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Once, on Saturnalia eve...


Ovinia Camilla
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December 17th, 76AD

Domus of Gaius Ovinius Camillus

Smoke filled the kitchen in great plumes. It choked her, tarring her throat in a thick, horrible sludge and burning her eyes. She didn't understand. The kitchen girls had said to use oil, which is what she had done - liberally dousing the flames with the olive oil kept in its little stone jar. It had started to smoke immediately, which in Ovinia's mind meant there wasn't enough. Smoke came from when fires died, didn't they? She'd poured more on - plugging the liquid onto the flames until the smoke was so dense in the room that she feared she'd loose her way back to the triclinium where the slaves and her family were lounging. She'd groped into the smoke, finding a cloth which she used to wave over the flames, trying to stoke the fire and stop it smoking and start it burning, but in the gloom of the room she hadn't seen the end of it catch alight until she felt the pain snake up and over her fingers and she dropped, it, screeching, onto the wooden bench where her ingredients were laid out. 

The scream she let out as flames started to lick the wooden bowls prompted the arrival of the cook, red-cheeked and grinning from too much wine. When she pulled back the curtain though, to see her domina screaming at the fire and the choking cloud of smoke, the colour and grin drained from her face and she yanked Ovinia's arm to pull her out of the rapidly spreading fire. "Fetch dominus!" She bellowed down the hall as Ovinia, spluttering and choking, made her way into the garden, desperately drawing fresh, clean air. She heard her fathers booming voice, calling for the slaves and her brothers to fetch buckets of water from the pool in the atrium and the fountain she was slumped on. She heard a voice above her and blinked up to see her mother, leaning on a cane, breathing heavily; "What did you do girl?" Ovinia choked, coughing up more smoke, "I used oil! Like you and she -" She jabbed a finger at the panicking kitchen slave, "Told me too!" Her mother was usually in charge of the meal for Saturnalia, but given her illnesses this year, had delegated to her only daughter. And the rapidly spreading fire in the kitchen was the result. 

She heard her father again, louder this time; "Draw the curtain, stop it spreading into the domus and send for the vigiles!" 

 

TAG: @Chevi

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It was Lucius' first Saturnalia as a member of the vigiles, and it was abundantly clear by the first afternoon that it was not going to be as fun as it used to when he was still just a young patrician. This time, it was all hands on deck. Because everyone was drunk (by the late hours of the morning), everyone was rody, slaves were running amok, and patricians, by all the gods' grace, had no idea how to cook.

His official appointment to centurion delayed, Lucius was assigned to the neighborhood on the Esquiline with the wealthier homesteads. Even though he had put in a lot of work in the past weeks, he was not quite the other vigiles: he used to be nobility. And his centurion begrudgingly decided, that if he was going to make himself useful, he could show up to whatever emergency rich people decided to have this holiday season. And maybe charm them into hating the vigiles a little less.

He had no idea who he was dealing with.

Smoke was billowing out of the kitchen of the domus by the time the vigiles walked in through the door. Cooking fire.

"That's the fifth one today, if anyone's keeping score" Lucius noted as they hauled buckets of water and moved in. Some of the slaves already carried buckets of water, but seemed to be struggling with the situation. Lucius pulled the scarf up over his nose and mouth, and ducked into the kitchen to take a look. Then ducked out again immediately.

"What in the name of Dis happened in there?!"

One of the slaves shot him a stunned look.

"She poured oil... on the fire..."

"... what?" Lucius blinked, looking over at Titus. If oil was burning, the buckets of water were not going to do any damn good...

@Sara

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Titus hated Saturnalia. He hated it as a slave where he had to be decorated in stupid flowers that made him sneeze, and he hated in now he was a freedman and had to help put out fires that idiots started by not knowing how to roast some meat. How the rich had managed to run the Empire for so long, he really had no idea, given they couldn't even perform the most basic of tasks without freedmen and slaves to mop up after them. Literally, in this case. 

"Is your domina a fucking moron?" He blinked, stating in response to the slave. He could hear - through the domus, the sound of laughter. Evidently the wealthy of the house had decided that now the vigiles were here to clean up the mess, they could get back to their party. Fuck the slaves trying to stop it from burning down, right? 

"Stop!" He bellowed, as a rotund little man made to move back through the curtain to the kitchens with a bucket of water. "It won't do any good if the oil is what's smoking. You got any sand?" He asked the stunned older woman who looked like she might cry. Probably the kitchen slave whose domain was now charring as they spoke. She shook her head and he glanced at Lucius, bemused. "Any bright ideas, new guy?" 

 

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Ovinia listened to her mother moan in anguish, groaning and shaking her head and littering curse words down at her only daughter like they were shells of a nut being discarded. "Did the Gods not grant you a modicum of sense, girl?" Matia Tetulliana asked exasperated and leaned heavily against her cane, moaning again in pain. Ovinia, for her part, didn't move from where she sat slumped against the fountain. The garland of flowers in her hair was singed and she smelled of acrid smoke, but neither mattered compared to the harried shouts of the slaves and the sting of her burned fingers. And her mother, groaning above her. 

"Mama sit down, you're in pain." Matia snapped back almost immediately; "I'm fine! I should never have let you try...how are you going to run a house if you don't even know how to cook some bird? I should have had my sister here..." And on her rant went, complaining about her daughters schooling in the feminine arts. It only ended when she clearly had another arrow of pain shoot up her hip and her spine and she doubled over. Ovinia reached out a hand, smothering a cough in her other. "Vestia!" She called to a slave girl, nervously wringing her hands on the periphery of the garden, "Get my mother back to the triclinium." Matia looked to protest but Ovinia shook her head with a swallow, "I need to change and once the vigiles have gone and the fire is down, I'll join you." 

 

TAG: @Chevi

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"Is your domina a fucking moron?" 

"Titus, please. The polite term is fashionably unskilled in essential labor." Lucius smirked. The poor cook looked about ready to faint, and the kitchen was still smoking. However, none of the family bothered to show up to see if their house was about to go up in flames.

"Stop! It won't do any good if the oil is what's smoking. You got any sand?... Any bright ideas, new guy?" 

If they threw water on the oil fire, it would just sprinkle the flames everywhere. Lucius already knew that, with a few weeks of experience. Sand... they didn't carry sand. Too heavy for the carts. Maybe they should think about it... Lucius looked around, and glanced the opening that led to the atrium and then the gardens. He blinked.

"Potted plants. Would potted plants work?" he asked, glancing at Titus, but already heading towards the garden "Not sand, but soil would work too right?"

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Titus arched a brow and then leant back to glance towards the gardens. "Might do. Better to try than let it all turn to ash." 

Their centurion was still outside the domus, or perhaps he was in the triclinium. Either way he wasn't here and so Titus whistled to get the attention of the handful of others with them and jerked his head. "Get any pots with plants in that you can find, bring them here. Go." The men pushed past him and Lucius to start rifling through the garden. He heard a shriek of protest and snorted, glancing sideways at Lucius as they made their way into the garden. "Guess the domina likes her plants better than her kitchen." 

 

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Ovinia jumped at the sound of sandalled feet barrelling out into the pristine, manicured garden. Four hulking, determined looking men with cloth drawn up over their noses and mouths ignored her - instead carting off large clay pots filled with roses and violets and crocus'. "What are you doing?!" She protested and hoisted herself to her feet, wobbling. Thank the Gods her mother was safely back in the triclinium and out of sight of this. It might be the moment that pushed her over the edge. 

She covered a cough in the crook of her elbow and sniffed, eyes still stinging from the smoke that lingered around the domus. "Father!" She called out in protest, as the men lugged the plants, "Lucius!" She called to her favourite, middle brother. Of course she didn't realise there was more than one Lucius present in her domus. 

 

TAG: @Chevi

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Well, at least they had a working idea to try. The vigiles headed to the gardens, grabbing large pots and taking them to the kitchen to unceremoniously dump on the fireplace and any other burning surface. Lucius headed out too, grabbing a larger pot of whatever decorative flower, and turned, when he heard a woman's voice calling out his name. Wait... he knew that voice.

He already dreaded the moment before he turned around to look at the very familiar figure over the pot. Ovinia Camilla looked more disheveled and bewildered than usual, but she was still unmistakable.

What have I done to offend the gods?...

"Ovinia?... You live here?"

Dammit. Dammit, dammit, dammit.

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Of course. Of course, of course, of course. The Gods had decided that the twisting feeling of something in her gut wasn't enough, the letter to his brother wasn't enough, a fire at her domus on the first day of Saturnalia wasn't enough. No - her punishment for whatever transgression she'd done at some unforetold time in her past - needed to be much more visceral, and she clearly needed to see him. Dressed like a slave, with burned flowers in her hair, red-raw eyes from smoke and a cough she tried to smother in her palms. Of course. 

"It's my fathers domus." She snapped and then whipped her head to see a tall blonde trying to cart off her mothers favourite yellow rose. "Put that down, it's my mothers!" The blonde gave her a smug grin and shrugged his shoulders, speaking in a language she didn't understand before trying again in slower, heavily accented Latin which sounded fake to her ears; "I no speak Lateen." He then snatched up the pot and hurried away. Prick. 

"The fire's not that bad." She choked another cough into her hands, "My slaves can put it out, my father just wanted to give them the night off." 

 

TAG: @Chevi

 

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"It's my fathers domus." 

Of course it was. Of course it was Ovinia's house on fire, after the fight they had last time and swearing they would never cross paths again. Titus made an appearance, and pretended not to speak Latin. Dick. Lucius handed his pot off to one of the other men. There was still smoke coming from the kitchen, but the idea must have been working because they kept coming back for more pots.

"The fire's not that bad. My slaves can put it out, my father just wanted to give them the night off." 

"Oh, that fire is a shit show in there, trust me." he huffed, pulling the scarf down. Ovinia coughed, and looked singed. Lucius arched an eyebrow. "You went in there? Why would..." Oh. Oh. "You did this?"

Titus was never going to let him live this down.

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She offered him a glare, but it was weak compared to the one she had shot him the last time they'd met. She felt wrung out over everything that had happened over the last few weeks and didn't need him here, now, in her home judging her. "It's not that bad." She protested again and wrapped her arms around herself, clutching onto the tunica at her waist. 

"I was cooking. Owners cook for their slaves on Saturnalia. My mother couldn't this year, so I did." She gave him an imperious little look before she moved to and sit down on a bench, too tired to argue with the men ripping up the potted plants from their resting spots and her family laughing through the columns a little way off. She swore she even heard her mother chuckle. "I presume the domus is not going  to catch alight from the kitchen?" 

 

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"It's not that bad." 

Oh, it was bad. But she looked miserable enough for him to stop pointing it out. Who would pour oil... whatever.

"I was cooking. Owners cook for their slaves on Saturnalia. My mother couldn't this year, so I did."

Ovinia Camilla. Cooking. For slaves. It was such an easy target. But again, after their last meeting, and seeing her now, taking cheap shots at her did not feel like good fun anyway.

"I presume the domus is not going  to catch alight from the kitchen?" 

"Not anymore, no. The potted plants seem to have done the trick." he sighed, waving at Titus as he poked his head out of the kitchen. After all, Lucius was here as the patrician whisperer. "You can't pour water on an oil fire. It makes the whole thing spread... Then again, you should not pour oil a fire either, in general. You mother didn't tell you that?" He was genuinely curious. Sure, he had experimented in a kitchen before, but not like that... he moved to sit down next to her. "Are you hurt?"

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Ovinia let out a breath as he confirmed she hadn't single-handedly managed to burn down their domus. The rest of her family - judging by their relaxed attitude to the disaster - had been heavily imbibing the wine as she was slaving away in the kitchens. Still, she should tell her father. When she could summon the strength to. 

"The stupid kitchen girl told me to use oil." She bristled at him, shifting up the bench as he moved to sit down next to her. "How was I supposed to know where to put it?" Logic should have prevailed, but it hadn't, and now the whole domus stank of smoke and they'd have to send out for food from a neighbour or a thermopolium. At least Alexius had shown her where to get decent food.

"No, I'm fine." She lied, petulantly shooting  him a glare. "Why do you care? Is this part of the vigiles premium service?" 

 

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"The stupid kitchen girl told me to use oil. How was I supposed to know where to put it?" 

"Generally... in a pan? Have you really not seen anyone cook, like... ever?" Lucius arched an eyebrow. He was trying really hard not to judge her, and he knew he had had an unconventional upbringing, but it was really trying his understanding how someone would just pour the oil...

"No, I'm fine. Why do you care? Is this part of the vigiles premium service?" 

Lucius sighed. "This is the vigiles deciding I am a rookie most useful as someone who gets the patricians to calm the hell down, because I speak their language." He admitted with a shrug. "But also, seriously, that was pretty bad in there. Show me your hands."

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Ovinia did glare this time, hard enough she wouldn't have been surprised had his face started to splinter and crack from the pressure of her gaze. It seemed obvious now. But it hadn't been then, when she had been trying to sort out the breads and dips and the meats and cheeses and the fire was dying. That was why they spent so much money on decent slaves, and she realised quite quickly as smoke started to fill the room, that she wasn't worth half as much. 

She rolled her eyes. "I am calm. They," She jerked her head to the sound of the laughter from the dinner table she should be lounged at through in the triclinium, "Are calm. Job done, well done." As he demanded to see her hands, she frowned and shook her head. "No." It was petty and petulant but she was in absolutely no mood to see him, not one iota and now he was here in her home making demands. "You work for me, remember? I don't take demands from you." She gave him a self-satisfied little smile. "Go and tell my father everything is fine with the kitchens and you'll tidy it up and then leave. Off you go," She gestured again to the sounds of her family, "Run and be a good little vigile." 

 

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"I am calm. They. Are calm. Job done, well done."

Oh, she was most definitely not calm. Not even remotely. And she also did not look fine, but refused to show her hands. Lucius was starting to feel like somehow he was becoming the one to blame for all of this.

"No. You work for me, remember? I don't take demands from you."

"Seriously? It's not a dem..."

"Go and tell my father everything is fine with the kitchens and you'll tidy it up and then leave. Off you go. Run and be a good little vigile." 

Oh, she had finally gone too far. Lucius took a deep breath, and tilted his head.

"I am sure you are enjoying this." he noted. She was punishing him, he had just no idea why. "But you forgot one thing." He reached up, taking a burnt flower from her crown. "It's Saturnalia. Which means, the people who work for you... are in charge." He smirked at her, flicking the flower away. "And a whole lot of them are going to hungry, because that kitchen won't be tidied up inside of a week. Shame."

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"Do I look like I'm enjoying this?" She spluttered an incredulous choke but then clamped her mouth shut, lips pressed into a thin line as he reached up to take a flower from the garland in her hair. She immediately batted his hand away, but he'd already plucked it out. "Don't touch me..." She muttered under her breath. 

She felt her face crumple. She had just wanted one thing to go right. She'd said no to Gaius, which - whilst it felt right not to bring him into her mess (a mess she couldn't articulate or unpick), it still felt like a loss. Her father, likewise, hadn't given her a smile in days. Her mothers health was also getting worse and she had needed to step up even further. It should have been simple. It was one meal. And yet, of course, like everything at the moment she had ruined it. She choked and before she could stop herself, she kicked out her sandalled foot into his shin. It was stupid, and petty and childish - everything she strove not to be anymore, she was supposed to be a refined young woman who was on the verge of marriage, not somebody who succumbed to easy childish teasing.

"Leave me alone." She glared and then pushed herself up from the bench, wincing at the barn on her hand as she did so. "Just go away.She hissed, "Go away! Why are you here? Why are you always here?" She felt that familiar swirling, tugging sensation in her chest and she let out a sharp, frustrated exhale. 

 

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"Ow!" Lucius jumped. He had not expected to get kicked. The banter... was off. She clearly was still in shock from the fire, and not open at all to exchanging words. He saw her wince as she stood; as she gestured at him to get out, he could see her hands were red.

"Leave me alone. Just go away. Go away! Why are you here? Why are you always here?"

"I honestly have no fucking idea." he noted, lowering his voice. Titus had already warned him once not to bring the drama to work. Not like he could have avoided the drama coming to him, though... "Ovinia, take a breath. You know how many people have set their kitchens on fire today? Dozens." All of them patricians, obviously. He did not need to add that. "I know you don't think much of my job, but I try to do it well." He glanced over at the vigiles who were now carrying out burned pieces of rubble from the kitchen. "The fire is out. Your domus will be fine. But you are probably still in shock. Breathe."

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"I don't need to breathe!" She protested, but then annoyingly had to draw in a breath regardless. She wasn't a child - despite the kick saying otherwise, she didn't need to be spoken to like one. She shot him a glare and wound her arms across her chest in a protective stance. "I want you to leave." She said on a sharp exhale, eyes roving between him and the detritus from the kitchen now being carried out by the vigiles, by his colleagues. 

"My family don't know who you are." She jerked her head in their direction, "My father is not best pleased with you - or isn't best pleased with Lucius Vipsanius Roscius, not that he knows what he looks like, so I suggest you get out of here before I tell him who you are." There. Once he was out of sight, she could push him firmly out of mind. It hadn't worked for the preceding few months, but nothing to say it wouldn't work now...

 

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"I don't need to breathe! I want you to leave." 

Lucius sighed. He was usually good at talking to people, even charming them, but somehow Ovinia was immune to all that. She really had a serious, bone-deep hatred for him. Titus peeked out again, and Lucius gave him a shrug.

"My family don't know who you are. My father is not best pleased with you - or isn't best pleased with Lucius Vipsanius Roscius, not that he knows what he looks like, so I suggest you get out of here before I tell him who you are."

"Is this what all this is about? Me ruining the family reputation?" he sighed, tired of the whole thing. "Fine. Go ahead. Tell him. It's not like anyone appreciates us keeping the city from going up in flames."

He knew he was going to get a lot of judgment for his choices, and he was ready for it, but it still got exhausting sometimes.

"Doesn't have to be me, but you should show your hands to a medicus. In the meantime, put them in cold water."

He headed to the kitchen to see how bad the damage actually was.

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"No," She protested with a shake of her head, "This isn't...there's nothing....this isn't about anything!" She glared at him, flustered. Her cheeks were as red as her smoke-stung eyes and she swallowed down a gulp of air. It made her cough again. 

She was going to quip something about being cowardly, but he was already turning on his heel as he instructed her to dunk her hands in cold water. She blinked down at them. One was barely singed, the other was raw and painful from where she'd been clutching the cloth that had caught alight. It stung. She grit her jaw and dunked it into the fountain, sniffing as it collided with the cold water.

She blinked back tears at the sensation and frustration as he skulked off, for his place in the garden to be replaced by another male voice, droning in her ears. "You can't serve roasted hands for Saturnalia, Little Nia." Her eldest, most irritating brother chimed in with a drunken snort. He made to lean against the pillar but stumbled on drunken legs and ended up sat on his arse in the dust, chuckling to himself. "Father will take a new kitchen out of your dowry you know," He snorted again, making himself laugh. "Shut up." she mumbled, "Don't see why you care...not like it's going to be used anytime soon is it?" Ovinia bit her tongue to keep from snapping. "F-fetch a medicus for the hand," Gaius suggested unhelpfully as he stumbled to his feet. "Thanks for your concern." She sniffed and he merely shrugged, giving her an oafish, drunken smile. "And then fetch some dinner, won't you? We're starving." 

Shut up shut shut shut up. 

 

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Titus had been watching the back and forth in the garden with an amused, if not slightly wary look on his face. He clocked that this was the same spoiled woman who had accosted Lucius that first day on the job, and watched with growing unease as they sparred back and forward - culminating in a plucked flower and a kick to a shin. He winced. Rich people - even if one of them wasn't rich anymore - were an enigma to him. 

As Lucius stormed back towards the kicthen, he caught up with him, lengthening his stride to match his pace. "What was all that about?" He jerked his head to the figure behind them, now dunking her hands in the fountain. "Trouble in paradise?" 

He pulled up his cloth over his face as he stepped back into the smouldering ruins that once housed the domus' kitchen. From somewhere far off, he heard the slave door to the street slam shut on its hinges. 

 

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At least Ovinia took his advice and put her hands in the fountain. Burns, as Lucius was beginning to learn, hurt like hell even when they were not serious. Titus caught up to him as he headed to the kitched, pulling his scarf up again.

"What was all that about? Trouble in paradise?" 

"What paradise?" Lucius rolled his eyes. "I am already on this family's shit list, and now somehow all of this is my fault to. I don't understand women." he sighed, gesturing at the kitchen. Some of it had survived. The sturdier tables were singed, but not incinerated, and some of the pantry and the pots survived too. Everything, however, was covered in wet soil and the smell of smoke.

Lucius looked around, clueless. What was he supposed to do? The vigiles were not responsible for cleanup, beyond the pieces that were a hazard, and that was mostly already taken care of. Lucius noted a smaller pot on a shelf, grey from smoke but not damaged. He opened in, smelling it. "I'll be right back."

Ovinia was not at the fountain, however. He looked around, frowning. Did she just go back to her family...?

"Where is Ovinia?" he asked one of the slaves hurrying around.

"She just went out?" the girl pointed at the side door.

Dammit.

"Titus?... I'll be right back. Trust me. She's in shock." he headed out the side door too, into the alley.

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Ovinia was overwhelmed. The fire. The feelings. The smoke. Her family. She felt like her head was full of honey and she couldn't get it out. She pressed her back against the stone wall of the outside of her domus, feeling as the coldness seeped into her skin and her bones as she was drawing breath after breath, trying to calm down. She needed to get away from her brother and his smirk, and she needed to get away from the smell of smoke and Lucius Vip-fucking-sanius Roscius and she needed to get dinner for everybody. That was what a good host did, didn't they? Make sure everybody as alright and well fed and watered, then she'd worry about herself. If she could just peel herself from the wall...

She heard the door bang open again. It was usually bolted and locked shut, but she'd pilfered the key from one of the slaves. She didn't look, supposing it was one of the slaves to fetch her back in. Maybe Gaius wanted another go, or her Father this time if he'd sobered up enough to realise the gravity of what she'd done. She took another breath, trying to steady herself more. It didn't work. She just needed to remember the way to the thermopolium Alexius had taken her to...where was it? She shut her eyes as she leant against the wall, trying to remember the way. 

 

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Luckily, Ovinia had not gotten very far. Lucius found her leaning against the wall with her eyes closed, looking pale and... not well at all. In a moment, his stomach sank, realizing she might have been more hurt than she'd let on, or not feeling pain yet from the shock. They had seen that before, with people getting out of a fire.

"Ovinia?" he covered the distance between them in stride, looking her over for any telltale signs of a more serious injury. This time, his concern was more obvious. "Ovinia, look at me. Did you hit your head? Are you feeling sick?"

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