A Rock and a Hard Place - 12/01/20


This was his secret place. The tranquil quiet time that he had removed from the world, and the only place he had left to call his own.

It was a simple yet hidden little corner of Gyr Abania, a tucked away little clearing only found through a particularly complex cave hidden in a hollowed out portion of a mountain. To anyone not looking, this place might seem to look just like any other, but for F’Loki it was the only place he could truly let himself go.

He laid idly on the dirt next to a flower covered mount that lay beneath the hole that exposed the hollow area to light and the sun and the cold vine covered mound next to it, each containing his mother and father respectively. It was the one thing he allowed himself release to do despite himself once they died. He HAD to bury them somewhere nice, and nothing could stop him from seeing to it.

He did not speak to them because it was not his way, but he felt closer to them in more senses than just what was literal proximity. Before he realized it, he could not stand to sleep in cities anymore either. The noises, the people—but outside there was the chance of silence. The comforting earth to cradle you like a mother. Most importantly, it helped him to feel closer to the family. Even once he learned he was not the sole survivor, he could not rest well without at least being outside, close to the ground. It had turned into something like his safety blanket.

and now, plagued with troubles as he was, he found himself back here once again.


Sword in hand almost the entire time, A'erina made her way across the drab background of Gyr Abania, fending off an assault or two from local brigands looking to make some gil off of whatever she had on her at the time, as well as the local flora and fauna native to the place she had hoped she'd never have to revisit in her lifetime. She wiped her wrist across her mouth, specks of her own blood now smudged across her forearm as she reached into her satchel and pulled out the paper for the tenth time. “This better be it this time, there's only so many places you can hide in this shithole.” A'erina had grown tired of wandering around, but had not stopped looking and refused to ask for help. She felt like she had finally gotten through the maze-like cave after what felt like bells. A light at the end of one of the tunnels leads her out into a clearing. not really big enough for anything and could easily be looked over as useless. She looked around as this place was something she didn't see very often, and she felt like she shouldn't really be there. It was almost perfectly quiet, save for the sounds of the wind blowing and the occasional odd sound or two presumably from a small insect or similar. It wasn't particularly difficult to spot him, as colourless as everything was, even he stuck out like a sore thumb.

“There you are…” She pulled out a waterskin and drank it's remaining contents as she began a rather laboured walk over to his relaxed self, stopping a couple of yalms away from him. She dropped her sword and then proceeded to kneel on the ground next to it as she waited for him to acknowledge her being there… He probably knew she was coming before she even stepped foot in Gyr Abania but A'erina just sat there for a moment, waiting.


His ear twitched as she spoke, but he did not move. There was a sulky air about him now. His special place had been invaded.

“….You’ve been following me?”


“Not exactly following, no… I'm not going to lie to you, Eli gave me this piece of paper on how to find this place, and told me that I would probably find you here. “She shuffled around a little in place. “I wanted to talk to you, I came all the way out here so I could do just that. ”


“Of course he did…”

He takes a deep breath.

“So, what’s on your mind?”


“Why do you hate him so much? If he's that bad, Why would he even give me the means to find you. ” A'erina moved from kneeling, onto her backside, pulling her legs up and resting her arms on her knees ” It's not hard to figure out why you choose to come here. You get to be alone with them, in the peace and quiet. You told me you didn't want to be around me if I keep talking to him, he gave me the option to help you, but you don't want my help. For the first time since I met you, I felt like you don't need me…” She grabbed the hilt of her sword and proceeded to toss it out of arms reach “ …Just to be on the safe side, y'know?”


“The fact that you are even here at all is reason enough to hate him. It’s the underlying statement beneath it all that infuriates me so. You cannot stop me from finding even your most secret place, and sending someone there like an afterthought.”

“It is an oppressive, horrifying thought and a gesture that perfectly exemplifies everything wrong with him. Would you really want someone can can so easily and casually become a threat near your loved ones? To have them in his clutches to do whatever he wished?”

He turned over now, giving her a deadpan face.

“You’re even letting him translate my intent for me. I never once said I do not want to be around you if you keep talking to him—I made it clear that I dislike it.”

“To begin with, the logic does not begin to make any sense if you think of it that way. Endangering my sisters is far more of a sin than talking to someone I dislike, and if that was all it took to make me cease speaking with someone, I’d be the one cutting off my sisters, not the other way around.”

He rubs his chin, looking thoughtful for a moment.

“Weren’t my last words to you before I left for more work that I’d see you soon? How exactly did he convince you I wanted you to stay away?”


“He didn't convince me of anything. He asked me if I wanted help, something between me and him, that falls down to my decision and mine alone. You took my reply meant for him, you dislike him yet you're going to his place and taking things that were never meant for you to see.” She looks at the ground, she was nowhere near as strong as she thought she was.

“You're overdoing everything, I want to help, I want to fix things, I want to be the person you come talk to first… but you won't let me. He told me that I could be like you… How else would I react? I do not fear him like everyone else does, even though I should be afraid. I never felt that way, even when he was plaguing my friends lives. Maybe he can't help me either, but I've little options…”

She pictures in her head what she was shown in his lab “…But now I'm not sure what I want to do. The only thing he convinced me of is that I have a choice.” she looked around as she continued, trying to keep up a facade that she was fine. “…I don't want to lose you but at the rate you're going it's an inevitability… Someone like me can't help, so you can imagine if I was given an offer to be like you, I'd make the snap decision to do so because then I could. ”


“Help me HOW exactly? Hearing you say it, you’d think I were marching off to my death.”


“You're not far from it… I spoke to Eli and he told me as much. ” A'erina sighs

“I wanted to apologise to you, I should have spoken to you first, it might be what I want but I failed to consider how you'd feel about it. ”


He took a deep breath and exhaled from his nose.

“I’m not stopping you. I’m just being clear that I don’t like it one bit.”

“There’s so much that goes with your decision, and even if I know what answer I’d give for you, it’s never going to be my answer.”

“Theres no need to apologize. I need to accept responsibility for making you even think about considering this in the first place. It’s just…”

He takes another deep breath.

“…I don’t want to risk anyone else. Not my friends, or my sisters, or you—“

He closes his eyes now, clearly picturing things as he spoke.

“But then this…monster comes along and snatches you away.”

“He won’t protect you, but he will make it so you are what’s protected from. That’s what he did to my sisters. That’s what he did to ME. He made us into monsters, and no matter how much we dislike it we can’t go back.The only difference between him and the imperials that took R’asha is that he gives you a choice. He whispers in your ear and shows you the possibilities of what could be, or ensnares you in some web so finely crafted you won’t want to pay heed to that screaming voice in the back of your head warning you of his threat.”

“I’ve seen what fear has done to you when you learned the truth. When I told you what I was. Why would you want to become the thing that caused you so much disgust? To be afraid of being in your own skin?”


“You know I can't just avoid him right? Novine suggested coming to a compromise with him. Sort of setting boundaries and such, Although things are slightly different with me… With us. I can't guarantee it would work, but the way I see it, I'm useless to him anyway, that's why he's not done anything, at least not yet, or that I'm aware of.”

“I know you're against it, but I don't want anything to happen to you. I feel like I finally have something resembling a life again. You think I'd be happy to just throw it away or let anything happen that could ruin it? I understand how you feel about him, and why you're so against it all.”


“I’m not sure what you want me to say.”


“I'm not sure either, but just havin' you listen to me is good enough…” A'erina dragged her satchel closer to her and pulled out her book, balancing it on her knees as she started writing on an empty page.“ I'm not gonna pretend I understand everything that goes through your mind, because I don't. But something I have to understand, is what you want me to say, what you want me to do.” She looked at her book before scribbling down some more and looking at him. “How about you help me instead, hm? ”


“Help you Uh…”

He looked at the book.



“Help me with my problems, then I have no reason to speak to him or consider any offers he gives me. I get the help I've needed, and then you don't have to worry 'bout me because I'll promise not to get involved as much as I can.” A few more scribbles “Easier said than done, though. Just being with you means I'm involved.” A'erina tilted her head backwards and looked up towards the opening which let in light to the area.

“Or I could just… Leave. Take my problems with me and let you live your life without me to worry about…” She closed her book and moved it, letting it rest on her legs close to her chest.


“I do not think I can help if I wanted to. What even do you need his help with on the first place?”


“Controlling this thing inside me, I don't want what happened with your sister to happen again. He said he might be able to help me control it… But for that to work he wants me to understand completely what it is I would be agreeing to.”


He stared for a while.

“Nothing I can do about that, or I would have already. I don’t know what causes it, or anything about how to stop it. I couldn’t bring my sister back for years….”

He trailed off, looking at the mounds.

“I buried my parents here.”

“It was all I could hold onto.”

“Never letting it happen again, I mean.”


“I'm sorry… I didn't know you were here for that reason, I should have known that there'd be something that would draw you here. This place is pretty obscure and I wasn't sure I'd ever find it even with directions and instructions.”

“But surely you understand that he's the only one that has offered me a solution to it… Things might not be so bad if I'm unlikely to attack Lami again… It could be worse and I could attack you. It's a horrible feeling, being aware of what you're doing but having no control over it. ”

She moves forward a little to get closer to him.

“I'm not strong enough to do anything on my own.”


“I’m not stopping you. If I cannot help you and he can, that’s my fault. But I’m not planning on being a liar either. I don’t like it. I doubt I ever will like it—it feels like I’m drowning or something. But….if it helps you, then do it.”


“Then be there for me when it happens. If I can't learn to live with it, and lose myself to it, be the one to stop me… One time, three times, twenty times. It doesn't matter because I'll know that whatever you do, you'll be helping. You'd be showing that you really do care about me, and not using me for some twisted purpose made with false promises.”


“Well I think I can certainly do that. If I see you while it’s happening as well I might even be able to tell it’s coming if there’s a tell or something of the like.”

“Only uh….more than likely you’ll be pretty sore after. We’ll both be banged up really.”


“Wouldn't be the first time. I think I use up all my aether and I'm out for days afterwards.”

A'erina looks at him and gives him a weak smile.

“It's less likely to happen when you are around me, though. It's like being with you… No… It's more than that. It wouldn't happen around you even if I tried. Theres already been a few times where it normally would but it never did. When you told me, showed me what you really are I wanted to run away, but I froze… Whilst standing there listening to you, I just wanted to hurt you… But I couldn't. I don't really know how to explain it to you beyond that. But I think I…”

A'erina puts her book back in the satchel and shrugs at him.

“ Y'know it's not important, aslong as things aren't bad, then that's all I could ask for.”


“Then…I think that settles that.”

He shuffles in place a bit awkwardly, before pulling some dried meat from a pouch on his waist.

“Out of curiosity, what did he even propose to do to you in the first place? From what I know he’s done something different for everyone.”


A'erina looks away from him.

“He asked me if I wanted to become a monster, like you… Said that I would be able to share your work with you so you're not doing so much. I agreed without much hesitation or thinking it through. I guess just the idea of being able to be around you more seemed too good to decline… But now I think about it I can do all that without the need to change who I am, I just need to bug you more.”


He looks like he has a lot he wants to say, but ultimately he shrugs it off.

“What else did he tell you?”


“Does it even matter? ”


“Matters a little bit…”

He sighs.

“So are you staying here then? Or did you just want to have that talk?”


“It shouldn't matter at all. Your views matter to me just as much as my own. If you're not happy with something, then neither am I. So you don't need to worry, you keep doing your thing, and I'll just keep being the same plain and simple person I've always been, no augments and enhancements or whatever else gets done.”

A'erina pouted, although it looked more like she was chewing on wasp.

“Kinda came a long way just for a talk, I hate this place… Not this place in particular just… “Stretching her arms out ” Gyr Abania, I was born here but I don't remember any of it and my old man drummed it into our heads that we shouldn't come here because he hates it. I was too young to understand why and I never really questioned it so we all kinda just grew up disliking it too.”


“I think you might be latching onto some uh….weird bits there.”

“I’m a monster, yes. I didn’t want it for me, nor my sisters.”

“But it’s not the…gods, how do I even put it?”

He finally stood up and began pacing.

“I’m not so thick I’d ignore that this is a strange sort of double standard. It’s not so simple as something like I won’t be around you because you were changed in some way. If that were the case, I should be held to the same standard.”

“My concern is what it will cost. What hold will he have over you in this? But that’s the rub, and it’s what’s rubbing me wrong the most. If we are counting on what he likely wants…doesn’t it sound like he wins either way?”

“The condition isn’t whether or not you take his offer, it’s just the idea that we value one another. That is his hold.”

“No matter what we choose, we are already pieces for him. Do you see what I mean now? The….utter lack of any sort of emotion?”

He takes a bite from his dried meat and thumbs his nose, sighing in a huff.


A'erina remains seated but resting her arms on her knees, watching him pace.

“I think you should have thought more about this before you asked me on a date. ”

“You were already involved with him, and… I spoke to him, I never saw him as a threat. How was I supposed to know? ”


“I didn’t know you knew each other, and I didn’t think you’d accept the date invitation.”


“Neither did I. Don't even know why I did, still don't. It was uncharacteristic of me. But you know somethin'? I'm not angry or upset about it all, I'm allowed to make my own decisions. Besides, it's not like things were exactly interesting for me until you came along anyway. ”


“That’s me, spectacle supreme!”

He gives a hearty laugh.

“Mostly learned it from how I got by after everything. Had to learn, but it was good for me.”


“…Why don't you just kill him? ”


“He did something to my sisters. I dunno if he has something set up to screw them over if he dies.”

He rubs his chin.

“Well that’s not all of it….but what I just said aint a lie. It’s just…”

“How much of his family have you met?”


“All of this shit is a mess, y'know. A big fuckin' mess. ” A'erina exhales, but sticks her tongue out as she does so, blowing a raspberry like a child. “Novine, I guess… Theres that other one that came into the Tavern couple of weeks ago, didn't know until she said about wanting to set him on fire… Would have found it funny if not for the fact I actually would rather not see him die. ”


“Why not? He’s a prick.”


“You just said it yourself that you don't even know what will happen if he does die, What if something happens to you or your sisters, think you could go on living if you got to live while something happened to your sisters, all because you didn't care if he lives or dies.”

“What if something happened to me? How would you feel?”

A'erina slowly got to her feet before continuing.

“I know me and you don't have the same feelings towards each other, I understand that… But that's what his hold is over me, You. I wake up and all I can think about is you, I go to bed and the last thing on my mind is you, and no matter what I do, no matter what I think, It always comes back to you. I would assume he knows this too. ”


“What the fuck is that supposed to mean? What feelings are different?”


A'erina reeled as he swore, she was slightly startled by his remark but took a deep breath before looking at him.

“Do you… love me? ”


He looks away.

“I mean…what is love anyway, right? It’s like….probably yes. So what? It’s not weird.”

“Look I’m not saying I do, but I’m not saying I don’t either. It’s a lot.”


“I never said it was weird. I just wanted an honest answer. I suppose I kinda expected you to say something like that, though. That's why I said it was different. ”


“How’s it different?”


“Because I can stand here and tell you that I love you. You, however, can't give me a straight answer. That's why it's different. That's why I came all the way out here. I don't know what else I can say. ”

A'erina walks over to her sword and picks it up looking at it for a moment. “ But atleast no matter what happens now, I'm glad that I could tell you. ”


“It’s not that I can’t say it. It’s just that….it could be dangerous to say it.”


“Well, I said it, and I'm still here, ain't I? I get it though, it can be used against you as a weakness. ”



“So why doesn’t your old man like it out here?”


“Born here, probably lived here long enough to decide he didn't want to live here anymore, or something about it just upsets him, never really asked or cared.”


“Maybe we can try bringing him back sometime. Lots going on with the salt trade recently, so might even be something to invest in, if he’s into that. Might as well experience a place before you decide you don’t like it.”


“…You do realise he's 64 and has a hard time moving around, right?” She gets close to him and taps a finger on his head “…Or did you forget? I'm not gonna pester him with something like that, maybe a few years ago but not anymore, I'm just happy to visit the grumpy old man every so often instead. He seems to appreciate it and that's all I want.”

A'erina puts her sword away on her back and secures her satchel.

“We're good, right?”


“Yeah, we are good. Why?”


A'erina walks up to F'loki and puts her arms around him “Mind helping a girl out?”


He seems confused now, his mind going several places at once, then reconsidering at speeds she likely would not understand.

“Helping with what? Seems I’m a bit slow today.”


Being so close meant he was in ideal distance for her to quickly smash her own head against his, she chose not to though.

“Take me home. Unless you plan on making me walk back? ”


“Ah. Sure, just….gimme a sec.”

He walked towards the mounds, pulling a water skin from his waist and emptying them out inbetween the makeshift graves.

“Maybe don’t tell my sister about this place. She doesn’t know about it yet.”


“Done a pretty good job of avoiding her recently. Think thats for the better anyway, so you don't gotta worry, I won't say anything.”

“…Thinkin' about it, I'd rather not come back here again, if it's all the same to you. Not until I can get around a bit easier.”


“Not like I’ll drag you here.”

He returned to her side before placing a hand on her shoulder, pulling them both into the aether a moment later.

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