Chapter 9: A Family of One

Eysin snoops around in her room, trying not to wake Agnes and others that have stayed overnight. Arkion passes the door and tells her he’s going to the car to change, and that they should meet at the back when she’s ready. 

Feeling around in the dark, she finds where she had thrown some of her casual clothes. Puts on some pants and a shirt and a thin jacket. That’s all she has. One other thing that she picks up is one of the rings she had left behind – the hiltless blade. She puts it on her left arm, where her latest find is, too, and remembers that she must have left the other one back at the docks. She had used it, trying to escape from Daegan… 

Eysin sneaks out from the garage door and sees that it is starting to get light outside. It’s cold and damp, the sky has occasional clouds drifting over it. It’s peaceful – because many birds singing. It’s springtime. 

Eysin sees Arkion at the back of his car. The car looks like a muddy mess – the seawater had only stained the dust from the marketplace. The trunk of the car was open and he was trying to find something from it. He had changed into some trousers and a t-shirt, but he was shifting in it as if it was super uncomfortable. 

He seems to find what he was looking at, then glances at approaching Eysin takes off his shirt and intends to switch it for another. “You’re going to be cold like that,” he says while whipping the uncomfortable shirt in the air. He’d forgotten to take it off the last time he was trimming his beard. Now it was full of tiny hairs that won’t leave it. It had felt super itchy. 

“Well, my only jacket is now lost to Ceremony,” she didn’t seem to have anything else to wear. She stops a few meters from him and tries to make sense of the motives tattooed all over his upper body and arms. He stops whipping the shirt, throws it back in the trunk and takes another one from it. Pulls it on and appreciates the softness of it for a short moment. 

“Okay, come here,” Arkion takes a jacket from the trunk and hands it to her, “I didn’t wear it yet.” 

The jacket has EESO Expedition insignias on it. Eysin puts it on and can feel how in two points it hooks to her framework nodes. It’s a special jacket made especially for the expedition’s rough and volatile weather. It somehow adjusts itself to the wearer and the weather. Helps the wearer cool or warm up by assessing the temperatures. She gets it on and sees that it’s a little too big for her, but it’s very comfortable. So comfortable it makes her smile. 

“Hey don’t like it too much, I’m going to have to take it back, later.” He picks for himself another, older jacket – a red bomber, puts it on and keeps looking for things. Eysin doesn’t dare to look into the trunk – she can see it’s a mess from the way he is looking for things in there. 

“You were flashing your tattoos,” she comments while waiting for him to put on some more clothes and boots. “It looked very interesting, does it mean something?” 

He seems a little absent-minded, “I’ll tell you all about it.” He pulls on the boots and then walks to the front of the car, takes something from between the front seats. A thermos. He returns to the trunk, takes a metal box, opens it and picks a small bag of herbs. Then he pours the whole bag of herbs into that warm water in the thermos. He takes a whiff of the calming steam and nods to himself. “I’m set, you’re set? We’re headed that way,” he points with his hand towards the forest. They were going to walk in the opposite direction to the temple. 

* * * 

So, they go, side-by-side, first they find a wide hiking road, and at a random spot, they take a left – walk over a thick, soft moss. Snails crack under their feet, and they express a bit of guilt on their faces every time it happens. On the trees and the moss, they can spot some hoarfrost. “Must have spiked cold tonight.” 

“While I was relaxing in a warm bath…” 

“How are you feeling?” They slow down and try to spot snails before stepping on any. They almost stop and become so quiet that they can only hear the birds singing their morning rituals, now. They keep moving quieter and then encounter a crow, saying a long, ominous kraaaaks and then flies off. 

“Pretty good, actually.” She thought about noticing more details around her, being more present than usual. Her mind was calm and something prevented her from thinking about things in the usual, anxious way. She thought about it and she chuckled. She felt like she was tripping. And refused to think that this will come to an end, at some point. Maybe, while they are out there… The flood gates would open and the itchiest corners of her soul were going to make themselves acknowledged, again. “Is that why you hang with me?” 

“That why what?” He had no idea. He picked up a herb joint from his pocket and light it up. He wants to pass it to her, but she declines. 

“I think I’m on some sort of a high right now… But considering what we’ve been through – that’s going to pass. And I might not take it very well.” 

“You’ve been using the zerk for a while now. You should be more or less used to the fluctuations, ups and downs. Although yes, what you have experienced tonight may yet prove to be more traumatic. If you want to discuss that, I’m here now… If later, pick it up with Vinu, I’m sure he’ll find some time for you.” He stops and raises his arm to have Eysin stop walking too. “Look at that,” he whispers. 

Eysin looks in the direction Arkion is pointing at, but nothing stands out, at first. Only when Arkion mentions a deer, the shape draws itself out for her. Indeed, there is a quite majestic deer nibbling on the branches of young pine. Not wanting to disturb it, they take a few steps back. Arkion finishes the smoke, then pours some tea from the thermos and offers it to Eysin. 

They stand still, drink, and appreciate the surroundings. “We’re going to go on a platform, I hope we can make it there for the sunrise.” 

* * * 

They reach a large wooden viewing platform. They climb the stairs to the top. There’s a solid roof above their heads, and they can lean on the edges. The sky is already changing colours, it’s getting lighter, the stars, wherever they could be seen between the clouds, stop shining… There are tall pines below them, stretching in every direction – and further ahead – there’s the sea. 

The mist and moist in the air, the smell of pines, clouds – moving away faster and faster. The sky comes to life with light, and the first beam, shot right at them from the farthest edge sea. How the beams come and go, playing with the tops of the trees, creating shadows which in turn play with the mist. Tiny ice crystals from the cold pinch at the night create a glitter above it all. 

A show of superb witchcraft, why has no one showed me this before? 

She forgets she’s there and stays alone with the show. She’s warm in the jacket, but still feels cold and shivers. Excited, she remembers being lost, confused and very lonely – but now – that piece of nature in front of her – is welcoming her into her arms. 

I wish… I wish I belonged here. No longer do I wish that I belonged anywhere – it has to be here. And as soon as she thinks that, she’s afraid this place, too, would reject her – she’s not what this place needs her to be. Like any other, she fears that either she will fall short or the place will impose a role on her that she is uncomfortable with. 

The travel companion notices that she weeps, maybe having a good moment, maybe a bad one. He’d seen all this before, he grew up around these parts – to him – this was normal. Yet, he did think now – the times he had to wake up in Reval. No access to this particular tower, or the shore, or the other better places there on Oeselia. He’d felt out of place. Reval made him irritable. “Hey, Eysin, you okay?” 

It bursts her bubble but she pretends there never was one. She’s about to wipe her tears into the sleeves and then remembers she’s wearing someone else’s jacket. So she wipes her face with her hands. “It’s a good place,” she likes it. 

“Yeah…” He pours the remaining half from the thermos into cups and shares it with her. 

* * * 

“Why must you smoke so many of these?” She assumed he was addicted. His image looked like it – the tattoos didn’t help. 

“I’ve damaged my framework some while ago, couldn’t remember how to get into trance, so I abused it a bit to get out of a pinch. The herbs help heal it.” He wouldn’t be offering those to her, otherwise. The little damage the yellow has been having on her can be helped, too. 

The yellow could turn ugly. Most people don’t use it during the matches because they get very hideous cramps. Eysin felt her face cramped, but it didn’t distract her from the game. Other people had it worse. 

“You come here often?” She asks. 

“I like a good view… Here, or over the villages further east… There’s another platform – if you look carefully you could see it from here. But on that other platform – the village lights play at night. And some strange light plays in the forest, some friendly phenomenon, a strange anomaly…” 

“You prefer to do this by yourself?” 

“No, it’s always better with the company.” 

“I might interrupt your dreaming…” 

“That’s alright,” he smiles. 

“Who do you come here with on some other time, then?” 

He seems to think back – the last person he hung out here with, on one of those mornings – was Daegan. It had been the very morning Eysin first saw the Titan. They had not talked much, just a bit of this and that about the expedition, and how the last run had been for him. The expedition was rough even with these many comforts. 

He had confessed to Daegan that he was not particularly happy to go, and now repeated these very words to Eysin. “But if I stayed, I’d have to do something even more annoying. Compared to which… This expedition is going to be like a cute field trip to the wild. “ 

“What’s the alternative?” 

“I’d have to go back to Reval…” He smiles, “hired guard duty for the Rozenbaers and Dux August.” His smile seems bitter. 

“You’re working closely with RESO, then?” 

“To an extent…” 

“How come I never saw you around? I was in RESO.” 

“I’ve never been to their HQ… I was mostly around their house and the Black Rain…” 

“You hate Reval that much that you’d rather go out there into the cold to freeze your balls off?” 

He shrugs, turns out so. “I’m extending my break from Reval as long as possible.” 

“You were going to tell me about the tattoos,” she reminds him. 

He seems to think about it for a bit, looks into the distance, then looks at Eysin and nods. “Listen, it’s a long story. A long story.” 

“Do you want to tell it to me or not? Is it a secret?” 

“Some of it is, some of it isn’t… The images, the ink, the story – they are not mine, you see. So, there are two stories – one in ink, the other the reason I even got them…” He starts rolling another joint. 

“Hey, how many you do these a day?” 

“Plenty good for magnetics…” He says. 

“Roasting your brains and lungs…” 

“Hey, it’s not that dramatic…” 

“I don’t know if I should keep pressing for an answer…” 

“Ten years back, maybe more,” he starts, eyes locked on the blunt he was rolling. “I went to this old artist. And when I say old – she was OLD, ma’am. I told her, give me a personality,” he smiles, he’d been itching to tell a story. “Most people I brought back here from Reval when the ecoterrorist group was over. They never knew who I was… And most of them still don’t. And I don’t dislike it because I want people to know. I dislike it because I could never connect with any of them. What I do has been bothering me – and maybe you can understand.” 

“Ecoterror group… That was before I came to Reval. The disappearance of that group was the reason I judged Reval to be safe enough to go,” she smiles. “You were involved with that?” 

“I was,” he nodded, “and some other Eesians, too. We were a lot fewer back in the day, but a considerable force. We infiltrated the group in Reval, got our way up, chopped off the before things would have gotten out of hand.” 

“They were out of hand… Thousands of locals were being trafficked.” Eysin thought that part of the business was the most despicable one. 

“The traffickers come from elsewhere. Big groups just tend to lend them a hand… You should know that better than most, Jolie Rouge.” 

“You’re now referring to why you think I will understand you…” That name was now like a morning alarm to her. 

“We have somewhat similar experiences. And there is something about that experience that still bothers me. And you may have figured it out.” He’s done rolling the blunt, lights it up, and this time, when he passes, Eysin accepts it. 

She smokes it, looks at it, and looks way more serious now. “What exactly bothers you about it?” 

“Maybe it’s a stupid thought,” Arkion says, still looking into the distance. “But I could never really reflect on it, I never knew anyone who might have the slightest idea. How to deceive a bunch of people and then sleep sound after.” 

Eysin felt a pang of hollowness inside as he said that. A thorn in her throat, she smoked some more, and thought about the feeling, looking into the same distance as he was. “She had joined a company under false pretences. People did attempt to pull her into their social circles. She did join their parties and did her very best to make them feel she was in it for real. “I remained very generic with them, with the boss. But I could be more of myself with the background operation. I was completely naked to those I worked with – Erika, Cleo, Ralph. There indeed was a time I shared with Erika every thought I got. I fell in love with one of my fake co-workers and she knew about it. The fake co-worker affair was also something that helped me keep my cover. The crook boss concentrated on that and not the fact that I wasn’t there, in his company as who I presented that I was. He pointed out so many flaws in me…” She had known it was all bullshit, but it got to her, regardless. 

“You had someone to talk to, through your operation… That’s good, I guess.” 

“I don’t think I could have pulled it off at all if that was the case for me. The group – and what we were aiming to do – that all helped justify the fake shit I was doing.” Apart from breaking the heart of that guy. She liked him a lot but had to leave him behind. He was a good guy, just a little clueless about the dark shit under the hood of the company… “I tried my best to not hurt anyone else. But The Red Flag Group did trouble my sleep for a long while – just not because of the… Deception I engaged in.” 

“What was the trouble?” 

She clenches her jaws and presses her lips together, she doesn’t want to weep about that. She can feel that Arkion is looking at her, now. She looks back, and he looks curious. There was a nostalgia about this situation. “You look at me the same way Erika was looking at me,” she clenches her jaw again and looks into the distance. She sniffs but holds the weep in. “I trusted everything to her because I believed she was genuinely interested in me like another human being. I saw us as a pack. She had all this… Emotional information on me, and what do you think she did?” 

“She betrayed you.” he knew the story, to some extent. 

They stand and stare into the distance for a minute or few. Eysin tracks the story back to where Arkion had left it off. He had trouble with his deceit. “You had no one to talk about it. Even if they ended up betraying you with all that information in the end – the sounding board must have helped.” 

“Possibly.” He looks at her as if trying to assess whether he should tell or not. “You were asking about the tattoo… I was told to get the tattoo so I would blend in better. Strays get tattoos, so, they suggested I get one to make them think I am one.” 

“Strays get tattoos, but not expensive ones like that,” she pointed out right away. 

“Yeah, in fact, another person pointed this out to me back then. But she was an ally. And it was fine – you wouldn’t believe how many house people were at the movement. 

Anyway, the old lady artist who did this first asks me if there was anything particular that I wanted. I was impartial, so she proposed this picture by herself. 

It had been a piece of work she had dreamt of inking on someone for a long while. So, for the next few weeks that I was visiting her, she was telling me some stories as she was putting them on me. 

The stories of these beautiful creatures and the curious servant and a king. The odd selection of these stories had come to her with her bloodline. She said these three main stories are meant to be told in such order to demonstrate in full a very certain natural property. 

How fragile, strong or thriving things are in the face of the stress of time.” He points to the lines drawn on his neck and pulls the neck of the shirt enough to show that all the lines end with swords. “Damocles sword, to portray the meaning of fragility. Phoenix,” he pulls up the sleeve of his left hand, revealing a part of a flaming plume, motives of smoke and ashes, “the undying, persistent. And the Hydra,” he pulls up the other sleeve, revealing motives of water, waves, a tsunami, scales, and the limb of a dragon, “things that require stress to grow.” 

“You cut off the head of the dinosaur and many will grow in place.” 

“I remember her stories, she told them well. And these stories I will remember for my whole life. But they have no personal significance to me.” 

“Apart from the reason you got them for. The adventure that followed.” 

“Yeah, that is the other part of the story, but I’m going to leave that for another time.” 

“Am I untrustworthy or you’re just trying to keep me hooked?” 

“I believe,” he responded, thinking about it a bit, “I live in a world where trust is possible. There’s a lot I’d like to share. Not just like – I think we humans need this sort of thing. A sort of a reality check, to see if my experiences and thoughts check out or are completely nuts.” 

The weather is picking up in speed. The wind is cold. Blows right into their faces. 

“Wish I could help you with your deceit-sleep problem. I guess our operations were too different, after all.” 

“But you did help… Us being may be good at deception doesn’t necessarily make us bad people. The way your experience differed from mine seemed to be the missing link. Even though I see that despite having confidantes at the time – it didn’t turn out too well. And our operations weren’t different in ways that matter. Both our targets were exploiting lost peoples. I didn’t or don’t care much for the other goods they traded.” The cocaine, sugar and spirits – municipalities can get even worse than that. “How’d you get tangled up in it anyway?” 

“There being a possibility that I and other people like me could get trafficked, that I could not stand. I was in a position to take down a very large local node from their global operations. At the time, it looked like no one else was going to do it for me. My safety was under threat. I didn’t do it for others. I did it to prove… That I live in a world where someone can and will do something to keep people like me safe. What EESO had done back then had inspired me. But this time around, I bet not even EESO could know what was going on. These organizations seem to grow smarter and smarter. These fuckers are like your dinosaur tattoo – chop off their head, and they grow a smarter one, in place.” 

All the worlds trade routes were dirty. Large cities got infested with their crimes. Only when the cities had a strong presence of some more or less moral actor. They kept their operations small, and just to pass by, they were forced to pay a large fee. Currently, the Headmaster of Reval Underground was such a tax collector. 

In her head, she went back to Reval, thought about the Headmaster. “There’s no way the Headmaster will let our people have their tongues cut out and backs of their feet riddled with glass. But I am uncomfortable with how she’s been growing. She’s reaching a size good enough for those operations. And she has a terrifyingly strong grip over Reval – she can lock down the city within minutes if she needs to…” 

“You’ve met her, too?” Arkion is curious. And the way Eysin seems to want to not respond indicates she might even know her well. “She has offered you a job…” 

Eysin sighs. She doesn’t know if she could trust this man, some Exo in EESO, but she does want to say, does want to test her ideas, like Arkion himself wished to do. “I’ve had an open invitation for three years now, which I never intended to accept. I know she would take good care of me, she has helped me out before. But I also have quite a good idea what working for her would do to me.” 

The way Arkion looks at her now has completely changed. She’s not as green as she had seemed to him. Despite knowing some details about her Jolie Rouge life – it started to look like this rabbit hole went a whole lot deeper. 

She looks at him and smiles, “she has complimented my skills as a tactician. And that was all before this! Based on my work with the Red Flag Group, she said she loves the way I think, and act… What would she say when she saw me know.” 

“Yeah. You’ve become quite dangerous,” he nods, but approvingly. “You think she’d make you kill people?” 

“I’d become a happy little butcher…” Her tone turns bitter. “I’d be more than happy to serve a purpose with my rather exotic skills. And counting on what seems to be happening all around us, I am a little confused about what I should do.” It’s all been at the back of her head, but she has not had anyone to talk about this all. Finally, there seemed to be a man who is ready to do that. 

She takes a breath, thinks, and lets out the first part, “I’m afraid it won’t be too long before my tasks go from indirectly harming the region’s enemies to directly harming or harassing someone who may be nothing more but a mild discomfort to an ally that pays us well.” 

Arkion thinks along, understands, nods and starts rolling another blunt. 

“I believe Vinu Laos is a good man and I would never see such a turn of events under his hand and rule. But I also have a feeling his rule won’t outlast me. However wonderful EESO may have been in the past, up until now – it seems to me it’s suffocating.” 

“You nearly got killed by someone you trusted to be your teacher,” he says. “It bothers me, as well.” 

And it bothers her. She tears up a little. She had not expected Daegan to behave this way. And worst of all – the pain she was feeling from that betrayal was a familiar one. One that threatened her that she can never trust anyone to be on her side again. She looks at her hands, they are shaking. She’s trying not to start to cry. “I’d love to be loyal. To whatever Vinu stands for, what EESO stood for, but does anyone else…” 

“Within the last couple of years,” Arkion finishes rolling it, but doesn’t light it, sets it aside, between himself and Eysin, “it’s all turned into a business. As our power and reach grew, so did people’s interest in it. So, your intuition is correct – EESO, the houses here, hell – the whole federation is crumbling. I can completely understand the urgency to pick a side. Reval Underground, as long as the Headmaster is in charge – will turn up pretty well.” 

Eysin nods, they have ties to most parts of the world, “I serve her for a while, and earn a card to anywhere I want.” 

“Where would you like to go?” 

“I remember seeing a good picture book of Sri Lanka. They had a collection of incredible ancient trees. The weather is pleasant. Men who had gone there said they did quite well even as homeless. And yes, I am aware that this won’t be the case for a woman, but maybe I could earn enough for a small home… Or meet someone who’d love to go with me.” After a bit of contemplation she seems to change her mind about it, “But if you were to present to me this option right now… You say that we can get in the car right now and go off to Sri Lanka…” 

“You don’t want to go…” He understood – had she wanted something like that, she would never have joined EESO. She’d be serving Reval Underground, working for it. Sri Lanka was a dream, a postcard, and not a serious desire. “It’s a lovely option, but she can’t offer you what you desire.” 

“What I desire doesn’t matter much, does it. I have to pick a side, and not just for the shit weather, but to remain loyal to. No escape from it. Now, the only question that remains – what kinds of concessions am I willing to make, choosing a side.” 

“What other sides are you considering?” Arkion picks up and plays with the blunt. Gently knocks it on the handrail, and then puts it back. Not yet. 

“I’ve sent an application to RESO before I joined the gladiator guild. But it has the same worse parts as EESO. It’s becoming the same company… Just that their location is more populated. Which is a bonus.” 

“You’d choose Reval over this?” Arkion takes another look at the magical forest below them. They both take it in for a minute. 

“I feel that this place is no less hostile than Reval was. But from Reval, at least I have some good memories. Andre had no problems getting to know me better, and he let me pretty close, too. I felt great in his company, and now I miss it. I’m afraid I’ll never find something quite like it again.” 

“I don’t think any relationships between two people can be replicated between others. But who’s to say you won’t something great here?” 

“There are over a thousand times more people in Reval,” Eysin explains herself, “this means I am more likely to find someone for myself there…” 

“You are also more likely to run into some complete dickheads, there.” 

“Look, I don’t feel safe here.” Currently, Reval seemed like the safer option of the two. 

“Listen, Daegan has completely betrayed your trust. What he has done broke my heart, too.” He looked a little helpless, now, and I can’t stay to help you sort it out, either. 

Eysin looks at the insignias on her jacket sleeves, “you’re set to go on the expedition. Which sucks… I thought we were getting somewhere.” 

“I thought so, too.” He smiles, but feels a sting in his throat and then quickly picks up the blunt and lights it to conceal the grimace. 

Followed a silent minute. 

“So, here’s what I thought,” Eysin continues, “I don’t feel safe here, EESO doesn’t feel reliable in a crisis – and one is coming. And the one guy I’d give a second look at is leaving!” 

Arkion snickers. He took it for the fun intended compliment it was. 

She doesn’t let him comment, so she continues her rant, “my prospects here are slim and of little interest to me. Sure, I’d love to work on the swarm and tinker with the other toys, but I will get pulled into some war or vendetta shit. And possibly die for some cause I had no business dying for.” She tears up again, “here I’ll die alone and childless.” 

Another silent minute. Eysin was thinking about what she had just said. Something she’d never said out loud before. At the bottom of all things she had refused to admit to herself throughout all these years. I’m afraid I’ll never find love, a family and bear children. End of the line. 

He stretches the silence on his part, holds in the smoke and thinks about what she had been talking about, too. He looks into the distance and tries to see what exact parts of it seem familiar to him. “I could love you,” he says with a shrug. 

“Based on what, the total of… 10 hours we spent?” Eysin feels a little insulted. He’s tossing around something she had had a very difficult time admitting to. 

“Eysin, I trained you for months.” He wasn’t supposed to reveal that, but it felt like it could help. “I know what you’re like when you’re agitated. When you’re extremely agitated. I’ve seen you break down, I’ve seen you mildly upset with yourself, or others. And I can also recall you laugh at yourself with ease. You’re fun to be around. We’ve played, I remember every single match. Now, there are plenty of things I don’t know about you, yet. Which is why I hope you’ll still be here when I return. I’d like to get to know you a little better. We can drive around, dig our hands in some dirt somewhere. We’ll have many suppers and lunches around the same table.” 

She shuts her mouth and looks elsewhere. Confused about whether she had misunderstood his initial comment or misinterpreting everything he is saying now. This became unbelievably uncomfortable for her. She wanted it to mean one thing but feared that it most likely means another. But another realization made it all irrelevant anyway, he was one of the Exos that trained us. They never took off their masks, so I couldn’t have known. She realizes who it is. 

“Arkion, earlier you asked me how come my zerk is so advanced.” 

He’s a little surprised by the change of topic. 

“It’s like this because I copied it from you.” 

“What do you mean you copied it?” A few more ideas hit his head at once, and now he somehow understood how Eysin had managed to enter trance so early in her training. The complex yet eerily familiar pathways, all of it. “A framework needs to be built from the ground up,” he seems to be protesting, “how can someone else’s specs and programming even work on you?” 

“Well, most of it didn’t. You have a very impressive weapons collection, indeed – but I couldn’t get my hands on any of it.” 

“Of course, you need the rings,” he’s trying to comprehend the news. 

“I could create new rings, but I couldn’t replicate any of your weapons – and oh, believe me, I tried. Most of the pathways that I got from you remain unused – they will fade out over time, be repurposed when I trigger the growth of my own. At the time I had no idea about the trance – or whether there are other… Universal skills that I should be aware of.” 

A few other functions ought to be accessible for her. The trance, crisis, synergy link, stoneskin. “The Arsenal is a library, you’re going to have to populate it with your weapons. I have a collection. Yes, they are bound to specific arm rings that I have collected over time.” He raises his left arm and shows, he is carrying 8 rings, “what you collect and build, only you can use. How did you copy my framework?” 

“It’s a technique I developed…” 

“Is it difficult?” 

“I’ve been asked to not share any of this. I wasn’t supposed to tell any of this to you.” 

“Okay, got it…” He seems bothered by it. He has suspected it had been something along those lines, but he didn’t know to what extent such a copy would be possible. She had cracked a big secret – he knew it was possible, now, and she couldn’t elaborate any further. “Vinu knows this…” 

“Yes.” 

The air suddenly gets cold and unwelcoming. A sign that the best part about the sunrise must be over. 

He finishes his blunt in a sulking manner. “Listen, I gotta start moving soon, I hate to end this here, but we’ve got to head back.” 

* * * 

They walk back towards the temple. They both keep quiet for a while, a little hunched, struck by a negative surprise. Eysin shook her head to get it off and tracked back to what Arkion was talking about before she told him about the copy. 

“Why tell all this only now? I saw you around a couple of times, and you looked like someone who never even noticed me.” 

Arkion stretches up again, a welcoming change of topic, to his mind. He tilts his head and chuckles to himself. 

“Safer now that you don’t have to follow it up, huh?” Eysin teases, she wants a real answer. 

He doesn’t blush, but the confused expression on his face is quite informative, “I wanted to, but I really couldn’t figure out how to best approach you.” 

Eysin laughed and tackled with her side into him, “really? What did you think, that I’d tell you to piss off?” 

He puts an arm around her and rubs her cold side, makes it a little warmer, “I couldn’t come up with an excuse.” 

“An excuse? Hey, how about – I’ll take you to town, we’re going on a date!” Eysin roars. She does blush, but her expression is rather amused, not cute. 

“Thought I had to make up some other excuse. I couldn’t figure out what interested you, you know…” 

“Hmm, I might have an excuse for asking you, actually,” Eysin stops and steps out from his gentle hold. “The Arsenal was yours, so. You know a lot about the weapons, then…” Eysin takes her 2 rings and turns them into weapons. The hiltless blade and the pole. She hands them to Arkion who then takes a good look. 

“Beautiful markings, these are old stuff. Where did you get these?” 

“Long ago from home. Mistook them for regular silver bracelets.” 

He looked at her, smiled, and then looked back at the weapons, weighing and inspecting one and the other. “These have pirate origins, the handwriting of these inscriptions. From before anyone settled back in these parts, just at the start of the Eesian boom. You have something legendary,” he takes the two pieces and clips them together, “it’s a shifter polearm that belonged to a pirate lord. The forefathers of this place had travelled with him because he had a rare gift.” He points to a part of the inscriptions on the pole, “Nebula, they liked being friends with this Pirate because he could call the shrouds. They travelled with a thick mist around, so the other seafarers would not have the possibility to attack them. Why did you have these at your home?” 

“They were just bracelets in a jewellery box,” she took them when they started sharing around the whole lot of nothing her mother left behind when she died. 

“Three…” 

Eysin raises her arm, with the third ring, “I haven’t cracked that one yet. You think there is a 3rd part to the weapon?” 

“No, nothing indicates that,” he hands the weapon back to her, “it’s a shifting polearm – it means if you gain better control, you can also control the form, the shape it has.” 

She cannot resist giving it a silly swing around for a few swipes, “could you teach me to use these, when you come back?”. 

“Well, first of all, you hold it badly, and if you want to swing it like that, you make the pole shorter, and scale the blade for best balance… I’m not an expert in polearms… But I’ll play with you any time you like.” 

She calls them back in and then they keep walking. 

“Your weapons had names.” 

“As does yours.” 

“I must have missed it.” 

“Blindside.” 

* * * 

They get back to Arkion’s car and walk up to the trunk, he opens it, Eysin throws in the jacket. 

They both feel a little upset. Arkion takes off his red jacket and puts it on Eysin. “Lost yours to Ceremony, expect there will be a little more cold weather coming, maybe this helps.” 

She accepts it, puts it warm and cosies herself up. It smells of herbs. It smells like him. And it amuses her, makes her smile. He then takes the man’s hands into hers and leans to give a kiss on his cheek. He seems a little surprised. Blushing, even, she then steps away and takes a step towards the temple, planning to go see if she can go sleep somewhere. 

“Hey, listen…” He stops her, and walks up to her, holding his metal box of herbs and looking a little lost. “I can put a word in if you want to go to RESO. You can expect another offer from them in a few weeks.” 

Eysin opens her mouth to say something, but he stops her, “no, that’s not all, let me speak. If you want to return to Reval, you will be free to do so, and I wish you all the best. RESO, Reval Underground – I’m sure they offer you some nice options. Now, let me offer another from EESO, then.” He picks up her hands and holds them gently like she had held them just before, “how did you like Andre?” 

He had been the best damn teacher she could never even dream of, “I loved him. As a teacher. As a person, he was a little… Hmm, quirky.” 

“I know what you mean.” He remembers and it makes him chuckle. Andre would have made a hilarious clown. He was often very funny when he didn’t mean to be. “Andre was my teacher, too, for a very long time. And he was also a teacher to Atlas.” He looks up and thinks how to phrase this, “Atlas is the man who will one day, when Bratka feels he is ready, lead the Brotherhood. I am telling you about him because one option I’d like to offer to you has to do with him. He happens to be a big fan of pole-arms. Go to him, and he will teach you, and you will see that he is as enjoyable as a teacher as Andre was.” 

Eysin feels a little pressurized. She liked the pole-arm, and the magical story Arkion told her about it – made her even a little curious about how it had ended up in her mother’s jewellery box. But some part of her had already gone back to Reval. Gone back to doing something that has nothing to do with weapons, or war. To program children’s toys or something. “I want to go back, I felt safe there, and I don’t feel safe here,” she whispers, trying to disguise her upsetness with a smile. 

“I swear, you are free to go and do as you please. I will have a word and make sure you will have all the freedom to make yourself feel safe and liberated from all this, as you wish. Just hear out my offer, okay?” 

“You are trying to convince me to stay, and I don’t like it,” a whispering protest on her end. She had a difficult time believing what he was saying was genuine. Daegan and Erika were up and about in her mind and heart, hurting. 

“What I said before was not some joke, I wish you felt you belong here.” 

“Why don’t you spell out the offer and we’ll go our merry ways?” She loosens up a little, understanding that she is still free to opt-out and that he is offering to her the freedom to leave, too – even ready to help her do it, “I go learn under Atlas?” 

“You do that just to pass time,” he smiles, “you do whatever interests you here, I just thought the pole-arm suited you.” He has a hard time getting out the words he wanted to say, too. So, they just stand there, holding hands and a metal box filled with herbs. He’s in though, searching for something to encourage her to stay… He had a vague idea of what would work, but he didn’t want to do that. It seemed a little… Deceptive. “Try another year,” he said, finally, “stick close to Seals, make friends with Atlas. He has fun dogs… And children, he’s a good family man, and he will accept you into it if you are serious about learning. I think you would like it.” 

She responds just to get over with it. “Okay, I’ll consider it.” 

He smiles as a response and now looks at the metal box in his hand. He gently shoves it into Eysin’s, “it’s good teas. I’m not going to be able to take them with me, because some of them have some effects… But you can enjoy them here. I’ll make more when I come back.” 

Eysin takes the box into her hand, another still held in Arkion’s. “That’s a long-winded goodbye, huh?” 

“Could be the last time I see you.” 

“Yeah, it could be.” 

Arkion playfully pulls her slightly closer and gives her a little kiss on her mouth. She doesn’t seem very surprised by it, they are equally amused, but she quickly turns her back anyway. 

“Hey, if I crossed some line…” 

Eysin turns again to interrupt him, she smiles, “you didn’t. But what if, indeed?” She looks him in the eye, and he appears to be blushing. 

“I’ll take a slap in the face now, rather than a knife in the back, later.” 

“Is this your philosophy?” She turns to head towards the temple, holding onto his box and wearing his old jacket, now intend to get some rest. “If so, I’m glad this is how we roll here.” 

“I’ll see you in,” Arkion says, locking his car again. 

“Hold the line, mister, that’s fine, I can find my way.” 

“It’s not the way I’m worried about.” He chuckles, he wasn’t going to send her in with any other ideas. 

“So, what worries you?” 

“You have lived through a traumatic night, Eysin. You shouldn’t be left alone. I’m taking you to Seals and tasking each of you to look out for each other. Is that fine with you?” 

 

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