[The following is slightly formatted RP from myself and Cael, which kicks off shortly after Zaanthe decides to go meet Theo to ‘get his shit back’, after the two exchange brief scathing letters to one another. Theo sent Zaanthe this suit, and he is wearing it only somewhat begrudgingly. Theo is wearing this!]

 

The days following the arrival of Theo’s reply were planned out almost immediately after he’d received the message. First on his list of people to contact was of course Mosur. The two had, for the better part of a century, explored bad ideas together. One would explain their thoughts on a particular situation, the other would list all of the reasons why they were stupid for even considering their plan, and then the two would move onward, together or separate, depending on their situation. On this particular occasion, Mosur had said, essentially, that this sounded like the sort of thing he would do. 

That was the final indication that this whole thing was unwise.

Following his chat with Mosur, he probed the Templars’ guildstone for whoever had picked up the bag of pet care supplies. Optics, a slightly unfamiliar mechagnome, seemed to have been the one to snag the bag. After another brief meeting, Zaanthe had gotten everything he needed. He spent some more time with Mosur afterward, then spent the better part of an hour preparing in Dawnkeep. Dressing in formalwear wasn’t the vindicator’s idea of a good time, but he’d be damned if he wasn’t going to pull out all of the necessary stops for this occasion. It was shortly after he’d buttoned the front of the trousers and started to fasten the waistcoat that he realised how well it all fit. She really did have a keen sense of observation.

Stood at the edge of the Banewood, Zaanthe stood stark against his surroundings. It was a strange thing to see a jacketed, ruffled draenei striding cocksure through the lingering fog of the banewood. The jacket remained open, sewn to taper slightly at his waist, almost as though it knew his frame better than he did. He wasn’t typically a fan of buttoning shirts beyond his collarbones, but he wore the shirt and broach in a manner that was expected. Everything was meticulously placed and carefully groomed; his hair was clean, pulled back behind his shoulders, and cut to an even length. His beard was trimmed, and he’d even been sure to scrub beneath his fingernails. Only one feature seemed out of place, and that was the half-severed left tendril from a wound he’d earned years ago. It ended just above the waistcoat, whilst the other came clear down to the same button a delicate silver chain hung upon.

Beyond his gifted attire, the vindicator seemed to only have one readily apparent addition that his host hadn’t provided; a simple leather travel pack. One shoulder strap was looped around his forearm, and his fingers curled tight around a canvas carrying handle. Within, it seemed likely he carried a few, not insignificantly-sized items. At a guess, the book, and the pet-care supplies. 

Readying himself, Zaanthe took in a deep breath, and continued his stride forward. He felt the shirt strain at his chest as the draw in of the cool air around him test the limits of the well-tailored suit. He was sure he was near, by now. A quick delve into his breast pocket pulled Theo’s note free, and he checked the map on the back once more, all whilst he stepped ever onward.

The map took him to a very quiet corner of the woods, deep into the wilds there. The fallen reddish leaves hush footsteps here, the faint mist cool and a little wet, the smell of blue-green pines and loam, and… 

…Water? 

A little bit of water. 

It led to the bottom of a hill, and a sheer face on one side like something sliced down and cut it, with a clearing- and a small waterfall of dark water, going into a pond beneath. Widowbloom dotted the shore, and nightshade flowers, and some of those strange thorny massive rose bushes with their giant blooms. 

Next to the waterfall, on the edge of the pond, was a small table and two chairs of wrought iron. They had green cushions. On the table was an assortment of small finger foods, a teapot, teacups, and little plates. 

And Theo, sitting, waiting. 

Theo was unarmored, clean, and perhaps most remarkably, unarmed. Neither rapier nor bow could be seen anywhere near her. Instead, she wore shades of burgundy and black and brown: black trousers, fitted, to her lanky legs and a high necked black shirt of some kind under a burgundy waistcoat that was neither masculine or feminine, embroidered in black on the edges, coupled with thigh high supple dark brown leather boots. A single stud glinted green at the lobe of one ear; a pendant in the shape of an arrowhead matched it on her neck. Her hair was in that same stubby ponytail with the side bangs framing her face, but neater, and she was clean, no stains or dirt from travel and fighting. The wound Zaanthe previously noticed has healed into a small scar on her forehead. The charitably called “strong” features of a venthyr are in force on her, the red eyes and high cheekbones and the edge of gaunt common to that race, but the way she unfolds herself is purely Theo, quiet and graceful as a cat uncurling. When she stands, it’s all long, lean, lethal edges straightening into an arrow of a woman, and with her height, she can look him easily in the eye.

She doesn’t though- the first thing she does is a quick up and down glance, like she’s confirming something, and then Theo nods to herself. 

Leaning up against the table is one massive, crystalline, purple hammer, and a small envelope. 

Theo inhales quietly. I have never done this before; the back and forth of enemies at tea. Nadana taught me a lot, before she betrayed me, and I have to hope it will be enough. But he started it- and if he wants to play, fine then. I am a venthyr. Let’s play. Think of it like a hunt, Theo. Like a hunt. Think like Nadana, think like a hunt. 

“Vindicator Zaanthe,” she greeted as she rose. “I am glad to see you can read a clock.” 

For all of the usually dire scenery in Revendreth, this little nook away from the daunting spires, grim wildlife and oppressive crimson glow of everything seemed almost pleasant. In fact, the longer that Zaanthe found himself taking careful note of his surroundings, the more he realized that it was pleasant. 

The draenei made no effort to conceal his approach, and so was likely heralded by the earthen thuds of his hooves on soft-yet-uneven ground. His pace slowed as he caught sight of her, though only for a fleeting moment. The lack of an evident weapon was the foremost detail his attention pinpointed towards, but her attire was a close second. Evidently, she had a knack for selecting formal outfits. To say he was disarmed was anything but accurate; he still felt an unmistakable tension in the base of his back. He moved with squared shoulders and deliberate strides. 

He came to a stop when she took stock of him. He’d allow as much, especially since he’d gone to the effort of meeting her dress code. The washed-out light blue glow of his eyes snapped over towards the table–specifically at the maul–then back to the venthyr. Wordlessly, he hefted the bag he carried, and took it over to the previously unoccupied chair, where he carefully set it down. “Lady Evergreen,” he mirrored her greeting, “I am nothing if not good with written instructions.”

This was familiar ground, once upon a time. During his years in the Hand of Argus, Zaanthe had a seat at a few slapdash negotiations. Of course, that seat was often a few to the side of the main negotiator. Still, he had learned a thing or two.

Next, his attention turned towards the furniture, the spread, and the view beyond it all. He couldn’t help but feel his features pull into a broad smile. “I was concerned, when I read the letter, about how tea in the woods would unfold. It looks like my concern was unfounded.”

Carefully, the vindicator pulled back his chair and lowered himself into it. He took caution to not move too quickly, quite possibly for the sake of ensuring his host that he meant no harm, and also in order to not strain his new attire. Once he was seated, he tugged his chair inwards toward the table, and took a cursory glance at the spread. For all of his desire to keep a stony look about himself whilst they exchanged goods, the unexpectedly personal choices of finger-foods earned a flare of surprise in his eyes.

Well. It all fits, then, she thought. He was all shades of silver and black and white and blue, a contrast to her that wasn’t deliberate on her part, but marked nonetheless. The tailor said the colors would be good together. 

Being called Lady Evergreen with anything close to sincerity was a new experience, and it felt strange, but she didn’t correct him. Theo would be too informal, right? Right. Probably. And it’s not like they were friends. Yes, however Lady Evergreen made her feel, Theo would be… no. No.

She relaxed a little on seeing the bag. But- formalities first. 

Theo waited till he sat then seated herself again, and gestured to the food, clearing her throat just a little bit self consciously. 

“Before you ask, no, I didn’t cook these. A broker located them for me. There are Dredhollow apple and Telmoor-Aruuna cheese scones, shadeplum tartlets, talbuk steak crostini, candied walnuts, and dusk almond cookies.” 

She reached over the food and tapped a small clock: a timer, with the display easily visible. It started to tick. 

“The tea is your choice,” she continued, almost as if from rehearsal. Theo gestured to the little jars by the teapot. “Red Moon, Harvest Moon, or Blue Moon tea.” 

And Theo sat back. 

“You do not have to do that, by the way. Slow yourself. For one, unless you have friends better at hiding than I, you came alone; and for two, you cannot take me alone,” she said, that streak of bluntness showing again. “Thankfully, neither of us is here for bloodshed. We have-“ she looked at the clock “-twenty nine minutes and seventeen seconds, not counting the five for a head start.” 

Up close, she could see the scar from the cut that cost him a tendril. She realized some of hers may be visible as well, especially on her hands, which showed considerable wear from a lifetime of violence. But then, it’s possible he wouldn’t notice. It was probably fine. Most were under her clothes, anyways.

A flicker of his eyes from the spread on the table up towards Theo’s own betrayed the vindicator’s equally split attention. As much as he wanted to keep a keen eye on the woman across the table, he was also wildly impressed by the food laid before him. The varied options gave him reason to be impressed alone, but the addition of foods that were typical to his people was an added detail that he had not at all expected. “Telmor-Aruuna cheese scones and Talbuk steak crostini,” he repeated under his breath, either unwilling or unable to mask his appreciation for both. A careful reach brought a forefinger and thumb to one of the latter, where he pinched the outer crust and brought it to his mouth to take a shallow bite. 

It was as good as it looked.

    “Those brokers really are a resourceful group. They seem to be able to get their hands on anything,” the vindicator mused after he swallowed his mouthful. “Light. I’m glad I didn’t eat beforehand.” 

    Her gesture towards the teas gave him pause, if only for a moment. He was unfamiliar with all three, but he enjoyed the color red. That seemed adequate. He took the jar, cracked the lid with a careful tilt, and took a short whiff. “Red Moon seems just fine. I’ll let you prepare it, if that’s alright. The limited experience I have with tea is occasionally having it served by a small blind woman, and even she won’t let me help in the process.”

Likewise, the vindicator settled back into his seat. “Wonderful,” he spoke with a huff, adjusting in place to drop the tension in his frame. His demeanor shifted from careful and deliberate back to his usual laissez-faire approach. He propped one elbow on an armrest, rested the other wrist atop the table as he held his crostini, and crossed one ankle over the other. There was a stark contrast between his formal attire and casual comfort that was almost its own punchline. “I like to think I’d give you an entertaining fight for a short while, but yes, certainly, you’re beyond my scope of solo work.” His eyes watched the clock count down their allotted time for a beat before they returned to Theo’s features.

    For the first time, he had an opportunity to study the look of her. Not as the shadow that threatened the Templars’ flank, nor as the gaunt figure with a knife at his throat. She looked greatly different. Whether it was her comparatively sedated attitude, her formal attire, or the fact that she’d brought some good snacks, he wasn’t sure. He had to remind himself that, in less than thirty minutes, this would be the same adversary he’d run from just nights ago.

    “Since we’re on borrowed time, then, let’s front-load the logistics of this all, yes?” The vindicator piped up moments before he took another quick bite of his crostini. He was ever the fan of talbuk, and he wasn’t in the mood to delay the opportunity to enjoy it. “I have your book, unmarred, in the same physical condition that you left it. Thoroughly read, of course, but otherwise untouched. Nadana knows I have it. The Templars, as a whole, do not know what it is. They likely saw me pick up a book, but that’s about the extent of it. Within, Nadana left a note. It’s inside of the front cover, I believe she wrote on a little slip of blue paper. That is the only difference from when you left it.” He shifted his weight on his seat, remembering what the Prime Fervent had said about how it would likely upset Theo. “I also managed to get the pet care supplies. I didn’t take that originally, but I went to the trouble of fetching it back. The other missing items and… ‘gifts’ left behind by my allies were beyond my scope, but it seems they’re not of major significance to you.” He didn’t mention the items he’d be receiving in return; he could see the maul quite plainly, and he was sure she’d provide the rest she’d mentioned. There was a brief pause, and he spoke again. “I understand my armor wasn’t part of the deal, but still. It was expensive, well-fit, and I am very fond of it. Where is it?”

He lounged in the chair -that did seem to fit him better- and she felt a little bit of smugness slip onto her face at his comment about the brokers. So, she’d guessed rightly. Ha. Point for me, as Nadana might say, if she wasn’t lying about that as well. Theo felt his eyes on her, watching, curious, and did her best to ignore it. 

It was just good tactics to take notes on the enemy while you could. She was doing the same, after all; she’d already concluded that caltrops would be very effective against his kind’s hooves, and slow the other damn Templars as well. She should probably get her hands on some. As he talked, she put the other two jars of tea aside and picked up the red. 

He’s still sensible about his chances. I am glad. I did not wish to lose my book to ill-advised ambushes. 

As he watched, he’d see a fair scar on the neck, leading down into the shirt. Her hands are likewise marked, mostly from blades judging from the thin straight lines, from sword and arrow. The forehead scar is new, but whatever busted her skull open must have been nasty. A cut on her eyebrow from probably the same is almost healed but not quiet. The bruises he saw on her neck from before are hidden by the clothes. 

The tea in the jar is black and strong-smelling, with what looks like pieces of pomegranate and those strange huge rose petals and widowblooms, chopped small and dried. She is in the middle of scooping them when he says Nadana left a note and she feels herself freeze before she can recover. 

Nadana left a note. Nadana left a note. Nadana left a note. 

Deliberately, Theo resumed making tea. If her hands were busy with tea, they couldn’t be engaged in something else, and the slithering hot anger that woke in her at the words was difficult to shove aside. The hunter let him continue to talk as she touched the teapot briefly, and with a small swirl of anima it began to steam.

Eventually she sat back. Theo took a tartlet, ate it in one bite -perhaps not the most fashionable thing to do; better to have taken tiny nibbles, but that didn’t seem to be her style- and tilted her head at him, blinking slowly as she thought. It was the echo of that uncanny stare. 

“Nadana left a note for me,” she repeated, flat. “I suppose I always need more tinder.” 

Oof. The bite to that tone has teeth as sharp as hers.

There’s a small breath, then she continues. 

“I should have realized my book would be read,” and that is a little sour and disgruntled, “but I did not. You will not find the plans to the castle, with exits and entrances clearly marked, if that is what you were looking for. The rest is replaceable. I have slept on the ground before, without a tent; Fang can sleep on my cloak till we replace his bed. However, their things are made by me, with some effort, and important. So no, nothing of major or irreplaceable significance. The tea will be ready in a few minutes. It’s black, with pomegranate and rose and a bit of widowbloom. And my favorite of the three, though the others are all good in their own rights.” 

She watched him as she ate one of the crostinis. The red eyes had a very… intense sort of focus in them, apparently no matter what she was looking at. And Theo smiled, sweet and fake and wide, showing a bit of fang to do it. 

“Your armor is buried in a hole in Maldraxxus. It was too heavy and unwieldy to go far.”

Just about every movement from the venthyr kept Zaanthe’s attention for at least a passing moment. Not for a fear that she would break their truce and lash out at any moment—she didn’t seem the type to needlessly go back on her word—but for an opportunity to learn more about her. She was meticulous in the way she’d arranged their meeting, and comprehensive in the options of food and drink, but he was sure he could’ve already surmised her thorough nature from earlier encounters. The scars on her hands held hints towards her experience and familiarity with injury. She could move with grace and fury interchangeably. Again, all of this he could’ve guessed. Her reaction to his mention of the note, however, cemented an assumption he’d made about the huntress. Nadana was a hot-button issue. 

He continued his observation as the preparation for tea moved onward, and put on his best poker face. With a single raised hand and a palm facing towards her, he dipped his head. “I don’t mean to overstep, but I imagine it’d be worth at least a look. Whatever she wanted to tell you, she didn’t want to say outright to me. It would’ve been a safer thing to tell me directly, in case the note fell out, or you simply refused to read it. But! Do as you like, of course.”

With a shake of his head, the vindicator patted a large palm at the strap of his travel bag. “I didn’t assume there’d be anything of tactical use to us. I just wanted a bargaining chip. Something to get my things back, and something to use to earn a chance to talk.” He turned his hands to motion towards himself, palms upward. He was ever the gesticulator. “It seems to have worked. Likewise, the stone and letter aren’t crucial to my work. The stone is a channel of communication I’d rather not completely abandon, and the letter is from an old lover. It’s sentimental. The hammer is most useful; the weight is just right, the crystal is well formed, and the enchanter did a wonderful job of keeping it hardy for all the stress I put it through. But I could’ve had another made.”

His features sunk just a little at her revelation regarding his armor, however; his lids dimmed the light of his eyes, and his lips pressed into a firm, thin line. “That’s inconvenient. Dirt and rocks are terrible for the finish. Can you tell me where?” he asked, as he moved again to pick up one of the scones this time. It had hardly been much more time, but he still shot a glance at the clock. He needed to make a habit of doing so. “Failing that, maybe you can share the measurements you took. I might be able to talk my way out of a fitting fee.”

“I would hate to spoil this otherwise relatively pleasant tea with the specter of that traitor hanging over it. If I decide to read it, it will be at the end of this discussion.” 

It is a little cutting-edged, that, and she lets the subject change while she eats a cookie and gathers herself again. He may be fishing for information, but… losing my temper would violate the rules. And then he would win. Not going to happen. 

 Theo furrowed her brows briefly, a hint of genuine confusion there- why would he want to talk, for the sake of just talking, with her?- before it passed. As he talked, she watched him, and filed away the little things in her mind. Her initial impression was not inaccurate; he was as cocksure as she thought he was, and just as foolhardy brave, to come here at all. But there was also a strength there that would be intimidating (to anyone else), judging from what she remembered of his blue skin in the Maldraxxi moonlight. She watched the way his hands moved, emphasizing points. They were brawny and blunt as he was, and callused with war. 

It seems we are equally marked by our existences. 

“I didn’t take any,” she said, smiling a little- an odd quirk of the lips, like she didn’t do it very often. “I have a good eye, is all, for distance and measurements. It probably comes from using a bow. And the tailor had prior experience with eredar, and so was willing to fill in what he needed. As for your armor, mmm. We will see. It would delay your interference in my goals further if you were without it,” Theo said, not precisely an apology, but a little bit of an explanation. 

“I could have decided to bury the hammer- but the armor was heavier, and there is something about having your weapon in your hands. I could get another bow, made for my strength, but I like mine better.”

“Right – naturally, I meant once I am gone. In the meantime, we have tea and food to enjoy,” he clarified, shaking his head. Just after she did, he took a cookie. He popped it into his mouth, let out a muffled ‘Mm’ of mild surprise, and finished it before he spoke, quieter than usual, as if momentarily distracted. “Those are good.”

Zaanthe similarly noticed their shared ground. She wasn’t a soft-handed noble, nor a pernickety mage, or anything so diametrically opposed to himself. It seemed like she was shaped by conflict. Given, her speed was more in an unerring arrow nocked and loosed with fierce strength into an unsuspecting target, compared to the vindicator’s unmistakably broadcasted approach with naught but determination and heft. While they differed in method, certainly, they were both fighters. At least, in his mind.

“Shame. An utter shame,” he bemoaned the continued absence of his armor, but seemed to expect it. “I didn’t expect you to readily give it back. Part of me had hoped beyond reason, but, oh well. Fair point on the hammer, too. I do appreciate your recognition of its relative importance to me. I was almost certain you’d at least keep it,  you haven’t yet struck me as the sort to rob your mark of their defenses before the hunt.”

Again, he turned his attention briefly towards the timer. A little longer had passed in this interval. This seemed like a fine pace. He thought for a moment on the next subject of choice, but stalled. He had hoped to chat a little more about Nadana, specifically, to segue the conversation towards the Prime Fervent’s desire to see Theo ‘redeemed’. That would be pushing his luck. There were questions that he ultimately wanted answers to, but they would have to be carefully metered in order to not bring the meeting to a premature halt. He wanted to know how her mind worked, how she saw herself in the grand scheme of things. He wanted to know if Nadana had been right.

He wanted to know if she could be ‘redeemed’. 

He hated that word, though likely not as much as Theo would have, he was sure. He’d already made a mental note to avoid it entirely, for now. He needed a lighter topic of conversation, but not a contrived one. Nor dishonest. 

“You have impeccable taste in fashion.”

He surprised even himself. But he ran with it.

“I’ve never really been one for it. At all. But I had a friend help me with getting into the clothing, and I have to say, the more I layered on, the more I came to appreciate how it all came together. It really is something.” He glanced down at himself, and tugged at the inside hems of his jacket before he returned his attention towards her. “Likewise, you clean up very nicely. That red suits you. I’d say you’re the second-most well dressed occupant of Revendreth as of this exact moment.”

Theo, in the midst of checking on the tea’s status, blinked and looked up for an unguarded moment. For a second she thought he was being disingenuous, but- no, there was no mockery, like from some of the Court when they delivered a backhanded compliment, no smirk or sneer or laughing eyes. In fact, he seemed sincere in both his comments about her appearance and his appreciation of his own attire. I meant that as a dig, like how Nadana “complimented” the Lord Chamberlain on his “embrace of retro fashion” one time, except he’s… not taking it as such at all. What did he mean by complimenting me? Flattery? No… he seems genuine there too… I put in an effort, granted, but- 

She looked down at herself. “It was a gift. I prefer to avoid court if possible, and my gear is in more natural colors for obvious reasons. …Thank you for the compliment.” And then, trying to recover a little, she added, “I don’t mind being second to the Master. He’s never anything but impeccably dressed. You may be fourth or fifth; the Lord Chamberlain is a renowned ponce,” and her tone made that anything but a compliment.  “Still, I thought that black and white and silver can go with almost anything, even your shades of blue.” There, that was better.

…I did do well, though. He looks like moonlight on glassy water, with those colors. I’ll have to thank that tailor again. 

“Hand me your cup, and I’ll pour. The tea is done.”

The vindicator kept his attention on her during the exchange. For once, he didn’t check for the time, or go for a bite of a crostini. Even though he really wanted another crostini. He watched her as she paused, and kept keen attention on her reaction. All the while, he made sure to keep that careful, muted smile. Not overtly eager, but present. The way that the whole thing caught her on the back foot was a good sign. He had been looking for a reason to remind himself that she was, at the end of the day, not solely an adversary. She was once the friend of an ally.

Since he’d arrived in Revendreth, Zaanthe found himself erring more towards this recurring idea of repentance. He’d found that eredar had the capacity to change their ways once they were given an opportunity to do so, and that lesson had stuck with him. Twenty-odd-thousand years of life, and not once had he met a member of that race who showed any sort of remorse, until he’d turned up here.

Now, of course, Theo was no eredar. She was… Well, she was something else in life, likely, and had now taken on this other form. He wasn’t sure how the whole process worked, whether she had the weight of memories from a past life, or whether she was something new. That wasn’t particularly pertinent. What was important was that these little snippets of character – her unfamiliarity with compliments, her apparent dislike of this Lord Chamberlain, and her complicated connection to the Prime Fervent – they all constituted something that made the vindicator veer away from his usual ‘scorched earth’ approach.

So long as he forgave that little snip at his skin tone.

As asked, he picked up the cup and handed it over, substituting it for a crostini. “Speaking of the Lord Chamberlain – it looks like there’s a number of fellows in the court that you’re not exactly fond of. Is it difficult working with a majority of the other venthyr in there? I imagine I wouldn’t have the patience for their tendency towards… Haughtiness.”

She took the cup, their hands brushing for a moment (he was remarkably warm) as she eyeballed him for a moment, clearly weighing the pros and cons of giving him that information. Then she spoke. 

“We are all servants of Revendreth, and we all have a part to play in the Shadowlands.” There was a pause, as she poured. The tea is dark burgundy, and the taste is strong, with a wake-the-fuck-up hit of caffeine to them; it’s a little fruity, and a little floral, and there’s an undertone of something almost sweet, but not quite. Wisps of steam flick off it, as the sounds of forest and waterfall filled the silence for a moment. 

“…That being said, I avoid Court for a reason. I am not a creature for plush carpets and high halls. You probably already guessed, if you have read my survival book.” That flash of annoyance again. “I tolerate them, and they me, for our mutual usefulness in the grand scheme of things. I prefer the company of the Stoneborn, to be honest. They say what they mean, they have the same priorities I do, and they don’t break when I play with them- or whine about losing when I do.” 

She handed the cup back to him, and then poured herself one. Theo sat down and sipped, with a small sigh of contentment. 

Then she promptly dipped a shadeplum tartlet in the tea and popped it in her mouth.

When offered, he took the cup back, curling a forefinger and thumb around it. He brought it to his mouth, and blew gently on the top for a moment as he considered her words. “That seems to be the prevailing theme. The greater good of the Shadowlands as a whole,” he muttered. He was surprised at the strength of the smell alone from the tea, but not unpleasantly so. The tea that was served by Saashenka was often light. Floral, still, but delicate. 

For a passing second, he appreciated that silence. “You didn’t strike me as the sort for the comforts of the castle, no. I could’ve guessed that without so much as peeking inside of the cover of your book.” There’s that smile again. Knowing, almost, and self-sure as ever. “I haven’t had many interactions with the Stoneborn. Outside of that brief, unfortunate scuffle during that escape. They seem like a sort that I could understand, if our causes aligned a little better.”

There’s another pause, and Zaanthe picks up a cookie. “I’ve asked a lot of questions. Forgive me for probing. I suppose I’m just curious about… Everything. Here, you, the Repentant.”

Again, a reprieve, but briefer, as though the vindicator was quite aware of the dangerous waters he chose to tread in. “You spent no small amount of time with them, didn’t you – the Repentant? What makes you so sure you’ve cast your lot with the right person now that there’s factions rising against your Master?” The topic was jarred quickly back from the woman herself to the nature of his order’s business within Revendreth. The two subjects were connected, of course, but it was still a little sudden.

His smile melted away to a more humorless expression. Given his approach to the conversation so far, and his general demeanor with the woman, it seemed equally as likely that he was genuinely concerned as he was trying to get a rise from her. With the nature of the topic, he didn’t have high hopes.

With the tea cooled, he took a careful sip. He enjoyed it. That was seldom the case for tea. With a quiet hum, he made a mental note to mention as much. Perhaps when the topic lightened somewhat.

Theo didn’t know if she thought that damn smile was annoying or almost, almost endearing. Hmph. She firmly reminded herself that she might have to kill him in less than half an hour, if he wasn’t smart enough to have a good escape plan. She opened her mouth to say something about his questions, about how tit for tat was somewhat fair- 

-And closed it, posture stiffening, at his other, less welcome, questions. Her red eyes narrowed. “I used to,” she informed him, frosty. “As you have gathered, Nadana and I have history. I helped in her efforts with the Repentant, though I was never one of them, and it was more on the basis of our friendship. Since that turned out to be a lie, along with much else-” She cut herself off. It wasn’t any of his damn business- she didn’t know if he was trying to push her buttons or what, but it was not his damn business at all. 

“Why do you care?” she asked, instead, sharp and suspicious.

The shift in her demeanor was noticeable. He knew he’d touch on a nerve on this topic, but he wanted to breach it nonetheless. “I wonder–” the vindicator cut himself short. No, no, that question wouldn’t do. He had just about run out of liberties, he thought, and he was almost certain that the way he was about to phrase what he wanted to know would make her eager to trim their half-hour together short. He didn’t want that. The food was good, the tea was good, and if he had to be honest, the company was too.

“There’s a good question,” he answered. “I’m going to offer you the same honesty we’ve always shown each other.”

He sat upright, and considered how best to answer for a moment. He took a bite of his crostini, then dropped the weight from his shoulders. Without that lounging posture, he looked almost dire in his well-fit jacket and narrowed gaze.

“I care, because I’ve recently learned a lesson about how quickly an outlook can be changed. Years ago, Theodora – perhaps a couple of hundred ago – I would’ve planted my hooves firmly in the ground at the idea that you should be put to death for your actions. An attempt to take a life should be met with matched fervor, else you are inviting the enemy to rectify their failure. An old exarch of mine used to repeat that mantra. I lived it.”

He paused for a moment.

“But after meeting Nadana and speaking of her past, and also talking to you today, I’m sure that’s not the case. Your cause is just, in your mind. I don’t think anything I can say right now could convince you otherwise, but still. I wanted to convince myself you aren’t a rabid wolf, but a hound with a cruel master, backed into a corner.”

Oh. Well. That didn’t quite come out how he’d expected it to. Light, he was rusty with negotiations.

Her eyes narrowed more at the mention of honesty, and her hackles bristled preemptively. How dare he talk about what he knows nothing of. Revendreth’s mission is paramount, which means the Master is paramount- Nadana used to know that…

Theo watched him warily as he continued to speak, only the flicker of surprise betraying her (what did she have to do with it? To change his mind like that? It didn’t make sense to her; she was his adversary, not his friend) as he did. Her eyes widened marginally, then narrowed much more, at his hound comment. Theo paused with the teacup raised, head tilted, regarding him coolly with those red eyes for what was a very quiet, tense minute of regard. 

“You are very lucky, Vindicator Zaanthe, that I am fond of hounds, and consider that a compliment to my skills and loyalty,” she said, after the minute passed, softly but with a voice of iron… and angry eyes. “I do not expect you to understand us. But Revendreth. Must. Endure. Only the Master has the power to lead us through the drought, even if harsh measures have to be taken to do it. Division weakens us all. Nadana should have known that. Make no mistake. I will do everything that is in my power as a loyal hound to ensure that Revendreth continues. The souls we redeem would be damned to the Maw, otherwise. I stand here, with him,  because that is unacceptable.” 

Part of her wanted to reach across the table and show him how “rabid” she could be, and the urge took her off guard for a moment. Instead, she took a scone, and ate it, letting the words settle between them, barbed and thorned. Calm. Calm. There’s no way the Master could be wrong. He’s led Revendreth since the dawn of it’s creation. Nadana must be mistaken, even if she isn’t being manipulated. The alternative is unthinkable.

A quick raise of that tea helped obscure his mouth after he spoke, the corner of his lips still tugged into a lopsided smile. Unwise as the comparison was, he had to find entertainment at his own expense for his choice of language. He sipped cautiously at the hot drink, and took a moment to appreciate it before he sat the cup back down.

“I suppose I had guessed you had a thing for them,” he muttered. “Regardless, that’s your answer. I care because I think you’re set upon the wrong path. It would be an easy thing for me to write you off as an enemy, to disassociate you with your rather severe personality, and to consider you too great a threat to leave on the board. Like I said, that would be my usual approach. But I’m trying something new.”

Once more, he dropped that squared stature from his spot on his chair. He pushed his hips further into the back of the seat, leaned forward to prop an elbow on his knee, and reached over to pick up a third crostini. He was very much a fan of talbuk, and whoever the broker had procured it from had made it well. “Revendreth will endure, even without the insurmountable figurehead of your Master. My people faced a similar schism. I mentioned it while we were walking – the Triumvirate, and the split between the man’ari and draenei? We had never been led by anything other than a council of capable leaders. But, given the opportunity for an objective view of what was happening, we decided on a dramatic change of course.”

Zaanthe took a bite of his crostini, and ran his tongue over his teeth once he’d swallowed, in quiet thought. “Excuse me. My penchant for telling stories is kicking in again. My point is simple. Good people can be shepherded along the wrong path.” He set his food down once more. “Which I realize is probably not a convincing sentiment, right now. But hopefully it’ll be a thought on your mind if a time for a change of heart should come about.”

It would be insulting, to be condescended to by this mortal, if he didn’t seem so…. 

…Sincere. 

(It was still a little insulting, though). 

Either he meant it, and he was truly that tactless and foolish, or he was one of the greatest liars she’d ever seen. Both made her wary. Conviction was power, even if wrongly held… 

“You’re right. It’s not,” she said, no softening at all. “You make several presumptions, Vindicator Zaanthe, and I am not sure which, if any, to address first.”

“Yes. I’m sure I do. I’ve been told I have a habit,” he answers back. “You can brush off the lot of them, if you’d like. I didn’t expect my statements to land, nor did I expect you to consider any of them for any real length of time. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m pushing the boundaries of the polite sort of conversation that your kind would have along with tea and a light dinner.” The vindicator popped the last of that crostini into his mouth, finishing it and chasing it down with a sip of tea.

“So I’ll stop there. I’ve made my point, and I even got to answer the one question I’d hoped you’d ask – why I care. The rest of this meeting can be polite conversation, if you’d like. Perhaps we can chat about your pets, or those ingenious traps you set, or… Well, anything really. Any topic so long as you stop me short of starting on another soliloquy. I’d hate to bore you to death. That’d be a dull end to the tension here.”

Her brows furrowed slightly. Why had he wanted her to ask why he cared? The logical answer was to preach on about dramatic changes, and how he thought she was set on the “wrong path”. But why would he want to make sure she knew it? 

It was an open door, deliberately left. Theo did not understand why. They were enemies, if cordial ones for the news twenty some odd minutes. She’d threatened him, shot him twice, and nearly killed his mage friend. She would do it again if she got the chance. He knew it. She knew it. 

….It didn’t make sense. 

And so she retreated from it, like backing away from an unknown animal who may or may not attack. It didn’t matter, anyways, surely. 

They stood where they stood, both of them, on opposite sides of the table in more ways than one.

“Polite tea with enemies is something of a time honored venthyr tradition,” she said, instead, a little dryly. “You haven’t even tried blackmail me, poison me, or stab me under the table. By the standards of the Court, we are quite boring so far. Do you enjoy the… tension?” She asked, honestly curious. 

Because…. 

Well. He was the most (cocky, infuriating) interesting of the Templars she had met so far. The mage she simply wanted to kill- revenge was high on her list of priorities. The Vindicator…. 

…He was different, even if she didn’t know quite how. Of course, part of her still very much wanted to wipe that look off his face with violence, to win, but… 

Maybe it’s that it reminds me of hunting- the good ones, with chasing back and forth, where you really earn the kill. Hmm.

The given list of typical venthyr table etiquette had the vindicator shaking his head. “I’d hate to be exciting, by their standards. The whole reason I even thought I’d be able to walk away after thirty minutes of conversation was because none of those avenues seemed like your sort. At least, not while your word was on the line.” He caught her question, then thought it over for just a moment. “Yes. I do.”

He let the pause that followed hang for a silent few seconds. “Comfort is fine, and something I am fond of. But too much, and I get so easily bored. Sitting across a table from someone who would rather see me with my wrists cuffed is exciting. Even in this connotation, rather than the other popular one,” he added, with a quiet snort of a laugh. 

“It always feels like there’s… Something in the air that could ignite at any second. It’s similar to the thrill of the fight, isn’t it? Oh! Take, for example,” Zaanthe had  much the similar thought that Theo had apparently just had, “Your quarry. Prey. Whatever you call it in your mind. The hunt isn’t nearly as fun when your target keels over with the first arrow, right?”

Zaanthe smiled, broad, proud. He sat upright again, apparently happy to have come across a metaphor that surely she could agree with. “You’ve shot your first arrow, and it found purchase, but now rather than run, tuck my tail, and bleed to death in my den, I’ve decided to tun on my hooves and bare my teeth.”

He turned his attention away again afterward. “Not so fond of that likeness now that I’ve said it out loud, likening me to a stuck pig. But, you get the idea.”

She almost laughed with him at the cuffed comment, a small little snort that surprised her before she caught herself. 

“I could tell by your letter, yes. As I said, it’s not often the prey seeks out the wolf. Pigs are not nearly as talkative, or blue, generally,” Theo agreed. “They also usually have more sense regarding predators. I can see some resemblance, however. Big, bulky, crashing through the underbrush with no sense of caution, and when provoked there is a recklessness to them that you do share with a boar. There are none here, but in life, I hunted them on horseback, with pikes. They had a crossbar halfway through, to keep the boar from impaling itself and running up the shaft to kill you before it realized it was dead.” 

She stole the last crostini out from under him, nibbling it with sharp teeth. 

“That being said, I… find I agree. I like my work, generally, and detest boredom. There is an exhilaration to a good hunt that is hard to replicate, in life or in death. The worst parts of my repentance were the stretches where I was alone with the pain and nothing else.” 

She stopped. He didn’t need to know any of that. Why had she told him that? Where was her caution? Careful, Theo. He is not your friend, she reminded herself. However interesting you find his recklessness. 

“And technically, I shot two. You seem recovered, though,” Theo said, looking at him a little closer, examining the broad chest and the shoulder she dislocated in the fitted black and silver clothes.

There’s an unmistakable creep of that familiar grin on his features again as she likens him to a pig. “You’ve gotten me figured out so well already, Theodora!” he almost barks. “Well, in that case I am happy to provide you with some semblance of a memory from your former life! I promise, however, it’d take more than a crossbar in my case. I’ve been told I can get a few swings in before I lose my faculties.” 

He was a little upset about the last crostini, if he was honest. They were very good. While it would’ve been impolite to eat so much of a majority of them, he absolutely would’ve done it regardless. 

The topic of her repentance was glanced over, for now. He’d decided to dog-ear that particular page and come back to it at a later point. He was curious about the process, and about how she weathered it, but he also knew he wouldn’t get an answer outright.

Another laugh erupted from the draenei as he took a scone, substituting his favorite for second favorite of the spread. “You’re right! It was two. Thanks to your favorite mage’s quick thinking, I’ve managed to shake the worst of it off. I’m quite glad he picked up on my distress call,” he added as an afterthought. “Those arrowheads you use, though, Light. They’re horrid. I had two healers on me. Well, three if you count the elf, but she was more of a… Stress-outlet than anything else. They had to push the things straight through. Not pleasant at all. I can understand your preference for them.” 

He sat up, and pressed a thumb into his abdomen, just above his right hipbone. “Still a little bit tender. But I’ve weathered worse, come closer to death.”

She was not amused. No. The smile hovering around the edges of her mouth had nothing to do with him, for sure. Theo drank her tea to hide the impulse. 

“Oh, well, I’ll have to try harder next time in that case. I assume the mage survived then. A pity.” Her eyes flattened for a moment; that was true dislike, there. Someone has not forgotten the polymorphing, no not at all. “When was the call made for help? I did not see any devices on you, and there was nowhere to hide them, since you apparently sleep in the nude. That’s a tactical weakness, by the way. As for the arrows, thank you. I make them myself- heads and shafts both. And bows, though rarely. They take more work. But otherwise they don’t have the stopping power I need for thirstlurkers, or doomfangs. Many other venthyr prefer guns or crossbows, but I find them too easy, and much too loud for my purposes. Arrows are also more flexible.”

With a half-hearted shrug, the vindicator shook his head. “I think the amount of effort you put in last time was just fine. I much rather my arrow wounds sustained as I did, in spots where I lacked necessary organs. Our fun little back-and-forth would be a lot less fun if I had actually died. But, yes, Janderius lived. I think I saw worry in his features, for a while. But he had a talented medic in his wake. I will say, that’s one thing we have in droves, us Templars; skilled healers. Thank goodness.”

He rose a single digit at her question regarding his communication device, as though he was about to be glad to explain all. He stopped just short of saying anything. “No, I don’t think I can tell you that. I don’t know when I, or my peers, might need that trick again. It was cleverly hid. If the stars align and this whole thing resolves with us both alive, perhaps I’ll tell you then.”

The mention of his ‘tactical’ weakness earned another laugh. Zaanthe was legitimately enjoying this conversation, it seemed. “The true blunder was trusting the other residents of the fighters’ tents to rouse at the sound of an intruder. In my years of fighting, I’ve learned that the most important thing to reach is my weapon. The rest doesn’t make too much of a difference. I joined the Hand of Argus when I was young, Theodora,” he began to elaborate, again, having apparently gotten comfortable with her first name, “And the Hand required a certain level of dress at certain occasions. Bunk time was sleepwear. Emergency drills had us get up, grab our weapons, and run to the fight. No donning armor – we had the Light to call upon for that. Ever since I left the Hand, I’ve slept most every night in nothing but my skin, and it is the best sleep I have gotten. I have to recommend it. Should the need arise, I would gladly run into the fray with my hands on my maul, and my tail, tendrils and tool in the wind.”

Theo inclined her head a little at his polite refusal, accepting it wordlessly. That was the first prudent amount of caution she’d seen from him so far; it would be almost a shame to discourage it. She ate a cookie while she listened. 

I can’t decide if Theodora is worse or better than Lady Evergreen. I don’t suppose it will matter, in the end; but it still seems odd, coming from him. Those who know me -…well. That was mostly just Nadana. She called me Theo. Everyone else is Lady Evergreen, or some derivative. 

At the mention of the Light, her face scrunched up a little, like she smelled something bad. 

“I politely ask that when next we meet you be wearing something more protective- or at minimum, pants. At the very least it could save your… necessary organs, as you said. Your Light did not protect you from me, though it was annoying.” 

The memory of her red-laced black arrows bouncing off, then punching through his golden shield lay in the words. 

“The Hand of Argus- the planet you came from, wasn’t it?” she asked. “You were a soldier there too?”

“I can, for the most part, assure you that I will be appropriately dressed. Unless you surprise me in my sleep again, of course,” he appended. “It didn’t, you’re right. It’s a rare thing to not be able to block a whole salvo of arrows from an assailant, in my experience. I suppose that speaks volumes to the strength with which you loose them.”

“I imagine, actually, that with plate, those arrows are going to bury themselves in me a little shallower. Further to push them through. Perhaps undressed is my best way to approach our encounters. Or, perhaps, I don’t suppose I can convince you to aim elsewhere?” He paused. “Don’t have high hopes for that one, though.”

That mocking smile dissolved as the conversation switched. Unsurprisingly, he was happy to talk about the past, and that evidently wasn’t limited to the history of his people.

“Yes. The Hand of Argus were–are–a military organization of vindicators who were tasked with the protection of our people from the Legion. I don’t know of any common ground we share to compare it to, but… we were essentially soldiers, yes. I worked with them, primarily, until the fall of the Legion. I’ve since realigned my priorities.”

“You mentioned you were a hunter,” he began, that tone of curiosity back in his voice, “Was that as a manner of… Solely providing food, or culling wildlife? Or did you also have some sort of order you were a part of?”

Perhaps undressed is the best way to approach our encounters. Theo’s eyebrow shot up, then back down. The theme of his sheer arrogance continued, and it seemed extended into… 

Flirting wasn’t quite the word, right? Or maybe it was? She shook her head mentally. It didn’t matter either way, she told herself for the fourth time. Nothing would or could come of it. He simply enjoyed pushing buttons. 

…Not like she didn’t push one or two of her own, she allowed herself. It was almost fun.

She nodded as he talked about his past. When he got to her, however, she looked up at him, a little suspicious, a little unsure, a little surprised. Why would he-? 

Unless… 

Theo’s head tilted, in that signature keen appraisal he was coming to know. How much to tell him? How much to keep to herself? 

“….What do you know of the venthyr?” she asked instead, after a moment, almost a non sequitur. “Has she told you anything?”

If Zaanthe wasn’t being an ostentatious thorn in someone’s side, he was busy making wildly inappropriate asides. Those were the two modes he knew how to switch between, and on occasion, he just let that switch sit in the middle. This evening was one of those occasions.

Finally, he looked again to the clock. Ten minutes. The time had flown, and he felt his pulse skip a beat. He couldn’t let himself get too distracted, but at the same time, he didn’t want to wrap this up prematurely. He had things to learn, didn’t he? Information to gather. Plans to hatch, weaknesses to learn. All of that.

“Likely not enough. She’s explained some, and some I’ve learned through others. I’ve learned that you are… chaperones of souls with an abundance of sin, but not enough to condemn to the Maw. You explain the wrongs of the soul’s life, extract anima from them in the process, and ultimately seek to redeem them. Is that a fair summation?”

“Something like that. Yes. When we are finished, the souls of those who would otherwise be banished to the Maw for their actions in life have a second chance in death. It is not pretty, and it involves a great deal of pain. Some would say torture- and they would be right.” She held his gaze as she spoke, and on finger traced the edge of her cup. “The lengths to which we must go to convince prideful souls to repent and show them the error of their ways are what they deserve, by all rights, but they are not kind. Once this has been done, over uncounted mortal years, they are sent back to another realm of the Shadowlands… or.”

Or. 

The word hung between them. Theo continued speaking, though she wasn’t sure precisely why she was telling him this. But maybe if he knew, he would understand the importance of the work….

“Or they are given the choice to become part of the system that redeemed them. Almost all choose a new form, and a new name, to suit their new afterlife, having repented of their sins. She chose to maintain hers, since it bore some passing resemblance to the Master, and to remember what she had done. She told me that once.” She looked away briefly, to the waterfall and the flowers.

“I picked mine deliberately.”

Theo took another cookie, and ate it, letting him put two and two together. 

“I was a forester, for a while; a ranger. I provided some food for a village, and I did cull the wolves or the deer when they got out of hand. In the beginning, at least. At the end… They called me the One Who Walks In Blood. Though I suppose, given what I have learned of her, I do not hold a candle to her sins- both in life and in death,” Theo added, with an edge of bitterness, and snorted.

“I am more of a hunter now in that way, particularly with the thirstlurker menace, than I was then. I enjoy defending Revendreth from invaders. You should try a tartlet,” she added, an out for him, since he likely regretted asking by this point. “They are shadeplum. I like them.”

“I had assumed that the process wasn’t exactly pleasant,” he added, as he took yet another sip of his tea. It was starting to get low, but so too was the timer. He didn’t think much of a refill. He had wondered about Revendreth specifically, mostly because he was unsure where he’d end up upon death. Out of the four places he’d seen, Maldraxxus and Revendreth seemed the most likely. He was unsure which it’d actually be. He had hoped the former, selfishly. 

He let her speak through the purpose of the place, of the reason Nadana chose her form, and of her own history. His expression was that of a muted captivation. He was invested in this story, for whatever reason. Perhaps, again, as a means to learn about the woman he sat across. Perhaps because he worried about his own soul’s fate, whenever that might come. This expression changed suddenly, and he might’ve complained about the topical whiplash he’d endured when she mentioned the tartlets if the topic was less serious. He took a tartlet, as suggested, and helped himself to a bite. 

“I can see the dire need for a place like Revendreth. Truly. There are those who can learn from a life’s worth of being set upon the wrong path, or… Even from making poor decisions upon the right path. I had assumed a great many things about what awaited souls after death. I was categorically wrong in every aspect. It isn’t quite so cut-and-dry, and I am glad to see that.” He stopped, and finished the tartlet with another quick two bites. “Your role suits you. From what I’ve learned, at least. I hope that I would be able to find a similar fit, in my time.”

He didn’t know of Nadana’s and Theo’s sins by count, but he was sure they both had him beat. Nadana for the simple fact that she was man’ari, and followed those who wanted his kind exterminated. Theo, for the sake of her nickname. Such a thing wasn’t earned lightly. But he was still responsible for needless death.

Not on their scale, perhaps, but the possessions he lost in Maldraxxus alone gave directions to a few. Mistakes, he called them now, but they were deliberate at the time. Though, he couldn’t say that he regretted them all.

“They’re quite good,” he added, resolutely, and gave another look at the timer. The minutes were dwindling.

Theo glanced at it as well and blinked in muted surprise. When had that happened…? 

“I find I am grateful for my second chance, regardless of how it came to me,” she agreed. “You may take some with you, if you want. The food, I mean. They won’t travel well with me, they’ll get all smooshed in my bag.” 

… I suppose I should get on with it. 

Mastering the odd reluctance she felt, Theo stood, and leaned down to pick up the hammer and envelope. She set them down with a considerable THUNK on the table. 

“As promised. I thought you might want to check them over to be sure they are intact before our time is up.” 

They would be, of course; she hadn’t harmed them, though the hammer has a few scuffs.

Zaanthe eyed the food for a moment. “Part of me wants to not take any, to not perpetuate any image of me of a hungry, oafish boar,” he muttered, and stood, hand grasped onto the shoulder-strap of his bag. “But, fuck it. I am a hungry, oafish boar, and I am going to enjoy the remainder of those scones. And the tartlets, too. You were right. They’re good.” He hefted the bag, carefully, into his hands, and made his way over towards Theo. He unclasped the lip, and reached in carefully for the book, first of all, which sat atop the pile. He handed it over, directly to her, rather than setting it anywhere.

Once that was taken, he removed a bag from within his own – the petcare supplies. That, he was happy to set aside on the table whilst she checked the book. “I don’t really need to check them, I don’t think. The hammer sounded heavy enough that I don’t think you’ve found a look-a-like, or swapped it out for a convincing wooden sculpture.” He had a slight tone of lightheartedness about him. 

There’s a brief moment of quiet, and the vindicator frowned. “Everything aside, Theodora, this was enjoyable. The food, tea, conversation… The lot.” He almost continued talking, but stopped himself short. Getting as friendly as he was already proved unwise, surely. He needn’t exchange any further pleasantries.

Theo reached for her book a little quicker than was mannerly, and didn’t really care. As he said, fuck it. 

When she saw that it was indeed unharmed, she breathed a small sigh of relief, and moved to check the rest of her supplies. Theo nodded to herself- and then looked up when he spoke. 

It was that unguarded moment a second time, the almost confused look that he found her company enjoyable quite visible on her face for a moment before it vanished. 

“Oh. Well. I am… glad. There are rules, after all, to this sort of thing, and I have not actually done this before. Most of my enemies are dead, not alive to have tea with. You are my first.” 

The words were oddly difficult now. She frowned to herself. There was no reason to beat around the bush. The next time they met, she would try to kill him again, of course. It’s what had to happen. Nadana’s betrayal had to be answered for, she had to bring her in, she promised the Master… 

The clock beeped.

“That is your two minute warning. You also have the five minute head start,” she reminded him. She sat back on the edge of the table, next to the blooming strange roses by the waterfall, and the tea almost empty in both their cups.

“When we first spoke, I had a feeling you’d be one for following the rules. I was fond of your ability to be straight with me. For all of our differences, it was refreshing to keep that constant. It seems like every time I’ve made an enemy, they have been more fond of convoluted trickery, and… Well, that manner of approach.” He knew he didn’t need to explain too much. He remembered she had a similar appreciation for honesty.

“Your first, though? That’s… Hm. It seemed like you would’ve had more practice at this, for how well it came out. You could’ve fooled me.” There was that coy grin again. 

“I shouldn’t need the whole five minutes, I don’t think.” Confidence, as ever. “So, if you’ve any other lingering questions, now is the time. I’d ask my own, but I feel as though I’ve learned disproportionately more about you than the other way around. Then again, you might not need to know anything else about me. Weak points are here, here, and…” He gestured to his head, heart, and then gestured about his entire torso. “Well, anywhere unarmored. You should be quite familiar with the layout, by now.”

“I almost want to ask what a talbuk is, but I think that is probably pointless, except to satisfy my own curiosity.” Theo continued to lean against the table, sitting on the edge there, as she spoke. “You learned little she couldn’t tell you, if you asked. You….” 

The Theo head tilt again. She pushed herself off the table, standing. “Weak points are common to different armor types, different body types. They are easy to see. Under the arm. Visor slit. Neck. Eyeball. Armor matters, but I can put an arrow through plate at four hundred yards easily enough. If you are taking suggestions, Vindicator Zaanthe…” 

The clock reached zero, and beeped, loudly.

She didn’t think about what she was doing, for once. Theo simply dared to step forward, and touched his brocade-clad chest with one scarred, ashen finger, the barest whisper of contact over a pectoral, close enough to him to see the details of the scar that took his tendril. He was close enough to see the details of her red eyes, and the newly-healed scar in her eyebrow. 

“Guard this. I believe your weakest point is definitely your heart.” 

And then, she turned away, to collect her book and her bag, left on the table.

“Curiosity is worth sating, don’t you think?” He laughed quietly. “A horned, four-legged and hooved animal. Graceful, strong. Not unlike a deer with a softer, thicker pelt. You’d like them.”

He met her gaze for a moment, still as the evening around them as her fingertip found his chest. His eyes shifted, their facing only discernible by a slight gradient to a paler blue at their center, as they focused on that point of contact for a fleeting second. He then returned his eyes to hers.

They weren’t quite as he remembered them. They were two severe and jarring lights on that night. Now, they were less so. Still grim, certainly, and capable of that sudden wildness, he was sure. The smile on his lips returned, too. Not cocky, not brash, not mocking. It was an expression he rarely wore. He wasn’t sure what it was, himself.

And then she turned away, and he snapped back into the moment at hand. He reached over, took the envelope, and scooped the handle of the hammer up, hefting the head of his maul away to land on the ground nearby. He searched desperately for a witty retort to fire back.

… Nothing.

“Tor oche diateomos alitheia.” He spoke in his native tongue, but didn’t offer a translation. “I hope our next meeting can be as enjoyable. Or, if it cannot be, I hope it is short. Travel well, Theodora.”

He transfers the envelope into the hand on his maul, scoops up another cookie, and then delves a hand into one of the jacket pockets, where his thumb brushes over a small, solid device. It thrums to life, glows a light blue, and in an instant, he’s gone – whisked to Oribos via the somewhat unfamiliar arcane.

He smiled. And it seemed… genuine. 

And then- he was gone. With two minutes and thirty nine seconds to spare. 

She inhaled, trying to rid herself of whatever was causing her heart to clench in her chest. 

“…It will be short, if nothing else,” she says, to empty air.

 

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