugees for the winter in the Old Guild Stronghold, so there’s plenty of room for a few thousand people, plus it’s practically a tent city now. A lot of Ponies have been talking about settling down for good and making a trade with catalysts and the like.”

“Interesting. Word here is that the Migration was halted, but no one knew why.”

“It’ll be the OGS then. There aren’t a great many Ponies still trying to make it back to the islands or even further to the other continent.”

“Speaking of, I never hear anyone talk about the other continents.”

“Well, Avalon is the better one of the known two. There’s the Old World and Avalon as far as we know. Fraust Bastion isn’t really a continent since no one can live there.”

“... So there’s an entire world’s worth of history on the other side of the planet that I’ve never heard about?”

“Kinda. The Old World is said to be cursed or something, but few enough people take the Liar’s Straight past Denosia anyway. Shit’s just not worth going through the Sea of Sorrow.”

I bit my lip. “Not foreboding. Not foreboding at all.”

“It’s very foreboding, which is why people don’t go there. Speaking of going places, you wanna have a quick sparring match?”:

“We’re masters of two very different arts, Max. I think you’d win anyway.”

“Don’t make me beg!”

I shook my head. “There’s a training room in the Welcome Center. We stop at first blood, okay?”

He gave me a crooked smile that made me remember good days. “Then what are we waiting for? Let’s go!”

And so I led him to the training room and we gathered an audience just by heading in that general direction. People asked and Max answered, meaning that our small following soon became a full audience sitting in the bleachers and standing on the sideline. The people closest to the action had Shield Arca or wards of other kinds at the ready while the staff, if they couldn’t cast Arca, kept things orderly and maintained the peace while Max and I got ready. I loaded Clockly and set my speed-loader with half non-lethals and the other half Arca bullets, the same set up already in my gun. I wouldn’t need my knife, but I had my wand on me just in case I needed a way to cheat. When I remembered that Max was faster than I could see, I also reminded myself to be a little scared.

Bethany was the referee and commenced the match once we were both ready, neither of us really wanting to prolong things. Max had his reasons and I had mine, but I figured that my best opening move would be a pumped up Umbralisis that didn’t stop Max from moving at all. It just slowed him down to the point where I could actually follow his movements, but that didn't mean that I wasn’t getting hit left and right. He was still a lot faster than I could normally react, so I got hit time and time again, but never in the face. It would’ve been a quick fight if he’d just hit me in the face a few times, but instead, Max let me get a charged Fuldis off and blast him with it. I’d had to shoot it from under my opposite arm since I was covering my head and the easy-bleedy bits, but it worked out for the best. He went flying back and landed with a bounce off of the padded floors of the training room, twitching and jerking as he tried to get back to his feet.

Pretty much everything was aching pretty hard as I walked over to Max, but I doubted that I was feeling what he was feeling. The guy didn’t honestly hit that hard, but I couldn't get a lock on him with Grata-non-Aquix so I had to use Arca, even if it wasn’t how I wanted to pin. There was a poke with my wand, meaning Max was bleeding and I was declared the winner, but I was well aware of the fact that the only reason I won was because Max held back in the first place. Well, at least that’s what I thought until I talked to him after releasing both of the Arca I had on him

“Stupid Arca. Stupid Gatian. Stupid slowness!” Max cursed in the locker room he’d been guided to after the match. I’d heard a racket being raised from the doorway, so I figured it was pretty pertinent to get in there before he damaged more property.

“Hey, bud. You alright?” I asked cautiously, coming in.

He was in my face in a moment. “How did you kill my Lightning-Speed!? That shouldn’t have been possible without a real powerful Shadow Arca! And how did your Lightning Arca get so strong? I remember you being almost useless with Arca back in the day!”

“I’m lower B Rank, Max. It’s just the matchup, I guess.”

“The matchup? The matchup? I couldn’t even land a hit on your face! I could’ve won that in one punch if it weren’t for the matchup!” He groaned.

“Thanks.” I smirked.

Max glared at me. “You’re an arse.”

“You’re a sore loser.”

“I’m- Okay, yeah, so?”

“Just pointing it out, Maxxie.” More like Maxipad.

He sighed. “I guess that just means you really have gotten stronger than you were before...“

“Max, I just happened to use a Shadow Arca on you at first glance. I didn’t even know that it would do anything other than stick you to your shadow.”

“Yeah, I know I’d win in a real fight, but it still sucks.”

I rubbed my aching ribs, grimacing. “Just asking, but-”

“Yeah, I was being serious to see where you were. Sorry for going so hard in a spar, but I needed to know if I could train you up a bit. I’m sure you’re aching.”

The shitty look I gave him was met with a blush. “Yeah. Shithead.”

“I… I don’t have any healing magic…”

“Well, iffin’ you’re doin’ the okay dance, I’m gonna go get my fucking ribs wrapped. You probably cracked two.” I said truthfully, having done it enough times to know the feeling.

“Oh... My bad.”

“S’all good. I’m just gonna shoot you next time.”

“That’s rude.”

“So’s breaking my ribs, Max.”

“It takes longer to heal from getter shot.”

I hit him in the dick when he wasn’t on guard and his eyes widened as he doubled over. “There. Even.”

Ow!

“That’s what you get for being a dick.”

He nodded, sinking to his knees. “Got it.

“See you at my place. Holloway Heights, Docile Eight.”

Yup.” He held up a thumb.

I shook it. “Yergaeboi.”

Whaa?

I left after getting away with it because I could and went to go see Hasha because she was the resident nurse. She was already looking for me alongside Alana, and they were both quick to fret over me and my rapidly bruising form. It had been some time since the fight when I found them, so Hasha was quick to ask if I could feel anything terribly injured and I pointed her to my purpling ribs. She got a poultice on them and Alana help quite competently, not really acting half as nervous as she had been before. She was definitely a healer and it showed in the look on her face as she wrapped my left arm too, a decent amount of bruising there from my blocking. It could’ve been worse and it could’ve been better, but I was certain that I’d almost gotten my ass handed to me. When Hasha and Alana said I was good to go and rest, I started off towards the exit.

Alana caught up to me and I gave her a little smile. “Hey, Allie. How’s it going?”

Her countenance had worry and concern written across it. “... Where are you going?”

“Probably gonna go train for a bit and sharpen up my Grata-non-Aquix. Then I’ll probably be Arca-crafting all night.”

“... But you won… Right?

I raised a brow. “The only reason I won was due to Max not being able to hit my face. I got outclassed and was lucky. If I didn’t cast that first spell, he probably would’ve done even more damage.”

“... That’s what Bethany said…”

“She is one of the wiser friends in our group. Li-Oh could learn something from her,” I droned.

“Gatian… Are you okay?”

“I will be. Just a hell of a wake up call.”

She reached for me and I had no reason to deny her, so I got my hug and enjoyed it too. It was a nice, warm hug that felt amazing, but I also needed to get home and start practicing, so I bid Alana goodbye and got to stepping since I didn’t have anything to do at work. I’d cleared it with my supervisor/coordinator, so it was cool. I’d collected a few books over my years and there were a few more that the Welcome Center had lent me to sharpen my skills, I just hadn’t gotten around to viewing anything yet. That being said, even with cracked ribs and a kinda-fractured forearm, I practiced Grata-non-Aquix for four hours straight, speeding up and slowing down the forms as my muscles screamed in protest. I did it until I couldn’t feel the ache anymore and every movement flowed into another one way or the other. It wasn’t Lucine’s mastery, but it had its own Gatian-brand magic to it that I hoped wouldn’t get me killed. After two more hours of flowing through my known bits of the Grantonid, I started in on some Arca books and got to spellcrafting.

Now, I’ve never mentioned how any of my Arca came to be, and the thing is that they’re mostly personalized. Most people that use Arca make them using their preferred syllables, and those that make them use them for a specific purpose. There’s a lot of ways to do the same thing depending on the inflection you use when casting Arca, which was part of the reason why Thesuvians and Centurns were so good with Terru. Their native languages needed a lot of articulation and precise pronunciation to speak correctly, so they were largely superior with Arca. That, and there was a way to shortcut with tares that other races just didn’t get, but Luce had only had to teach me to do it twice. Things like making brooms sweep, starting fires, washing dishes with only a rag, and making light were all on the table for Average Andy/Andir.

Most of my Arca were utilitarian or household type things that I could use instead of trying to do things myself, but my combat Arca were the ones that kinda fucked up my hands. Things are generally easier and less painful with an adequate catalyst, and it’s really hard to not see. The only reason I was making more Arca for combat rather than using the ones that I had was because I needed to deepen my arsenal in order to combat more obstacles. I didn’t know what all accompanied being a Trademaster, but I had a feeling that I was supposed to be the protector of the town or something of the sort. As such, I fully intended on protecting my new home and the people within it. Especially since a Onemaster had kicked my ass.

With that in mind, my first new Arca was another Storm Arch, and it was Fulmacosadoma, and it was definitely one that attracted attention when I used it outside in the courtyard of my complex. It was a shield spell for sure, but it was also predominantly made of translucent clouds and arcs of lightning. It took about as much Terru to cast as Zeotsu, but it was far more useful than just hurling a bolt of lightning at someone. I could maintain it for a full forty-five seconds before it started to waver, but three-quarters of a minute was fantastic for a first run. A little experimentation taught me that it was bullet proof, but that the length of which I could hold the spell was directly tied to how much damage and other Arca I threw at it. Most of Clockly’s shots only shaved seconds off when I cast the Arca around a random wooden post, but Zeotsu nearly shaved the time by a third. Doing all I had in such a short period of time meant that the sun was setting and the Terru was dwindling, but I still had two Arca I needed to try casting.

Fulmacosadoma took some time to say and therefore cast, but Murka was simple and easy. It provided a deep fog that was nearly impossible to see through wherever I walked within its confines, but even when I got up to my docile and looked out across the courtyard I had a hard time seeing any of the houses on the first floor. Shit was damn near impossible except for the ones that had brightly colored doors. The sunset only made the doors seem to glow in the fog, but that wasn’t my main concern. No, someone had gotten lost in the fog and was calling for help, so I alighted to ground level and cast the compliment to Murka, which was Illuminai, which let me see through the fog specifically created by Murka. I got to the person with no problems and had them help me test some things in exchange for a few holli, which turned out to be for the best. Even with magical lights all over the fog, it was impossible to see another person unless you were close enough to touch them with your elbow, and even then it was still troublesome to make out the other person. However, with Illuminai, the fog was as good as a light misting and even helped me see people within the fog by making them have a very slight glow to them.

After I settled those two Arca, I dissipated the fog, turned off Illuminai, and went inside to drink the pain away. Even as I got my buzz on, the exhaustion that usually hit me with spiced rum was nowhere to be found, but I did enjoy my drink. Sip after sip, all I could think of was how Max had creamed my corn and had violently shown me that I wasn’t worthy of being called a master of anything. He came to my place around three in the morning when the moons were high and I was feeling pretty good. He had a black eye and looked like he’d cleaned up a nosebleed recently, giving my half-drunk brain cause for concern.

“... Yo, you good, Max?” My brows had furrowed and I’d stood aside waving him in.

“... You… You got some mean friends, mate.” He chuckled, walking in and looking around. “... This all yours?”

“Yeah, everything in here is mine or will be if someone doesn’t come back to take it.” I shrugged. “What do you mean by I got some ‘mean friends’?”

Max cracked a smile. “I mean you’re not the only sleeping mondi in this town.” Mondi means ‘threat’, for the record. “Some of your friends from the Welcome Center thought you were gonna kick my ass for raising shite yesterday. You didn’t, so they did.”

“... They beat up a Onemaster?”

He snorted, smirking. “If it weren’t for our contest, they wouldn’t have stood a chance. They stole your Arca and added an Earth Arch to it. Shit got my feet stuck in the ground and they chucked whatever they could find at me. Dirty, but smart.” Max smiled fondly.

“I forgot you were a masochist.” I commented.

I’m not!

“Yeah, you are.”

“... Fuck you, but a little humbling is what I came for anyway.”

My brow raised and I sipped my drink, liquid courage in my veins. “Hell, I’d like to try my Grata-non-Aquix against you sometime, even if you don’t go full speed. Seeing how fast I can get the forms under pressure would be good.”

He looked at my glass. “When did you start drinking?”

“Uh… After Luce died? I think.”

“You know River People-”

“And Thesuvian’s aren’t supposed to have the relationships you had with me, Sootina, and Gloss all at the same time.”

“... That’s a fair point, but then again, the only people like that are the Tebang and Sebang.”

I had to think about that, remembering that ‘Te’ and ‘Se’ basically meant ‘Sea’ and ‘Fire’. I’d never heard either term before away from Li’s Dad and precious few Bir’rens I’d met. “Fire-crotch.”

“You liked it!”

I shrugged. “What can I say? You’re cute and abusable.”

“What, so you only slept with me because you could hurt me?”

“No, I slept with you because you were cute, fun, and made a great addition to the band.”

He gave me a satisfied look. “I can live with that.”

“Good, because the other reason is the ass you had back in Hooversdum, which you no longer have.”

“That’s mean.”

“It’s true.”

He took a step toward me. “You know… We’re all alone right now.”

“I’d really rather not.”

“I can live with that too.” He sighed. “Getting action in Thesuvia is hard.”

“Dye your hair and say you’re a River Person.”

“Arrestable offense.”

“Ask a nice lady what she wants in a man.”

“... That’s actually a good idea. I’d do that now, but I’d really rather not at this time of night.”

“That’s when the real whores are out anyway. We’ll ask some of my friends who didn’t throw shit at you in the morning.”

“I didn’t see any faces, so I dunno who it was.”

“Mm, I’ll ask around and see if I can find someone if you want to confront someone.”

“Nah, I was a real prick the first day I was here trying to draw out the new Trademaster. If I’d known it was you, I would’ve just asked.”

“Eh, the past is the past. Do you want to sit up and talk some more, or…?”

“I’m tired.”

“Want a drink to help close those eyes?”

“Whatcha got?”

I went over and picked up my flask. “Whatcha want?”

“Well, my favorite for a casual sip is a Syrupine Spirit.”

I poured it for him into one of the glasses from my carousel and handed it to him. “Give it a shot.”

He raised a brow and sipped the brew, approval written across his face. “Uncanny.”

“I’m good like that. Let’s grab some blankets and a pillow and we’ll fold the couch out.”

“It folds out? How did you manage to get one of those!?”

“Connections.” I chuckled.

“I don’t trust them. If it’s all the same to you, I’ll just sleep on the cushions.”

“All’s well, but blankets and pillows are still needed.”

And so they were delivered and I got to go to sleep after realizing that I’d been waiting up for Max. Once we’d chatted a bit and the sleep was present, I had a good dream about counting sheep and riding said sheep as they hopped on fences. Once that dream was over, I awoke to arguing that hadn’t quite risen above a dull roar. Alana and Max were hissing at each other in my living room when I came out, and both of them looked at me as I glared at them. A middle finger was raised, but neither of them looked at it. Alana’s nose sprung a bloody leak and Max licked his lips, both of them looking towards my hips. I then looked down and saw that my dongle was dangling out of my drawers, so I stuffed the salami back into the pack and glared at them harder.

“Shut the hell. Up. Ya boy tryna catch his beauty rest.”

Max pointed at Alana. “She started it! I was just sleeping when she came in out of nowhere and woke me up!”

Alana pointed right back at him. “You abused your authority as a Onemaster to get away with harassing Welcome Center staff and then you had the gall to go to the victors house!”

“The inn wouldn’t let me get a room!”

“Because you’re an arse!

“I just needed a good fight!”

I walked back into my room while they were arguing and came out with my wand. Alana took notice first and shut up, prompting Max to shut up and look at me. “... Whatcha doin’ with that wand, Gatian?”

“I’m about to make an example out of the next one who tries arguing about bullshit in my house,” I said plainly. “Would someone like to continue the conversation?”

Alana shook her head and Max gave me a look. “I’ll apologize, but I want an apology too.”

“Reasonable.” I nodded.

He turned to Alana and said, “I’m sorry for making an arse of myself and belittling the Welcome Center folk. I probably won’t do it again here now that Gatian’s around.”

Alana glanced at me and I waved my hand from side to side. “... As long as you don’t start anymore trouble, I won’t make any more trouble for you.”

“Deal.” Max offered her a hand.

She shook it cautiously, and when Max pulled her down to his level, I cast, “Parkus’, which was just a small ball of electricity that made someone’s day worse.

Max had barely just opened his mouth and curled his lip when the ball hit him, shocking the shit out of the guy since catalysts amplify power. He let go of Alana when he was done being shocked and looked at me. “... Ow. Not just ow, but ow!

“The next one won’t be as gentle, Max.”

“Message clear. I think I oughta-”

“Yeah.”

He nodded and left, leaving Alana to come over to me and watch him go along with me. Max looked back. “... I kinda made a mess of everything this time… Next time won’t be so bad.”

“I trust you, brova. Be easy, aight?”

Max nodded and headed out. Alana breathed a sigh of relief. “Whew, I thought he was going to start something else…”

“Nah, something’s getting to him,” I said, my tone flat. “It’s for the best to let him work it out himself.”

“You’re usually right, but… I think that guy might need some real help.”

I raised a brow at her. “So do I, but neither of us are gonna go get it. We’ll get by how we get by. It’s just the way Raphtal rolls and it always has been. Especially for the Avalesch.”

“You’re a Guildie?”

“Honorary, but yeah. I have the seal.”

“... You must lead a very interesting life.”

I booped her. “You’re a part of it.”

She smiled shyly. “You’re very sweet, Gatian.”

“I feel a but coming.”

“There isn’t one.”

“Even better! What brought you over, anyway?”

“I came to change your bandages and check on your wounds. It should be time for another poultice.”

“Ah, then let’s get to it.” I was already half-naked, so there was no point in stripping.

Alana didn’t seem to notice, instead just picking up the bag she’d put down before I’d come into the living room. “Just a moment, I have to find the right bandages in this kit. I just grabbed Bethany’s, but she keeps her stuff organized a different way.”

“I’m in no hurry.” I commented idly, waiting for her to panic or fuss over something.

She did not, instead finding the correct bandages and coming over to strip the old ones off. “Mhmm. Stay still for a bit.”

I did indeed stay still. “You know-”

“I’m sorry, but I need to focus to make sure I get the poultice spread evenly and the bandages wrapped right. Hold onto it and we’ll talk in a sec, okay?”

I held back a chuckle. “Okay, sweetness.”

I couldn’t see her smile, but I could practically feel her slipping further into caretaker mode than she had been, so I considered it a net positive. In all honesty there could have been worse things going on rather than me getting taken care of by a pretty woman who liked me well enough, but nevertheless, it did kinda suck when Alana unwrapped my ribs. They still hurt a bit, but it wasn’t unbearable. After removing the poultice and bandages, she reapplied some more and got me taken care of with time to spare, there was just one problem. I’d gotten a little stiff throughout the ordeal and my problem had already poked Alana twice while she was wrapping me up. I tried to break down the tent with some bad thoughts, but try as I might, the woody was there to wiggle.

Alana finished up and looked at me with a warm smile, brushing her hair over her ear as she was kneeling. It didn’t help my pride that she was so close to being level with my chest. “There. How are you feeling?”

“Like my ribs aren’t aching and I need to get dressed. Thank you for the home care and the soft touch, Alana. It’s very much appreciated.”

She blushed and looked down, getting back up. “O-Oh, you’re welcome, Gatian… I just didn’t want you to have to walk all the way to the hospital with cracked ribs…”

“... Oh yeah, I probably should go to that. The hospital.” I said blankly.

She gave me an amused look before her eyes flicked down and she got a lot less amused. “... Dear me…”

I had a feeling she was looking at my sausage, so I did a little Elvis move and she got another nosebleed that wasn’t stopping like it had last time. It cracked me up until she kept staring and got a goofy, familiar smile on her face as she turned red. When I got her a tissue for her issue, she ignored it and started off into space, blood starting tio run down her chin. I started cleaning her up and grabbed the rest of the tissues. Alana took the box from me when I came back after getting most of it, but the damage was still done and she was terribly embarrassed for having been caught looking. When I went off to go change, Li-Oh and Cacoma came over to see how I was doing and my main dudes were all too happy to tease Alana over her crush-turned-romance with me. Coma was cool about it and was supportive, but Li-Oh came from a family that didn’t really like to see River People mixing with Septurns. He said he was fine with me and Alana being a thing, but he’d also said in the past that River People should marry the Partners picked for them so the other Septurns can have each other. It was a popular opinion over in Teh Se Bang, but Li-Oh was Second gen Thesuvian-Amanese and his parents were immigrants. The opinion wasn’t shared by many in Stalfisk, but in Teh Se Bang, I would’ve been all but forced to marry Stellara, regardless of our revelations about our relationship. Instead of putting up with Li making fun of Alana’s tastes, insulting me indirectly, and potentially taking it too far, I offered to help him come up with a few Arca.

I got looked at like I was a fucking lunatic three different times. Li took point and folded his arms. “That’s not funny, man.”

“Really, yo. It’s not as cool as you prolly think.” Coma added in, his thick Din Fal Sin Ke. (Din Fal) accent coloring his words as always. He was still Fiskian, just close to Teh Se Bang border. “Yo, Lana? Why don’t you tell him? He’d get it better comin’ from you.”

Alana nodded and looked at me. “Um… Gatian?”

“Yes, dear?” I asked.

She blushed and smiled, looking down. “Um…”

“For Heptat’s sake, woman. It’s just a sweetcall.” Coma shook his head. “What she means to say is that making Arca is dangerous.”

“What? No it’s not.” I barked out a laugh. “What do you do when you make Arca? Throw suffixes and prefixes into a hat and pick two?

I got stared at. Again. What I wrote earlier notwithstanding, I was about to learn something. Li looked me dead in the eye and said, “Man, stop talking like you make your own. I’ll just learn some on the road.”

I gestured toward him, my eyes wide. “The hell!? I’m right here! I can teach you some of mine or just make you some if you let me borrow your catalyst, fool.”

Coma whipped his bouncy-ass hair and turned toward Li. “You got a catalyst? Sweet, brove.”

Li scratched his head as my vaski glared at him. “... Gatian technically got it for me.”

Alana gasped. “Gatian! You are a Trademaster!

Li seemed more embarrassed than I was. “He’s a River Man, Alana. I… I didn't really tell him.”

“We did some illegal shit, didn’t we?” I asked flatly.

“More like peri-legal.” Cacoma sighed. “Still, what’s all this business about you making Arca? The only ones who can do that are full-blooded Suvians and Hoofers.”

I recognized the slang terms for Thesuvians and Centurns, rackeds my brain. “My mentor, Lucine, was Thesuvian. I think he was half Choresh or something, but Thesuvian all the same.”

“... Okay…?”

“... He taught me how to make Arca.”

“When you say ‘Lucine’, you wouldn’t happen to mean Luce of Tidrel, would you?” Li asked, looking unconvinced of his question in the first place.

“Well, yeah-” I answered.

WHAT!?” The fear in his gaze was very unwarranted

Alana stared and she seemed to pale while Coma just chuckled. Then he stopped and sat down gesturing for me to do the same. “Brove, I’m gonna tell you somethin’-”

The heat turned up to thirteen, tossing eleven in the can and buttsexing twelve through sexual coercion until it couldn't function anymore, let alone stand. “Man saved my life. Speak real careful ‘bout my mentor, fuckface.”

Coma jolted at my ferocity. “... What happened, man? Before I even say anything, what went down?”

“Luce was a Partner in Tidrel, took up teaching on the side to make some extra money for his River Woman. He taught me Grata-non-Aquix and most of the Arca I’ve ever used. Max, the guy who shook up the Welcome Center, was a Guildmaster in Hooversdum, a bigger town on the border of Gerritt and Ponydale.” I shook my head. “Luce and I stayed in the Guild for a while as I tried to get my music fine-tuned and tried to get a band together so I could hold a concert-”

“Wait, you thought you needed more people to sound good?” Li-Oh asked, shocked.

“It was awhile ago. The band was a good idea and made me a lot of money, but when I ended up needing to leave Hooversdum because of the Rhubarb Ranch and their appreciation for my music, I took Max’s vaski Gloss and my mentor Luce with me. We made it into Ponydale during the initial Char incursion.” The room had fallen silent, save for me and my words. “I spotted trouble in the distance and wanted to turn back along with Luce, but Gloss put up a fuss and took us closer to the town. We got chased off toward the forest and got into some trees for saftey. Gloss and I were panicking since we were about to fucking die, but Lucine… He hopped down and fought what he could off. He only killed a couple before he got torn apart.”

Alana laid her hand on my shoulder, still looking unsettled. “... Even… Even Lucinor couldn’t fight the Char?”

“He didn’t have the necessary tools.” I shook my head, turning my gaze to Cacoma. “So again I say; Speak careful ‘bout my fuckin’ savior.

Coma sat forward, mulling over his words. “... You said Luce was a Partner, right?”

“Yeah.”

“... Do you know much about them? Partners?”

“I know that a lot of them get sold as kids into something they never chose.”

“Luce picked being a Partner. It was either that or be killed for crimes against Septural.” Coma said quietly. “Lucinor Gramatone was a half-Pony, half-Thesuvian with a threshold for Terru unlike most, brove. Dude was so Terruc it was said that he could make catalysts and use them himself…” Alana and Li shook their heads at that. “It explains why you know the trick to crafting Arca without killing yourself.”

“... Why is using your own catalyst bad?” I asked irritably.

“It kinda makes you unstoppable for the most part.” Li said uneasily. “Imagine making a staff without a single noticeable flaw in it. How does someone beat a staff made of the highest grade stuff with a crazy Terru pool, especially with an Arca Scholar behind it?”

“So…” Luce was to Arca as I am to being a fuckin’ Bard. Goddamn, now I miss you even more… “Lemme just get this straight. Lucine changed his life, turned over a new leaf, and you Septurns still hate him?”

“Uh, yeah.” Li scoffed. “Dude was a maniac of-” I glared at him and he shut up.

“Yeah, and Adolph-fucking-Hitler gets to walk around free on this goddamn planet despite killing millions of people. Tens of thousands of babies. Children. Innocents in general. How the fuck does that work? What? The crimes beyond the River don’t count here?”

“No.” Alana shook her head.

“Not really.” Coma shrugged.

Li gave me a look. “Well, wouldn’t that suck?”

“Yeah, dude, when your past fuckin’ follows you to the next life? Shit sucks. Shit really sucks.”

“You’re not making Arca for me.”

“And you wanted a catalyst why exactly?

“... Uh… Options?” He tried.

“Shut up, Li-Oh. If you go one your Seeker quest, you’re gonna get yo’self killed.” Coma scoffed.

“Not you-” Alana sighed as Li spoke. “Alana!”

She just shook her head at him. “There a Terruc war on and you’re not even going to let the Apprentice of one of the Modern Era’s most talented Arca Scholars make you a protection Arca…?”

“Your element is Earth, right?” I asked, putting a couple I’d already had for him to the forefront of my mind. “I have one or two already that we can test in the courtyard.”

Again, I got stared at, but Coma was the one to ask, “... How about we see you come up with one for yourself?”

I shrugged and went to my bookshelf, pulling a few of my collection from the shelf. They all watched and listened while I muttered to myself while reading to help the information stick and came up with something that I didn’t really need, but would probably prove useful with my Tempestian Arch. Speaking of… “Hey, what all falls under Tempest? I know I can use a few things, but I kinda want something more useful if I’m going through the trouble.”

“What happens during a big storm?” Alana asked, giving me a warm smile.

Coma and Li nodded, but Li-Oh was the one to speak. “Rain, skyholes sometimes, light-lances, and shade.”

Coma snapped his fingers. “Don’t forget the wind. There’s always a good breeze with a big storm.”

“What about ice? Does it ever rain ice on Septural?”

Alana beamed. “Yes! It snows and hails here!”

“Anything else?” Li inquired.

“That’s already useful. Thanks guys and beautiful gal.” I winked at Alana and nodded at the bros.

Once I’d had some time to further deliberate and do some thinking about what exactly I wanted, I came up with the idea for some more along the lines of an Arcana than an Arca, so I got excited and wondered why I was just now thinking of making Arcana and Grand Arcana. I didn’t have any of either type thus far, but I’d never needed a bigger, stronger spell for any reason since it would’ve shattered my hands to cast. Now that I had a sturdy catalyst, I was happy to take everyone out into the training grounds in the back of the Welcome Center. After teaching Li the two Arca I’d had in mind for him, we learned that he was next to useless after casting one. It didn’t really matter to me since I was there more for myself than for him, but it kinda sucked all the same.

In light of Li’s general ineptitude, I had a new Arcana I wanted to try out that would hopefully do me some good. There were dummies there that got replaced whenever they got too worn out, but with Thesuvia being a largely peaceful, mostly urban/suburban country, there wasn’t much going on in the training front other than the few River People that wanted to join up and help with the war. There were others as well, just not in my neck of the woods.

Speaking of wood, there was also a larger dummy that was used for two-handed weapons because it could take punishment from Minotaurs and Chorets, but when I stepped up to the bastard, Alana stood next to it as per Coma’s request and everyone cheered when we found that the dummy was taller than she was. Alana took it well since she was used to people poking fun at her height, but I still told her that even if she got to be ten feet tall she would only be more beautiful for it. She then asked what I meant and I told her she would just be easier to see like the beacon of beauty she was. It went over well and I also made a mild joke regarding the fact that she was out of my league, breaking the ceiling for it easily. That too was well taken with the advent of a kiss and genuine interest in the Arcana I had come up with.

I prepared myself once we were done having our fun and everyone was excited to see what I’d come up with, so I warned my peeps to stand back and give a brother some space just in case worse came to worst. With everything I needed in my hand in deeper inside my core, I released Rimbraka Omnivo on the big dummy and… Well, I knew what the spell would do from how I worded the Arca itself, but I didn't expect to have to run from my own Terru for fear of getting caught in it. Barely making it away in time for the shadow sphere to stop, I laughed my ass off when Alana and Coma came to pick my ass up away from where I’d dived, my near death experience ticking the timer on my adrenaline. I’d calmed down by the time the shadow sphere went away and was back on my feet to see what Li-Oh was staring at. It turned out that he was gaping in terror for a very good reason because I truly had very nearly died.

Everything in about a twenty or twenty-five foot radius had been worn away or pelted to Hell and back and then straight on into Gehenna. The ground was walkable if you didn’t mind stepping on chunky ice, but the shit was embedded so deeply into the ground that it barely mattered. The shit was melting already and making a muddy mess in the heat, but the mulch around the stump where the target used to be was enough to take care of the worst of it. Everyone just stood and stared at the scene of destruction that I’d accidentally wrought, my last few chuckles leaving me as I realized what the spell would do to a person in five seconds flat. My Terru had taken a beating for casting the Arca in the first place, but I was confident that I could have gotten Fulmacosadoma up and prepped before I got killed. However, Alana fell to her knees and started crying, so I knelt with her and hugged her, weakly breathing huffs of air.

Brove…” Coma said softly.

Brova…” Li echoed.

You almost got hit by that!” Alana wailed, letting me hold her as she hugged me back in turn. “You almost got hit by that, Gatian!

“We know.” I said softly. “But I didn’t and I now know to be further away if I ever cast that again in my life.”

“Please don’t.” Coma requested, laying a concerned hand on my shoulder. “Brove, you really almost ate the shit-biscuit back there. You need to be more fuckin’ careful.”

“Stop nagging him and congratulate the guy! First Arcana ever crafted was a blinding, resounding success, my man!” Li-Oh cheered. “You gotta-

Alana picked me up when she stood, holding me close like I was her precious child or something. “No! Li, you need to wisen the fuck up! Gatian almost died and the first thing you do is ask him to do it again? You selfish saucha!

Coma raised his hands. “I’m out. Lana’s mad; Im out.”

Li openly stared at the most timid, mild, calmest, shyest, most gentle woman he knew. “Uh, Alana, it’s not like that…” He chuckled awkwardly, pressing his fingers together. “I-I meant whenever he-” He caught something out of my view, and I was in no hurry to change it. I was comfy in Alana’s arms. “I- er… Nevermind?”

“Damn straight.” She snarled.

“This is nice.” I commented, snuggling up to Alana.

“Gatian? Are you okay, sweetie?” Allie asked tenderly.

I looked up at her and grinned. “How could I not be? Warm, comfy, alive. All good here.”

She smiled down at me, the curve of her lips fading as she realized she was still holding me. “O-Oh… Do you want me to put you down…?”

“Only if you don’t want to cuddle.”

I caught Li whispering to Beth, the little Sotan having shown up while I was preoccupied. Alana blushed harder and put me down. “... I didn’t mean to-”

“Alana, I really didn’t think you were strong enough to carry me. You didn’t even try.

“I-I’m sorry-”

“Hey, if I wasn't okay with it, I’d say something. Just don’t be too possessive.”

The look on her face was priceless. “P-Po-Possessive?”

“Cheat on her and I’ll shank you!” Bethany called from a distance.

“She’s too much woman for me to be cheating!” I shouted back. “If I can’t handle her, how do I handle two!?”

Bethany, Li, Coma, and Hasha’s bitch ass all laughed at that, the commotion having been enough to get a detail sent out to investigate the disturbance since we hadn’t said anything about it. Alana whacked me softly for my words, asking if I was really going to look for other women while I was with her. I had to know how she came to that particular conclusion and had her explain her train of thought, which turned out to be the natural one for a Thesuvian. Being ‘possessive’ was how Thesuvian women staked their claim and made sure that their boski’s knew that they were loved and wanted. In turn, boski’s were supposed to get cuddled and do some housework in traditional Thesuvian culture. Just think 1950’s America, but with more respect for your spouse and what they do going both ways.

That being said, it was a legitimate worry for Alana since I was a Trademaster and seemed to still be getting stronger whenever I put the effort forward. However, it’s not like I would’ve ever cheated on her in the first place, even if I was a Grandmaster or a Fullmaster. Shit’s just not my style, and I explained to her that I’d been married once upon a life and had been cheated on in turn. It wasn’t okay then and it wouldn’t be okay in the present, so we left that topic behind, joined our friends, and everyone went to fucking work because Li had been sent over to stop Alana from being gone too long by their manager, Rachall Gufft. Apparently Coma was just stopping by to check if I was okay, but he still needed to get back to the shop. I had my journal in my travel pack and got this written out in between my own job and messing with other people’s. There weren’t too many people looking to play an instrument or learn to fight, but the few that there were happened to not want to learn anyway. Partners never want to learn from River People, apparently, especially if it’s something like Arca. Partners are forbidden to learn the stuff during their training anyway, but few learn later.

Oh well…

Booksy, can I- Okay, you’re a book so I’m just gonna write it down…

I missed Max, and… Well, I’m glad I got to see him again, I really am, but the guy’s not who I thought he was. Coma told me that Max was a huge asshat and had been the entire time he’d been in town, which was why he couldn’t even get a room at a shitty inn, let alone a decent one. I didn’t know why Max was acting the way he was, but I do know that my past is catching up to me now that I’ve had time to settle outside Avalesce. Things are slowing down and Li seems to be wavering on his Fortune Seeker thing, but… I can’t help this feeling. Like this peace was never meant to last. I really want to protect Alana and my friends… I’ve only known them for three months, but they’ve… They’ve already left their footprint on my heart. Each one of them (Besides Hasha) would be missed if I ever had to go away or if I lost them.

Gotta keep getting stronger, Booksy, and I think the best way to do that is to get a more portable instrument… I’ll look into having Havard make me something. He’ll probably be able to come up with a harmonica-ocarina or something like that. I don’t know what exactly I want, but I know that it has to be concealable and I have to be able to bring it with me wherever I go. If he could make it small enough to fit on a necklace, that’d be even better... Pocket sized and powerful…

Too bad I suck at casting with a pipe. I guess that’s something I could work on, but Yuria never taught me exactly how to get the pitch right to access somnerre with a pipe. I usually used my voice to activate the shit in the first place, though if I was playing a pipe… Maybe I could try throat-singing into it…? No, that’s stupid… And drums get more powerful the bigger they are, so maybe a ukulele? Yeah, how’s that sound, Booksy? I can make a war song on a fuckin’ ukulele, just watch! Speaking of watching, it’s time to get back to ‘training people’, but that really means I’m just learning stuff for myself. It’d been kinda weird to have a real, legitimate, I-Get-Paid-Specifically-For-This kind of job again. Weird but good.

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Ringo Farr

Bio: Rewrites in progress; Pm for specifics, otherwise enjoy!

Ringtail is the Panda, I'm just the guy that translates for him. Call me Ringo.

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