Flight from the Gilded Cage - 01/31/20


Pipino was rather silent as they made their way to her family's estate, a lush two-story set of rooms within in the city, leading the way and staring vaguely into the middle distance as her feet took her on the familiar path homeward. Her heels clicking on the pavement punctuated her racing thoughts like little exclamation points as her mind buzzed with a hive of worries. She was trying to hold every possible eventuality for the outcome of the discussion within it and she was beginning to get a headache, a perfect compliment to the stomachache she already harbored. Her gloved hands were wringing in front of her as she walked and her mouth would occassionally look as if it were muttering little spells and incantations, rehearsing things she wanted to say.


What a familiar feeling this all was. A stroll on a smoothly paved entrance, the excess frills and layers of clothing under the burning sun of Thanalan… Truly, it was reminiscent of Langston's youth. Another visit to some stranger's estate in order to make nice with their children and try to ignore the shallow chatter of coin and countless other things that didn't concern him. Yet, he did his best to keep down the bile in his stomach that was building from such bitter nostalgia, since he had an objective this time around. The doors became more clear in his vision and he turned towards the blue haired woman, offering her a soft smile of reassurance.

“Eventually, they'll piece together the things you've been up to in your spare time.” he said. “And, eventually, they may tire from trying to sway you. We can turn around, if you want. I won't think less of you for it.”


Pipino almost jumped when Langston broke her concentration, snapping her head toward him with a look of alarm. She let out a bit of an anxious laugh and managed to change most of her features to something a little more cheerful.

“No, I shall do this the proper way. I do not wish to be followed around and monitored, and do not want them to attempt to sway me back to things with untoward actions toward you or your family either in an attempt to coax me away. Not that he would do something too sinister, mind, just… I will not have others being toyed with. The thought that he has been surveilling me makes my skin crawl. If I make my intentions clear, and demand it be made official, then they will no longer have any power, and no reason to do such shady things. I want to wash my hands of this cleanly and have done all I can on my end to create this better life for myself.”

She looked determinedly ahead and kept pressing forward, conviction, muscle memory, and adrenaline being her only driving force.


Langston's expression became stolid in the face of her determination. “Far be it from me to deny you your freedom. After all, no one was there to bar my path when I did it.”

The doors were but a few fulms away from them now. They almost seethed with an invisible, oppressive force that threatened to repel him away. Langston knew that he was not welcome in this home, not one bit. But, perhaps shedding the shroud of that name for the evening and coming forward as Ilyigu… it would not be the worst idea.

“Pipino.” he said sternly. “I think you were right, during our discussion around Starlight. You're free to address me by the name I was born with. There's no shame in a name… what matters is the man behind it.”


Pipino stopped at the door and looked at it. She'd opened it so many times without incident but now, it was the last time she would probably be allowed to open it on her own accord. It felt…strange. She felt no intense love for her parents, but this building did hold many memories. It held her lessons and education, her earliest paintings, and the small moments of delight she stole with Bricteva.

She placed a hand on the door handle and settled it there, closing her eyes for a moment before opening them again and turning her head to Langston.

“Well then, Ilyigu, shall we break open this cage at last?” she asks, an optimistic little smile playing at her lips despite her eyes being full of some other emotion. Maybe a bit of fear, a little uncertainty, but also a bit of hope.


Langston nodded, not flinching from being addressed by his given name for once. “Birds were meant to fly freely.” he answered, shifting his focus from the door to his dear.

He saw her hand pause at the handle and pondered a few things. During his early life, he could never recall visiting this estate, nor did he remember ever hearing her name then. What lay behind these doors? Were they eccentric and vain like his own father, or were they regal snobs? It was strange, to always think of the rich in such vile terms, in spite of standing beside a woman who could be described as 'old-money'. The thoughts danced in his mind as he awaited their entry.


Pipino pulled a key from her pocket it and inserted it into the door, twisting it, then leaning back, her small Lalafellin form used to propelling herself backwards in such a way to move the unnecessarily thick, heavy door from its resting position. A shaft of warm light casting down from an ornate chandelier hung in the high-ceilinged entrance washed over her as she moved herself to the other side of the door, leaning her back against it casually and gesturing Langston inside. She looked a little bit pleased about it, never having had a significant other to invite home before, and though she would prefer the circumstances be different, she was glad that before the end of things, he would at least get to see this chapter of her life - the place where she, for all intents and purposes, became whom she was.

When he would enter, he too would be bathed in the warm glow of the brass chandelier inlaid with crystals and gems of various kinds. It was surprisingly tasteful. His feet would meet a plush rug rolled out over a dark marble floor whose colors mirrored that of the city in which they resided, clearly some nationalistic pride, belief, and investment in the city-state trying to be foisted upon those who entered from the get go. The entrance hall itself was quite spacious, a long, wide hallway with deep green walls that had a few dark, wooden doors branching off either side. All the doors were closed, leading to a very private, isolated experience for someone who did not know the home. A large staircase stood at the end of the hallway, ascending imposingly to the upper floors. From his position at the door, he would see a table to the left on which lay a silver tray where mail would be sat. A mirror hang on the wall above it, a chance for one to get a last look at oneself before setting foot into the world to whatever social engagement would await. There was no evidence of welcome here though. No coat hooks, no places to put shoes, no seats on which to wait.

Pipino would follow in after him, letting the door shut behind him, and tucking the key away again. She made her way across to the first door to the left and opened it, peeking her head in, checking who was present and how far she would need to go to gather both of her parents in the same room at the same time, a rare feat these days.


Langston's gaze traveled skyward at a snail's pace, taking in the sights of the main hall. The bright lights gave a semblance of life to the dark shades of the interior. His feet remained planted firmly on the ground. Awakened were the habits and manners of yesteryear; stand straight, eyes forward, hands out of your pockets, fix your hair, keep your godsdamned coat on until it is taken for you.

Yet, there was an eerie calm in the air. The home did not teem with life or love. Perhaps there was a few instances in his visits that had this same feeling, but it had been oh so long. Langston couldn't help but feel unsettled, and yet he also remained frozen in place. He merely turned his head towards Pipino as she peered into that first room, as it wasn't his place to be peering into the private quarters of her parents.


Her head poked out of the doorway and looked to Langston, reading his body language and giving him an apologetic smile. “Your home is much warmer,” she said softly, pushing the door further open and leaning against it to keep it open. “But…well…as uncomfortable as I am sure it feels if I were to leave you on your own, you are welcome to have a seat here in the parlor.” She sighs and looks inside. “The fire is not lit, the couches are much too firm, and I have no tea prepared. But….but you are welcome to make yourself comfortable here if you would like. But if you would like to stay with me while I see to summoning them here, you are welcome to do that as well.” She laughed a little. “This feels…so bizarre! I know the circumstances are awful but… Well, I am glad to have you here. This house has never felt as warm as it has with you standing at its doorstep.”


Langston looked into this sad room. It looked as if someone hired a designer, threw some furniture into it, and then doomed this space to never be used again. “…You and yours don't get many guests, do they..?” he asked, moving to plant himself on the comfortable looking couch. The illusion of comfort was immediately dispelled once his bottom hit the cushion, but, for Pipino's sake, he made himself look as though he was being treated like a lord. “I don't know how comfortable I would be, wandering the halls, peering into rooms in search of your parents… If you think it would be better for me to see them both at once, I'm perfectly fine waiting here.” He put on a gleaming smile, an onze, no, maybe a ponze of reassurance for her sake.


Pipino walked over to the couch Langston was seated on and stood before him and took her hands in his, giving him an expression that looked like she was holding back a laugh. “You would think so, would you not? We do have visitors…well…I do not have them much any more, but when I was younger I did. It is just that we tend to bring our guests to our individual rooms. We…well, I probably do not need to state it again, but we really do not do much as a family. We keep to our separate domains.” She stood on her tip-toes and stole a kiss for herself, taking that reassurance he so readily offered her. “I imagine my mother will be thrilled to have a new toy in the house. My father will probably make us wait so it may just be the three of us for a moment. They are not very good at teamwork, so it is almost a strategy of sorts to force them together.” She lifted a hand and cupped his face. “I apologize in advance for it all but… this all shall be worth it,” she said with a soft smile before taking one more kiss from him. “Of that I have little doubt.”


Langston sighed in relief, reclining to absorb whatever comfort this couch could possibly offer. “You know, when I think on it, my home was hardly any different.” he said. “It was all very isolated… I spent time with my father being tutored, and I suppose we all ate together… that was really the extent of it.” Pipino's words echoed with an eerie sense of foreboding in his mind. He did not like the thought of being a plaything for her mother, in any sort of context. Her father, well… he's dealt with fathers before, but, swinging fists would not be good for anyone here.

Langston felt that Pipino was being quite affectionate. As she pulled away from the kiss, he brushed a few stray hairs from his face and nodded. “I'll resist the urge to shout and summon them from these empty halls. Patience is something I have in abundance today. Why, there was this nice little shop on the way here and I happened to drop some coin on some extra patience…” Jests… these are Monetarist jests, yes?


She did not want to leave him. He was so kind, so warm, and so, so important. Why did these other people even have to matter? She lingered long enough to laugh lightly at his little joke and to sigh, taking in the last little moment of the status quo before she meant to turn everything upside down. She squeezed his hand one last time before stepping away, a hand immediately unconsciously traveling to that ring that dangled from a chain at her neck, that physical reminder of why she needed to summon her courage to see her safely through any trial. When she reached the doorframe, she paused a moment to look over her shoulder as if to burn his presence in her mind. “I shall be back…hopefully shortly.” She turned to leave again before shyly pausing again and saying a little more softly something she realized she hadn't said out loud in quite some time. “I love you.” She turned and walked quickly away now, the click, click, click of hard soles on marble fading with her.

She figured she ought to summon her father first since he would most likely be the more stubborn of the two, so once she took to the stairs, she made a left and headed down a corridor that led to his wing of the house. The familiar door, the customary knock, the absence of his voice with the conspicuous sound of movement inside letting her know he was there, just ignoring her. But no…not today. It was his turn to listen to her. She opened the door and barged in, politeness be damned. And that seemed to catch him off guard. Before he could even give her a disapproving look, she confidently recited the words she had prepared for him:
“Father, I have something important I would like to discuss with you and Mother in the parlor. It cannot wait, and I will be heard. If you refuse, be aware that this will be the last time we shall speak with one another in person. Should you wish to have any role in my future life, you will do as I ask.” She paused, taking in his raised eyebrows before taking her leave.
She shut the door rather hard behind her, not quite a slam, but more of a forceful, willful, and commanding way that served as punctuation of definite proportions to her demands. Her heart was racing, her hand playing with that ring, rotating it endlessly in her gloved hands as she moved her way to her mother's room.
She knocked, and the door flew open almost immediately as always, her mother always monitoring the comings and goings of her home's denizens as if she were afraid there were burglars in it at all times.
“Oh, *Pipino*, so lovely to see you! Please come–” she started effusively, the harpy's grating and false tones leaving Pipino's hair on the back of her neck standing on end.
“Mother, no, I would not like to come in today,” she said rather forcefully, standing her ground and resisting her mother's attempt to tug her into the room as she always did. “There is something important I need to discuss with you and Father in the parlor. It cannot wait, and I will be heard. If you refuse, be aware that this will be the last time we shall speak with one another in person. Should you wish to have any role in my future life, you will do ask I ask.” She paused for a moment and added, almost as bait of her own. “….Ilyigu Selayigu is here with me as well.”
Her mother first looked extremely confused, then insulted…. but then, at Ilyigu's name, she looked curious, the gears turning in her heard. “Oh, my, Pipino…this is quite the ultimatum you have crafted for me,” she said, a little pride seeping into her words. Like mother like daughter, she might have been thinking, but it was too hard to tell. “This all sounds so *serious.* But…well, if that boy is here then I can only assume you come to discuss one thing.” She seizes Pipino's hands and drags them up to waist level, examing them with a frown. “Oh, no ring… here I thought perhaps you meant marriage.” She laughed. “Oh but wait, that cannot happen, can it?” She grinned, throwing her own ammo back.
The blue-haired woman snatched own hands back. “That is none of your business. If you want to know what it is we are discussing, you can find out in the parlor. I refuse to play your games here. You are welcome to come with me, or come on your own time, but do not take long. If I do not see either you or father in the next quarter of a bell, I am leaving and you will receive a notice in the mail concerning my plans.” She turned on her heel and walked swiftly back down the hallway, listening for her mother's own following footsteps, but heard none. In fact, the door to her mother's room had already closed.
She padded her way back down the stairs, making a point to stop into the kitchen, the last door on the right of the main hallway nearest the stairs to ask Bricteva, who was dutifully polishing silver if it would be possible to make some kind of tea. The servant looked concerned seeing Pipino in the state she was in, and dropped what she was doing to go to her, kneeling down before her to get a better look at her expression.
“Ah…so it's happening' then, yeah? I've seen this coming for some time now, bluebird.” She said softly, invoking her secret little nickname she had since she was young and her mother started having her dye her hair, bringing a hand to smooth Pipino's hair comfortingly.
Pipino looked away from her as she knelt down, not wanting to shake the confidence she built with Bri's soft nature. “…Yes. He is here as well. We probably cannot stop to chat but…I figured you could at least see him if you brought in some tea. My sketches do not do him justice.” She paused turning to look back to her. “Whatever happens, I shall send word along. If it ends up that I am not allowed to come back here, just look for mail addressed to you from a Margit Inman. I shall use that penname and…and perhaps we can meet in the future.”
She looks to the door. “I really cannot stay long though. Mother may be down soon.”
Bricteva tucked her hand under Pipino's chin and pushed it upwards a bit. “Head up, Bluebird. Don't let them keep taking what's yours,” she encouraged, her own eyes shining a bit. She took Pipino by the shoulders and forced her to turn around, pushing her out the door. “And no, no good-byes. Get out of my kitchen! You know the rules,” she says in a playful tone. “This ain't no place for a lady. I'll have the tea ready for you,” she said as she spun around to set to her task, turning her back away to perhaps tend to some tears, but she was masterful at hiding them even so.
Pipino smiled and offered her thanks at the doorframe. “Very well. Peppermint for me please,” she insisted with a giggle.
“Like you even needed to ask,” Bricteva sighed, waving her away.

And with that Pipino entered the Parlor again with a heavy sigh, making her way to sit next to Langston on the extremely uncomfortable sofa.

“And now we wait… I gave them a quarter of a bell before we can just….leave and I send them a letter in the mail. Part of me wants that to be the eventuality but…I do not know, I would at least like to pretend to be a mature adult capable of talking to my own parents, at least on this one matter.”


Langston sat alone.

In the discomfort of this soulless room, he was left alone with his thoughts. No amount of rehearsal could prepare him for people he didn't know. Instead, he was fixated on the future.

Often, the seeds of doubt fed on the nutrients of his mind and wrapped their wretched brambles around his heart. To snatch Pipino from a life so extravagant and have her settle down without any hope of marriage… it almost seemed cruel to him. She, however, always trimmed the plant with her resolve and thoughtful words. They had a habit of growing once more, in spite of this.
And yet, with but a few moments in this building, the brambles had withered and died. This 'home' housed a thousand suns that no doubt could ever survive in. To believe a woman so kind and full of life could want to remain here and eventually be married off to a similar home…

His mind was cut short as her voice reached his ears. Such difficulty, he thought, that she must be facing. He felt guilty for even doubting her ability to make this decision, and he offered a silent apology, dragging her into a deep kiss. If this was the first thing her parents saw, let this be the first shot fired in this battle of wills.


Pipino was caught by surprise by the sudden kiss and tensed a bit only because the mood felt strange and she was half expecting her mother or father to walk in at any moment. In fact, her eyes did open and she tried to look over in a panicked way over at the door. But his deep insistance at expressing whatever this kiss was trying to get through to her won her over. She needed it in a way she did not know she did, and Langston was always one to show her the things she needed when she was unsure. She kissed him in return, giving herself over to it and, well, feeling even a little bit like she were breaking some kind of unwritten rule all at the same time, the little rebellion spurring her motivation even further.

She pulled back and separated from him for a moment, smiling a bit shyly. “Well…was it that bad, sitting in here alone that you felt the need to welcome me back so fervently?”


“You ran out before I could even tell you how much I loved you, too!” he said, conveying half of what his reasoning was for such an abrupt action. “I heard at least one door close, which is shocking considering the size of this place…” He took her gloved hands into his own, nodding with confidence. “Steel yourself. Though I have no doubt you will make it through this, it will not be without injury.”


She opened her mouth to reply but just as she was about to utter her first words, the sound of her mother's rapidly paced steps on the marble echoed throughout the hall and bounced into the parlor. She closed her mouth and offered one last smile of encouragement and one last squeeze of her hand before straightening her skirt and sitting straight, letting Langston still hold one of her hands as a display of unity.

Nonomi strode into the room as if she owned it, which she did, and she wanted them to know that. They were in her house. She looked upon them, a woman who seemed to be Pipino's older sister the differences being her ashen hair and the shape and the lack of intensity of her blue eyes, mouth extending into a wide grin and eyes narrowing as if she were a cat who had finally caught a mouse.
“Oh my, are the both of you not….*adorable?*” she observed as if trying to find some kind of word for them, taking a seat on a chair across from their couch.
“Ilyigu Selayigu I presume? Or is this Langston Clevers? You will have to forgive me, I get them, so, so confused. The mind plays tricks on one as you get older, you see.” She took a moment to check her manicure while she waited for a reply.


Langston kept her hand held as he got a good measure of the woman he was dealing with. It was a familiar image and feeling. Though he could feel Pipino's warmth move from her hand to his like a gentle stream of water, it was a raging vortex of animosity that swirled outward from Nonomi that really made him start to sweat around the neck. Angry maternal figures of high status were not new to him, but he was never at the receiving end of their wrath.

Still, if this whirlpool threatened to swallow the stream whole, the burden was upon him, the outsider, to be not like water, but rather the unbreakable stone that will weather the storm. Langston's demeanor hardened as such, a bored expression to such feeble insults. “It seems we both take after our beautiful mothers.” he said to Pipino, though his gaze slowly began to shift towards Nonomi. “Though I much prefer the blue to the faded blonde.” He gave the older woman a reassuring smile. “Oh, you needn't dust off the cobwebs of your tired old mind, my lady. You've the luxury of choice in this matter! I will go by Ilyigu this evening. Langston will do just fine, as well. Or Ilangston, or Langstigu… whatever is easier for you to digest. I'll not be too critical of your decision.”


Pipino resisted the urge to bite her lip as Langston kept speaking, his words treading the line very carefully between things that would insult or possibly delight her. Her mother enjoyed a bit of gentle ribbing and preferred those with sharp wit who spoke honestly, but some of his teasing had the potential to move past that.

Nonomi's expression, however, lit up slowly, her grin spreading across her features slowly, as if she were savoring it. “Oh, Pipino…it is unfortunate that you two cannot marry. Aside from the obvious, I have the feeling you have chosen quite well. He and I would have had many fun little chats. Firey little thing he is.”

Pipino sighed. “Yes, Mother, it is almost as if none of the class nonsense you insist on me having should matter. You do realize everything you mentioned is possible if not for yours and Father's stubbornness? That if you were not so unrelenting, I could bridge both of our words just fine?”

Nonomi shook her head. “Pipino….you naive little thing. It is to protect you! All these poor things, they all want one thing. Well….perhaps two things. But mainly, they want your money. Your Father and I, we are just trying to protect you.”

Pipino shook her head and fired back. “No, you are trying to protect your precious money. You could care less what happens to me in the meantime.”

Nonomi shrugged. “If you insist. I will not say you are wrong exactly. We all have our motives in life.”


Langston frowned, letting himself become more earnest and friendly for the moment. He did, at least, feel insulted by that train of thought. And yet, there is something to be said about wanting to protect their child's interests.

“Pardon me…” he interjected. “But, for someone who has done a touch of…” He hummed, trying to go light on the vinegar. “…research… into my person, you should very well know that I haven't the hunger for coin. It's been about eleven years since I stopped living here. The solution to any sort of financial problem would be as simple as going home.” Langston tapped his chin. “End my current relationships, marry anew to the first wealthy young lady that would take me, and have her squeeze out a few children to make my father smile ear to ear.”

Langston held Pino's hand tighter, though he leaned forward to make his cold expression clear to Nonomi. “You would be more correct to be weary of my lechery than anything. I'll not deny that I have a history. Know this: I've not laid with your daughter as such, and have no intention to as long as she does not want to.” A furrowed brow followed these words; a tranquil anger stirred within this unshakable stone. “But, the wealth? You mistake me for a man with far less honor.”


Pipino gazed at her mother with determined eyes as Langston spoke, wanting her to know everything he said had her support. Before she could contribute though, Nonomi raised an eyebrow and replied quickly, almost as if she knew exactly where this conversation was heading and had prepared for it.

“Well, if it would be so easy for you to meet all of the requirements, why not do just that and you can win my Pipino's hand for yourself the proper way. Doing it this way, you deprive her of marriage, involve her in scandal, and deny her the singular devotion a prize such as her deserves, would you not agree? Surely if you loved her as much as you claim, you could do these little things on her behalf.”


Langston pointed his eyes downward, his voice robbed by Nonomi's. That would be the simplest solution. And yet, the shortest road was hardly ever the best road. He chewed on his lip, shaking his head as her words stirred in his mind.

“…You think I wouldn't have wanted that?” he asked. “There are more than a few nights where I dream of such a scenario. Had luck been in my favor, I would have met Pipino much sooner, and I wouldn't be in such a predicament in the first place. My life, however, has advanced much too far. I already have a wife and a child, and I would never turn my back on them.”

He finally turned up to face her, looking directly at Nonomi through a gentle mist in his eyes. “Again, however… your presumptuous nature gets the better of you. I deprive Pipino of nothing. She is free to pursue marriage whenever she wants. She is free to leave this scandalous lifestyle whenever she pleases. No decision of hers is made by me… and that's the key difference between you and I, Nonomi Nomi.”

He turned to Pipino now, passing his free hand over her head. “Strange… my arm is not stopped by any manner of strings. Could it be that she is not a marionette? She emanates warmth from her hand, as well. Could it also be that she is not a mammet that winds up to do your bidding?” He nodded, keeping his eyes fixated on the blue haired woman's. “Have you ever taken an interests in your daughter's desires? What about her thoughts, her feelings? They do exist and she has a right to them. You could probably say you have, but your words betray your own feelings. For you see, she was never *my* Pipino and never will be.”


Nonomi bristled at his response. Who was this relative child to tell her how she ought to parent? Her expression was mostly furious, but her eyes betrayed something softer. They sparkled like Pipino's did when she felt particularly passionate.
“Oh, I see, and I should just let her do whatever it is she wants to do despite the ruin she would bring to herself? To her family?” She narrowed her eyes a little more dangerously. “I have to worked too hard to make this family successful. She is not going to ruin it all. Tell me, if Pipino wanted to jump off a bridge and end her life, would you let her do that too!?” Her hands were clenched in her lap.

Pipino squeezed Langston's hand a little harder than she had probably meant to, her expression a near mirror of her mother's. “Mother, stop talking like I am not even here! I am thirty-four years old, far older and dare I say wiser than you were when you made your past decisions. I mean to make my own! I am refusing to allow you and Father to push me around and decide my life anymore. I grow tired of this! If anything drives me to jump off a bridge, it will be the both of you! Living this life as I have has grown unfathomable!” She said it all with sincerity, fire, venom. Her hand trembled in Langston's grasp and her voice shook with the unbridled fury of thirty-four years of obedient silence.


“I see now…” he said, suddenly rising from his seat to look down at Nonomi. “You *people*… you only know how to think in extremes. It makes it easier to digest, gives you a greater ground to stand on when you wish to look just.” He shook his head and spoke quietly.

“Your daughter isn't going to die, Lady Nonomi. You struck me as a woman of wit, and yet you would resort to that tepid argument of unlimited freedom leading to suicide.” He looked down to Pipino, her hand trembling as her grip tightened like a pincer. Indeed, he could also see his fingertips turn a nice shade of purple. “Thirty four years under your heel. You did a fine job cultivating such contempt for this life. I'm merely the icing on this pastry of rebellion.”

He sighed, looking to Nonomi in a strange and honest confusion. “May I ask you something? Where does this burning desire stem from, to immortalize your family? I'm curious as to why you cannot be content with your successes and simply drift off to the afterlife. If you *must*, write a book, erect a business and slap your name on it. You needn't carve your legacy into a mind that cares not for it.”


As Pipino shouted at her mother, Nonomi's countenance paled, nothing but vulnerability struck her. She had never heard Pipino speak in such a tone or express such frustration. She never had much fight. Always bowed her head and obeyed. She thought her soft, perhaps a little daft, indecisive, and incapable of making proper choices for herself as a result. But here was this woman suddenly - not a girl - screaming at her with such pain, such anguish such….hatred. To say she was shocked would be an understatement. When Pipino had finished, she looked into her lap and accepted Langston's lecture now, closing her eyes as she endured the barbs and arrows, her mind clearly still distracted about this rebellion in her only child.

Pipino breathed heavily from adrenaline, her expression still strong and resolute, and ultimately angry. And she deserved to feel that way. She almost enjoyed it even, to finally be on this end of things.

Upon Langston's inquiry, Nonomi turned her eyes up at him, her expression becoming a little more composed. She looked over her shoulder toward the doorway and then back to Pipino, then back to the doorway, and finally back to Langston. “This goes nowhere,” she said in a soft voice. “And this includes your Father, Pipino. He is not to know. If either of you so much as breathe a word, you will find yourself more ruined than you have already managed for yourself.”
“To make a long story short, my mother was married in an arranged marriage to a man she did not love. I know, a shocker,” she said in a bored, but quiet tone, still checking over her shoulder now and again. “She had an affair with someone else, and it led to be being conceived. It was obvious through genetics that I was not my father's child, but my parents, for the sake of the family name, hid the truth and pressured me to achieve great things. I was to be the paragon of the family. But the whole time, I was looked down upon. Every relative knew. I had a sister as well rightfully born, of course. She became their joy. I became their shadow. Moving forward, I made many choices in my life to remove that shadow from my name. To rise above, and to prove myself something productive. To leave a legacy, and to ensure my own child would not face the same indignities.”


Langston returned to his seat, feeling his second wind being inhaled by a creature full of pity. “…No one answer is correct.” he said, looking at the blonde woman unflinchingly. “Compliance gives birth to your story. In a flash of free will, your mother gave birth to you, and in this, shook the foundation of your family. A great issue that no lie could mask. In spite of this, however, you tie your marriage in a lie as well. To be unable to be your truest self to your own husband…” His brow furrowed. “I've some sympathy for you, at least.”

He thought of his own parents, and the circumstances that led to his conception. “Your concern for your own daughter is real. For rebellion is not always correct, either. My own mother married my father in spite of his meager wealth..” He paused, shaking his head as he realized he slipped into his 14 year old self for a moment. “'Meager' being a relative term, here… but, yes, that was an act made independent of her family's desires, and her life was completely shattered for it, all due to a similar tale of infidelity that was not even true. It's funny, really. All these meaningless issues due to blood. Yet, if you and I were to simultaneously stab each other, not a soul would be able to separate your blood from mine in the pool beneath our bodies.”

Langston smiled softly, waving his hand dismissively. “That was a morbid analogy. I apologize, my lady. I guess what I mean to say, ultimately, is that there's nothing wrong with wanting to watch over your daughter. What you are *doing*, however, is guiding her to be doomed to have her or her children live unhappy lives where these issues of blood thrive and threaten to ruin your family, even long after you're dead. As I've said, I want nothing from you people.” He turned to Pipino and nodded. “I just wish for Pipino to live her best life, on her terms. As long as we both want the same thing, you and I should have no quarrel.”


Pipino looked to her mother with more tender eyes than usual. Her posture was stock-straight as she listened to her mother's reasoning, expression full of surprise and understanding, as if 34 years of pointless decisions and demands suddenly had found purchase in fertile soil within her mind. “Mother…I… had no idea,” she managed after Langston finished. The way he spoke to her and didn't back down… it was inspiring to her. She looked to him with pride, her heart swelling a size bigger for each point he eloquently made, all for her. Inserting himself in such a way in a family's domestic disputes was unheard of and uncomfortable enough, let alone being able to tame such a commanding woman.

“I… Mother, I have tried it your way for a long time now. I am….too different. I thought I could be content in such a life before, before I found what else lies beyond this. What happinesses can be found when one seeks it out and lays pretense aside. This is not even just about Langston! I want to travel, Mother. I want to venture out into the world. I want to see Eorzea and farther. I do not want to be beholden to money and status, and appearances. I want to look at people and *know* them, not their family's reputation or what industry they work in. I want to live a genuine life, not this masquerade we put on daily. Answer me Mother - are you truly happy in this life you have made for yourself? Do you not wish you could just….just leave it behind, and start anew?”

Nonomi lifted her head and considered both of their words, her expression changing into one that was much more characteristic, her vulnerability being supressed before their eyes. “You, boy, have no right to lecture me on issues of blood. *My* issues from my past are about blood, but right now, blood has very little importance. Status, Ilyigu. Status.” She looks to Pipino. “If I were to let you do as you pleased, it would not be long before word got around. I have worked tirelessly to provide for you, Pipino. I have sacrificed too much. And yes, I would be happier doing what I wanted to do, but my dear, that is *not* the way life is. There are real stakes. I sacrificed that happiness to build something for you, and you have the audicity to throw it back in my face like a spoiled, entitled child. It is not just you who suffers. It is I as well, and I am done doing that. Everything I have built for myself comes crashing down when word that you make questionable decisions goes around. I can hear it now: 'Oh, Nonomi, you cannot even handle your own child. How I am to expect you to handle my business?' Or perhaps, 'Oh, Nonomi was not even able to secure her own daughter a proper match! Perhaps she lacks the proper contacts.' Do I need more money? Probably not. But what I *do* need is for you to respect the investment I have made in you. To respect your family. To repay what you owe to us. To me.”
She turned her gaze back to Langston. “I am sorry to hear about your own mother, but I must say, she got what she asked for. And Pipino will get what she is asking for as well, if I let her.”

It was Pipino's turn to stand now. “Mother, no! I owe you nothing but gratitude. It is not my job to be a pawn in your game to become your parents' favorite daughter! This is my life, and I aim to live it. You will have no more claim over me. I aim to disinherit myself!”

At the moment that Pipino declared that statement, standing and fuming with balled up fists, her Father had silently made his way into the room. He had not paused to watch Pipino's dramatic display, only filed in and made a point to sit in the farthest possible chair from Nonomi. He threaded his fingers together.
“Must you two be so loud?” he asked simply, the unnerving calm of his voice ghosting over the room like a fog. What would normally be rhetorical question from anyone else seemed to demand acknowledgement, which Pipino did by sitting back down beside Langston.
Papayena Sasayena studied the group, his gaze falling on Langston and remaining emotionless. “Ah, I see. The man of the bell. Or how long as it been now? The man of nearly four and a half moons? Surely you know you are unwelcome here and have the sense to know that medding in a family's affairs is quite uncouth. Why have you come?”


Langston watched on, letting Pino vent her thoughts to her mother. It echoed a similar conversation he had long ago with his father, though this was more vitriolic than his own. The benefits of *not* being an only child… at least, for that particular moment.

At this point, he felt no need to interject. Indeed, the discussion of Pino's future had far less to do with him than one might believe on the surface. It always appears to be a faerie tale, the story of how love conquers all circumstances. All parties who are just live happily ever after, and the unjust were left in the shady corner of one's mind, either forgotten or pondered about briefly but ultimately ignored. However, Langston was just a catalyst to a rebellion that stirred within Pipino. Whether it was to be him, some other person, or no one at all sitting in this room, this conversation was fated to happen. He was merely here for support, to have another person in her corner as Nonomi…

Within five seconds of wondering where the second opponent was, a dark haired man sporting a goatee stepped into the room. Considering how the conversation was going, and the information he knew about this strange marriage, Langston was almost giddy to see him. Yet, he quelled the flames of excitement, partly because he was not parting with Nonomi's secret, and partly as to not give this apathetic man the satisfaction of a warm welcome.

Langston put his palms to his face, pretending to blush as he looked to the floor. “He even *recognizes* me.” he said softly. The teasing melted away as his hands returned to his lap, giving the man his gaze of blue and violet. “I am Ilyigu Selayigu, son of Nanavele Momovele. Have you met the man? I imagine two you must have traded notes about monitoring your children over a bottle of red.” He shrugged, clearly not caring about the answer to that question. “I am, indeed, welcome here. I was *invited* to this room, much like you. Except I wasn't tardy.”

He brushed his hand towards Nonomi. “Come now, Lord Papayena. Sit next to your wife. I'm sure you two would make for quite the portrait, and it is important to create a united front in this discussion. Lady Nonomi has already put me in my place about status and what have you, and has even insulted my own mother without me putting up a fight. You might as well consider me *defeated*.”

Of course, it was a grand lie. Should these fools have the nerve to harm their own daughter, he thought, he was ready to snap on their heels like a well placed iron trap.


“No, it is just that I have never considered you at all. Had you ever been worth considering for any purpose, your father would have heard from us regarding Pipino's marriage many summers ago. He is a bit….*new* to the fold, you understand. A ruthless man with the skills to succeed in business, but his capital has not stood the test of time. Therefore, you by extension are not worthy of my consideration, and you are in no position to be making demands in my home. That I recognize you is to your detriment.”
He shifted his amber gaze over to Pipino, not even having acknowledged Nonomi from the first. It was as if she did not exist.
“Now, this talk of disinheritance. Tell me, my daughter, how did such a thought enter into that silly mind of yours?”

Pipino tensed visibly. It was clear her father had much more sway over her and that she felt much less confident in dealing with his brand of calculating, iron-fisted will.

“Neither you nor Mother are willing to listen to what I want. You would insist I live a certain way, within your rules, and the thread that is made is always that I will find myself in the street should I not 'toe the line.' Well, I am here to remove that threat from you. You will have no leverage over me.”

Papayena leaned back in his chair, resting his arms imperiously on each armrest.
“Well, well. Look at how *confident* you are in that statement. How long have you rehearsed it? How many bells have you stood in the mirror choosing which expression you think would serve as the most cutting to my core? You are simple to read. You are so….dramatic. But your theatrics ignore logic. You make yourself a character of a romance, and idealize the outcomes of your life to the point of simplicity, and quite frankly, stupidity. So tell me, Pipino. What is your grand plan? What does your life look like without us in it?”

Pipino shifted slightly, but composed herself, hands folded neatly and back straight as ever. “It..It is none of your business what my life shall look like. You shall not be a p-part of it.” Her voice faltered, and she flushed slightly, but still maintained her pose of confidence. Her hands were clasped together like vices in her lap though, betraying the unpleasantness of her position.

Pipiyena smirked only slightly. “Ah, I see. It is none of my business. Well, Pipino, I think you will discover that most things in your life are my business. Every ounce of what you are is because of my generosity. Your success in art was enabled by my obtaining you a suitable instructor. The education you have been given, that you routinely decide not to use in making decisions, that was supplied by me. Your elocution lessons. Your understanding of the world. Your priviledge from which you have benefitted. Your clients that have come to you were largely due to me sending my own clients to you. Life has been so easy for you, Pipino. You are not ready for the challenge of it without me. Or without your mother for that matter,” He said, sparing Nonomi a single glance. “You can continue to find this situation contemptable, or you can simply realize that you are everything we have designed you to be. You can escape from this home, from this pressure should you like, which would be foolish, but know that my fingerprints are on every thought you possess. You know who you are. You are my daughter, and you will never be able to escape from that.” He grinned wider, before closing his eyes languidly.
“Therefore, I propose we settle this little fit of rebellion in a much easier way. Embrace the fact that you are indeed a part of this family and continue to contribute to it. If you insist on needing to see this pauper and his…*wife,*” he started, his tone seething with disgust, “engaging in the debauchery you currently do, I can buy a home for you near theirs so you can do…whatever it is that makes them worth your time. You will stop seeing them in public. You will continue to paint, and you will cease your fighting and your participation in the Grindstone tournament. If you want to travel, I shall provide funds for excursions and you may take holidays within reason to slake your wanderlust. I shall overlook all of these slights you have made toward our family and pretend you never suggested such a thing as disinheritance on the condition that you marry within the year to a suitor of our choosing. I have two that are interested, and your mother has one, so it should be able to be arranged within a few moons.”
Bricteva took the opportunity to enter the room, a stony silence filling it as she carried a tray of tea, the oppressive pause causing her posture to crumble under its weight. She stole a glance at Langston, curious about him as she laid out the beverages. As she made to leave the room, she chanced a glance at Pipino and shook her head almost imperceptibly, signaling that she should not back down. She took her leave.

Pipino was stunned. She looked to her father, and seemed to balk a bit under his frank terms. A compromise - it was the most she had ever earned from him. She looked into her a lap a moment as she considered the words he spoke. It was like he had been planning this speech for months, that he knew what her resolve consisted of. That he knew that she was weak and often took what she could get in terms of her freedom.

A little helpessly, Pipino looked to Langston. She knew in her mind that this wasn't good enough, that it wasn't what she came here for. But there were so many other variables to consider. The money she could make in her position could benefit the entire family, especially Lorry. She could continue to use her economic influence to do good in Ul'dah, and retain her social standing that would enable her to be a beacon for change in a rotten system. She could still travel, and she could avoid being dragged into dangerous situations. But at what cost?


The situation was wildly slipping out of his grasp. Langston grinded his teeth, though they were shrouded by his closed mouth. He drifted back to a few summers ago, snapping his ring finger across the jaw of his own father in a fit of rage. And then to an earlier summer, where father and son were at each other's throats, engaged in a vicious scuffle atop a rosewood desk. Yet, he could also remember a scene more familiar to the general populace. The Calamity, and, in spite of the hatred he earned from them all, how a man dragged his father, son, and ex-wife into shelter.

Such scenes in his mind were a brutal reminder of the influence Langston's father had, both to ruin and save his life. In spite of Papayena's insistence that his wealth and status was meager, it was enough to change the course of Langston's life, and often all it took was a flick of the wrist, ink on parchment to seal the deal on whatever was necessary. This man with his dead look in his eyes, his venomous grin, had that power… tenfold, perhaps a hundredfold, even.

It was just a gentle reminder that he never wished to be at the mercy of such a thing ever again.

An unfamiliar Highlander servant set the tea before Langston. They exchanged glances and he could tell she was dissatisfied. He could barely piece together that she was Pipino's hand, the one she spoke of so favorably. With that, something stirred within his mind. Would these foul people be willing to retaliate against this woman? Papayena wasn't stupid; he must know of the relationship between the two.

Langston grabbed the cup and sipped on it quietly, letting the heat travel down his chest. It did nothing to quell his frustration or his anger. The best it could allow him to do was to spit out his contempt as gently as possible. “You must have enjoyed quite the life before you were married, sir.” he said, glaring at the snake of a man. “Dressed in ruffled clothing and warm coats, charming fools of women to enjoy yourself with.”

“It's all quite glamorous. I know because I lived it, and I hated it.” A single fist flung downward, rattling the tea set upon the table before him. “You mistake your daughter for yourself. Moreover, if you think I am to take your insults lying down, then you mistake me for a bootlicking lout that gives a single damn about your fortune. I am *not* your daughter's hiatus, I am *not* a part of some pleasure package that you can slap a price on. I am Langston Clevers!” He rose from his seat in haste, looking down upon the man now. “Husband, father, professional chef! Pride is your language, so allow me to speak in your tongue! *Your* ilk would throw luxury amounts of coin in my direction to sup upon the labors of *my* work, but I would rather give that to those who could never afford it! You've seen years of work, but I've seen years of suffering, starvation, death! While your cold mounds of gil struggle to keep you warm, I've never lived a day in my life where I yearned for anything more!”

The sudden surge of strength escaped him. What else was there to say but the truth? “These are the things I've earned and they've kept me happy. They would never make you happy. Fair. To impose your thoughts on your daughter is not fair. Yet, I would never want to be beholden to a wretched man like you, so I'll fatten the deal for you.” His eyes turned to Pino. He knew what he was going to say may sting, but he also had confidence. You're not just the child of your parents, he thought. You're your own woman. Make whatever choice you want, but please… please respect mine. “The amount you offer… safety and security, is undeniable.. Should she accept your charity, you won't have to invest in a house or hide me from the public eye or anything of the sort. You can just leave me out.” His expression finally softened into a smile. “It was never about me. It's about Pipino, and no one else. I can live a happy life if she's happy.”


Pipiyena raised his eyebrows in a bored sort of way, his head tilting and a smirk tugging at the corner of his lips. “Fair? My offer is more than fair. It is you who are more cruel that I expected. Making her choose between you and her fami-”

Pipino stood, and clenched her fists at her sides, leaning forward, her face tained with rage, eyes narrowed in seething hatred for the man opposite her. Langston's words stung a little, but her father's implication was like a strong slap across her face. “It is *YOU* who makes me choose! *BOTH* of you,” she cried, directing her rage at her mother now her gaze flashing dangerously between the two. “Every single day of my life I have had to choose! And I chose this family! And I have absolutely *NOTHING* to show for my sacrifices!” Her tears welled over and streamed freely down her face as her her expression contorted in a way that none in the room had probably ever seen. It felt alien to her, but now that she had started, she found it impossible to stop. “Just sit down and paint, Pipino! Go on this date, Pipino! Come to this social event, Pipino! Let me dress you up like my personal doll, Pipino! Give us your money, Pipino! Don't talk to those people, Pipino! Lose weight, Pipino! Dont whore yourself out, Pipino! Don't love him, Pipino! Don't talk! Don't complain! Don't cry! Don't show weakness! Don't speak like that! Don't go here! Don't go there! Don't slouch! Don't wear your hair like that! Don't wear this color! Don't, don't, don't. You've left me with *NOTHING* that is mine! I've had *ENOUGH.* I have found what is mine, and I mean to keep it! I mean to leave this Eighth Hell you have created for me! Of course I would stay by his side!” she screamed, pointing a wild, trembling finger at Langston. She fell silent, still tensely standing, her breath coming in short heaves as her corsetted torso caused her to breathe more shallowly than what was appropriate for such an outburst, chest rising and falling visibly.


Langston shied away from her finger, worried for a moment that he would've taken a hit in the face from the person he least expected to want to hit him in the face in this room. It was a frightening sight to witness, and yet was the most real sight. The bird fluttered from one end of the gilded cage to the next, and it was but a matter of time until she would force herself out. In that one stroke of ingenuity, the latch was broken and she took flight, spreading her wings proudly to be herself; to soar with rage, sadness, and most importantly, the truth.

“There…” he said, capturing her trembling hand in his, loosening her clenched fingers so their palms could meet. He held her hand gently as he took a few careful steps, recreating a familiar scene. Adding to an infinity of scenes under an infinity of ceilings in an infinity of towns, or under the infinite skies if that's where life had taken them, Langston took Pipino's hand in his once more, closing the distance between them. His free hand wiped a few stray tears off her reddened face. Seeing such sadness almost compelled him to cry in empathy, but he had already spent his emotional outbreak. Now was the time to become the stone upon the shore once more.

“No single soul will be satisfied being subservient to the selfish, parent or otherwise.” he said softly. “Look upon yourselves and ask if you've ever been satisfied with your lot in life, and ask if it could've ever been different, and what you could've done to change it. That's what Pipino seeks, and she will break through those who would bar her path. Even you. Even me.” He gravitated towards the blue haired woman in a hug, letting her bury her face into his shoulder. He figured there was a chance that she may ruin his coat, but, that's alright, he thought. Noble clothes never suited him.


His hand upon her own was a balm to the burns she felt due to the scorching fire of her passion. She had never known she could hold such tension in her person until she felt his gentle fingers coaxing hers to seek the solace he knew she needed. She had done what she needed to do on her own as any bird in flight must do, but that lonely flight was ended just as quickly as it had begun. When had his hand in hers become the default and not the exception? When did she see violet and sapphire more often than she saw her own cerulean in a mirror? When did she become accustomed to the tempo of a heartbeat that was not beating within her own chest? These things happened incrementally, without fanfare, without recognition. Without even trying, they led her here. The bird, tired from her flight, landed exactly where she decided she was meant to be.

When she looked upon his face at last, she found she couldn't help but let it all go. What once were silent tears of frustration, a mere trickle leaking from the crack that had been made in the dam all but let loose now as her emotions burst forth. Seeing that empathetic look on his face, and feeling his gentle fingers try and wipe the past away to usher in the present just filled her with so many feelings that consumed her and overwhelmed her mind. She gladly clung to that stone upon the shore as he pulled her closer, ugly yet beautiful tears, smudged eye-makeup and all. Those once balled up fists found a home at his back, taking in handfuls of fabric as if she were afraid something would come and tear her away if she did not hold on, her reality now the most unmoored it had ever been.

Nonomi sat in her composed way, watching her daughter sob openly and cling so desperately to Langston. Her eyes were misted and desperately threatening to spill over, so she turned her head to the side, away from her husband who was so intolerant of weakness. Her hands were clenched in little fists in her lap, manicured nails digging into the heels of her hand helplessly. She said nothing.
Pipiyena, on the other hand sighed and stood up, moving around to the back of his chair. “I thought I was satisfied. And then my daughter was born,” he said in bored and callous indifference. “My life's largest disappointment. I shall take comfort in knowing I no longer have a child.” He strode across the room and paused at the door, not looking back. “No matter what befalls you, you are no longer welcome here. Do not contact me. As far as I am concerned, Pipino Pino was never born, and I shall spend not a moment mourning what never existed. Enjoy the paltry life you have worked so hard to grasp before it slips through your fingers.” He left, unhurried footsteps tapping against marble, and then up stairs.
Nonomi broke at last, having no reason to put up a front of strength any longer. She bent forward, once textbook perfect posture cowing to the weight of guilt and grief.
“I n-never…I never m-meant for this. What have I done?” she bemoaned quietly.


“Wretched creature…” was all Langston could mutter under his breath as he peered out to the dark haired man dismissing himself. Clutching Pipino closer to himself was all he could do to hold back from chasing after that man. His mind entertained dark thoughts of dragging the lord of the manor up the stairs only to knock him down the flight, letting each individual step along the way be a painful reminder of the price of such callous behavior.

No amount of injury could bring his queen peace, however. Thus, rationality took reign as he returned his attention to the crestfallen blonde. Langston also had a choice amount of words for her, for he could not fully sympathize with Nonomi. After all, the woman was speechless as soon as that germ made his presence known in the room. But alas, his role as the aggressor was expended. How he wished they could have all came to terms. But, Langston's own father was but a fledgling imp compared to the manner of demons he confronted.

He relaxed his grip and pointed Pino's face up so their eyes could meet and he nodded, though he could offer no smile. He wasn't capable of mending the pain that pulsed inside of her; the wounds were much too fresh. “I'll be waiting outside of the manor,” he said, followed by a very brief and nervous chuckle. “W-well, provided I am not kindly escorted off the premises for loitering. Should that happen, I'll be at the Gate of Nald.” He placed a kiss upon her forehead, not wanting to salt her mother's wound by being too forward, and left the two of them to speak on their own terms, in privacy.


Pipino let go of Langston and let her eyes linger on his form, soaking in every last bit of courage she could from him before he disappeared through the frame. The two remaining women stood and sat in the deafening silence, punctured only by their mutual sniffles and the slight rustling of clothing as they wiped away tears. Finally, Pipino walked to the side of the room to a window, looking out upon the city as she spoke.

“You have had the luxury of an opportunity in your life that I did not. That of choice. You made choices. Your mother made choices. And you would rob me of that same power. You act on my behalf to give me what you feel is best for me, choosing my life carefully, to spare me from ugliness. But I cannot forgive you for the choices you have made.”

Nonomi simply stared into her lap, hands folded in that composed way that Pipino often collapsed into when she was forced to endure truths that were difficult. As much as she would like to deny it, the apple did not fall very far from the tree.

Pipino turned from the window, a gloved hand still resting on the sill, as if soaking the energy of the city's citizens and the weight of the debt she owed to society to support her. “I have not forgotten, Mother. That time when you took me to the market. When I went missing.” She narrowed her eyes at her mother. “When you paid to have an innocent mother murdered. It was then that I knew this day would happen, and we would be having this conversation. I just… it took me twenty years to muster the courage. I hoped you could learn… that you could change. That you and Father could try and….and use our wealth to make amends. But you both are rotten in your core.”

Nonomi stares up and her and shakes her head, her expression appearing to become a bit cross now, while simultaneously still expressing that sadness. “Pipino, I…it was all for you, please just-”

Pipino pushed herself from the wall and marched her way from the door, quick heels and a frustrated noise cutting her mother's plea short. “That makes it worse! I refuse to have all your sins be in my name! You made your choices, so stop placing them upon me as -my- burden to bear! The blood is on -your- hands. The greed is written in -your- ledgers. I am done playing my part in this farce of a family.” She paused looking to her and biting her lip for a moment, gripping the frame hard in her hand, taking in her last tactile vestige of a house that once served as a home. “Do not contact me until you have found some semblance of decency within yourself,” she managed with a shaking voice as she lowered her hand and did not await an answer, walking quickly, nearly jogging to the door to make her retreat as she tried to hold her composure and dignity until after she had finally left.

The cool desert air of night met her warm, wet face like a refreshing breath of pure, unbridled freedom. Her whole body was tingling with adrenaline as she walked on, not daring to turn back as she let that magnetic force that tethered she and Langston together pull her ever closer to where he said he would be waiting. She was sobbing yet again, thankful that not many were in the streets at the moment to witness what a fright she looked, hair disheveled and make-up smeared. Despite the numbness she felt in the moment, having felt too much to feel much more, she felt lighter as she finally reached her quarry at the Gate of Nald.

“It is done,” she said with a weepy smile, glossy eyes turning into watery pools once again. “I am free.”

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