Title: Prelude To Dawn
Character/Pairing: Micaiah, Sothe
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Connection. Caring. Everything she had shunned since the day the people where she had lived with had reviled her. She'd embraced the life of a wandering crone, taken on the mythology and lies until she had become it. Pre-canon Micaiah, from wanderer to hero.
Author's note: This was done for Yuletide '12 for Runespoor. Many thanks to Jana who went above in beyond in not only proofreading, but staying up while I reworked parts before uploading.

Micaiah's backstory according to Nintendo: Micaiah used to live as a fortune teller travelling throughout Daein, while having the capital, Nevassa, as her base. Although she looks like a girl of 15-16 years old, she won't disclose her true age.

Until the end of the Mad King's War, three years ago, she generally disliked garnering public notice and didn't really talk to anyone but her little brother, Sothe. After the war, while staying in Nevassa in order to reunite with Sothe, who had gone astray during the war, she got along with others for the first time. While coming into contact with people, their vitality and their kindness towards their fellow countrymen touched her heart deeply.

Micaiah has so far displayed the powers of reading minds, healing wounds by transferring them into her own body, and sensing nearby danger. However, she starts thinking that she might not be able to save others by using those powers.

1.
Keep your head down. Don't look up. Keep a hand on your purse. These were the things Micaiah had learned in a life on the streets. She found futures for a few pieces of silver to pay the night. Most asked for mundane things. Does he love me? Who will I marry?

Micaiah kept her cloak on most of the time. Eyes down. If she bent and let some of her silver hair fall into sight, she could be mistaken for an old wandering crone. Most of the thieves wouldn't touch a crone. They never had much gold to spare, and you never know when one might be a witch.

Everyone knew about the sorts of things an angered witch could do. Of course, Micaiah was old enough to know that these rumors were purposefully spread to keep older women safe; she'd made up some of her own tales to join the rest of the woven fables of vengeful magic users.

Lies kept her safe. The best lie was one spun with a center of truth.

She lost track of the days. She'd never known her birth date or her family, but years ago she had numbered them. That was before she realized that time forgot her. She could not tell if it was a curse or blessing of the Goddess, for she saw those around her she had held dear slowly age and begin to question her. It did not take her long to realize that those who knew her age would make her a pariah, and if she stayed any longer, she would watch them die.

When she realized she wasn't growing older, she simply stopped. She couldn't remember how many times she had turned twenty now, but it hardly mattered. It was easier to pretend she was younger or older than she was. She could be a crone or a maiden depending on how high she held her cloak, and this kept her alive.

The streets of Nevassa at night were a dangerous place. Frost laced down cobblestones that ran with blood. The rumors put it as a crime of the street gangs, but Micaiah had seen enough to know it was the soldiers themselves who left far more blood upon those streets than any thief.

She had avoided touching people without her gloves as much as possible through the years. A touch without gloves if only to follow the rivers and paths of someone's palms would do little damage, but a full on touch, to clasp someone's hand or lay her hand upon their shoulder, that would only end in disaster. If she would, their wounds might start to heal. And then they'd start looking at her differently, as if she might be a curse rather than a blessing.

She remembered the costs all too well. Even if everyone in that village died a long time ago from old age, she would never forget what it was like to have those you love look at you as if you were a monster, a curse.

So she kept living, kept away. If her eyes were cast down someone couldn't say they looked unnatural. If her hair was under a hood, then they could think of her as a simple old woman, cast aside by society.

This had truth in it as well-she had been cast aside.

.

There was a cry up in the square. She looked up from her stall. She weighed the options of joining in or leaving them to their fate. If she joined in, she could make an enemy of the guards and those who did that never lived long to tell the tale. There'd been a few uprisings against Ashnard, but they were always quickly stamped out, and the revolutionaries made an example of.

Few people of Crimea or Begnion knew how it was in Daein. Most street folk didn't get entangled with others, while the merchants attempted to flatter their way up to the good graces of the noble classes.

Perhaps the nobles had it worst of all, for they were closest to King Ashnard, and when the mood struck, anyone could be sent to the arenas to battle it out with hardened warriors who were always commanded to make the fight last as long as possible.

Prolong the pain into torture. Make the king happy.

Do that and you just might be able to live another day.

From the corner of her eye, she noticed a boy running into the alley. He dove underneath her stand, with its flowing robes made of tossed aside cleric's vestments and salvaged wood. She had painted stars on with mica dust to catch the eye of wanderers. It was a desperate hiding place, one barely thick enough to hide the food she stored, let alone a boy. And yet, he was thin enough to hardly even make an indentation in the cloth.

Below her, he tried to catch his breath, to make himself quiet enough to live through this. The boy crouched down beneath the stand. She didn't look down.

The sound of metal on stone came louder, louder, until it was almost upon her.

"Did you see a boy come through here?" said one of the black-clad soldiers.

"I saw nothing. But I could see your future, for a few coins," Micaiah said. She made her voice a shaky whisper, and held out a trembling hand half-hidden by her gloves.

"Feh, I haven't time for this, you hag," the soldier said.

He turned to his associate. "There's nothing here, I told you he went the other way. Let's move out."

When she was sure that the soldiers were gone, she peered down at the boy.

"You're safe," she whispered.

The boy came out from under her stand. He looked at her suspiciously, clinging tight to his small, chipped knife wrapped in leather in lieu of an actual handle.

Someone must've thrown it away, and he had scavenged it.

Before her common sense could tell her otherwise, she held out her hand. He looked at her, wild and small, a street brat through and through. She could feel his every errant thought.

Do I trust her? She saved me, but she might just want the money for herself. I'm hungry...

She pulled her cloak down, revealing her face for the first time that day. For a while they just stood there, neither moving. He stepped back into the shadows, but she could feel him watching her.

A premonition came to her, the images brief and intense. She saw him taking her hand, and walking with her through the continent, far past the oncoming war.

The premonitions weren't always this clear. More often than not her predictions were padded with lies and cliches; the things people wanted to hear.

But this one, this one she knew would come true.

2.

Sothe slowly warmed to her. Small touches, sometimes even a smile. He was still prickly and distant, and yet, he never left her side. He'd started to grow, just an inch here, but it reminded her that he didn't have her curse. Day by day he'd lift food for her, and they'd barely scrounge enough together.

By night, they'd sit at the fireplace of an inn, with only enough coins to get them a place to sleep in the kitchens after all the guests had gone to bed. He slept curled up back to back with her, her cloak their only blanket to stave away the cold night.

He called her 'sister' and when he said the unfamiliar words of affection, connection, she did not correct him.

She couldn't remember the last time she cared for someone so deeply. She'd shared her meals with strangers, stepped unseen into hospitals to take the pain into herself when she knew no one watched, but this was different.

.

The thought interrupted her as she whispered a tale by the kitchen stove. The fire had died down to embers, and Sothe waited for the conclusion, but the new truth she saw came out, instead of the end of the story she was telling.

"War is coming. I can feel it," Micaiah said.

"Really? Who is going to fight?" Sothe said.

"I don't know," Micaiah said. "I can see parts of Talrega underwater, but it gets hazy after that."

"Where's that?"

"You've never seen that part of Daein?" She said.

He shook his head. "I've never left the city."

"That's such a shame," she said. "The world is beautiful."

Even if it was so cold and cruel at times.

"You've traveled a lot?" he asked.

She nodded. It was a necessity. Every time someone would get too suspicious, she would have to leave. Fake her death, wait until time would claim them. She'd been here too long. People had begun to recognize her.

"How about we go see places?" She said. "I'll show you many things."

"I don't know. Daein is my home," he said.

Home? The word was so often said, yet she had called no place that for so many years. She'd lived in deserts and on the edge of rivers, in dark alleys in cities and in country inns. Since that first time when she knew about the curse, she had never let any country be hers.

There was more to it than that. She had stayed in Nevassa too long. Even if she had played the part of a crone, someone was bound to notice her eventually.

It was time to leave before anyone remembered her. But for the first time that she could remember, the thought of leaving left her with regrets. Perhaps without meaning to, Daein had become her home as well.

.

She loved to see his eyes light up with wonder as he held tight to the side of the ship. The minute he realized he was being watched, he'd turn sullen, and look away, as if he didn't care. But the minute he thought no one was looking, he'd lean against the side of the ship and kick up his feet as he looked out.

"Don't lean too far," she said.

She saw no foreboding of death on this voyage, no storm clouds or ill omens following it, but that didn't stop the worry.

She hadn't felt anything like it in a long time. The anxiousness of caring about a person other than herself. Her life had been contained, simply keeping herself hidden and alive took enough energy. Add in the constant though of another person, and it became exhausting.

The thoughts clawed at her and kept her up at night.

One day, he'll leave you.

One day, he'll betray you.

One day, he'll know.

One day, he'll look at you just like they did. Draw away, call you a monster.

One day, you'll lose him.

She pushed them down, but they were ever near. Dark shadows to spill into the light of every happy moment.

Not today. I won't lose him today. And that's all that matters.

A sick feeling–a foreboding–rose up in her. Today, and the secret smile as he looked at the waves might not be enough.

Soon he would be taller than her, older and older until he was nothing but bones in the ground and a faint memory. Most would look on growth of their family with a fondness, but for her it was nothing but a prelude to grief. One day she would have to let him go.

.

Begnion was not kind to the rabble. She kept Sothe close, away from the soldiers that would drive them away. He craned his neck at the gilded nobles who wouldn't even look their way, to the white marble buildings.

Soon we will be far away from here,she whispered in Sothe's ear.

"I won't miss it," Sothe said.

By nightfall, they were on another ship. Sothe curled into his bedroll.

"The person near us keeps making gross sounds," he said.

"She's ill," Micaiah said.

Sothe leaned back.

"Do you like the world from what you've seen?"

"It's all right, but nothing compares to Daein," Sothe said.

"Why?" Micaiah said.

Sothe shrugged. "It's got all the people I know. Even if it's freezing and harsh, I like it there. It's my home."

Micaiah did not answer. His words weighed heavy on her, and when he drifted off to sleep, she kissed his forehead.

Even after Daein had cast him away, thrown him to the curb with the shiftless and the thieves, he loved it. From him she could feel a warm, sleepy contentment. Happiness just to be by her side.

For a short while, she allowed herself to reflect that feeling. The shadows of the starless sky, the voices that haunted her stayed at the corners. Foreboding, waiting.

.

Crimea was all greenery, small villages and a cluster of kinder nobles around the capitol. She avoided Melior, for something thrummed there, like a pressed string. The stench of ill will to come.

They stayed at an inn hidden away in the countryside, surrounded by poplars and old pines. Many children were in the town, all ages and sizes.

A boy with blond hair kept looking at Sothe, but Sothe kept looking away and refusing to meet their gazes.

"Why don't you go say hello?" she said.

"They're different," Sothe said, his voice tight.

"They aren't going to knife you in the back," she said.

Sothe gave a suspicious look towards the children.

"Go on," she urged.

"Fine," he said. He reluctantly, sullenly stepped towards the boy.

Fate came in stops and starts to her, but this place on the border of Begnion and Crimea would be safe. None of the dark clouds would touch it.

She stood in the doorway a long time before she finally took off down the road.

.

Walking away was the hardest thing she'd ever done. She told herself over and over that this was for the best. Sothe was strong. He could go on living on his own—he'd done so for many years before he met her. He'd be much safer with this group than being berated with her. The smiles on the children's face reminded her of a time long ago, before she was turned out.

She didn't want him to know what it was to be shunned.

Any longer and he'd begin to realize that she shouldn't stay this young. He wouldn't look up at her with childish affection, but with horror.

It took everything within her not to turn back. She kept saying the words, like a chant.

This is for the best. This is for the best.

And yet, the same voice within her which had warned her of what to come mocked her now.

You're a selfish coward.

She kept trying to assuage her guilt, but every word seemed hollow.

She pushed herself on through the haunting of the ghosts in her mind. The memories of another person who relied on her—even cared about her, now all gone.

3.
She wandered for a while, but no place seemed right. For all its vices, the streets of Nevassa were easy to lose oneself in. Begnion was no place for beggars, and the ominous winds stayed in Crimea–the last place she'd seen him.

So she made her way back to the cold, to the one place where she had found that trace of home.

Micaiah walked the winter, through the freezing nights with no body curled against her, no small hand reaching towards hers.

She had stayed in Daein too long, long enough that it had taken hold of her. Sothe was right; Daein had become her home.

.

She had been traveling for sixteen days when she came into the wilds near the Daein border. She had been lucky enough to avoid any brigands along the way, but it was still quite a ways to go.

At the junction of the path, she noticed a group moving their wagons from the road. She paused to watch them slowly unpack, chatting all the while.

A woman leaned out, her wavy dark hair falling over her shoulder and to brush against her rouged cheek.

"Come aboard," she said. "We don't bite, unless you want us to."

"I have little to offer," Micaiah replied.

"That's okay," she laughed. "We don't ask much. Good company, a little help to earn your keep, that's all."

"I can read fortunes," she said.

"That's good enough for us," she said.

"Be a dear and move over a little–and save her some food," the woman said.

A pale mage girl with lavender hair moved slightly, her mouth never leaving the large drumstick.

"Tell us about yourself, traveler," The woman said.

"Aimee, she might not want to," said a larger man. He was gruff, and resembled a bear, and yet there was a gentleness to his voice.

"Hmmm. Perhaps. Can we at least have a name?"

"Micaiah," she said.

Sothe was the last person she told, but even through her mental haze, she could feel their hearts. They were good, and kind; they would not betray her.

She sat next to the fire, and Aimee sat beside her and held out her palm.

"And that fortune," Aimee said. "Tell me about the one I will love."

She took Aimee's hand, which was more worn than her face belied. Aimee exuded a overpowering, almost predatory energy, and yet there was a romantic underside to her. She could capture moments and times, loves lost and found.

"There's a line crossing over the love line, right here..." She traced her finger along the line.

"You will suffer much romantic hardship; the one you love will not return your feelings. But this..." She placed her thumb on another line. "Shows that you will go through it. You will find your happiness in an unexpected, yet well known place."

"Hmmm. I can't say I'm too happy about a sad love story like that, but maybe I can cheat fate to my side after all," Aimee said.

Aimee pulled her hand away.

"I haven't finished, I still haven't gotten to your wealth or life line."

Aimee shrugged. "I'm already fabulously wealthy, and I have no desire to find out when I die. I feel like life should be a surprise in that respect."

"That's a good one," said the blond twin. "I think I'll write it down."

Aimee laughed. "I'll be a philosopher yet!"

The burly weapons salesman raised his glass to her. "To our Aimee, may she ever shine on in our company. You're too good for us."

She laughed. "Oh, Muston, I'm the belle of the ball, but I'm in such good company. Look at all these handsome men with all this good sense to recognize the finer things in life? I can't think of a place I'd rather be."

The mage girl moaned, and gnawed at her bone. Aimee sighed, and pulled a wrap over the girl.

"Don't eat it so fast this time, Ilyana," she chided.

She passed a bowl to Micaiah. "You best watch your food while you go. This little one is a food thief. We have to keep locks on the food crates, or she'd eat us out of house and home.

Muston patted Ilyana on the shoulder with his large, meaty hands and she nearly fell over.

The twins laughed. Micaiah sipped at her soup, watching the rest of them talk. It was a family, pure and simple. She could feel their love for each other, many faceted and deep and it gave her a sense of hope through it all.

.

She parted ways with the merchant group with some reluctance. It surprised her to find that she had actually enjoyed her time with the raucous bunch. It left her smiling still, thawed deep inside.

The world is beautiful, and not always cruel.

Down the path towards Talrega, she noticed drops of red. She followed the trail of blood in the snow, keeping her cloak down low to keep the glare from the sun on snow from her eyes. A cry hastened her steps as she came upon a skirmish. A man and a beast, poised to destroy each other. Just as the man was about to sink his spear deep within the flank of the beast, Micaiah began a chant. The energy came deep from within her, a spirit lifted and sung up from slumber. Called, commanded and thrust into the air. The light rose up from her fingers and soared up into the air, until it hit him squarely in the chest.

That was enough to give the beast a chance to retaliate. His armor was little defense against those claws. Micaiah had to turn away from his screams, but they were cut off with a gurgling sound, and finally him falling to the ground.

The beast started limping towards her. The wounds looked serious enough that if untreated, it would die. She never liked the word sub-human. Even before she realized the nature of the curse, the word had left a bitter taste in her mouth. Even as the creature turned towards her, she would not say the word. As it pinned her, its breath stunk of dead meat as it roared into her face.

All the force of its pain and anger came across her. Micaiah felt images of its—her life appear. She had been spat upon, attacked, and now she worried for the life of her sister. The beast, no, laguz, for that was the word which she felt so strongly through the wave of feelings.

The laguz rose to her feet, shaky, and yet still very angry and bent to destroy everyone around them. She moved so fast that Micaiah barely had time to process before she was pinned to the ground. The laguz roared, her nails unsheathed into Micaiah's shoulder.

She had so much pain and fury. If only Micaiah could lessen it, somehow.

She lifted up her hand and touched the creature's chest.

Let the pain go into me. Let it be healed.

The female laguz drew back with a start as the white light surrounded them. The pain hit her suddenly, cutting through her skin with the intensity of steel. The laguz female must have been strong to endure a wound so deep. A warrior, fierce and unrelenting. The laguz's tawny coat shone as fur turned to human flesh. A female warrior in green stood before Micaiah, her ears flattened back on her head.

"Why did you do that? Why'd you go and save me?! Tell me, human! Why?"

Micaiah held her aching side. Perhaps she was done for now.

"I saw a likeness in you...something unexpected," Micaiah said. She coughed, and tasted the bitter tang of blood in her mouth.

The laguz stepped back and grimaced. She looked from side to side, then back to Micaiah. There was nothing but disdain and distrust in those purple eyes.

"I'll spare your life, but only because I hate to owe my life to anyone, especially a human."

The female laguz spat out the words as if they left a disgusting aftertaste in her mouth.

"Know this, human girl. By sparing you, I've saved your life. If we meet again, I won't be so merciful."

She heard the crunch of snow as the laguz girl walked away. Snow began to fall, but she barely felt the cold. All she could think was that it was so beautiful, Sothe would've loved it. He pretended to be stoic, but he was still so young. When he thought no one would realize, he'd go out into the moonlight and toss around the snow, making shapes and playing with the other thief children.

The ache within her solidified, melded with the pain in her side.

I'm sorry for being a coward, Sothe. If I make it through this, I'll...

Her eyes closed and the last sensation was the feeling of snowflakes falling onto her, covering her.

.

Micaiah awoke to warmth and the smell of smoke and wood. Into focus came a room, and a single woman who inhabited it. She was an older woman with graying hair tied back, and many laugh lines on her face.

"Finally you woke up, I was beginning to think you'd sleep the whole week," she said.

Micaiah tried to rise, but the sudden movement caused an ache in her side.

"Oh, careful now," the woman said.

The house was small–a shack, really, and the sides were covered with many quilts, so that the logwork was almost completely hidden. There was a half-finished quilt set aside from the chair near the fireplace.

She caught the aroma of cooking food. Something with meat and vegetables, and many spices.

"Stew's almost ready," the woman said.

"But, why..."

No, that wouldn't do. She cleared her throat and started again.

"I appreciate your kindness, but I cannot impose on you."

"Don't be ridiculous. You can barely walk, and it's full Daein winter out there. You go out there and the wolves will be picking at your corpse before the day is through. The name's Brenda, by the by," she said.

The woman returned, this time with a bowl. She sat down on a stool that had seen better days, carved of rough wood.

"You kind of look like my cousin." Brenda smiled wistfully for a moment, until her face fell. "She ain't with us anymore."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Micaiah said.

"That's life," the woman said. "But, I should get you some stew. You've been out for days."

Micaiah pushed herself up, biting her lip through the rush of pain. Brenda held out the bowl, ever patient as Micaiah lifted a shaky hand to her lips.

Brenda smiled, and Micaiah felt images of a girl who had once lived, Lissy the bright, Lissy the ever smiling, white hair caught in the wind and a golden song.

Brenda was so resilient, and yet a kindness overflowed within her. It was the same warmth, the same as by the hearth with Sothe curled by her side.

Connection. Caring. Everything she had shunned since the day the people where she had lived with had reviled her. She'd embraced the life of a wandering crone, taken on the mythology and lies until she had become it. The cowardice she had feigned overwhelmed her—a spirit called and tethered that took over her body.

"Is there any particular place you're headed?" Brenda asked.

"I was going towards the capitol," she said.

"Are you in a hurry? The winter is no time for traveling alone. There's tons of brigands round these parts," she said.

"A group of traveling merchants were kind enough to take me in, but we parted ways around Talrega."

"And I suppose your luck ran out and you got taken by some brigands? They're horrible around these parts."

She didn't correct Brenda. Instead, she nodded. She would keep the secret of the laguz girl safe.

"Well, I'd be happy to have some company. My husband died some five years back."

What lay ahead? While Sothe and the other street children may have seen the king as someone who could lift them up, Micaiah had lived long enough to know the darkened underbelly of the regime.

"I will do my best to earn my keep," Micaiah said.

"Psah, don't be silly. I'm just happy to not be spending this winter alone. These old bones just aren't what they used to be."

Every time Brenda looked at her, her craggy face would soften into a smile, and from her Micaiah could sense the bittersweet nostalgia.

.

Spring was coming. Micaiah bent towards the first bloom peeking out from the snow. She couldn't quite bring herself to pick the crocus, but the bit of color in the muddy snow lifted her spirits.

Through the gray sky, she saw another spot of color. A kind of bird she had never seen before soared above her. Birdsong filled her ears, sweet and high, a different kind of melody.

She held her hand out, and to her surprise, the bird landed upon it.

Yune was the word which went through her mind.

"Is that your name?"

The bird hopped to her shoulder and began to peck at her hair. It was so bright, a veritable sunrise with its orange and red plumage.

Yune. She liked it. A warm, spunky feeling bubbled up in her, and she laughed.

"Will you stay with me?"

Yune tilted her head, as if considering. It tweeted. She heard a Yes within her mind.

"You're special, aren't you? Most people don't know I read them. Not even Sothe knew," she said.

So are you.

"Special?"

She blinked. She'd never thought of herself as set apart; all her differences only marked her as cursed and a pariah.

The bird chirped happily, and she knew somehow that it was an affirmation.

"I'm no hero," Micaiah said.

But you will be, came the voice.

Her powers had always been something to be hidden. A curse, a stain upon her family. She looked at the hands which could heal a laguz near death and summon up light to defeat a soldier. Everyone who had looked at her years ago had seen a witch, someone to cast into the desert with all their sins.

But the people who she had met this year showed kindness. Not everyone was cruel, not everyone was cold.

The bird alighted up into the sky. A patch of sunlight shone through. Micaiah sat back and let her cloak fall aside for a moment. A song was deep inside her. Something like hope.

.

Before the week was through, she had what little things packed. Brenda seemed the sense what she would say even before she said it. Still, she took to the formalities.

"I have to return to the capitol. You see, there's someone who I lost, and I need to find again," Micaiah said.

Brenda smiled. "Thanks for keeping this old woman company. I've felt younger than I did in years."

All because of the echos of Lissy. Micaiah felt like she owed it to become this woman's ghost, even if for a short time.

"Thank you for your kindness. I think...I stopped believing in people, and you reminded me that not everyone is cruel," Micaiah said.

"Oh, I don't blame you. It's rough there in the capitol, but I think there's a bit of human kindness everywhere. I hope to see you again someday."

Micaiah nodded. "I hope to as well."

And when I see you again, it will be as a liberator.

.

She sensed his presence long before he noticed her, wrapped up again in the clothes of a crone.
She did not flee this time, but kept her eyes down as she read the fates of other people with their mundane wishes.

He came, as she knew he would. She did not lift her gaze as she asked Do you want your palm read?

"You know I don't, Micaiah."

Finally she looked up. He was so much larger, time had changed him so much.

"I finally found you," Sothe said, his voice breaking. "We got separated, but I knew I'd find you here. You'd return home."

The words stung her. The home she had left was before her, not just in cobblestones marred with frost and bloodstains, but a boy who made her leave the life of a crone.

"Come with me," she said.

She packed away her stand, and walked down these familiar streets. He followed after her, without a word. Eventually, she found the the alley where they had met.

"You don't understand...I did it on purpose," she said.

"What are you even saying, Micaiah—"

She turned to him. "Stop it, Sothe. Stop idealizing me. I did it on purpose. I left you."

"You didn't, you didn't," he said. "I know you didn't. You wouldn't do that."

"I did," she said softly. "And I'm very sorry."

Sothe shook his head, voicing a silent no. His face went from disbelief to stony blankness as she nodded.

He let out a cry of anger and punched the wall. Once, twice, three times. His blood joined other's blood to the stones. He punched until he was breathing heavy and his knuckles were battered and scraped. As much as she ached to, Micaiah didn't stop him. He needed this release of all the hurt she had caused. When he had finished, he fell to his knees. She bent down next to him, and took his hands, took the pain into herself.

"I couldn't bear to have you look at me like everyone else. ...I won't grow older. And these powers I have, they will one day make everyone turn against you. Do you understand?"

"No, I don't understand! How could you just leave me like that?! You said we'd be together forever!"

But we won't. I'll outlive you. One day I'll have to walk alone again, and perhaps that was the real reason I... her thoughts trailed into chaos. The same spirits that had haunted her were rising up. They would have her cast into the desert, hidden away as the world burned around her. She pushed the fears aside before they could consume her again.

"I've been alone a long time. When I took care of you I didn't expect to care as much as I did. So many people I've known have looked at me like a monster, and I couldn't take it from you."

Her distance had been her armor. Without it she felt exposed to the elements. Even now she tried to avoid the restless spirits of doubt within her. She had listened to them once and almost lost everything dear to her; she would not let them possess her again.

"I'd never think you were like that, Micaiah. You should know better," Sothe said.

"I should have, and I'm sorry. I'm sorry for all the pain I caused you. You must hate me."

"Stop it. I could never hate you," Sothe said. "I'm angry at you, but I'll get over it. You're my family, and I swore I'd keep you safe."

He awkwardly took her hand. There it was, the same embers of hearth warmth.

"I have to tell you something... I'm not going to be just a fortune teller anymore. I'm not going to keep running away from everything and watching everyone suffer. Staying with me will be even more dangerous. I want to save Daein," she said. "I don't know how, but I cannot simply stand by and watch everyone destroy this country. It has so much promise. As you said, it's become my home."

She looked away, through the city of Nevassa which had been so bent and broken down by the last king, the new invaders of Begnion who would love to claim it as their own, and yet never fell.

The world is beautiful, even if some people are cold.

"...even if the people hate me for it, even if they try and kill me, I can't simply turn away this time. I'm no hero, but I'll become something like it to save them."

"Then I'll fight with you," Sothe said. "I'll protect you."

She turned to him, and he gripped her arms. His hands were so much larger now. He'd turned into a man before she even knew it. Beorc aged so quickly; before she knew it, he'd slip through her hands with graying hair and a stooping body.

"You might not make it out alive," she said.

"I don't care about that. Don't you get it, Micaiah?"

She could feel his heart, intense and hurt, yet fierce and full of devotion. She wanted to bury herself in this feeling, this love that had been denied her all those years. So many people had given her this feeling recently. It felt as if her heart had been in a long slumber, and now was lifting its petals the sky.

Because that's what it was, wasn't it? Something of folk talks and songs, and finally, hers. No cliche fortunes, no fairy tale.

"I do now," she said. And it was there, a small flame in her chest that she had never been able to put out. He would not leave her, not until death called him away.

She pulled away her lies, her cowardice and the black cloak of a crone. She considered it, the person who she had been. She was no hero, but perhaps she could learn to become one. She threw her cloak into the fire and watched it burn. She wouldn't hide any longer. Even if the people rejected her again. Even if it hurt.

"We'll do it. We'll save Daein together."