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Azarion had a death wish and was on the verge of having it fulfilled for him. That was the only explanation that made sense. Fortunately he thought twice, and grudgingly unstrung the bow before putting it back on the table he had taken it from. Just in time, too, because how could Safinia have explained to the cook and the boss that she hadn't been able to control a slave and had lost him to a contest?

The gladiator, on the other hand, didn't seem as inclined to let them off that easily, even though he had just been publicly humiliated. Because he had been publicly humiliated was more like it. "Quitting now? Then it's my win," the big man snarled, attempting to salvage his dignity in front of the small crowd. Safinia began to slowly back away, figuring that sooner or later the gladiator would claim the money Azarion had so foolishly bet.

Should she try to blend in, hide behind the other spectators? The off-white tunic she wore made her easy to spot, but the gladiator would have to tear through the public to get to her. And news of a gladiator making targets out of the audience was not great publicity for any ludus. Mind made up, she scuttled across the crowd, zig-zagging here and there, intent on getting as far away from the gladiator as possible. Once the mass of people had thinned out, Safinia started running back the way they had come, bony legs straining to carry her away as fast as possible.

She didn't look over her shoulder to see if Azarion was following, and her heartbeat thundering in her ears drowned out most sounds, but she figured he hadn't stuck around to see what the gladiator was capable of. She passed by a few training gladiators and their admirers and almost collided with two men entering the premises, but dodged at the last second and shot out of the gate as if her arse was on fire.

Panting heavily and feeling her tongue tingling oddly, Safinia stopped a few feet to the left of the entrance and bent down, hands leaning on her knees to regain her breath. The tout that had welcomed them in eyed her quizzically for a few seconds before diverting his attention towards more unsuspecting passers-by.

@Chevi

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"Quitting now? Then it's my win,"

Fuck you

Safinia ran for it. She had always been smarter than Azarion. Azarion knew this was where things were headed, and it still took him another moment to convince himself he would not survive picking a fight with the gladiator. He could have his precious win. It hurt Azarion's pride, after humiliating him in a fair contest of archery, but it did not hurt worse than getting his tongue cut out. Or being branded.

He ran too, following her as she wove through the crowd. People shouted after them but if they pursued it did not last long. There was laughter too. And some jokes. And cursing. Azarion's cheeks burned by the time he left the ludus, catching up with Safinia as she stopped to breath at the entrance. Without slowing down, he grabbed her by the arm to pull her along. They wouldn't be quite safe until at least a couple of alleys down.

@Liv

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She had barely had the chance to fill her lungs with much needed air before an arm was tugging on one of hers and pulling her along, forcing Safinia to restart the wild race. Like before, looking over her shoulder to see if they were being followed was a waste of time, and she followed Azarion in a mad dash to safety, wherever that was. Were gladiators allowed to leave their ludi unless it was for the games? She sincerely hoped not.

They had been running through a maze of narrow alleyways for a couple of minutes now, probably - hopefully - far enough away to be safe from the archer-gladiator's wrath. Shaking Azarion's hand off, Safinia leant against an ancient-looking house and slowly slid down the crumbling wall until her knees gave in and she landed gracelessly on the floor, wheezing like a drowning person. Her heart was well on its way to beat a hole out of her chest, and at least one of her lungs felt like it was lodged in her throat and threatening to jump out at any moment. Between sharp intakes of breath, she patted herself down, hoping she had not dropped the money pouch somewhere while escaping and then sighing in relief when she felt it in a fold of her tunic.

When she felt calm enough to speak, she turned to Azarion, glaring at him with the force of a thousand suns. "I'm definitely telling cook about this. And maybe the boss too. What the fuck were you thinking?!"

@Chevi

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They ran until it felt like they were safe from any wrathful gladiators pursuing them, and until they ran out of breath. Finally they stopped in an alley and Safinia pulled herself free, leaning against a wall. Azarion stopped too, catching his breath as he leaned on his knees. It had been a close call, all of it, and he was not exactly innocent in inciting the gladiator's anger. Safinia looked equally furious now. And just as dangerous. 

"I'm definitely telling cook about this. And maybe the boss too. What the fuck were you thinking?!"

What was he? Azarion huffed, straightening up. What could he possibly say? That seeing a bow made him homesick? That shooting arrows made him feel free for a fleeting moment? That the whole thing just made him aware of how utterly fucked he was, as a slave to Romans? He bit the inside of his cheek, looking away. His eyes stung. Oh, sure, go ahead, cry like a baby, that will help. Azarion shook his head, turning away from Safinia, and punched the wall, because he had nothing else to do. 

It was not a smart idea. He yelped as his fist connected with a brick.

Fucking great.

@Liv

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Whatever Azarion had been thinking when he had challenged the gladiator was as much a mystery to Safinia as whatever he was thinking at that very moment. She frowned as he huffed, ready to dish out some choice words if he started getting sassy again, but much to her surprise no argument came and Azarion just stood in silence, hands still.

Until he turned away and started punching the wall. This, Safinia knew, was often conflated with frustration, because very few people were stupid enough to go punching walls for fun, as Azarion's yelp demonstrated. Walls didn't punch back, but they were stronger than bone. . And where there was frustration there was often a goal that had not been reached, some task that had stayed unaccomplished. "Stop doing that," she chided, slowly standing up. If he broke his hand, she was the one who would get an earful for it. Her legs still shook from the earlier exertion, but they felt steadier than moments before.

Safinia put a hand on Azarion's shoulder, wordlessly bidding him to turn and face her. "What was all that about? The bow?" He'd turned cocky about the moment he had spotted the thing, now that she thought about it. But she had never been good at guessing at what might be inside another's head.

@Chevi

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Punching a wall was never a great idea, but then again people who punched walls were generally not in their most logical mindset. Azarion grunted as he shook his hand, hoping he did not end up breaking any bones. The last thing he needed was to miss out on his training because he couldn't use his hand. The anger was beginning to clear, giving space to disappointment.

"Stop doing that,"

Safinia placed a hand on his shoulder, and he turned to look at her, half expecting to get punched in the face. She probably did not expect to run for her life this morning when they left for the market. But as annoyed as she might have been, she did not look like she was about to beat him up.

"What was all that about? The bow?" 

Azarion sighed and hung his head. Yeah, the bow. She'd seen him handle the weapon. Did she understand what all that meant? No one knew where Azarion had come from, not yet. No one had cared to ask. He made a few gestures. He'd handled bows before, just like he'd handled horses, in another life. He tapped his chest, wondering if she'd understand. Home.

@Liv

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Now Azarion was looking repentant. That was a good thing, it showed he understood his actions. And it also looked like Safinia had guessed correctly, given his dejected air. But what was so special about that one bow? A memory flashed through her mind; hadn't Azarion said back when they had first met that he was from a family of hunters? Maybe they used to hunt with bows. His gestures seemed to corroborate it, right until he tapped his chest.

Safinia thought she understood what he meant, but shook her head just the same. "No. You need to let go of that," she stated, tone as flat as the surface of a puddle on a hot day.

This was the problem with so many people, she thought - they got stuck in the past. The whys was incomprehensible to her: the past was exactly that, gone and immutable. Not even the gods could change what had been done. The future was uncertain. The present was all that mattered. And yet people held on to what had been, often to the detriment of everything else, even life itself. She couldn't grasp it.

"Home is where you belong now. And right now you belong in the Whites' stables. Yesterday's gone. Tomorrow's not come yet. It's the here and now that matters, and in the here and now you're a charioteer apprentice. Not a hunter or bowyer or whatever. So let go. It's not who you are anymore." She shrugged, patted the coin purse once again and began to cautiously walk towards the next intersection, hoping no annoyed gladiator would soon pop out.

"Let's go. We still haven't done our shopping."

@Chevi

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"No. You need to let go of that,"

Azarion recoiled at Safinia's even tone. She had never been really tactful or emotional, but then again, he had never really shown this side of him to her... or anyone, either.

How the fuck exactly was he supposed to let go of that?

"Home is where you belong now. And right now you belong in the Whites' stables. Yesterday's gone. Tomorrow's not come yet. It's the here and now that matters, and in the here and now you're a charioteer apprentice. Not a hunter or bowyer or whatever. So let go. It's not who you are anymore." 

For a moment, pain was evident in Azarion's face, as if he had been slapped. He had been defiant and cocky back at the ludus, having a moment where he could take up a bow and remind himself who he was. And now here he was, being reminded that was all in the past. Likely he wold never be that person again. Son of a chief, hunter, rider. Sarmatian. Free. All that was left was to do his best, learn the foreign skills of driving a chariot, and hope the Roman public took a liking to him, and the gods did not want to see him die trampled in the Circus. That was pretty much the extent of it.

"Let's go. We still haven't done our shopping."

Azarion hung his head. Wherever Safinia had come from, she did not understand. It was not her fault. It was not like he could explain. He fell into step next to her, making a calmer gesture. I'm sorry. About the money.

@Liv

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It seemed as though her words hurt Azarion, from the way he was reacting. The look he put on all of a sudden was unfamiliar to Safinia, but she had seen something like it on others before. It was the pain of being confronted with reality. On some superficial level she felt sorry for him for having his illusion finally shattered - but it was about time, and that was how she really felt deep down inside. At any rate, she wouldn't be the one musing on it on her cot at night.

As they reached the intersection Safinia popped her head round the corner and carefully looked about. No gladiators in sight: the coast was clear. She gestured for Azarion to follow and rounded the corner, scowling at her companion. "I'm not sure I believe that. Did you see the look on his face? You could have got us killed!" she bit back with rare emotion, throwing her hands up in the air.

That was enough scolding for the time being. She wasn't Azarion's boss, much less his mother, and his apologies wouldn't change what had happened. Safinia gave him a satisfied look  and smirked wryly as they walked up the narrow street. "I thought charioteers had to focus on team work. Should you be acting on your own like that?" 

@Chevi

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"I'm not sure I believe that. Did you see the look on his face? You could have got us killed!"

Azarion scoffed. He could have. She was sharp about it, but she was not wrong. A slave picking up a weapon in broad daylight would have been plenty of reason in Rome to get him crucified. The rush of holding the bow had been strong enough to forget that crucial detail for a moment. 

Azarion followed Safinia own the street as she made sure no one was pursuing them.

"I thought charioteers had to focus on team work. Should you be acting on your own like that?" 

Azarion rolled his eyes as she walked beside her, making some exasperated gestures. Did I look like I was thinking about that?

@Liv

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For some reason, Azarion didn't look like he was sorry anymore, not when he was rolling his eyes like that. That, in turn, annoyed Safinia, who returned the gesture with an eye roll of her own as they kept walking. "No, you did not look like you were thinking about anything at all," she deadpanned. Just the odd bow, as if he had been enchanted by it. Should she ask him about it? 

They took a left and found themselves in a wider, noisier street, fortunately lacking any angry giants. Yes, Safinia decided, she would ask him about it. Keeping her pace, she shot Azarion a curious look before voicing her question. "What was up with that bow? The gladiator didn't seem happy you knew how to use it."

@Chevi

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"No, you did not look like you were thinking about anything at all," 

Fair. He deserved that. He was not even going to argue the point, because if one looked from the outside, like Safinia had, it was pretty obvious that he had been a dumbass. But it had not been some plan to get or spend money. It just happened. Should he have known better? For sure.

"What was up with that bow? The gladiator didn't seem happy you knew how to use it."

Azarion scoffed. Of course not. Because the moron couldn't even string it. He gestured, tapping his leg that had the hunting tattoo on it.

It's ours. It's the bow my people use. It's the bow I use.

@Liv

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How a mute boy managed to come across as that derisive was something that bewildered Safinia for an instant, but the thought quickly left her mind as it instead focused on what Azarion was communicating. Oh right, the tattoo from his people. So it seemed like they used that sort of bow, and that had made him nostalgic. Too bad nostalgia emerged as a propensity to show off under unfavourable circumstances that almost got them beaten to a pulp and with all the money gone.

Frowning slightly at her companion, Safinia shrugged as if saying 'so what?'. The past was in the past: Azarion was an apprentice charioteer no, now a hunter. He had no use for bows. "If you'd tried to buy it from the gladiator with the faction's money because you were feeling homesick I would've been more understanding. Did you think he was just going to let us walk away unscathed after you embarrassed him in front of all those people?" Gods, if she had had her rolling pin on her, she would have whacked Azarion hard on the head with it to knock some sense into him.

The murmur of people coming and going grew louder as they walked on, signalling the proximity of the market that had been their original destination. Safinia took notice of it and eyed Azarion sternly as she patted the money pouch and made the coins clink. "Don't you dare try to use this money to buy a bow now." 

@Chevi

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