Chapter 3:

The Still Stone in Everchanging Seasons

Setting Sun Story: Beta

Training Hall, Baustas - Arrabelle - 5:12 PM

Night has fallen in Baustas, leaving only the dull orange haze of the moon. The dark windows of the training hall block even this out, keeping Arrabelle in the dark to continue practicing.

Lighting a match, Arrabelle ignites a small oil lamp, and leaves it in the center of the room. Shadow lingers all around, but the lamp illuminates just enough to see the hall’s cement floor, caked with years of sweat and blood from Arrabelle’s own training. 

Hanging from the rafters, with the lamp sitting on the ground beside it, is a large and hefty training bag, packed with cloth-wrapped sand, and bound by a chain. She walks to the wall, and with the heavy scratch of metal, lifts something over her head, and rests it on her shoulder.

She squares up to the bag. In all prior records, she’s reached the rafters themselves, slamming against the wood and praying it wouldn’t snap behind the power. Today is different. Lowering the chain slightly, the bag has a farther swing, which should get it past the bar it has stuck to in the past. Arrabelle takes a deep breath and pulls her arms around her right side. 

The heavy metal object grinds against the floor. She lets out a blood-curdling scream.

“Yo, Arrabelle! Are you in here?” Shouts the voice of a co-worker, opening the door at the other end of the hall, and stepping in. 

The light of the night floods in, revealing to the boy, Arrabelle. With a large THWAP, an incredibly tall girl gripping tightly a silver great-sword that shines with an unapparent green iridescent shade, rips into the training bag, her blonde ponytail whipping her in the face.

The sight was glorious, truly untouched, and it would’ve beat her record too. The hit that Arrabelle pulled off would’ve broken any punching machine… if it were tuned up for the net force of forty pounds of metal.

Instead of the chime of success however, the chains rattle and clank, and the whiplash of the increased slack snaps the link from the bag, sending it straight across the hall at full speed.

Death is in sight for Arrabelle’s co-worker. His life flashes before his eyes, nothing but shameful memories of a broken heart, disappearing friends, and days after days of making bread and other pastries. 

In these final moments, the boy’s mettle becomes a searing flame. He swears never to turn back, never to bear such a grave life again. Pulling his fist back, he prepares a strike. With all of his might, with years of bread-making precision, he carves forth, unleashing his fist at the bag.

“Oh shit!” Arrabelle lets out as the punching bag flies toward the head of her new co-worker. 

She drops the sword to the ground, (which literally shakes the foundation of the building), and starts to run forward. The bag clears right over his sweating head, plunging out in the courtyard outside and startling some chatting soldiers. She has both hands to her mouth as she approaches, worried out of her mind, before the boy. 

He’s held in limbo, his body in terrible form, with a punch at the air. Tears are streaming down his face, but his smile is confident. As the adrenaline drains from his body, and his tunnel vision fades, he remains stone-like in the same formation, with eyes once filled with fire slowly turning in embarrassment to Arrabelle.

“T-Terry? What were you doing there?” Arrabelle asks. Terry gulps, jumping from his attack to a pencil-like stance, and shaking unbearably.

“Y-you… y-” Terry fumbles with his words, understandably still in shock from the flying bag.

“You never came into work. Mrs. Painny sent me.”

5:25 PM

After apologizing profusely, Arrabelle stands at the North entrance to the hall, bowing up and down, pleading for forgiveness from Terry.

He steps down the stairs, and looks off to his side. Flowers line the outside of the hall in colors of yellow and blue, all drab in the red light, but still calming to the people of Baustas.

“It’s a real beautiful place they got here, no wonder you don’t come in,” Terry starts. “Just… try to get to work next time, she takes it out on me.”

“I know, I know. I’m sorry,” Arrabelle cries, still throwing her upper body horizontally. Terry begins to descend, walking back into the girth of the city, but through all hesitation, turns around.

“Why are you even working there? Don’t you kinda have things squared away with training? I don’t get it. How much do you need to be satisfied?” Terry whips up the courage to ask.

Arrabelle takes the question to heart, then slides her foot down a step, sitting at the top of the stairs. She feels bad for forgetting, but even worse for entertaining the thought that she might be above everyone else. 

‘It’s lonely at the top,’ might sound narcissistic, but to her indicates the locks on her life and on her heart. To be seen as nothing but the prodigy soldier: the heir to the Chosen, and to be hated for it. 

The soldiers are always vocal about it. To Arrabelle, entering something simple would mean breaking away from her namesake.

“It’s hard to explain, but I’d like to be able to do it,” she says, solemnly cupping her chin in her hand. 

Terry can feel a certain genuine flavor in her words, and from the avoiding state of her thin eyes, sense a disappointment in herself. He doesn’t press any further.

“It’s not my place,” he says, turning away and throwing his hands over his head in a shrug. 

Arrabelle watches him leave, wrapping her hands over her forearms, and pulling her head down. She tries to warm herself. Winter hasn’t come, and in Baustas, isn’t heavy.

The night itself isn’t cold at all, but her disdain of her own actions turns her skin to ice.

I’m more than just a sword, she thinks to herself. Closing her eyes, she takes a moment before standing up and returning to the hall. She leaves the door open, letting the night light in and hoping to cool the room down.

“Third time I’ve missed in a row, huh? Hey, look at me!” Arrabelle says, grabbing the sandbag leaning against the wall, and dragging it back across the room. 

“That’s like a twenty five percent success rate… if you count training- I guess,” she continues, failing to reassure herself. 

She throws the bag, sliding it along to the center of the room, and drops to the ground on her stomach beside it, her tired feet begging for a break. She naturally takes a long breath, sucking in the humid and smelly air of hundreds of men. 

The rancid odor causes her to gag, coughing and rolling onto her back, letting her arm limply fly over and rest on the sandbag.

“My one chance of actually being a part of society. What’s wrong with me?!” She asks, throwing her other arm up over her head and sprawling herself out. 

The gross concrete is somewhat cooler than the world above. As her breathing slows and mind calms, the door closes on one of the side locker rooms, dispensing a soldier from the training session earlier.

He drapes a cloth towel over a plain white shirt, saying, “Hey, you really kicked some ass out there! Hope we can work beside each other someday!” 

Arrabelle nods in response. He continues walking.

“Oh, and I hope you don’t mind, I caught a little bit of that conversation,” he says, turning to her. “I really hope things go well with your job.”

“Y- yeah. Thanks,” She responds, poking her neck up from her otherwise rag doll-like body. 

The soldier shuts the door behind him. That wasn’t sarcastic, was it? She thinks, squinting at the door in suspicion. I’m sure I’ve done plenty of things to make them hate me, she continues, picking herself up and lifting the bag to the chain.

“But none of it’s my fault!” She lets out, punching the bag and hurting her hand. 

She shakes out her fingers, then opens and closes her palm as she sees Zalach’s blade lying on the ground. She stomps to it, and slinks it over her shoulder.

“He’d kill me if he saw me throw you around like that.”

Tallsoul Residence, Baustas -  7:00 PM

After stopping by Mrs. Painny’s to apologize for her absence, barely missing the two last customers of the day, one of which Terry decidedly left out the customer's asking for her, Arrabelle lounges for half of some hour in a bathhouse, (something she especially enjoys, seeing it as a social gathering just equally awkward enough to stay silent for), and finally returns to her father’s narrow home just off the Eastern Main Road.

Her hair done up and stuck with needle hairpins in a bun of exceptionally large proportion, a trick taught to her by a friend, and having changed into a long gray shirt laced at the neck, and tan pants, she lugs the great-sword and slings a bag of gear on her back up the steps running parallel to her front door. 

The curved spine of the blade catches on the last step, tripping her up as she tugs. She falls face first toward the stone porch, but catches herself on the railing, avoiding defeat. 

Tired and unenthusiastic about its antics, Arrabelle gives the day a three out of ten, citing the blade as ‘rowdy and unhelpful.’

She steps into the front room, taking in the inviting dark wood interior. Setting down the great-sword along the wall as carefully as possible still causes it to rattle the entire home.

Framing it with her fingers, she takes a mental snapshot, and repeats to herself, “Return that to Zalach before work, return that to Zalach before work,” before it repeats itself on automation in her head.

Kicking off her shoes, and tossing the bag beside the sword, she moves into the dining room/hall.

On the left side of the room, a table equipped with an oil lamp and four crossed chairs sits off to the side, below two easterly windows, and under the watch of a bar connecting to the kitchen straight ahead. Despite the Tallsouls owning one of the nicer houses of the city, Baustian homes are typically kept tight to save space within the walls.

Arrabelle runs her bare feet across the fine-sanded floor, and over to the stairs that run at the east wall, climbing up over the kitchen. Below the steps, a single painting of a black-haired and frail woman hangs. She dons a red dress, and a solemn, forced smile. Arrabelle hugs the wall, stepping around to the stairs and avoiding contact with the eerie image.

Arrabelle makes for her bedroom, the last door at the end of the second floor hall, walking past a South facing siting room that overlooks a small park in the East End. Out the window, in the middle of the park is a white gazebo, bathing in the moonlight. Her eyes catch it as she passes, a daily reminder of a different world. The memories of any child.

Picking flowers, running through the grass, a bright sky and brighter dreams, even a first love. If only it could’ve stayed that way. All dreams eventually show their colors, perhaps revealing themselves not to be dreams at all, but simply a premonition of life’s predetermined path.

The abnormally dark thought swirls in her mind as she opens the door to her room, taking an unlit lamp from the wall, and heading to the back corner to feel around for a box of matches.

She finds them, lights the lamp, and hangs it on a hook in the center of the room. Not going to hit this one.

As the flame dances, throwing shadows across her desk and at the window under which lies her bed, the room feels more lonely than ever.

Jun never kept much out, and never decorated enough to build her own space, leaving the room with nothing more than a bookshelf full of stories of old heroes, and obligatory Deacon nonsense, but one thing is certain, the presence of another bed and another body filled an otherwise soulless home with light.

Arrabelle pulls the needles from her hair, letting it fall and wave down behind her, like millions of interwoven ivory and golden silk threads.

The delicate locks hang down to the backs of her knees and fan across her back like a cape. She pulls her side bangs over her shoulders, looking in the mirror to see they frame her well.

The glare of the lamp blocks out her face, leaving her frowning at a blank spot. She always lets her hair hang like this when she’s alone. 

Stripping down out of her post-workout clothes, she looks at her body up and down. Not a single bruise, cut, or scrape. Her eyes are dark from over-working herself, and large calluses have formed on the inside of her fingers due to long, solo training sessions or sparring with soldiers with Zalach kept so busy.

But aside from those, there wasn’t a single blemish on her body. To anyone but her, it would be a symbol of perfection, truly a genetic cut above the rest. She looks disappointedly at her toned arms, legs, and washed abs.

Completely perpendicular to Adam’s pubescent plague, she doesn’t even notice the state of her sexual presentation. She’s so caught up in the small world of her father’s, that all the sight of her muscled cleanliness indicates to her, is that it’s time to move on, and find a tougher battle to overcome.

“What would Zalach say about such a stupid predicament?” She asks to the girl in the mirror, backpedaling up to her bed, and flopping down. 

With her eyes staring blankly into the space of the ceiling, she tries copying his smile, flaring her nostrils over a confident, tooth-bearing grin. Holding the expression, she tries to think of something, but loses it.

“It’s no use, I’m never gonna get things right if I don’t change something,” she says, throwing her arms out in an identical vein to her actions on the floor of the hall. 

She looks to the head of her bed and snags the pillow, turning onto her side.

“And it’s not that I don’t want to work! Stupid Terry. I’ve just never been prepared for anything like that, you know? God, why’d I have to be so into fighting as a kid, look what it’s made me!” She yells, sitting up and shooting a glance to the other side of the room, half expecting to find Jun listening. 

Apart from hitting things, screaming and yelling when home alone seems to be her only way to vent, it was just easier when a helpful ear was around. 

Something crosses her mind. With minimal effort, she shuffles onto her bed, and looks up, out the window. Beyond the city’s center, and near rows of houses, the Deacons’ High Tower still, as always, looks down over everything else.

“Jun should be up there right now, right?”