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Aeterna Roma RPG

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Fall had come to Rome, and with it, the Ludi Augustales. In honor of the divine emperor, grand events were organized, the arena was decorated and the rows of seats filled with people, from the most august imperials and the Vestal Virgins all the way up to the women and slaves in the top rows. Every gladiator in all the ludi who could fight was put into the schedule; the most famous ones as often as it was possible, provided they did not get seriously injured or killed along the way. 

It was the first games since the earthquake Thessala was to participate in. 

The other gladiatrix facing her in the arena was someone whose name she did not bother to learn. She rarely bothered to learn names since Rana. They were not the only duel in the arena; there were three other pairs scattered around the sands, for extra spectacle. Still, Thessala felt like she was being watched. Not by the thousands of people in the seats... maybe by the gods? She shook her head, the beads and amulets twisted into her hair tinkling. She raised her two swords, crossing the blades in front of her. 

Might as well get on with it. 

@Atrice

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It was strange to be here and yet again, not be here at all.

It had happened so fast, when it did. The death. She remembered the earthquake and the locked door and Thessala yelling for her and people talking outside the door. Then the wall came down. She fell and she was buried. And then everything went black. But it was only for a moment! Then she was suddenly looking at her own corpse and Thessala, who had survived, but only barely. She was helped by her friends. At least she had friends. Rana never felt close to anyone else at the ludus. No one but Thessala. And now she couldn’t tell her that she was fine.

Why was she still in Rome though? And at the ludus? Why had she not gone to the place where you’d drink and dine and fight with the gods forever? Or why had she not gone straight to Hel, to the goddess of the underworld? She wasn’t at any of those places. She was right here. She watched Theo mend people’s wounds. She watched Thessala drink and yell at people and beat up people. She watched Annis cry and drink too, until her freedman friend took care of her.

But Rana could do nothing. She was just here, to watch it all.

Time went on and it felt strange, that it did, when Rana had not changed. She didn’t eat, she didn’t drink, she didn’t fight, she did nothing. Right until there were suddenly games to be held and everyone were going to fight. Thessala included. She followed Thessala to the arena. She was beautiful and deadly and she looked like she was supposed to.

Did Rana smile? She wasn’t sure what she did. She felt like she was smiling. She watched Thessala raise her swords and then she whispered, “You can do this…”

@Chevi

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“You can do this…”

"Rana?..." Thessala was thrown off balance by the words. She heard them clearly, as if someone had whispered them into her ear. The next moment, she was thrown even more off balance when her opponent slammed the hilt of her sword into her face. Thessala staggered back, blood flowing from her nose. She spat out a mouthful, shaking her head. The audience made sounds of excitement at the hit.

Focus, you dumbass.

Thessala bared her teeth at the other gladiatrix and lunged at her, slashing with both swords. 

@Atrice

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It was almost as if... as if Thessala had heard her! Suddenly she spoke Rana's name. But no one had heard her before. During these last months since she died, she had tried to comfort people, but no one seemed to hear her. Sometimes she thought she saw Theo look straight at her, but then he got back to work as if she wasn't there after all. As if it didn't matter that he had looked straight at her, because well, she was dead, so he couldn't anyway. She wasn't there. And yet... she was...

And now Thessala forgot to fight after Rana whispered to her! Thessala had staggered away as her opponent slammed the hilt of her sword straight at Thessala's face and Thessala was suddenly bleeding. Did she cause this? 

She could smell the blood. How could she smell the blood if she was dead? Was that why she liked watching Theo? Because she could smell the blood... and taste it on her tongue? It had a strange test, metallic, but also sweet sometimes, and spicy. She came closer to Thessala. Reached out to touch the blood and somehow, she could now also taste it. Weird, tasting Thessala's blood. And why was she doing it? She wanted to taste more. But she didn't understand why... and she didn't want to keep on tasting Thessala's blood! She missed Thessala - and she'd like to keep her alive. And she knew that if you lost too much blood, you died.

"Make her bleed instead of you..." 

@Chevi

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Thessala slashed at her opponent with both swords; she was not aiming to hit, just to move her back, out of being too close for comfort. She felt blood trickling from her nose, but it didn't feel serious; rather, it added dramatic effect as she bared her teeth, dyed red by her blood. She hissed at the gladiatrix, moving her head from side to side. The crowd cheered, although she could not tell if it was for her, or for one of the other fighters. It didn't matter. 

"Make her bleed instead of you..." 

She could hear the words clearly. She knew it was Rana. But how? Was she going insane? It would be ironic, since all of the spectators already thought of her as the crazy Thessalian witch. She'd cultivated that image, and now she was actually losing it?

Her opponent launched a counter-attack, and Thessala parried, spinning out of the way. Well, at least the voice was not telling her to do anything she wasn't already doing. Bringing her other sword around she slashed at the back of her opponent's thigh, drawing a spray of blood that hit the sand at her feet. 

"Is this what you want?!" she yelled. People cheered. The other gladiatrix no doubt thought she was talking to her.

@Atrice

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How did she come closer to Thessala if she was not really there? But she was here. Rana still had troubles understanding her own state of being right now, she didn't know how or why she was here, she just knew she was. And that she for some reason was bound to stay around the ludus or close to Thessala. She'd followed Thessala out in the city sometimes. Once Thessala beat up a man and Rana had also felt the taste of his blood. It was honestly more a feeling of a taste than anything else. But it felt good. She liked it. And now that she had a little today, she wanted more again. It was like she craved it. But it wouldn't be right that it was Thessala's. This was Thessala fighting and Thessala needed to win. And if she lost too much blood, she would not. 

Rana would have the other gladiatrix' instead. She told Thessala, who could apparently hear her, that she should make the other woman bleed. The two women came at each other again and Thessala slashed the other woman's thigh and the blood sprayed out. Rana went straight into it. Thessala yelled and the crowd cheered and Rana felt that she was smiling. It was good to see Thessala like this.

"It is exactly what I want. More." Rana said. It was as if she'd gone straight into that spray of blood and the blood somehow came into her, because she could taste it and she took it all in. It was as if it changed something in her, all of that blood. As if she felt more... strong. As if everything around her became clearer. Rana didn't know what it meant. She came closer to the other gladiatrix, tried to touch the bleeding wound. She wanted that. But the woman kept on moving and Rana looked at Thessala, hoping she'd do something.

@Chevi

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Thessala was not sure if she was losing her mind or just losing her patience, and in the moment she was fine with either. She had always loved to fight, and it made her feel alive to taste blood, whether it was hers or someone else's. They circled each other again with her opponent.

"It is exactly what I want. More." 

Thessala lunged, but she miscalculated her attack. Or rather, she didn't expect to be distracted... there was a silhouette, for a moment, behind the other gladiatrix, a shape like the air shimmering from the heat... it was there only for a split second, but it was enough to throw her off. Her opponent took the opportunity and attacked; Thessala swept the sword aside, but the other woman lunged forward, kicking her in the stomach.

Thessala staggered back, wheezing as the air was knocked out of her lungs. 

Get it together

There was no time to take a break. She moved back, catching her breath, and dodged the next attack, circling again.

More blood. Whether it was her own mind or someone else... it was something she could make happen.

Thessala attacked again. Swords rang on swords as they both threw themselves into the fray. Eventually she managed to get close under the arm of her opponent and slash at her again, this time hitting her side. More blood spilled, the gladiatrix swore in some unknown language. Thessala laughed.

@Atrice

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What was wrong with Thessala? Rana knew now that Thessala could hear her, but that was all she knew. And Thessala seemed to have come to terms with it too, because she kept on fighting to give Rana more of what she wanted. Thessala and her opponent had now circled each other while Rana came closer to the other woman's bleeding wound and then it was like Thessala stared at her for a moment and her friend forgot to be on guard. Instead she took another attack from the stranger and staggered back and Rana watched with horror. It really wasn't fair! 

Thessala kept on fighting though, dodged an attack and then she attacked. The swords clashed together and suddenly, there was more blood spilled. Rana rushed to it, taking it in. Yes, it was what she had wanted! She looked at Thessala and smiled.

"Thank you." And when she had had enough, she moved away and around Thessala again. If she could only touch her and tell her that she was here. And that Thessala had nothing to worry about, because she was right where she should be. She'd never be a meek and submissive wife. Thessala was strong and fierce and beautiful. She was there, behind Thessala and then it was like the other gladiatrix stared right at her. This had happened with Thessala just before and Rana thought she understood, "Take her, now!" She urged Thessala, while the other was dazed for a moment. 

@Chevi

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"Thank you."

She was clearly hearing the voice. Her voice. Rana's voice. Even over the roar of the crowd as all the duels in the arena began to pick up speed and shed more blood, she could hear her. Which was impossible, because Rana was dead.

Weren't spirits drawn to blood, though...?

There was another shimmer in the air, as if someone was taking shape out of nothing. Thessala parried and slashed at her opponent again, screaming in her face. It felt good to scream. It felt good to fight. The other gladiatrix dodged, and slashed at her in return; Thessala only stepped back a split second before the blade cut air where her neck had been.

Gladiatrices did not always fight to the death, or even serious injury.

But now they were.

Another attack was coming. Thessala found ehr balance, bracing herself... but suddenly she could see her opponent looking past her, surprised, confused. Was this a trick...?

"Take her, now!"

She did. Thessala lunged forward, stabbing one sword into the thigh of her opponent, and the other through her side. Neither would was necessarily fatal, but they definitely sealed the otucome of the fight, as the gladiatrix went down screaming, more of her blood spilling on the sand. The crowd roared. Thessala roared too. Whatever happened, she was too caught up in it now to think...

@Atrice

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Rana gasped when the other gladiatrix only just missed slashing Thessala’s neck. Usually fights with gladiatrixes didn’t go this far, and these two were only one of three fighting pairs in the arena but Rana had no eye for the others. The others were not Thessala, after all. And Thessala at least avoided having her neck cut in this round!

 She was behind Thessala, knowing she had somehow been seen by the other gladiatrix and she thought Thessala should make use of that! She urged Thessala to have a go at her opponent and she did, managing to stab her sword into the other woman’s thigh and side. The other screamed and went down and Rana followed her. Taking the blood in, all that she could. The other woman was not yet dead. But she was bleeding heavily and the crowd roared for Thessala and Rana stood and faced her again, smiling, “You are very perfect, you know that?” Rana was convinced she’d never have become as great as Thessala was anyway.

@Chevi

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The crowds cheered, and the other fights came to a close as well. Thessala stood, gasping for breath, and watched as she shape of Rana somehow... appeared, over the bloody sand, like a mirage that she could not look straight at. Gods, she wanted to know she was real. For so many reasons. Slaves from the ludus were hurrying in now to carry the wounded away before the next fight.

“You are very perfect, you know that?”

"I'm losing my mind" Thessala gasped, but she could not just turn away. So what, if she was somehow talking to herself? All of Rome thought she was crazy already anyway. "Rana, I miss you..."

@Atrice

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She didn't know if the other gladiatrix, the one on the ground, was dead or what. She doubted she was dead though, because she didn't appear to be two places at once and right after Rana died, it had felt like that. She had seen her own body on the ground. She had looked at it. And the other gladiatrix, well, she was still on the ground, bleeding. Rana had no eye for her though. She didn't know why she was still here, but she was and she was looking at Thessala who appeared to truly see her now. Rana had been given everything she asked for, at the moment. Somehow the blood made her feel stronger and more solid, if that was even something you could feel? Well she felt it. Rana mostly felt things nowadays. That's all she could. See and hear and feel. And then the blood, she could taste that. And now she could look at Thessala and tell her how perfect she was. 

Rana laughed when Thessala gasped and said she was losing her mind, "No... if you are, I am too." She added, but she was quite sure that was not the case. Rana's laugh stopped though, when Thessala said she missed her. In an instant, she was closer to Thessala, right in front of her.

"You... miss me? But I am right here." Rana said with a little sad smile, "I do not know why, but I never left." 

@Chevi

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"No... if you are, I am too." 

Well, that made no sense whatsoever, and Thessala did not care at all, because Rana was laughing. She had always laughed easier than Thessala, and the sound was so real  she wondered if the rest of the people in the arena heard it too. They were carrying the wounded away, and someone was bringing Thessala a new pair of swords, to replace the ones she'd left in her opponent. But she was still looking at Rana, who was standing a lot closer now.

"You... miss me? But I am right here. I do not know why, but I never left."

She looked real. Not quite... material, but it was her, and not some illusion. But if she was a soul, a spirit who never quite left this world and she didn't know why... she was something people whispered about. Thessala reached out, wondering what would happen if she touched her, but just then the man with the swords reached her. It was time to fight again. "Is there something you need from me?" Maybe she hoped there was.

@Atrice

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Rana did not know if anyone else but Thessala saw her and knew she was here and honestly she didn't care. She thought the other gladiatrix might have seen her, but she was being dragged out now and Rana was still here together with Thessala. The crowds cheered for Thessala, but Thessala didn't notice them. She was staring at Rana, who must be losing her mind too if Thessala was. Rana was surprised though, to hear that Thessala missed her. Of course she kind of knew, as she had been watching the other woman for a while now, but to hear her say it... but then, why miss someone who was there? Rana came closer to her, said she never left.

Thessala still stared at her with that strange look in her eyes. Then she reached out for Rana, but never managed to touch, because new swords were handed to her. She was fighting again? Thessala wondered if Rana needed something from her.

"I... don't know?" Rana said, but it kind of made sense. Maybe that's why she never left? "Do you think there is? Or is there something... you need from me?" Something told her she was here because of Thessala. Because Thessala had tried to save her. And she didn't manage to do it.  

@Chevi

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"I... don't know?" 

There was noise from the spectators as the winners of the previous fights were paired up. Thessala turned, looking at a tall Germanian woman walking her way. Her opponent looked ready to fight, with a lance and a smaller shield; she was bloodied, but not enough to be called off the sands. Thessala turned the swords in her hands.

"Do you think there is? Or is there something... you need from me?" 

"I needed a lot of things from you" Thessala said quietly, with sadness in her voice, facing her opponent. She needed to focus on fighting if she wanted to live. This fight was not for killing, but accidents did happen when someone got careless. ""Will you still be here when I'm done?"

@Atrice

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Rana barely noticed the other gladiatrix arriving, until Thessala looked towards her. A tall woman, her features making her seem as if she came from Germania, just like Rana... but she was nothing like Rana. And Rana was nothing at all, yet she was right here. Thessala had gone quiet a bit, after wondering if Rana needed anything from her, but she honestly didn't know. How should she know? Rana had never been like this before. Dead, but still here. She didn't know why it was like this. It was obvious that not everyone who died, ended up like her. So maybe Thessala had a point. She wondered if Thessala needed something from her. And Thessala said she needed a lot of things.

"You did?" She asked, surprised. They'd kissed once or twice, back when Thessala was trying to teach Rana how to fight in an arena. They'd been close, they'd been friends, but they had always been so different too and she never quite knew how to approach Thessala, even if she admired her a lot. Even liked her. Thessala was so... hard, somehow. As if she wore invisible armor, constantly. Rana wished it wasn't so. But she was losing herself in what might have been and her friend was readying herself for another fight, while wondering if Rana would still be here after.

"I have not been gone at all." Rana said, "So why should I be gone when you're done? I'm here." She added almost softly and faced the other gladiatrix again, the stranger. She could smell the blood on her. The thirst came back. The odd thirst she didn't quite understand.

@Chevi

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"You did?" 

"Spirits still cannot read thoughts, then" Thessala smiled a little. It was time to focus on the fight. It was strange, knowing Rana was there, on the edge of her vision, even though others did not seem to see her, or notice her. It was going to be difficult to fight, knowing she was right there. But Thessala had a job to do, and she did not want to fail in front of the whole arena.

"I have not been gone at all. So why should I be gone when you're done? I'm here."

I'm here.

The other gladiatrix did not know what hit her. It wasn't fury, exactly, but it was definitely desperation, and the fight was over almost too quickly, fast enough that Thessala knew she was never going to hear the end of it from the lanista later. There was blood on the sand again, and the Germanian gladiatrix looked at her in wide-eyed shock as she limped out of the arena. Thessala was breathing heavily, blood drumming in her ears along with the cries of the audience.

She discarded the swords as she walked out, and made it to one of the side corridors before she leaned against the cool stones of the wall, trying to decide if she was truly going insane.

"... still here?"

@Atrice

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In her strange state of being, Rana had not really considered what she was. And that she might be a spirit. She just... was? Existing? So when Thessala pointed out that spirits could not read thoughts, she just looked at her and shook her head, "No?" Why should she be able to do that, when she couldn't before? But what she noticed was also that Thessala had smiled. She had barely seen her smile since the earthquake, but there it was, a smile on Thessala's pretty face. Well, maybe not so 'pretty' right now, since she was made all up for a fight in the arena. Rana liked looking at her anyway though. She explained she hadn't been gone and would not be gone when Thessala finished her fight. Promised she'd be here. And that seemed to be enough for Thessala.

The fight continued. The other gladiatrix seemed surprised at Thessala's hard attacks and Thessala gave her quite a large gash in the thigh, more or less ending the fight with that. The crowd loved it, but then it was over and they seemed almost disappointed. Rana however was on the blood before she barely registered she did it, and it was like she felt more and more like her, again. It was only when the other gladiatrix left the arena that Rana looked up and saw Thessala leave. Fuck, she promised she'd be there. She hurried after her friend, finding her leaning against the wall and she asked a question into the faint light of the corridor.

"Yes." Rana replied and came up to her, tilting her head, "Thessala... what is wrong? What do you need from me?" 

@Chevi

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"Yes."

The voice was clearer now. Thessala opened her eyes, and she could see Rana, even in the dim light of the corridor. She looked real, the shadows masking how incorporeal she really was. If Thessala had any doubts before, she was sure that Rana was here now.

"Thessala... what is wrong? What do you need from me?" 

"Fuck if I know" the gladiatrix sighed. The rush of the fight was ebbing away, and her bruises and scrapes were beginning to smart. She was quiet for a while, looking at Rana, wondering how long before she faded away. "... I tried to get to you, you know. I tried to break the door down..."

@Atrice

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She wondered if she could really touch Thessala and if she'd feel it. If Thessala would feel it and if Rana would. But did she dare? Would she be disappointed? Meanwhile Thessala was looking at her, Rana, who was right in front of her again, strangely present and yet ethereal at the same time. As if she was floating rather than standing. She asked what Thessala needed from her, since she said she needed many things earlier. 

Thessala sighed, said she didn't know. She told about the day, that day, how she'd tried to get to Rana and Rana nodded.

"I know. I heard your voice." She felt her voice almost broke as she said it and she looked away. She remembered that day. The day everything went black. And then she was... here but not here. Now Thessala called her a spirit. But she wasn't surrounded by others like her. Maybe not everyone who died ended up like this. She blinked, but she felt unable to cry. She had no tears to cry.

Instead she did what she thought about earlier. She reached out with her hand to touch Thessala's arm. She was warm and there were scratches and sprays of dried blood there. She ran her fingers over it and looked up at Thessala again, "Can you... feel my hand?" 

@Chevi

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"I know. I heard your voice." 

Thessala's breath caught too. She heard. She had been so close... she almost made it. Almost. But she didn't. That almost, that hair's breadth distance between life and death, was impossible to think about.

"I'm sorry." She'd meant to say it. She'd said it a thousand time when she was alone. But this time was the first time she knew Rana was listening.

"Can you... feel my hand?" 

There was a light touch on her arm. Cool, almost cold, but it made her skin rise with goose bumps as she looked up at Rana. Their eyes met. Thessala did not dare move or look away, afraid Rana would disappear.

"I can."

@Atrice

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Almost there hadn't done anything for Rana. She had needed the door to be broken down and it wasn't. It was too late anyway, when it happened, because the walls had crumbled and she'd been buried in rubble. Buried and bloody. It had been so strange, in the beginning. She'd seen herself. But she hadn't known what was going on and it was all so confusing. Time had passed since then and Rana was more relaxed. Until now anyway; until today, when Thessala heard and saw her. Why today of all days? It wasn't like Rana had been gone. Something must have shifted in the odd spirit-world.

Thessala's breath caught too and she said she was sorry, but Rana just smiled, even if it was a sad smile, "You did what you could." Rana said softly and then she'd reached out a hand to touch Thessala's arm. And she could feel it. Could Thessala feel her fingers too? Their eyes met and she smiled again, when Thessala said she could. Rana came closer then, placing fingers on Thessala's other arm too.

"I think... I need you to tell me something. Or you need to tell me something. I don't know if there will be another chance." She didn't know if Thessala would see or hear her again, when she had not until now. She didn't know if it would be like this tomorrow. She wanted to be near Thessala but she also felt strangely tired sometimes, as if she wanted to rest but couldn't. And she felt now that it was because of Thessala.

@Chevi

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"You did what you could." 

And it had not been enough. Thessala doubted that would ever stop hurting. Even more so, now that she knew Rana was still here, her spirit anyway, and she knew exactly what happened. How close it had been. Thessala wondered what it felt like to die.

Rana smiled at her and touched her arm. Thessala felt a tear roll down her cheek. She was not the kind to cry.

"I think... I need you to tell me something. Or you need to tell me something. I don't know if there will be another chance." 

Fuck it.

Kissing a spirit was nothing like kissing a living person. There was no warmth, or taste to it. But she could feel it, as she pressed her lips against Rana's. It was part memory, from the time in the arena, and part hope, and either way, it explained better than she could in words, knowing there might not be another chance.

@Atrice

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Thessala did what she could do and there was not any way Rana could have asked for more. It was not Thessala's fault their door was locked and it was not Thessala's fault that Rana was not yet among the top gladiatrixes, so she didn't have to be in that cell with those you could afford to loose in an earthr quake. None of that was Thessala's fault. And there was no point in dwelling anyway. You couldn't go back. Rana didn't even know what happened to her body afterwards. She stayed at the ludus, never too far away from this woman right here.

She was now touching both of Thessala's arms and a tear rolled down Thessala's cheek. It surprised Rana. She never really saw her friend like that. And she wondered what it was that Thessala needed. It had to be now, for some reason. But Thessala said nothing. Instead she kissed Rana. Now they knew they could touch, they were kissing! At first she was surprised and then she was pulled in by the warmth of a living human being, showing her affection. She returned the soft and lingering kiss and felt she moved closer to Thessala. Her warmth was perfect.

Then the kiss broke. Rana couldn't help but smile. So Thessala wanted to kiss her. And Rana had wanted to kiss her too, to be honest! Many times, actually! But what did it mean? She had to know...

"Do you... love me?"

@Chevi

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Rana moved closer, and they kissed, and for a moment Thessala even forgot that he was staning in a dark ludus hallway, making out with a spirit. Even though it was nothing like kissing a living person, it was Rana, and that made it different than everything else she'd felt before.

Eventually, they broke the kiss, and Thessala looked at Rana warily, as if she could disappear any moment from her arms. 

"Do you... love me?"

Thessala let out a small sigh. She would have been wary of those words too, if things had been much different. But now there was nothing to lose, and not much time left.

"I love you." she whispered, looking almost sheepish of admitting it. "I'm sorry. I..." what else was there to say? Thessala sighed, touching her forehead to Rana's "Do your people... have a place? Where you go?"

@Atrice

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