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For the record, and I am sorry for the confusion, Huan is the name of the character formerly known as Xi. Xi was, in honesty, the first two random characters I pressed in a hurry (Write or Die will do that to you), so I'd kind of been keeping an eye out for a better name for him. Huan seemed to fit the bill, and so I'll be going back and changing the former stories in this line when I get a chance. (And thanks to Dann for catching 'divulge' instead of 'diverge.')

Huan smiled winningly at the girl, and proffered his quill. She took it, smiling back at him, and signed her name beneath his. The candles were burning low, by then, and most of the patrons of the inn had retired to their rooms; the serving girl was too well-trained to be giving them dirty looks from her rounds, but the woman behind the counter had no such qualms. With a few quiet words, the girl stood, took her pack, and walked arm in arm with him up the stairs to his own room. The lamp, as always, never strayed from his side.

"It is a shame that our paths must diverge," he told her, his voice formal, his manner subdued. This was, of course, the tricky part.

She smiled back at him, and shook her head. "It would be a shame indeed," she said, "If either of us had held intentions beyond the one night. But I am no fool, and neither are you, and I wish you well on your own path."

He didn't say a word, not until he was half a day's journey, at least, from the inn, and his temper had subdued just a bit. His scar was not paining him - it did not, really, at all, he'd found. Whatever method the spirit had used to heal the wound had been all but miraculous. The mark was left - that was a trial of the metal and blade - but his limbs were sound, and his life uncompromised, and every so often, a girl would comment on the fine and brave warriors and their intriguing scars, only fully visible from... certain angles.

She had not commented, only traced it briefly with her hands. And he thought he had been a better judge of women than that, to fall into bed with, with...

He grabbed the lamp around his neck, viciously, and immediately there was a manlike form walking beside him, looking for all the world like a fellow traveler, a companion, though something about the eyes always threw him. He did not look at the eyes now.

"Spirit, I know that you cannot do magics with human emotions or feelings, and you cannot grant true love - but tell me, can you tell me when it is present?"

The avatar's head turned to regard him for a moment before answering, carefully, "I cannot. I can tell you when infatuation is present, but love is a thing entirely beyond my powers, in most measurable ways - for it is an immeasurable way of itself."

Huan nodded, still glowering at the horizon before them. He gritted his teeth, spat at one point, into the dirt beside the path, and finally shook his head, as if to clear away the webs. "Spirit," he said finally, "Why did the girl not wish to travel with me?" He had to fight to keep his voice from sounding plaintive, or too young. It didn't matter, of course; the djinni was not human, would not mock him for his manhood.

Still, he imagined he caught a glance from the form beside him that had a certain flash to it that he rather disliked, a flash, he thought, of amusement.

"The girl did not wish to travel with you for the same reasons you did not wish to remain with her," it said, and when Huan looked over, he realized it had not been his imagination; there was something akin to a smile around the eyes of the djinni's face.

He bit back his irritation. "Go on."

"Aside from your desire to keep the lamp secret, you value your privacy," it told him. "The girl's manner said much the same; she spoke little and smiled much, as you have done with-- with others you have met. Your demeanor was not your true face, but a winsome mask for enticing - hers was a mirror of the same. You had no wish for lasting companionship, or an obligation, and neither did she. If she had thought you the sort to cleave, she would have ignored your advances, but your behavior, as I said, mirrored her own. She was expecting your parting words."

Huan looked back at the form, realizing for the first time that this avatar, the djinni's most favored, was half a head taller than him; on a human, he would have thought the face and manner full of mischief. He glowered for a moment longer, then smiled. The spirit's face softened, smiling back at him. Shaking his head, the traveler shoved his hands through his belt and continued on the road, pondering the odd turn his fortunes seemed to have taken.

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thulcandran

May 2013

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