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Divinity's Reach was usually a busy place.

The human capital, full to the brim with politics and intrigue, seemed to draw people from all over Tyria in a way that even Lion's Arch, universally acknowledged melting pot that it was, couldn't rival. It wasn't unusual to turn up to any of the popular taverns to find them overrun with jovial travelers, even the more tolerant of the Charr, and occasionally, though never very loudly, the locals would murmur under their breaths about the challenges of trying to maneuver around the tourists simply to pursue the requirements of daily life. The recent attack should have driven them away but, if anything, it had only seemed to attract more. It made sense, in a way. Neither Norn nor Charr willingly ran from a fight, the Asura were feeling more than a little miffed at the implication that their own had been involved in this diabolical mess, and the Sylvari... Well, a lot of them hadn't seemed to notice. Wintersday had pushed everything, and everyone, to their limits, however. The crowds had become unbearable at times and the battle for resources and supplies had left tempers frayed. Business was booming but the demand pushed prices up and, suddenly, those who had lived within the walls all their lives, in the house their ancestors had built so many centuries before, found their festivities gift-wrapped and shipped off to foreign lands, where coveted trinkets would no doubt simply fall into obscurity as the year progressed and other souvenirs took their place. The Seraph had stepped up, however, and the increase in tension had been mostly absorbed without serious incident. Nobody had expected it. Salma was a popular district, a vibrant district, a wealthy and successful district. It had its shady areas like any other part of the city but, even with the tavern in such high demand, the atmosphere was usually that of controlled mayhem. Salma was well-guarded. Fist-fights were broken up quickly. Crime kept to its darkened alleys. Salma was safe, or as safe as anywhere could be.

Nobody remembered how it started, except perhaps the two at the centre of it. Disagreement over prices, perhaps, or competition over a remaining item sought by two serious bidders. The little market there had been struggling to keep up with demand for days and, with the heightened frenzy of the impending morn, Wintersday Eve had pushed them to their limits. The little music stall was selling instruments only meant as display to tone-deaf Norn who didn't know the difference. Misshapen figurines set aside for recasting were snatched out of hands with all the eagerness of true ignorance, the imperfections unnoticed by those simply wanting something 'from afar' to send home for the cubs. Most of all, it was the rivalry. Too many strong personalities, too much ancient pride and too much ancestral aggression compressed into such a tiny space. Those pushing and shoving were often far bigger than those getting in their way, it was inevitable that something would eventually break. Curt words, hurled insults, and one wayward fist were all it took. Salma's market was in riot. By now much of the property was ruined and those who hadn't fled, who had taken issue and picked up the nearest thing to swing, were too far invested to retreat. As those already drunk realised what was happening and spilled from the tavern into the fray, the hostilities had only spread further until, suddenly, the streets were in flames. And it was a release, of frustration and sorrow and old prejudice, of unhappiness or loneliness or everything that made this time of the year so horrendous for those looking at life from the bottom of the well. The Row and all its denizens emptied onto the well-lit streets with a venom they rarely dared show in full-light and claimed them, arbitrary punches flung at whoever stood in the way to claim the centuries' of blame. Smoke. Sweat. Blood. Salma had erupted.

***** Deldrum was unaware of the riots going on in Salma, and no doubt around or possibly in his home. Del had been out in the city all day, searching, listening, reading. He needed a secure job, something to help pay for his house and the upkeep it required, as well as other necessities. He had been out since early morning. After one failed job hunt he took a break for lunch. There he over heard the need of one of the human noble houses for guards. In truth it wasn't his first choice, but it was a job, it was work. Possibly work that would involve getting out of the city from time to time. It would at least pay the bills. Following up on the lead he found his way over to the nobles home. There he was given an employment interview and accepted in as a guard of the house. He was told his work would start the next day. His pay would be satisfactory. His hours were manageable. It was work. It was a chance to do something more than sit at home. Home. He headed for home just as bored looking as before. He was a bit anxious to tell Ria about his new job. Afraid she might do something crazy with all the time she was bound to have on her hands. She would be okay, he was sure of it. He got the job, in part because of her. He needed to be able to support himself, as well as her. As he neared Salma he saw smoke billowing out of the district. Panic struck him. The smoke was dark and billowing out so fast and so heavy on the air. He ran, Audowyn running beside him. He didn't stop running until he made it to his house, which wasn't easy. Luckily his house was right through the gates, but groups of people were fighting in front of his home. He landed a few good punches at least. *****

In her usual unique, irrepressible and faintly perplexing way, Ystyria had actually managed the unthinkable; she had slept through the first of the hostilities. That wasn't entirely her fault, or so she'd reason later. This Wintersday stuff had driven everyone into a frenzy and had made getting to bed at what might be considered a 'reasonable' time, (in her case, anything before 2am), something of a challenge. There were too many places to go, people to meet and bar-fights to snicker at for her to sacrifice the night to something as mundane as sleep and, with the big fellow now somehow caught between being the grumpy curmudgeon he'd always been and someone inclined to pretend to smile once in a while, it was touch-and-go as to how long she'd be left to her own devices. She'd stumbled in at 6am and promptly fallen asleep on the couch. It was as good a place as any. With the momentous task of sleeping off an all-night bender on her hands, it was little wonder than the Sylvari didn't register the far-off sounds of wood smashing and people screaming. The world was a different place when she slept, the haze of her dreams as they drifted towards the occasional nightmare was as close as the woman got to touching the life she couldn't remember and so she tended to sink deeply, suffocating in her own obscurity until something startled her awake. It was a mark of trust that she consented now to sleep when Deldrum was around because his presence meant acknowledge the fact that she woke up screaming more often than not. Her vulnerable side was stuck somewhere between her dreams and reality; Ria didn't enjoy that sensation much. This time, it was someone else's scream that had slowly forced her to peel open an eye and stare at the world with a mixture of disgruntled displeasure and wariness. Her face had been smooshed into the couch cushions, her angle now such that she was nearly rolled off the damn thing and had a very good view of the floorboards. And she could smell smoke. Great, was she on fire again?

Why had she thought 'again'? When she'd finally dragged herself up to see what the fuss was all about, the world had suddenly turned into an impossible place; something that finally resembled the haunted images her mind threw at her when she was asleep. Aghast, it had been easy to mistake it for fantasy, to believe that she was still curled up in the living room, reliving the horrors she couldn't lay name to but the imagery was a little too pervasive and the stench a little too intrusive for that fear to hold. When she ventured out, it had been as much to convince herself she wasn't dreaming as to offer any help. She certainly hadn't meant to get involved. But the place had gone to hell, the madness that had descended was palpable and, wide-eyed, the cynical Sylvari felt for the first time in ages a fresh stab of fear and uncertainty. The unnoticed watcher, she had managed to wander practically into the thick of it, side-stepping flying bottles and flailing limbs, and it seemed, for a moment, that you could remain invisible amidst this inferno as long as you didn't touch it, didn't interact with it, didn't get involved. It was....surreal. And so, Ystyria stood, on the bridge, looking out over hell, barely herself and yet so totally and complete an older, haunted version that she was almost unrecognisable. The sass, the attitude, the sarcasm. That personality that coiled around her and kept her safe. Gone. And in its place only eyes, chasm-deep eyes, staring in horror as the world burned.

***** Deldrum ran into his house first, checking both floors but not finding Ria. Frantic, he ran back outside into the insanity that pushed and shoved him away. He felt blows

connecting with various points of his body. He heard Audowyn's squawk as she too was hit, she fought back however. He had to pull her away. Being frantic was a new feeling for Deldrum. Well, not new, but a long forgotten one. He had not been frantic since Amaryllis went missing in the middle of the night. He had not been frantic since her death. When his arm was ripped off in Orr, he had kept his wits about him, had kept his cool and his calm. He had become so used to being that way that being this way was almost enough to make him more frantic. What had happened here? What had caused Salma to fall into itself like this? The better question was where was Ria? His concern for her overrode his questions and worries for his house and his own safety. Ria may annoy him, and certainly confuse him with his budding feelings for her, but her safety was the most important thing. He would never be able to forgive himself if something happened. He couldn't let another person he was sworn to protect, die. He just couldn't. Finally he pushes far enough through the crowds to find a small clear space on the sidewalk. He stops there, holding onto Audowyn whom was busy trying to peck and claw at anyone that got too close. His eyes scan over the crowds. Humans, Sylvari, Charr, even Norn and a few Asura were involved in the fighting. None of the Sylvari were the one he was looking for. Then he spots her. On the bridge. He starts to push through the crowd, eyes locked on her. He let's go of Audowyn, giving her free roam to attack anyone that dared to hit her or Del. No matter how many people he pushes out of the way, more seem to pile in.

*****

"Why?" There was nobody around to hear her, ironically Ria had managed to drift towards the one pinprick of peace amidst the tumultuous chaos. Even as Salma filled, drowning in its own filth, a lofty causeway that connected two otherwise uninteresting arteries rarely attracted a crowd and thus stretched over the mayhem, the hatred and the anger and the fear creating a vacuum the sucked everything towards its centre. She had a perfect view from her distant vantage point, if such a view could ever be said to be perfect. Yet, despite her unhindered vision, it wasn't the fighting that Ystyria saw. The blood, the broken bones, the shattered glass or smashed furniture. In her mind's eye, surrounding by the screams of savage onslaught, she saw a murkier battlefield, shrouded in mist, a thousand and more minds screaming into the void, a vacant plea for someone, anyone, to save them. She recalled smells, sounds, sensations and the intangible melody from a single instrument but it was a view superimposed, as if an army of ghosts had arisen to dance in this devilment, scattered amongst the flailing crowd in silent accusation. She didn't see Deldrum. Nor did she see where the first turret fell. As tensions escalated and fists turned to weapons, it was inevitable that ballistics would eventually become the option of the desperate. A thousand screams seemed to lift in unison, the metallic clunk of a dozen mechanisms whirring into place bringing a cold, cynical precision to the battle that heated fury couldn't reason with. They emerged, erect amongst the crowds, and the detonations echoed across the rooftops, every ricochet driving madness into the souls for whom there was now no turning back. Bullets sprayed in all directions, flames spurted forth indiscriminately and explosives, arbitrary and evil, scattered amongst those whose only priority was to flee. It took her a moment to distinguish a single sound from the miserable cacophony.

It assembled itself seemingly in slow motion, a mechanical flower unfurling its petals, a blooming monstrosity of wayward aim. It would do little damage up there, flung too far to find many targets, but the intimacy of its proximity, the singularity of its only intent, gave it a menace that made Ria's blood run cold. There was no time to react, not a moment to even thinking, before the hateful shutter opened and glared at her. They stared at each other then, that mechanical assassin and that one small, tiny, insignificant woman, and in that moment, Ystyria nearly remembered. Who she was. Why she was. And then it opened fire. High atop a lonely bridge, across a river of blood and bitter rage, a tiny, insignificant body, the lightest of blossoms, as fragile and unique as a snowflake, falls.

***** When the turrets were unleashed, Deldrum had no choice but to try and find cover. He lost sight of Ria as he ran through the crowds, pushing more and more people out of the way. He felt a bullet whiz by his arm, grazing it just enough to cause a small amount of golden blood to bloom out. He continued on, running for the bridge. The bullet left him with a sting in his arm, but it was nothing he was too worried about. Audowyn had stopped attacking everyone, apparently sensing the more immediate danger that the guns brought. Running. Running. Running. He didn't stop, no matter how difficult it sometimes became. People were still fighting here and there, people were running the opposite direction he was going. He would go forward just to be pushed back again.

Finally, he gets a clear view of the bridge. His heart hammers at the sight. "Ystyria!" He roars out, his voice lost in the crowd. Pulling his bow from around him he opens fire on turret, not giving a damn if he hits someone that might jump in the way. Audowyn locks onto his target and rushes forward, using her element of surprise and the fact that the turret was shooting at Deldrum to get up close and personal without being shot. ***** It was fitting, perhaps, that the turret's lifespan was destined to be infinitely shorter than those whose blood it sought. Several rounds was its capacity, several rounds of agony and terror and defeat before it fell silent, a crippled mess, a bastardy of ingenious design and rampant bloodlust. Most of the shots had thudded into concrete, into the retaining wall that granted Salma a degree of privacy and, now, segregation, and into the gardens and trees that lined the little bridge in this peaceful little part of town. Most of the shots missed anything of importance. Some of them did not. Three wounds; shoulder, chest, pelvis. Like her impossibly dark eyes, it ran a shade of purest midnight, tracks of indigo beneath her fashioned foliage creating, already, little pools beneath her. Those eyes, those impossible eyes, were not closed but rather stared upwards in pure astonishment, slow blinks a sure indication of consciousness even though she was very still. Her lips fall apart, her forehead creased with confusion and she whimpers, once, as a child might at first realisation of pain. ***** Once the turret fell, Deldrum ran to Ria's side, dropping down next to her as he assessed her various wounds. He was no healer. Never had been. As he sat there beside her he became lost. Lost on what he should do. Moving her seemed like a bad idea. Movement

would surely cause more blood loss, not to mention the fighting and crowds that were still around them. He did not carry medical supplies with him. He was lost. He was scared. He was frantic. His eyes moved from one wound to the next, to the next, until he finally sought Ria's eyes. "Look at me." He placed a hand on the side of her face, trying to will her to look at him. "Stay awake Ystyria. Whatever you do, you stay awake. Everything is going to be okay. Somehow everything is going to be all right. Just look at me and listen to my voice, everything will work out for the best I promise." Audowyn stood nearby, fanning her feathers out and squawking at anyone that got too close. ***** "Why are they fighting?" Ystyria's voice had always been perhaps, if not her indomitable spirit, her strongest asset. Whether she was being crass or crazy, or just plain cynical, whether she was shouting or singing or some bizarre hybrid of both, her voice held a lustrous quality that drew people to her. She was always one step away from teasing or terrorising, taunting or tantalising, and if you caught her in the right moment, in the right mood, with the right ambiance, she could make you feel like the most important person in all of creation just by speaking your name. She could talk the stars into shining, a particularly amorous spectator had once declared, and though the look he'd received had promptly lead the frantic guy to deduce that she could probably also conjure up a few other things if he tried to flatter her again, the fact remained that Ystyria could captivate a room with the simplest of saucy tales. Not now.

As if to symbolise the life-force slowly slipping from her, the Sylvari's voice was a whisper, a quivering ghost of its former self, riddled with bewilderment and fear. Its sentiments echoed in her eyes as they sought his, their depths absorbing every colour of the spectrum into the very centre of each iris, where the infusion burned and radiated, now an alarmingly brittle flicker. On that little bridge of no importance, as if the world had suddenly realised what it was poised to lose, an eerie silence pushed the sounds of battle into the background, a cocoon of respite that had come far too late. Her lips quiver. Her breath catches. She coughs. There is blood. ***** "It's not important." Deldrum wretches his eyes from her, looking over the crazed fighting. He isn't watching the fighting, he barely sees it anymore. He is looking for help. A gap in the fighting, someone with medical supplies, a healer even. Someone has to be out there that can help. How he is supposed to find help in the middle of all of this chaos is unknown to him. He could not simply find a human either. Sylvari physiology differed so much from humans that it took a skilled Sylvari Mender to do the job. Most of the Menders were in The Grove. Suddenly he remembers. A salve. He still had it. When he had become friends with Lily or Dusky as she liked to call herself. She had been injured by the Nightmare Court. Upon her return to the city with Deldrum, the Menders had given him a salve for her wounds for himself and her beloved to use. Shortly after the attacks she had moved away with Myron, but the salve still remained. In his house.

Deldrum calls Audowyn over. "Audowyn, I need you to go to the house. Find the salve that we used on Lily. Bring it back. It is probably in the kitchen. Do not fight unless you must. GO!" His words were just as frantic as his attitude, rapidly fired out of his mouth in his urgency. He yelled the final word, which got Audowyn running. She was a smart bird, a loyal defender and good friend. He could count on her surely. "It is going to be okay, Ystyria." He turns his eyes back onto hers, moving his hand down to cradle her head. ***** "It's so dark." The childlike whimsy of her voice, marred only by the undercurrent of terror that seeped from every syllable, was almost lyrical and certainly nothing like that far more ribald overtones the mysterious Sylvari usually preferred. Between them, they had next to no idea of her age, no actual verification of her origin and scant information on anything she had encountered save from very hazy recollections of recent times amongst the Norn, but it had always been more-or-less a silent agreement that she was not a sapling. She was too jaded, too wary, too tired. Though she couldn't recall it, Ystyria had clearly seen far too much and carried it with her, wrapped up in a tight little package that refused to be opened. Now, for the first time, that certainty wavered. The shock on her face, in her eyes, shivering throughout her entire body, seemed that of someone who had never anticipated the world could be so fragile. Her lips, painted in her own sap, moved tentatively, as if forming words required practise first. She was confused, lost, gazing at

visions just beyond him that only existed in her own mind. "They're singing." Awe. Amid the turmoil, the anguish and the slaughter, she found awe. The spectres flooding her mind's eye had distracted her, for the moment, from the reality of pain and her eyes, glistened pools of fading light, filled for a moment with the most terrible beauty. Hope. Then it faded. "Such...a silly way to die." She tries to smile at him. "Probably...fitting...really. Never did do things sensibly." ***** "You are not going to die." Deldrum's tone has calmed down from the urgency it previously held. It was replaced by sorrow, defeat. Deldrum had witnessed too much death in his life. First was the death of Amaryllis, but they did not end there. Orr showed him more death than he had ever cared to see. He watched as his comrades were torn apart by the risen, and he was helpless to watch. He sounds as if he does not really believe that Ystyria isn't going to die. He is already resolved himself to that fate. Hanging his head he tries to drown out the sounds around him, he tries to remain calm and focused. He doesn't manage it, instead he manages to not stop himself from letting a few stray tears escape. He doesn't even really hear Audowyn as she returns, squawking at him. Her head connecting with his bag brings him out of his lamenting. Turning to look at her, he sees the container holding the salve sitting next to him.

With his vigor renewed, hope shining on his face, he picks up the container and spreads some of the salve on his fingers. "This may sting a little bit." He doesn't care how badly it may sting, it is liable to save Ria's life, so he sets to work on her wounds right away. ***** "It always does." And again, she nearly remembered. All of it. On the cusp of death, a breath away from her last, she nearly had it. It was slippery though, her life. Grasped between shaky fingers, it slithered back into the darkness, hunkered down behind its battlements and glared at her. Snippets escaped, little images, words, thoughts that she wasn't entirely conscious of. It always does. This had happened before then? She'd gone quiet. It was an eerie silence not marked so much by lack of speech but lack of presence. Only the faintest movement of her chest confirmed she was still breathing and her eyes, half-lidded, now stared at a single fixed point on his face. Deathly still, she wavered, on the brink, already shrouded by the Mist, and made not even a squeak of protest as he administered her wounds. If anything, she barely seemed to notice. Instead, after an eternity in which she paraded on death's door, Ystyria found the strength to lift a hand to his face, a crooked finger catching a salty tear before it dripped off his chin. Then, slowly and gently, that same finger ran up the contours of his jawline, a fragile caress of comfort as if he was somehow the one most in need of it. ***** The salve applied would take a few moments to take effect. Ystyria would still need the bullets removed, which would mean a trip to the Grove nonetheless, but at least it would stop the bleeding and numb the pain. If it did its job well enough it would keep

Ria alive long enough for Deldrum to get her to the Grove. By now the Seraph were in the district in mass quantities. The fighters were being apprehended and broken up. This didn't stop everyone and there were still plenty of fights were still going on but there was an end in sight. Deldrum looks to Ria as her finger moves down his jaw. Her quiet demeanor did not bold well. His worry returns. "Ystyria, you have to stay with me." His voice shakes, chin quivering. Del pulls her closer, cradling her against him. "Don't go! Please don't go." Slowly he begins rocking back and forth, as if this alone will keep her alive. He is out of options, all he can do is wait and see if the salve will be enough to keep her alive, enough to get her to a Mender. ***** The moment teetered, there on the very edge of oblivion. The damage was deep, after all, the sap-loss had been swift. Perhaps more to the point, and far less tangible, was the hint of defeat that always seemed to snare her when the charade faltered and Ystyria's stars aligned for just a fraction, a blink, long enough to glimpse a hint of something at the end of a very long tunnel. For one so prone to demanding everything from life, the Sylvari sometimes, very occasionally, gave the impression that her fight was as much a falsehood as her current identity. All bluster, no real substance. Too thin, too stretchedout, too tired to hold on. The hand that finds his back simply rests between his shoulder-blades a minute as if to catch its strength. Then, in soothing strokes, it caresses him, slow circles from shoulder the lower back as a mother might a distraught child.

"Shhh." A gentle platitude, maternal comfort. "Don't be afraid. Everything has its time." ***** At first the sound of Ria's voice startles Deldrum. So far lost as he was, he imagined he was hearing things. When he realized he was not hearing things he pulled away from her, staring at her with confusion... and hurt. "Don't say that. You aren't going anywhere. It's not your time Ystyria! It's not, it can't be." He knew he was yelling at something that was completely out of her control. He knew she would do everything in her power to stay alive, but sometimes willpower was not enough. Try as he might, Deldrum was returned to when he lost Amaryllis. Yes things were different. His relationship with Amaryllis was much different than the one blossoming with Ria. Amaryllis had also met her end without Del being there holding onto her. He had felt her anguish though. Felt it as if it were his own anguish. Sylvari and their damned empathy. He was once again glad to be Soundless. ***** She chuckled. That damnable woman, at world's end, had the audacity to find amusement still. It was a gift, or madness, or both. The smile painted her features with a serenity that left no room for the pain or confusion of earlier, however, and at least gave

the illusion that these last words were not costing her too much. "I've always been going somewhere, old man. It's not as easy as it sounds, sending out roots, grounding oneself. The wind is always just that little bit too strong and you know," she continues, with a tired huff, "it's always summer somewhere." That seemed to take her somewhere for a moment, inside her own mind, a memory perhaps or just a lingering sensation of warmth. Her lips twitch with fondness so, whatever it is, it seems a comfort and that is something. "Change...happens everywhere. The world we go to sleep in is not an exact replica of the one we awake to the next morning. Things come and go, time passes. Life blossoms and withers and it's okay." Her fingertips trace along the gnarled ridges of his cheek. "We're never truly gone, the echos remain. New life grows in the soil we leave behind. Little pieces of us, scattered across the world." She smiles. Despite the approach of her twilight, she smiles. "Inside the people we love. Inside here." Her hand drops from his face so that she can slowly, with effort, poke her finger at his chest. "You smother the leaves too much, and remain in the shade far too long. It's there, that little bud of life she gave you, but you're not a very good gardener." She laughs again but this time, it leads to coughing, spluttering, struggling. Her next breath rattles in her chest. "Follow summer, old man. Winter's had you long enough." And, like a candle snuffed out in the wind, she is gone. Extinguished. Her body melts

into blessed release and she lays limp, her eyelids drooping until, with one final flutter, the aperture closes and the story comes to an end, an empty reel flapping in the wind. ***** And just like that she was gone. Deldrum knew it even without having the empathic connection being suddenly cut. He didn't have to be an empath to know when someone stopped breathing. He had hung to her words, every single one of them. They didn't make sense to him, but he listened. Follow summer. Summer was gone. He felt lost, empty. His frantic cries rack his body as he scoops her up, hugging her tightly to himself. It was a pain he had wished to never feel again, and it wasn't even the same pain he had felt with Amaryllis, but it was close enough. It was a twinge of a memory. Given more time with Ystyria and having accepted her, fallen in love with her, then this pain would have been exactly like how he felt with Amaryllis. He knew this, and it made him cry harder. He felt as if life had given him something. It had given him someone to bring him out of the darkness and back out into the harsh and blinding sunlight. He was finally starting to live again. He was starting to be happy and not just content. He knew feelings for Ria were starting to take shape. He was learning to accept them. Now all of that was gone. He can feel himself retreating back into his solitude. Above his sorrows he feels rage. So much anger at the all of the idiots in Salma. All of them. Everyone that had been fighting. They had caused Ria's death.

His emotions bounce back and forth between anger and depression until he finally just yells. A yell full of everything he is feeling. Harsh and hollow. ***** A new dawn is a tentative thing. Beautiful, fragile, timid. As the first rays of sunlight spill over the hilltops, it is the darkness that seems the most craven, clinging to every sculpted curve and scurrying away towards shaded havens, lingering, unwilling to leave. Darkness lurks, finds crevasses and forgotten recesses and it waits, poised for glorious, triumphant return. The golden sunrise never seems to mind. Its warm caress turns petals upwards, unfurls buds and ushers in the gentle buzz, a steady hum, of life and vitality and hope. The darkness hates the dawn but the dawn never minds. It comes anyway. It takes its time though. The first glow is so subdued it could almost be mistaken for a streetlight's intrusion or a trick of glistening eyes. Its slow crescendo, a throbbing pulse as if mirroring a heartbeat, takes its time in being noticed, it isn't concerned with flamboyancy, only accuracy. Tiny droplets, salted, reflect against the darkened skin where they've fallen, a taste of his sorrow against her cold skin. Golden tears. Little stars. There is no specific time when the air around them feels lighter than before, warmer, more fragrant. There is no particular time when the radiance ceases to be a hopeless fantasy and reveals itself as a living, breathing thing, of swirling tendrils and ribbons of sparkling sunbeam. There is no definitive time when it became clear that something was happening, in the darkness, something so very opposite to the lifelessness of defeat that one might be forgiven for fearing its deceit. This was not the result of a moment but of a lifetime, swirling and coiling and filling the air with the sweet scent of renewal. And she is aglow, so bright that her features are almost indistinguishable. The halo wraps

around her until she is surrounded, bathed in promise of a new dawn. Follow summer, she had said. Sometimes you had to create your own.

***** Once Deldrum finally does take notice to everything going on with Ria he is rightfully distressed. A tad bit frightened too. As much as he entertains the thought of moving away, running away, he stays. Mouth hanging open in awe and fear. He hasn't the slightest clue what is going on, but it is obvious something is happening. And while it doesn't look dark and eerie, does not mean it isn't dangerous. He remains there, right beside her, watching and waiting. Audowyn, for her part, stays near Deldrum for the first small bit. However she doesn't stay there, moving off to what she feels is a safe distance. Deldrum's tears stop, his anguish put on hold for his surprise and curiosity. ***** In the end, it is such a little display for such an enormous thing, but then, it usually was. The renewal of Spring, that glorious season of rebirth, painted its triumph in rich colours and textures and sung victory from the treetops in cacophonous glee, but it was not something that tended to capture immediate intention. Rather, it seeped in, reclaimed the land and brought with it the hope and promise of a fresh start. You didn't see it, you felt it, in your bones. In your roots.

Her features were darkening, however, as if forever tinged by the narrow line she had just walked. Vibrant blue had muted to a rich teal, foliage curling and redefining and elongating just enough that the minute little Sylvari might finally have achieved an extra inch towards the several she required to be able to see in a crowd. Her face too seems to reevaluate itself, flattening a little, a more slender and sleek line than the cherubic plumpness now abandoned. Little changes, new imperfections, the same but utterly different. Youth struggled with maturity, settling on a rich blend of both, and with the finest of details, the gentlest of touches, the solid, rosebud beauty became something sleek and delicate, feminine in the face, no doubt, of great opposition. ("Dress? Why would I wear a dress? You can't fight properly in a damn dress and then people look at your legs instead of your face.") And finally, she exhaled, a final surrender of golden iridescence, floating upwards until the warmth touched his face and reassured him that it was real. The intense light faded and, in its wake, deposited into his trembling arms its newest creation. Warm, tangible and so very alive. ***** To say that Deldrum was shocked was an understatement. He had never seen such a thing happen before. He had never heard of Sylvari being able to do what just happened. Amaryllis certainly hadn't had this happen to her once he found her body. He didn't even really know what had happened. He was still stuck in confusion and angst land. His sorrows were still being left on hold until he was able to figure out just what in the world was going on. He could not shed tears if something had saved Ria. He could not be sad if she had somehow survived, changed and survived. Gently he places her down on the ground, watching and waiting once more. He grasps

one of her hands in his own, holding to it tightly. "Please." His voice barely sparks out above a whisper, but the pleading nature of it is not lost in the slightest. ***** She could have slept for a thousand more sunsets. At her very core, towards the vibrant spark that carried every unique nuance, Ystyria was exhausted. Her body ached, her mind throbbed and something less tangible but altogether more defining was screaming in anguish and terror and pain. Birth had its ugly side no matter how many times you went through it and a death was a death. It kind of...shook you up. And though it wasn't quite the squawk of a fledgling or the mewl of a wet kitten or the howl of a naked, angry newborn scrunching its face up at the world, there was as much promise in her short gasp as anyone could hope for and her eyes, those dark, impenetrable, impossible eyes fly open the instant her realisation catches up with reality. Alive. Not dead. Warm. Not cold. Lost. Okay, so she was still lost. A panicked scan of her immediate surroundings tells her nothing helpful. The air stinks of acrid smoke and blood. Voices lift in anger and defeat and sorrow. Pain. So much of it. Her chest is on fire. The body remembers. Eventually it fades and you learn how to forget again, but in the beginning, it's all right there. Right on the surface. Pushing you under. A strangled cry catches in her throat as her mind floods with memories, moving at a pace too hard to keep up with it. Too many sights, too many sounds, too much emotion. The loss. The mistakes. The heartache. Too many lifetimes' worth. Her body stiffens and shakes, her lips part in an anguished sob. Too much to hold. Too much to keep.

***** By all of the pale trees in the world, how was this even possible? That was Deldrum's first thought upon hearing the gasp of breath from Ria. His shock quickly fades and is replaced by the all too familiar need to protect her. Obviously distraught, he tries to calm her. "Ystyria? It-it's okay." He doesn't even know what is going on. She had changed but she was alive. Or so he thought. Perhaps a ghost had taken her body and she was not Ystyria at all. He hoped that wasn't it. He leans forward, looking into the eyes he thought would be forever closed to him. He has so many questions, but knows it isn't the time to ask them. He places his free hand, the one not holding hers, on her cheek. Warmth. Not the coldness that would have eventually seeped into her dead skin. He can hardly believe it. He fights back all of his emotions, trying to look at it from a logical and rational point of view first. He wants to cry, to leap for joy, to still be angry at the idiots rioting in the streets. He doesnt. He keeps them all back. For now. ***** Someone was talking. When the world was new and old all in the same breath, details were often hard to make out. Though he was the closest thing to her, he was the last she chose to focus on and seemed, for a moment, to struggle with it. Like a newborn adjusting to proximity, her eyelashes flutter, her pupils dilate and retract as if seeking a point at which the

blurriness might recede and then she squints, shying away for a moment as if the task is just too painful. Then she tries again. He looked...familiar. It seemed as much anyway, it was hard to tell. She couldn't properly make out his face but he smelt like a recollection, something out of all the demands that deserved to be remembered. Her mouth falls open, cracked lips working at forming words she couldn't be entirely sure how to slot together and she swallows, her terror still palpable. "Warmer." No, that wasn't it. Her brow furrows again with concentration, scurrying around after the elusive word that she so desperately needed. "W...w..." It was the right sound. Slowly, she was beginning to visualise it too, a tiny sliver of information falling into place to support the necessity of her craving. "W...wa...wa..ter. Need. Waa...ter." ***** Water. Yes, this is something that someone who just died and was... reborn?... asked for. Right? Deldrum didn't know, nor did he care if it was normal. Her voice was like music to his ears. He looks up, surveying the riot, glad to see that it had died down even more since Ria's transformation. Chances were good that he could make it home, especially since most of the fighting was going on away from his home.

Good thing of having chosen a home so close to the gates. The Seraph got the front of the district cleared first. Placing a hand under her shoulder and the other under her knees he gets slowly to his feet, still kneeling as he lifts her up. "Water it is then." Once he has her lifted up he stands up, working to carry her back to his little house. Audowyn follows behind the pair. ***** Being moved hurt more than it should, if only because there were no injuries left to attribute the phantom agony to. The body remembered, at least for a while, and death had a tendency to linger even after it had been made perfectly clear it was no longer welcome. She sucked the air through her teeth, however, and endured. He felt strong, which was reassuring, steady and solid. He moved surprisingly gracefully too or at least the journey in his arms didn't feel overridden with jolts and jostles. It didn't keep her from whimpering, once or twice, but that was hardly his fault and couldn't be thought to be. Life was a big thing to unravel all at once. The scene around them made no sense to Ystyria as she couldn't see much of anything, enfolded against him as she was. As his body shielded her eyes, his steady heartbeat protected her mind and gave her something to focus on besides the anguished wails of children in the distance. The only indication that they are inside is the change in lighting and the slight drop in ambient temperature but it is a relief, the heightened peacefulness of it. She whimpers again, this time in relief.

***** Once inside the house, Del gently places Ria down on the single couch in the living room/kitchen combo. Kneeling in front of her, he offers a warm smile, albeit a weary one. "I am going to get you some water. Just try and relax." He returns a few moments later with a mug of water in his hands. He is still apprehensive and confused, so confused. He can only hope that answers come swiftly, for he does not know how much more confusion and shock he can handle in one night. ***** It was easier to focus, here, on the couch shed still been asleep on only an hour ago. How fast the world moved. There wasn't much to see by most standards but to these new eyes, impossible eyes, everything seemed fascinating. The cobwebs in the corner, she could remember what they were. The curve of the ceiling as it angled down the slope. The light fixture, such a mundane thing and yet it was another tiny piece of the puzzle, just another success in the match-it-up marathon that her mind was currently trying to keep up with. Remembering it all. These first moments were important. And painful. The first stab has her clutching at the cushions. The second has her crying feebly in protest. Too much to recall, too much to sequence. It was like trying to catch every grain of sand dumped from a bucket before it hit the ground; you couldn't do it. Parts of her were slipping away, memories she couldn't prioritise. It hurt. Oh, how it hurt.

***** Deldrum halts in front of her, water still in his hand. Kneeling down in front of her once more he offers her the water. He doesn't know why she is crying, though really he had a few guesses. He tries once again to communicate with her, this time trying to get to the bottom of it all. "Ystyria, I need to know what just happened. I am very confused and a good deal lost. I... are you still you? You look different, you... are you Ystyria? Do you know me? It's me Deldrum, I-I tried to help you...I... I am sorry." He silences himself, realizing he was rambling and possibly asking too many questions. ***** "Hmn." It was the tiniest little laugh, barely even counted as one really. And he was lucky, or she was lucky, or they both were because, oh how blissfully close she could have been to a clean slate. It was unpredictable, what you kept and what was lost. The mind could only hold so much and some things... Well, some things it was only too willing to cast aside. But life didn't work neatly in that sense. Often the things you lost were the things you treasured most. Too much invested, perhaps, too many little pieces to try and reassemble when the jigsaw was complicated. Smaller things were easier; the taste of fresh apples, the pleasure of a long bath, the joke about the Charr and the spirit guide. Tiny fragments, easily salvaged. But emotions; those were hard. Relationships; harder

still. And she had remembered them all, simultaneously, when the bucket had first been emptied, but she was losing it. Losing them all. Except him. A question at the right time, something to focus on, a request even. Know it's me. It gave her something to sort for, something to prioritise. The water was helping, couldn't nourish new growth without it. And he was there, closeby, one of the recent ones. Easier to access. Her grimace betrays the effort but she tries. And then smiles, exhausted. "Never...thought...I'd hear you...say that." ***** Deldrum's brows crease, knitted together so closely they almost looked comical. "Say what?" He ask the first question that comes to mind, not caring that she didn't exactly answer his question. The sole fact that she said never and you in the same sentence showed Del that she at least knew who he was. It was a start. It was something to be happy about, something that made Deldrum hope. Hope was all that was guiding him right now, well that and getting answers to the miracle he had just witnessed. Miracle. Felt weird to think of it that way. Miracles generally implied religion, which Deldrum lacked. He didn't know what other word he could possibly use to describe what he had seen though. He remains on the ground in front of her, hands on either side of her, resting on the couch. There was hope.

***** "Apologising." It took her a moment to continue, gripped again by a spasm of pain as another trickle of recollection scattered across her mind. Dancing? Why was that important? As soon as it occurred to her, the moment slipped away and, with effort, Ystyria focuses on the worried eyes gazing down at her and attempts to keep her thoughts in one place, in one direction. "Feels different...this time." Lengthy pauses punctuate her explanation; just speaking takes its toll. "Less...chaotic. Can even remember it is a 'this time'. Forgot." Like a frail old lady, the Sylvari attempts to push herself up a little, off her back so that the arm of the couch props her up. The effort costs her but the position is more comfortable, a worthy price. "There's a lot...in..." She taps her head rather than search fruitlessly for the word that wouldn't come. "All jumbled up. Didn't really die, don't think. More...sort of...changed. Remade." She grimaces, frustrated with her inelegant language choices. "Re...newal. The body remembers. Just...sheds the dead-weight." ***** Deldrum seems okay with the news he receives, half way anyways. He doesn't freak out, he doesn't ponder on the how. It had happened, he knew that much, he had witnessed it. It didn't matter how it had happened, just that it did. He doesn't question this. He accepts it. Worry. He feels it creeping in with her words. Changed. Yes, he had seen her physical

form change a bit, but what did that mean for her mental form? Would she continue to remember him? Would she still feel the same about him? Was she still the same woman he was starting to fall for? Was she still so unpredictable and crazy? Did she have the same nuances that used to drive Deldrum crazy? They drove him crazy, but he wouldn't want them gone. They made her her. "You are still Ystyria then." He speaks it plainly without question, stating it more as a fact. "Are you going to remember me? Or is this just temporary?" ***** As her eyes drifted closed, Ria's mouth drifted up, just a little at the corners. It made her look peaceful and perhaps, in a certain light, just a little bit smug. "Hard to say." She sounded stronger, at least, steadier. Her voice is still far too weak to yet betray any of its former vigour, that spark and dry wit that defined her very public persona so vividly, but her words were coming more fluently. It was a start. Reaching out, she finds his hand, clutching at it. It was a neediness she normally avoided; if anything, the woman had a tendency to retreat inwards and deal with her demons alone. Little changes. They were bound to happen. "It's always a little different. Each time there's more....to lose." She sounds sad. "Still," she adds, allowing her eyes to drift open. "Can't imagine you'll be let off that lightly." ***** Deldrum allows himself to laugh, which was rare even on a good day where someone he cared for hadn't died and come back as someone slightly different.

"I wouldn't want you to forget me, nor would I want to be let off..." Del let's the sentence drag off into silence without ever really finishing it. He figures his words get their point across well enough. It is the best he can do. Looking down at her hand clutching his, he smiles, albeit a small smile, he does smile. "I am glad you are going to be okay. Mostly." ***** "Never said that." There was a glimpse, in her tone, of an old wryness, a teasing quality laced between the cobwebs of fatigue and confusion. Her sense of humour was such a vibrant part of her that it seemed likely, or at least hopeful, that it remained too central to suffer a culling. Always a ready quip, that lightning-quick reaction time that never missed a beat. It had become a bit of a defense mechanism but perhaps she was entitled. Humour kept you sane. With another soft chuckle, she shifts and sighs a little at the discomfort, still trying to find a position that would allow her to rest, to recuperate. "Can't imagine I've ever been okay. Sounds like..." She pauses, groaning as she eases herself onto her side, her hand still resolutely clutching his. "...too much work." ***** "Okay then I will change my words. I am glad you are still alive. I was... I... I can't imagine not having you around Ystyria. I guess you have grown on me." Apparently this was the best Deldrum could muster up in the way of mushy feelings.

In truth he was ecstatic to hear her voice, feel her hand wrapped around his. It was another chance. Another shot. It would still take time for Deldrum to fully open up, but he knew he would get there eventually, and he wouldn't take a single day for granted. Every day with Ystyria would be special from now on. Nothing shows you how special life is until you almost lose it. ***** "Don't get too soft on me, old man." And that was the last of it, the last of her reserves. Death took it out of you; funny that. With the very final sliver of energy she has, the tiniest fragment, she scoots over as far as she can get, smushed in against the back of the couch, and tugs on the hand now stretched behind her in order to keep holding his. "Stay with me." It was the little differences that surfaced first. The old Ystyria pushed people away, using humour as a shield. Feigning confidence, disguising it as bravado, and then curling up at the end of a day in the solitude of her own, dark thoughts. Affection? Sometimes. At a price. This was simple, a sweet request not to be left alone. An acknowledgement that he could, if she let him, if he let himself, provide comfort and guidance and be that little pinprick of light at the end of the long tunnel she still had to conquer. It was a little difference, but it was a start.

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