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"Do you think the stars have Daemons?"

Cora looked over to see the priest laying in the grass nearby, looking up at the sky with awe.

"Who knows," she smirked, looking back into her telescope. "Even if they do, I don't think it matters all that much. It's not like they'd listen to our wishes anyway!"

She heard Edan shift and move closer to her. "Cora, stand up, please."

A command.

She had no choice but to comply.

She tried to pinch him, only to have him catch her arm.

It was then that she saw the blood that had covered his vestments. "...Edan--"

He reached for a pair of tongs that seemed to come from a fireplace that seemed to have been beside him the entire time. When she looked up, the sky had been replaced with Mother Liliane's ornate ceiling.

"What did you do?" He held up a coal he'd grabbed from the fireplace and smiled.

Her eyes went wide with fear, and she screamed as he pulled her close.

 

It was the same Gale-blasted dream she'd had over and over these past two weeks.

Cora laid there in her bedroll, staring up at the sky. She was annoyed at being conscious, but sleep was no longer an option.

At least in Vespas, she didn't dream like this. She'd been told to be happy for her new situation, and to praise the Noblemen and Magicians who worked to free her from the shadow of obscurity she'd lived under. She'd hated that they'd taken that freedom of thought from her.

But having that same sense of self? It was hard. She wished she could Obligate herself to stop thinking about her time in the Church. Or that she could bring herself to ask Edan to.

Would he, though?

He'd wrecked her life with words. He told them where she lived, and they'd come and stolen her away. Surely, he could at least do something to fix it. Magic couldn't fix the fact that she'd lost her home. Lost her source of employment... Not to mention her mother's flowers, and her years of notes…!

But Magic could make her forget. A single Obligation is all it would take. But what else would be lost?

She groaned loudly, not wanting to deal with these thoughts so early in the waking day.

As she got dressed, she could smell the faint fragrance of incense on the wind. Edan was probably off praying again. He seemed to do that a lot more than any of the other priests she'd dealt with back in Vespas.

He'd been much more quiet than she'd expected, too. Somehow, she'd thought he would have endlessly apologized to her for everything, and fall over himself, begging for her forgiveness. Instead, he simply stayed out of her way when possible.

He's not okay, either , she thought as she kindled the fire to make breakfast for herself. But if it wasn't for him, none of this would have happened.

 

It was hard to miss Edan's return, but Cora continued to cook, pretending that he was beyond her notice - but once she was sure he was otherwise occupied, she stole a glance at him. He'd come back earlier than normal.

Gale, he looks tired.

"Do you want something to eat?" The words escaped her lips before she'd really had a chance to think about it. Damn it.

Edan started a bit, and looked up from what he was doing. "...No. Thank you, though. That was something you--"

"Saint Aeryn, save me. Edan, just take it and eat," she demanded, holding the plate she'd prepared out to him. "It's not any good to me if you die or something because you're busy being miserable."

"But you… I-I'm not… I mean…" he started, only to get a glare from Cora in response. "...Thank you." He sat down gingerly on the other side of the fire, before taking the plate. "...What are you going to eat?"

She shrugged. "I'm fine."

✦✧✦✧✦✧✦

As they readied to leave their makeshift camp near midday, Cora asked about what Edan had in mind going forward.

Where were they going? How much money did they have? What was his long-term goal, here?

His answers were not encouraging:

"Eleosa, eventually… But Duskbridge for now," "...Not a lot," and "I want to make sure you get home safe."

He pulled on his pack and started to take steps toward the road, seeming to have expected that to be the end of the conversation.

"Excuse me?" Cora stepped in front of him, stopping Edan in his tracks.

"I-I don't want to l-lie to you," he managed to get out.

"Are you… Are you serious?" She asked, as a bitter laugh escaped her throat. "Eleosa, really?"

He started to open his mouth to respond, but was cut off.

"There's nothing there for me, Edan! Absolutely nothing!" She felt tears prick her eyes as her laughter seemed to get caught in her throat. "I don't have a home to go back to! I'm a Magician! I can't-- We don't… They… They don't let us…"

Edan quickly set his bag on the ground and pulled her to him, as she began to sob.

She buried her face against his shoulder. She didn't have words to express how she felt. What was there to say?

"I promise I'll make things right," she heard him say quietly. "I'm so sorry."

 

Eventually, they set out to continue their journey into nowhere in silence.

 

When they stopped for the day, she couldn't help fuming to herself. She wanted to yell at Edan for his part in how things had become. She was angry and hurt beyond words, but was it really fair to blame him for all this?

Maybe?

He didn't ask for any of this. All he did was run his mouth.

He had promised to make things right, the same as he had in Vespas.

At least he tried to fix things, and was still trying.

Maybe she should try to trust that.

She snuggled into her bedroll, and glanced at him across the now-extinguished fire-pit.

Tomorrow. She would try tomorrow. When she was less angry.

✦✧✦✧✦✧✦

Morning came before Cora knew it. Or, not quite - the sky was still somewhat dark from the daily eclipse.

It felt like so long since she'd seen it. Was it Ombré this time? Or Foncé? Which stars were in the sky? It'd been so long since she'd seen them. Aside from building the telescope, neither Father Pierre nor Mother Liliane had allowed her outside during the Dark Hour.

It used to be easy to stay awake during these events, but now? She was just tired. Her mind started to wander, as she drifted in and out of sleep.

When Father Pierre had arrived at her home, he introduced himself as a representative of the Vespan church, looking for young minds, passionate for learning.

He'd been referred to speak with her specifically by Brother Edan Lares -- perhaps she knew him?

She felt her cheeks grow warm at the mention of the young priest's name, pleased that he had been thinking of her all these cycles later. It was simple enough to explain the acquaintance to the Father.

He'd stated, at some point, that she should make tea during the conversation. She complied, recognizing the command for what it was, but hoping he was as oblivious as Edan had been.

They spoke for a while about her interests, and she even allowed Father Pierre the opportunity to look over some of the star charts she'd been working on, aside from her regular work. He seemed to be impressed by the level of skill she exhibited, and spoke about the world of possibilities that could open up for her, were she to accompany him.

Flattered, she tried to turn down the opportunity. It was a kind offer, but she was far more comfortable here, at home.

"Oh, but my dear child. It's already been decided." The priest set his teacup down. "You will accompany me to Vespas."

She froze, knowing she now had no option to refuse.

The light soon made its full return to the sky, and the stars disappeared.

 

"There was no way for you to know it would have turned out like this." Cora mumbled as she turned over to face Edan, thinking he was asleep. "But what were you even thinking…?"

"I wasn't," he responded, catching her off guard. It was apparent that he was fighting to keep his tone even. "I should have known. Everything would have been better."

Cora was unsure of how to respond. He normally didn't sound so sullen, but it was just barely past the dark hour. Had he even slept?

She felt uncomfortable with the idea that he seemed to be hurting, too. Would it be unfair if she'd ignored it? Noblemen did it all the time when issuing commands to the Magicians under them.

No. Nothing was going to improve if she held onto this resentment.

"...Tell me the truth: Are you really okay?" she finally managed, sitting up enough to lean back on her elbows. She looked at him intently, hoping he would turn her way.

"I'm fine." She could tell that he tried to sound genuine with his response, but still managed to come across as somewhat flat.

Cora huffed at him, annoyed that he'd lied to her.

"What? I answered!"

With a sigh, Cora moved to sit beside Edan. She wanted to know what was on his mind. "No, you're not getting it. I'm giving you a command. You're supposed to comply." She leaned over him to make sure she met his eyes. "Like I told you yesterday, you're useless to me if you're miserable. Or exhausted, even. Did you just lay here awake all night?"

He looked away from her before answering. "I'm okay. I'm at peace with everything that happened."

"Then tell me about it."

She watched as he seemed to contemplate complying with her demand.

After a moment of awkward silence between the two, Edan finally tried to sit up, gently nudging Cora out the way. "I have to go do morning prayers. Please move."

Cora complied, and was too stunned to say anything in response. As the priest walked away from her, she found her voice again. "What, so it's fair for you to order me around, but I can't get you to even answer a stupid question?!"

 

He ignored her.

 

If he was fine, she was fine.

Everything was fine.

 

When Edan returned a couple hours later, she was too busy packing up camp to acknowledge his presence. They'd need to get back on the road soon, after all.

✦✧✦✧✦✧✦

Over the course of a week, Cora learned that silence was miserable, especially when it came from a Nobleman.

Every time she looked at Edan, she couldn't help but wonder if he also saw her as something other than a person. He was really no better than any other Nobleman, after all. Just different in how he treated her.

Cora was lucky to get more than a tepid "mmhm" or a nod and some sort of acknowledgement most days, and after a few days, she'd decided that talking was pointless. Worrying was pointless. Thinking too much about it was pointless.

She wondered if Edan had somehow come to hate her, and had decided to punish her for living an existence in defiance of the Gale. She was a Magician after all -- and she needed to be bound to a Nobleman in order to be of any value… Right?

Even though she knew this probably wasn't true, the possibility that it might be true allowed doubt to seep in. That doubt left her watching the sky when she should have been sleeping, alone with her thoughts as Edan snored.

When they'd reached Duskbridge, and found a place to stay for a few nights, she found it impossible to banish those thoughts. She was going to be alone with this man, who had promised to make things right…

But by whose measure?

As she shut the door to their room behind her, she started to feel overwhelmed. It was difficult to breathe. She could feel that her palms started to sweat, and her fingers turned to ice. Could she continue to be alone with him? What if he was getting tired of her? Would he just… get rid of her? Or everything that made her… her?

No, he'd never do anything like that. She was just tired. This was just exhaustion.

"Cora?"

By the time Edan had called her name, she felt as if she may as well have been in the depths of the Altiria ocean.

 

When she awoke, she found herself in bed, staring directly at the former priest. She wasn't sure what to think - he'd been avoiding even looking in her direction for days, but now… His eyes were fixed on hers.

How long had she been out for?

"Are you okay?" he asked in a near whisper.

She nodded, closing her eyes. "I'm just tired, I guess," was all she could manage to respond with.

It wasn't entirely true, but it was close enough for now.

"You should get some rest, then," was all Edan responded with.

She felt the Obligation take hold, making it difficult for her to stay present. For as much as she wanted to sleep, she wanted to yell at him equally as badly. Even if his intentions were good-natured, he had no right to tell her what to do. He had no right to control her like this, even if the Gale allowed for it.

But everything was so heavy.

She would pinch him when she woke up. She needed to sleep now.

✦✧✦✧✦✧✦

When Cora awoke, she'd made sure Edan was perfectly aware of just how unhappy she was to have been forced to sleep until the middle of the next day.

That much sleep - regardless of how much she needed it - left her feeling groggy and confused. Not to mention the fact that she'd woken up chilly - thanks to Edan, who'd slept curled up in a cocoon of blankets, and left them at the foot of the bed when he woke.

He'd been surprised by her furor - and apologized profusely. He hadn't meant for her to rest that long. He thought he was helping. It was meant to be a suggestion, not… not an Obligation.

She'd told him he needed to learn to mind his words before one of them got hurt .

Edan agreed.

 

It was another few days before they'd gathered up the supplies needed to get on the road again, and left Duskbridge.

She was thankful that she'd insisted on a tent. Somehow, they'd managed enough luck to avoid rain - but the first night back on the road proved to be gross and rainy. She'd had to practically drag Edan into the tiny space at bedtime and force him to lay down.

"If you catch a cold and die, I'm planting you in a geranium," she warned him. "And if I get sick because I have to stay up and take care of you…"

It hadn't taken long to get him to comply after that.

 

As Edan drifted off to sleep, Cora found herself hoping, somehow, that things improved. She was tired of Edan's moping and silence. She was tired of traveling. There was a part of her that was pretty sure she was just tired of life as a Magician.

She wasn't sure how long they'd be together, but… Life for the foreseeable future was going to be miserable if they couldn't at least find a way to get along.