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roboblu

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  1. It took Valentine a few seconds to process what the druid had asked, her bright blue eyes narrowing in confusion. Finally, a telling redness crept into her cheeks, and immediately she slapped a hand over her mouth. "Oh my gods! Have I not introduced myself?" The young woman fumbled the clipboard until it was clenched in her left hand, her right hand extending in anticipation of a handshake. Realizing that Thorn was occupied with coffee and sweets, the hand was hastily retracted. "Yes, I'm Valentine Marie!" Sunlight beamed out of her face despite the somewhat awkward introduction; Valentine, while honest and sweet and gifted with charisma, was not always self-aware.

    She was also particularly oblivious to the concept of a 'personal bubble.' When Thorn expressed interest in seeing the office, Val gave a delighted smile and slipped her hand around the crook of his elbow, gently pulling him out the side door and into the courtyard. "Caspian!" She called, right before pulling her head through the doorway. The scholar, hearing his name, poked his head out of the apothecary shop with furrowed brows. "Mind the pastries, won't you?" With that, the florist was out the door and into the sunny courtyard, where a few people were sitting at the tables with books and friends and coffee. Sunlight streamed through the trees, creating a dappled walkway for Val and her honored guest as they strolled toward the spiral staircase in the corner of the yard. 

    "I'm honored that someone such as yourself considers our little shop a resource!" she exclaimed, keeping one hand clamped firmly around the druid's elbow. "Grandfather had such big plans when he first opened the Floracle. I wish he'd get to see what we've been planning, but ..." Her eyes wandered over to one of the rosebushes in the yard, spying an old, dried bud in need of pruning. "... Well, they say spring showers bring mayflowers." The pair had reached the staircase now, and it was here that Valentine finally released her captive in order to climb the narrow, winding steps. She chattered as she progressed up the stairs, glancing over shoulder every once in a while to ensure her guest was still following. "Please," she said, running a hand along the black, iron railing. "-the privilege is mine. I never attended school, so I've been teaching myself herbology as I go." She spoke these last few words with some embarrassment, not daring to catch Thorn's eye. "I could definitely use some guidance. Anyways, here we are!" 

    Valentine rummaged in her pocket for a set of keys, and, when she couldn't find them, heaved an exasperated sigh and waved a hand over the door's handle. There was a subtle click before she jiggled the handle again, this time pushing the door open. Waving for Thorn to follow, the redhead stepped inside. 

    They were in a short, narrow hallway with one door on the left, one door on the wall facing them, and one door on the right. Valentine opened the door on the right, and entered a modestly-sized office cleared of any clutter. One wall looked over the courtyard, with a large window letting light into the room. Windows on the other wall produced a lovely view of the ocean. A sturdy walnut desk was tucked into the corner, though there was little other furniture. While she would not admit it to Thorn, Valentine and her brother had tried everything to move the damned desk out of the study - obviously, to no avail. Even now, Val stared at the desk with narrowed eyes. Pulling herself from her reverie, she turned to Thorn with a smile. 

    "So, this is it! What do you think?"


  2. Despite the chill that had suddenly swept into the dark, musty basement, a single bead of sweat rolled down the veteran's face as he considered his options. It was clear he was facing a leader of the wolfpack, and, judging from the gargantuan paw sliding into view, it would take the full efforts of a young dragon to bring it down. Still, Cricket possessed a number of magnificent abilities, and had tasted and excelled at war as a hatchling. Would she be able to handle a full, focused assault while Wren picked off an unidentified number of lesser wolves? Would he be able to do this with his one gun, bulky prosthetic, and impaired visibility? 

    Impaired visibility. Wren touched his fingertips to Cricket's flank, focusing on the breaths coming in and out of her chest, as he thought. Mere fractions of a seconds had passed since the question had been posed, but the man's mind was a dangerous, quick thing. There were other factors to consider here. Would the boys upstairs survive if he died in combat? Would they be saved if, by some miracle, Cricket managed to kill the alpha wolf? Was he willing to bargain his greatest weapon and closest friend in exchange for others' safety? 

    Would Cosima ever find out that he had died here, in Cobran, torn to pieces by wolves? 

    He wanted to put the puzzle together, but needed more pieces. Moving slowly, he unslung his gun and dropped it, clattering, to the ground. "Alright," he said, his voice quiet but resolved. "I'll submit."

    As his hand fell away from his dragon's flank, Wren looked up, his eyes shimmering with something vaguely unnatural. In the darkness, it was easy to miss Cricket's blue tongue continually darting in and out of her mouth, collecting information. 


  3. "A lover's quarrel." 

    Those first three words chilled the poor man to the bone, and caused him to lean more heavily on his staff for fear of falling over. Cosima had bared his heart in front of him, and he was ashamed to look at it; how many times had he lived their last day in his mind? One hundred? One thousand? One million? Again and again he had stamped on his heart, telling himself what a fool he had been, admonishing himself for having leaned a bit too far over the void of those eyes. Wren had thought of Cosima in the last few moments before the alpha wolf had descended upon him so many months ago. Thoughts of her had filled his mind just before he had lost his left leg to the dragon god Valjer. In every place of pain he had turned to her memory for comfort and support, but now, with her standing there before him with cold eyes and words filled with spite, he realized that the greatest pain of his life was here, was now. It was her. Gathering courage, Wren managed to meet the princess's eyes. 

    Although he wouldn't realize it until a few moments later, the worst had passed for Wren Sheppard, soldier, veteran, bodyguard, adventurer. With his gentle brown gaze affixed on the princess, he began to notice peculiar hints of ... of something in her mannerisms. A smile touching at the corner of her eyes, almost wistful, but not without some fondness. 

    "What would you do if that were the truth? Ask me to dance with you? Posture with me on your arm in front of everyone, giving a claim to something you will eventually abandon?"

    He was surprised at the Cosima's approach, but stunned at the way her fist hovered over his chest, then blossomed into an open palm. He saw the breath catch in her throat as she realized she had struck solid flesh, and, sincerely moved, he raised his free hand to envelop the warm fingers softly, hesitantly touching his tunic. Her hand slid back, around his ribcage and across his back; similarly, his hand felt the softness of her forearm and shoulder as it came to rest between her shoulder blades, cradling her like a precious thing that might break at any second.

    "You're a stupid, vain man! You could have stayed with me; I would have never turned you away!"

    It was when Wren spied the forget-me-nots tangled in her long, dark hair that his staff finally clattered to the ground. He held her with a gentleness one might not have expected from a man of sorrowful eyes and hideous scars. Holding his breath until this moment, he leaned down to bury his face in her hair, and inhaled the scent of home, something he'd been searching for without realizing it over the course of the past year. It was right here, he thought, bewildered. She waited. Several minutes passed before Wren finally relented, drawing his hand up to cup the princess's face. He wiped away a stray tear with his thumb, but did not remove his hand from her cheek. 

    "I'm sorry," he said quietly, not allowing her to move an inch apart from him. "I won't leave you again." Slowly, his hand moved to an inside pocket of his tunic. After a moment, his fist retracted from the pocket, opening a few seconds later to reveal a small, hopeful blossom half-crushed by his travels, though it still matched the dusty blue of the flowers in her hair. Wren tucked the flower behind her ear; his lot had been cast with the princess for better or for worse. 

    "I promise."


  4. Hana plopped down on the bench, and Maya reluctantly sat down next to her. For a moment, both women admired the artwork before them in appreciative silence. The diplomat was not completely convinced of Hana's assertion that there was, in fact, no trouble, but for now she would give Hana the benefit of the doubt. She listened carefully as the communications officer began to speak, sharing her thoughts, and, in the process, a little bit of herself; Maya nodded, a vague smile on her face. The teenager continued to impress her, with a mind for technology and strategy even here, in an art museum. Well, the diplomat thought, her gaze returning to the state before them. I suppose there's no right way to appreciate art. She glanced at Hana and grinned, then turned back to the art. 

    The talk of weapons in such a beautiful place did come as a surprise, though Maya gave a shallow nod. "Yes, I am! Should I tell you a little more about what I'm looking for?" After confirmation from the young weaponsmaster, she continued. "Well, I used to be in training for the sniper program, so I'm used to long-range weapons. I don't do well in, ah ..." Her heart fluttered. "-particularly stressful situations, like close quarters combat." The diplomat considered the curve of Gaia's shoulder as she continued. "It needs to be small, so that I might fit it into a briefcase, or maybe in a concealed holster." Though her face was serene, Maya's hands fidgeted in her lap as she remembered her days as a sniper recruit. She had loved the work -low stress, a close-knit team environment- but thoughts of her training inevitably led to thoughts of her episode of cardiac arrest. 

    Hefting a light sigh, she turned back to Hana. "Does that make sense? I trust your best judgement on this, of course."


  5. Wren had not stepped foot into the wet, inky darkness when a voice commanded him to stop. Unable to see where the voice was coming from or how dangerous its owner was, the veteran thought it prudent to agree. His feet shuffled a little, but strayed no further, though the torch bearing hand waved a little to try and make sense of the darkness. The voice continued, correctly identifying both dragon and rider, and, most curiously, ordered him to submit. Wren paused, unsure of what to say though his mind was whirring with thought. Whomever had regaled him from the darkness did not sound human, or, at least, Genesarian, and clearly held a high level of authority. Not only that, but it was able to identify he and Cricket by smell and perhaps some dim torchlight. 

    Inhuman. Hierarchy. Sensing. 

    The confidence to threaten a dragon

    Pressed for time and answers, Wren grimaced, his hand tightening around the torch. "Who am I speaking to?" he called, glancing toward his dragon. Cricket was staring intently into the darkness, tongue flicking in and out of her mouth. "Where is my party?" 

    Perhaps, most importantly, he added, "What do you want?"


  6. The dragonlet desperately shuffled in the direction of the crashing ship, her silver eyes glued to the sky, straining for a glimpse of a falling, one-legged man. She flapped her wings and, once more, sent a shower of blackish droplets over the earth, sizzling on impact. A scream of pain left her parted jaws, though not from the tear in her membrane: the skin there was thin, and contained few pain receptors. No, it was Cricket's right limb that was causing her to pant and cry in sheer agony. The wing bone had been pulled out of its socket, tearing minimal tissue but feeling so, so wrong. Frightened for both herself and for her friend, the young thing began to wail and thrash about, though always keeping her eyes locked on the falling ship above. 

    A tiny human presence drew Cricket's attention down, and, in her fearfulness, she unleashed a throaty growl at it, teeth bared, smoke wafting from her flared nostrils. For the second time that day, Wisp was dangerously close to burning in dragon fyre, but something about her voice calmed the dragonlet. Cricket crouched down on her haunches, tongue flicking in and out of her mouth to monitor the strange human child, but continued to watch the burning mess her dearest friend was trapped within. She would sit there, weaving in and out of shock, until Wisp had finished her bloody task. 

    @HumanBean03


  7. Wren stared in puzzlement at the scene before him, sweeping the torch in a wide arc to try and glimpse any answers to his many, many questions. "Cricket," he said, his voice instinctively lowering to a whisper. He didn't really have words to express his confusion, but saying his dragon's name brought some comfort to his trembling heart. Slowly, Wren moved through the space, checking in particularly fluffy sleeping bags but coming up empty again and again. Some of the bags were torn to shreds, but there was no blood or signs of a struggle- it was almost as if they had been destroyed under the incorrect assumption that there had been people inside. If Wren had to guess, he figured the General and his party must have fled in anticipation of a conflict. The faint sound of footsteps drew his attention toward a gaping hole in the wall, taunting him, calling him. 

    Stalking the perimeter of the room, Cricket similarly could not find a trace of her human's party. Several times she tasted blood in the cold air, though it certainly wasn't enough to indicate a death. She let out an annoyed chuff sound to notify Wren of her failure, though the veteran was busy inspecting several of the doors leading out of the large room. 

    Wren waved for his dragon to follow as he entered the hole in the wall, moving quickly in the hope of finding his comrades. He didn't want to leave the boys alone for too long, but if more wolves were on the way, they would need reinforcements to survive. He decided to walk in front of Cricket, even though the narrow tunnel would make it difficult for her to turn if they were attacked from behind. If Wren were compromised, he needed the head of his dragon poised toward any would-be attackers. Still, maneuvering through the small space made him uneasy, and he kept a hand on his rifle in case of trouble.


  8. "You may cut off my head, but another two will grow in its place. You wouldn't be able to handle it." Hasan's tone had returned to its usual playfulness as he watched his Maharaja shrink and shy away from his touch. He so loved when Desmond tried to fight back, but so too did he love that unmistakably bashful, boyish charm. The Maharaja's ascension to power in a time of great darkness and distress might have left two lesser men with little room for friendship, but Hasan and Desmond had managed to find little pockets of peace together, and in them, their relationship had blossomed. Watching the usurper manage the conflict had earned him respect in the Raj's eyes. Watching him smile at every witty comment, or joke about the many customs and rituals assigned to his position, or, hell, even coo and sing to babies on death's row- this had earned him admiration

    The admiration fled from Hasan's eyes, however, as his ruler taunted him with personal details of the little girl he had dismissed minutes earlier. So you know the names of the people living in your home, Hasan wanted to say. So the children still have enough life in them to declare a favorite color. It doesn't change their status, nor their future. He was barred from speaking by the lazy wave of his Maharaja, however, so the words died in his throat. Still, the Raj made no attempt to mask the anger in his gaze as he continued to stare out the window, over the lily pond, nor the bright red light pulsing through the veins of his right hand. It was only the respect he personally held for Desmond, his friend that stilled his hot tongue, even as the dark man's argument descended into a weak defense of his own gilded lifestyle. 'The only life they've ever known,' was a phrase his brother was fond of throwing around, though Hasan had always heard the true meaning behind these words. 'The only life we've ever known.' 

    Hasan detested it, and he detested Desmond for making him feel this way in their brief moment of privacy. He remained silent, however, eyes passing over the lily pond and coming to rest on the infirmary across the way. After all, it was Hasan who had brought up the delicate subject, returning to pick at it like a painful scab constantly in the corner of his mind. He should have known better, but, then again, so should have Desmond; no piece of Hasan relented, not under physical duress, not in times of hardship, and certainly not at the reprimand of a Maharaja who felt the need to silence his top general and closest friend. 

    The dark man continued to cast his dark gaze out the window, even as the guards entered with a BANG. He was too experienced a fire mage to charge into chaos with a clouded mind, and watching the lilies slowly cooled the burning inside of his chest. He was still listening, of course, to the angry words punctuating the steady inhale and exhale of breath to and from his lungs. There was a deep, aching pain beneath the voice of both siblings, both attempting to wound one another in the name of order and reason. Hasan knew from experience that it was more difficult to see clearly with fresh wounds, and, in this family, no one was afforded time to heal. 

    Still, there was no mistaking where Hasan's heart lay. He had been by his Maharaja's side after the kidnapping, and had watched the anguish and guilt of losing Kaori slowly tear his friend apart. Even without personal emotions influencing his thought, Darim's argument still sounded particularly feeble to the Raj. He could not fathom how someone, much less an emperor, could justify kidnapping a child. It was a weak display of power at best, and Hasan had no respect for those who flaunted their power with such flagrant disregard for others. Desmond was similar to his father in many ways, but he cared deeply for people and would never-

    The harsh 'smack' of a slap drew the tall, dark man away from the window with a sigh, and his feet clicked on the cool marble floor as he circled the scene with his hands clasped behind his back. 

    "When I mentioned the desire to meet your sisters, this is not quite what I'd meant." Hasan came to stand next to his Maharaja, and, placing his index finger on the man's shoulder, gently prodded him one step to the right. The guards, seeing that their ruler had returned to his carpet of petals, ceased their chanting and regained some semblance of usefulness. The Raj grimaced, turning his attention to the raven-haired beauty kneeling before them. Her porcelain skin, bright eyes, and long, flowing dark hair were unmistakable, though the smear of red on her bottom lip brought another frown to Hasan's face. "Darim, a pleasure. I would gladly hear ten thousand additional threats to my people if only they came from your lips." 

    At this time, Hasan would have ordered the poor wretch off of her feet, but he did not dare to contradict the Maharaja's orders in front of the royal guard. Desmond did not frighten Hasan in the slightest, and there was no mistaking that his actions had been harsher than necessary, but the Raj would not instigate new rumors among the small-minded commonfolk. Instead, he shot a pointed glance toward his king and friend, silently urging him to step down from his pedestal. The woman before them was nothing but a pawn in her father's dangerous game, and no amount of chiding or beating would extract the satisfaction Desmond so craved.


  9. Stepping into the cool night air did manage to soothe Maya's nerves, smoothing her tense face into a more naturally relaxed expression. The courtyard had something of a cocktail party atmosphere, with small groups of soldiers chatting over drinks in the twinkling fairy lights. For the diplomat, it was more familiar territory than the loud music and flashing lights of the dance party within the base. She glanced up at A'rithor to see if he, too, was more comfortable in the quieter setting; since beginning her training in diplomacy, Maya had gotten in the habit of constantly checking and assessing the body language of the people around her. She found the tiefling difficult to read, bright though his vividly heterochromatic eyes shone in the darkness, and took a sip of her punch to hide her exasperation. The unmistakable and incredibly strong taste of rum met her taste buds, catching Maya off guard, but she managed to swallow after only a short bout of coughing. 

    It did not take long for Maya to regain composure. A'rithor's offer brought a sparkle to her dark eyes -my, she was meeting some generous characters tonight! Ever the professional, any hint of suggestion in A'rithor's comment was lost on Maya, and she returned the tiefling's tight-lipped smile with a warm grin of her own. "I'm actually leaving for Nu Martyr in a few days, but I'm sure my career will bring me back to Terrenus very soon." The prospect of international travel delighted Maya, though it had horrified her parents. "I'll be sure to check out Grentice before leaving. Renovatio is far, and I'm sure there will be plenty of time for reading during my travels." A wry glimmer flashed in her black eyes. "Don't be surprised if I return home a first class mage." 

    Maya was about to inquire on A'rithor's diplomatic career when an all-too-familiar question assaulted her attention. 

    "I love your horns." 

    Stifling a groan, the woman turned her head to behold the newcomer and found a familiar face. It was none other than Cadmium Metireal, a fellow military brat whose parents had turned up in plenty of stories told by her own mother and father. While Maya didn't know Cadmium personally, his work in the Wastelands were well known among those who kept up with military chatter. From what Maya had heard, his promotion was long overdue. She swallowed her annoyance with another sip of punch, this time keeping the liquor down on the first try. "Thank you," she managed to say through gritted teeth. Fellow recruits often approached her with comments on her horns, many of them compliments hiding micro-aggressions she had grown skilled at deflecting. Smelling the alcohol on Cadmium's breath, she thanked Gaia he hadn't asked to touch them. Maya was too polite to decline such a request, and her tall stature made it awkward to bow and allow a stranger's groping hands on her head. 

    Through his compliments and well-meaning attempt at conversation, the captain redeemed himself a few words later. Maya's expression softened considerably, though Cadmium hadn't earned a genuine smile just yet. "I've actually been in the military for a few years. Cadmium, isn't it? I've heard good things about your role in the Wastelands." Maya absently turned the glass in her hands. She wasn't used to being recognized, for in her relatively recent division switch she had lost a considerable amount of clout. "Congratulations on the promotion, by the way! I'm impressed the higher-ups were able to redecorate so well for the party." Since she understood speaking with a communications officer often left one at a disadvantage, she added, "My name is Maya Zapatero, diplomacy sector."


  10. The approach of her god did not go unnoticed by the dragonlet on deck, distracting her attention from the debacle with the wolf- and she despised wolves. It wouldn't take someone well-versed in dragon lore to read the fear plain in her huddled stance, totally mute save a panicked whine barely perceptible to human ears. She watched the skies with wide silver eyes, extending a thread of will to call her partner to her side. Although Cricket had used the same trick for years around dinner time when Wren was still responsible for her feedings, the urgency in this particular summons made the veteran limp a little faster toward the deck, his metallic leg making a thunk sound each time it hit the ground. Step thunkstep thunkstep thunkstep. Their peculiar bond was the only tether tying the dragonlet to the doomed ship, but, strong though her love for Wren was, even he was not enough to keep Cricket from fleeing when the dragon god Valjer brought death to the airship. 

    Wren had just crested the stairwell to the deck when a shimmering wraith caught the corner of his eye; his head turned, in what felt like a long and painful movement, to behold the dragon god's flaming descent. At the same time, Cricket's bright silver eyes remained locked on her human's small, weak form, even as she circled the ship on obsidian wings. She remained at a respectful distance from the much larger and stronger beast, but could not hold back an outraged scream as the two halves of the ship fell away, one of which taking her companion with it. Tucking her leathery wings in close to her flank, the dragonlet dove, speeding toward where she had last seen Wren, though falling debris and flames were currently obscuring her view. The air whistled past, and pieces of the ship flew with it. Cricket was too quick and clever to collide with any of the shrapnel, but she scanned the wreckage with some urgency, as she knew her human rider was not so indestructible. 

    The first thing Wren noticed wasn't the flames licking at the ship around him, nor the way the deck seemed to slide and sway: it was the smell. The unmistakably acrid scent of burning flesh filled the air, triggering some primal sense of fear deep within his chest. Momentarily paralyzed by terror, the veteran couldn't seem to move his feet; he glanced wildly around him, looking for his dragon, but could not spot her through the growing curtain of flame. A muffled cry drew his attention below, to the stairwell, where a very frightened but determined face stared up at him with violet eyes: it was the girl from earlier, her flaxen hair singed but otherwise unharmed. As Wren watched, still rooted to the deck, part of the stairwell began to cave in where she was standing, threatening to crush her beneath the weight of smoldering brick and steel. In a feat of pure athleticism, her legs tensed and leaped, pushing her up and away from the worst of it in one mighty bound. It was not enough to entirely clear her from the wreckage, however, and she hit the remaining few stairs with an 'oof,' the wind squeezed from her chest by a falling handrail. 

    The veteran stared down at her with wide eyes, watching as whatever warrior's instinct had been guiding her was knocked from her body with the air in her lungs. Memories from Wren's last quest seized his mind, bringing a tremor to his knees. Blood. He saw a trickle of blood travel down the girl's dirty face, ending in one crimson drop near her chin: it dripped from her face and hit the stair below it with a sizzle. His own breath was hot and heavy in his ears. A creeping chill found his hands despite the raging inferno, a parting gift from his dance with wolves in the cold, cold south. 

    A dragon's scream pierced his reverie, pulling the soldier back to reality. He reached down and grabbed Layelia's arms with strong hands, and, with a grunt, hauled her free of the wreckage and onto the deck. They landed in a heap of limbs, but managed to find their feet quickly, leaning and holding onto one another for dear life as they scrambled for higher ground. The smoke was disorienting, guiding them from one pit of flames to the next. Wren tried to call for his dragon, but thick, black air filled his throat and made it impossible to shout much louder than a hoarse croak. "Cricket! CRICKEEET!" 

    The dragonlet snapped her wings open in the last second of her dive, intending to land near the stairwell and her stranded rider. As the smoke cleared beneath the wind of her wings, however, she realized that Wren wasn't there. Panic gripped her childlike mind, and she attempted to abort her landing with a few strokes of those powerful, dark wings. In the confusion of the moment, she failed to notice the broken mast careening toward her until it was too late. The splintered wood pierced the membrane of her left wing, and, in her struggle to break free, the flesh ripped and tore until a good portion of her appendage was in ribbons. Another scream left the dragon's maw, adding confusion and terror to the already horrifying scene; she screamed again, and again, as she desperately flapped away from the sinking ship, her flight uneven and clumsy with only one wing effectively catching air. The cordlike shreds of her injured appendage whipped back and forth with the panicked motion, sending droplets of dragon blood into the flames. 

    Eventually, Cricket managed to fly free of the ship, though she was by no means out of the woods. The draglonlet plummeted toward the ground in a messy corkscrew, only barely managing to slow her descent with the efforts of her desperate flapping. She landed, hard, in the forest below, with one wing in tatters and the other dislocated at having attempted to support her massive weight in the sky. Distressed, she called for her rider once again, a mangled hiss leaving her parted jaw as her eyes watched the flaming wreck fall toward the ground. 


  11. 12 minutes ago, supernal said:

    @Old Man JeanI was thinking of calling them cloudwalkers rather than hearkening to pre-established external myths, too

    I think Valkyrie sounds way cooler, and fitting, given the role, but I can understand why you’d want a name without pre-existing lore attached to it. I myself had to search the term to understand what you were talking about though- I think it may be obscure enough mythology that you’d be able to get away with it, but that may also just be me 


  12. Desmond's teasing fell on deaf ears, with Wren's gaze shifting between the many connecting hallways, his posture tense, his hands clenched. When the Maharaja began to leave, however, the soldier gave a weak cry. "No, I didn't mean-" He took an uncertain step forward, leaning on his staff for balance. "I wouldn't want to, ah ..." It was clear that Desmond wasn't taking 'no' for an answer, so the welcomed guest had no choice but to follow his host through the winding path before them. Fear gripped his weary heart, squeezing more and more tightly as they passed little signatures left by the young princess: flowers here, an oddly painted door there, the smell of something warm and sweet. Wren couldn't stop himself from trembling, which made hobbling after Desmond difficult, to say the least, but the dark man was considerate of Wren's awkward, painstaking pace. Every step forward was another terrible decision, one that weighted heavily on the veteran's mind and heart as they progressed through the golden halls. 

    To Wren's understanding, he had made his princess uncomfortable with his display of careless affection, his sloppily open heart, the warmth present in every lingering gaze ... The tension of his last few months of employment had culminated in an innocent dance that had very severely affected their relationship, making it impossible for them to spend even a few hours together without it feeling painfully awkward. This was unacceptable for someone in Wren's position. Although his feelings shouldn't have mattered in the objective role of bodyguard, he had been compromised, and took Cosima's departure as confirmation from the princess that he was no longer effective at his job. There was an element of selfishness to his resignation as well; constantly being in the presence of his loved one but feeling ashamed and guilty for those feelings had been total agony near the end.  And so Wren had left. 

    Now he had returned.

    Would she even want to see him after the way things had ended? Would his escapade to Kalopsia have been in vain? 

    These thoughts and more raged through the veteran's mind as they drew nearer to some unknown destination. His mind instantly went silent as a sweet peal of laughter broke the silence of these lonely halls.

    He watched in wonderment as a curtain of black hair swished 'round to reveal a young and beautiful face, heavy brows, and two dark eyes laden with stars. While Wren had aged ten years in the past months, Cosima hadn't gained a day. Standing there, in her glory, he was suddenly aware of how awful he must have looked; his face had been marred by the claws of a wolf, his back a knotted mess of healing wounds caused by the same incident. His right hand was short one finger, lost to one of the wolves -or had it been the dragon? It didn't matter. The injured hand clenched the smooth quarterstaff until his knuckles went white. Most gruesome of all had been the loss of his left leg to dragon fyre, the skin of his lower half still healing from its magical burns. While the legs of his trousers concealed the worst of it, thank Gaia, Wren's unsteady stance and reliance on his staff was sure to raise a few questions. He was a broken thing, but his eyes were still the soft brown of supple leather; they still reflected great admiration and respect for the woman standing before him. 

    Wren's face had always been easy to read, and in this moment anyone could see the fear plastered on his grim mouth and furrowed brows. Sensing tension, Desmond departed, leaving the princess and her former bodyguard alone for the first time in a year. 

    The man tried to speak, but nothing came out of his open mouth. It was then that he noticed the angry purple bruise marring the princess's porcelain skin, and the line etched across her neck. An enormous wave of guilt and rage rushed over him, giving him a voice, hoarse and soft though it was. "Are you alright?" He touched his own neck, indicating the focus of his inquiry. "Who hurt you?"


  13. Maya entered the room with a smile on her lips and took her seat at the king's left hand. She nodded respectfully during each introduction, though her mind was busy assessing the room and drawing conclusions that would assist her in this mission. She wasn't often met by an entire council- usually just the secretary of foreign affairs or someone of a similar rank and position. This odd turn of events meant one of two things: either a) the kingdom was unused to partaking in diplomatic relations and needed an entire council to make informed choices, or b) the kingdom was in dire need of assistance, and its king wanted to make a good impression. In either case, Maya recognized the gravity of her situation and quickly went about introducing herself. 

    "My name is Maya Zapatero. This-" she gestured behind her, toward her guard, "Is Itylra." Again, an oddity: while Maya valued Itylra as an individual and, of course, for her skills, she wasn't usually asked to introduce her guard. In a more militaristic kingdom such as Lexdord, she supposed it was only natural that its officials would take special notice of those in combat roles. Her face remained pleasantly neutral even as the king abruptly asked for a trade deal, though her eyes focused more closely on the man's face. She knew King Lewis hadn't been born into nobility, but she hadn't expected this obvious lack of political training. While Renovatio as a whole was of enormous interest to the Terran government, this impoverished desert kingdom didn't exactly possess the upper hand in any kind of economic exchange between it and the global superpower beneath it. Regardless, Maya addressed the king respectfully. 

    "Thank you for allowing us to visit; the Grand Kommandant spoke highly of your kingdom, and briefly mentioned the struggles you've been experiencing for the past few decades." Her dark, intelligent eyes flicked between the council members as she continued, finally returning to rest on the king. "I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have, though I'd like to pose a few of my own before we discuss a potential trade deal." She nodded vaguely. "Terrenus has a wealth of resources to offer, but will not be entering any diplomatic partnerships without information or reasonable cause." 


  14. As was probably expected after that debacle of a cocktail party, Cora woke with a groan and a headache. She attempted to run a hand through her thick curls, but found it impossible in their current disheveled state, an unfortunate byproduct of her haphazard hairstyling. With another frustrated groan, she tied her chestnut locks up in a messy heap and set about packing a knapsack for the fool's crusade, throwing the items in with reckless abandon. The only care she took was in wrapping and packing her bottle of whiskey, and, a few minutes later, in polishing her twin daggers and sliding them into the holsters on her belt. She tried not to think about last night as she bustled about the shack, though the sour expression on her face betrayed her feelings. By the time she left her little home, however, her face had donned its usual mask, hiding the tumultuous emotions she had yet to identify. 

    As soon as she spotted Teddy, her eyes narrowed, though judging by his avoidant gaze it seemed they had reached a mutual understanding. She didn't pay much mind to the other adventurers, either, though she did not act coldly toward them; while Cora wasn't here to make friends, she appreciated a sense of comradery, and would eventually make some effort to build a rapport. ... just not now

    Once the party was assembled, the sailor began to look around for the bloody boat, but couldn't seem to find it- perhaps they were waiting for it to return from another dock? The only thing sitting in this port was a strange metallic platform she could only assume was some sort of docking mechanism for a large freighter, or perhaps a tourist attraction for those trendy young travelers who seemed to know everything about everything. The captain took a step toward the open water, then another step ... then another step ... Cora's perplexed gaze followed the man as he walked across the gangway to the metallic platform, then disappeared below the surface. She continued to watch with furrowed brows as each member of the party followed suit, leaving her standing alone on the dock with a hand resting on one of the daggers at her waist. The crewman standing on the platform waved tersely. "Oi! Are yer comin' or wot?" Glaring at the sailor for even vaguely suggesting she was a coward (and really ... he hadn't), the little woman stalked down the plank and dropped herself through the open hatch. What kind of devil's ship is this?

    Cora quickly realized that submarines were very different from the sailing ships she was used to working with. After the incredibly brief tour, she nudged the crew member next to her and hissed, "Where's the rest of the ship?" The man looked down at her with a humorless 'heh.'

    "Tha' is the rest of the bleedin' ship." 

    "Cut the shit, man." The sailor only chuckled, this time with considerable humor, and walked away humming a sea shanty. Cora glanced around her with some uncertainty, spying Teddy at the opposite end of the narrow, cramped room, and stifled a groan. This was going to be a long couple of days. 


    Though the walls often felt like they were closing in, Cora took comfort in helping out around the ship, learning quickly and proving herself more than just a passive passenger. As she began to understand how the uboat worked, she felt less and less unsure of herself and of her role in this quest; gradually, her claustrophobia subsided. Eventually her curiosity brought her to the navigation room, where she stared at the captain and his officers operating a wide panel of levers and buttons with practiced ease. The captain tried to ignore her presence until Cora leaned a bit too far over his shoulder, pointing at a big red button just above the steering yoke. "What's that-"

    "I don't know wot yer fink you're doin', right, but yer'd better piss off," the officer on the left snapped, earning a green-eyed glare. Cora's gaze returned to the button, which had a few words stamped onto it in sensible, black lettering. The captain ignored the irritated officer, staring up at Cora with considerable incredulousness.

    "Are you blind, lass? For Gaia's sake, it says 'SELF IGNITE' plain as day." Wounded, the woman drew her hand back, holding onto the back of the captain's chair with her knuckles turning white in embarrassment. Though largely indestructible, Cora had two major shortcomings: one, she was illiterate, and two, she was incapable of admitting it. Perhaps the captain took pity on her in that moment, perhaps he was an eager educator, or too proud of his ship to stay quiet; regardless, he spent the next couple of hours walking her through each of the levers and buttons operating the ship, and even managed to run through a number of special scenarios with his particularly bright subject. Cora was genuinely interested in the mechanics behind such a strange vessel, and knew enough about sailing to make inferences and educated guesses where appropriate. Even the irate officer eventually warmed to their guest, and showed her the difference between the stern and fairwater planes. 

    Cora went on to spend a good chunk of their trip in the navigation room, sparing her from the awkwardness of the cabin behind her. The crew didn't usually have an interested audience, and were more than willing to show a fellow sailor the 'ropes,' or, in this case, the many turning cogs and wheels of the submarine. 

    The third day came and went, eventually bringing the boat to relatively shallow waters. The captain was radioed by the officer on deck in the dead of the night, filling the quiet navigation room with the officer's rough voice. 

    "Captain- we're spotting the shoreline ahead. Probably still a few miles out. /Over." 

    Captain Denholm nodded to himself, glancing at the small woman slumped against the back wall of the room, her brow furrowed with what must have been a nightmare. He brought the radio to his mouth. "Copy that. Scanners list depth at about 100 meters and rising, /over." The men continued in communication as the submarine neared the coast, eventually waking Cora from her nap. She caught on quickly that the boat was ascending, and watched with rapture as the planesman began to adjust their elevation, sending the boat almost imperceptibly upward; in a quick hour, the boat had crested the surface of the water at around a mile from the shore. The other passengers would notice a change in the boat's motion. Though the submarine's course had been smooth and undisturbed by deep water, the surface waves rocked and bobbed the small vessel as if it were any other sailing ship. A collection of crew members, party members, and the Captain soon made their way up to the roof, gazing toward the impending land mass with a few celebratory hoots. Cora grinned, instinctively looking toward Teddy, but quickly remembered that she was definitely still pissed at him and averted her gaze to the water. Though she expected to see nothing but black, watery depths, something of interest sparked her attention. 

    "Look! It's glowing," she called, pointing at the dark waves next to the ship. They were drifting through what appeared to be a sea of kelp, but it was only possible to see the kelp because of its faintly blue glowing leaves. The crew peered off of the ship in curiosity, and another nearby cry confirmed the presence of kelp on the port side of the ship as well. The more Cora squinted, the brighter the leaves seemed to glow, until the dark waters weren't quite so dark anymore.

    "Aye, I've heard tale of this," one of the officers spoke, staring out across the blue light. "Oft the creatures of the Genesarian waters glow on moonless nights. Magic in the Vareheit Sea makes 'em shine, they say." The Captain scoffed, turning to descend the ladder and into the ship's interior. 

    "Back inside before one of you falls in," he called, voice echoing through the trap. Cora nodded to herself, but took another moment to admire the rippling, shimmering waves before putting her hand on the ladder. An odd movement in the corner of her eye caught her attention. Eyes narrowed in the darkness, she glanced over the side of the ship and noticed that the kelp was passing by with greater speed as the ship's engines turned on, whirring past in a continuous blur of blue light. But ... something wasn't right. Cora looked down through the main hatch, then back at the sea, then at her hand resting on the ship's outer hull. Her stomach dropped when she realized that the hull was still beneath her fingertips, without the familiar hum or vibration of the boat's magitech-powered engines. 

    The engines weren't on. 

    The boat wasn't moving. 

    The kelp was moving.

    A split second after this realization, the boat lurched as something beneath the water banged into its starboard hull. Cora might have tumbled off the ship's platform were it not for a hand locked around her ankle, holding her feet down on the ladder. She didn't check to see who had saved her, instead dropping below deck and slamming the hatch shut with another loud bang. "Captain!" she yelled hoarsely, jogging through the cabin toward the navigation room. The ship lurched again, this time due to an unseen force on the port side, sending its passengers careening toward the starboard hull. Cora managed to catch herself on a pipe just before the lights flickered out. Surprised by the sudden loss of light, she lost her grip and tumbled into something ... someone ... soft. "Sorry," she whispered, righting herself with some trouble on the ... uneven ground?

    The ship seemed to be floating at a slight angle, though it was difficult to see in the darkness and difficult to feel with the rocking of the sea. The waves had picked up, leaving even Cora slightly disoriented as she attempted to reach the navigational suite, grabbing onto whatever she could find in order to steady herself. She could hear shouting from within the navigation room, and another loud voice coming from the engine room. The cabin itself had gone eerily silent. Cora half-crawled in the direction of navigation, and she heard a few of the voices with greater clarity. 

    "We need to go down, damn it, we're a sitting duck on the surfa-"

    "We don' know wha's dahn there-"

    "We'll need to submerge anyways-" 

    "Half the bloody controls are out!"

    "I'M the CAPTAIN and we're GOING DOWN-"

    The nose of the submarine dipped sharply below the surface, sending its passengers sliding across the floor yet again. Cora stumbled against the door of the control room, giving her some temporary stability before something ... someone slid into her, squishing her against the wall. "Get off me-"

    An enormous metallic crunching sound filled the cramped space, drowning out Cora's words. Suddenly the angle of descent grew much sharper, putting her at the bottom of a pile of passengers flattened against the wall separating the cabin from the control room. The air flew from her lungs, leaving the poor sailor gasping for breath as the metallic crunch grew into an all-out roar. The unmistakable sound of rushing water mixed with the screeching of metal ripping away from the ship's hull, leaving passengers both blind and deaf as the world exploded around them. 

    Unfortunately for those aboard the ship, the serpent of Port City had just ripped off the tail end of their vessel, taking several crew members and their entire stock of missiles with it. The beast was around 200 feet long, with nearly half of its length devoted to a muscular, armored tail with ridged plates sliding seamlessly past one another as it propelled itself forward. Its thorax was protected by a similarly armored shell, with an abundance of long, needle-like legs rippling out beneath it, much like a centipede's. Two particularly sharp, deft legs sprouted from beneath the creature's hideously large maw lined with an indefinite number of spikes. Its lower jaw ended in a pair of pincers that clacked in hunger, sending shockwaves through the ship's irreparably damaged hull. If one was observing from above the water, they might have noticed four pairs of black, beady eyes glittering with malice. More obvious, however, were the rows and rows of tendrils along the creature's back, swaying with the water as it circled the doomed vessel. The tentacles glowed blue, and might have resembled kelp to the tragically inexperienced eye.

    Water rushed from the massive hole in the ship, sending it down, down, down to the ocean's floor. At a depth of only 30 meters, it would be possible for a particularly lucky passenger to bob to the surface if they managed to escape the wreckage.

    Satisfied, the monster swam back into the inky depths of the sea. Its blue light would subside until a new victim trespassed its waters. 


  15. 15 minutes ago, Hurttoto said:

    @Old Man Jean

    @roboblu

    Its your turn

    I’m a very busy person irl, but I do try to post at least once every 3 days. For this thread, I think it’s an appropriate pace. 

    I’ll make an OOC thread so we don’t distract others from the standing offer of participating in other diplomatic relationships - I’ll link ya Hurttater Tots (a fun new nickname I just thought of right now)


  16. So the rumors had been true. Wren had heard whispers of Desmond's deviancy, but the tall tales had been too outlandish for him to believe. The Melisende family was large, tumultuous, and messy, but it was bonded by family ties stronger than steel. It was only after the words left Desmond's own mouth that the veteran considered the enormous rift that must have occurred in his absence. Gaia- were all of the tall tales true, then? Queen Leoa passing, the trial by combat, the Inquisitor and his hideous kidnapping ... Looking over at the Maharaja's eyes and seeing exhaustion brimming there, Wren decided to save the inquiries for another day. A small, repressed corner of his mind wondered fearfully how she fit into all of this. It didn't really matter, he supposed. 

    "My good impression of you has not changed, Maharaja," Wren dared to speak, though the opinion of a veteran likely meant little in the eyes of a king. "There is honor in following one's heart." The words surprised Wren even as they left his mouth; he, of all people, had no business in speaking of the heart. Desmond continued. 

    "Right now the plague is taking precedence; I've no time to dilly about on the political playground when there is a sickness that dares to reach across the seas. Juni and Cosima have worked hard to find a cure, and that hard work has paid off, already a handful of sick have been given some time back. Not completely cured but my sister has given them hope."

    His heart nearly stopped in his chest. 

    "Cosima?" 

    The word felt alien in his mouth, but, at the same time, so comforting and familiar. It was so peculiar how one word might carry the power to make or break even the strongest of men, Wren mused, his mind drifting in ten directions at once. His legs -or, what was left of them- quivered, leading him to lean more heavily on his staff for support. Weathered hands clung to the smooth wood as if it were the only thing anchoring him to the ground; his knuckles turned white. Soft brown eyes filled first with joy, then with pain, guilt, fear, and a hint of desperation. Wren racked his brain - surely he had known she would be here. For the first time in many months, his mind explored that last memory in one of the many greenhouses in Shrine City, picturing her face, so fair and gentle, breaking when his hands had left hers. He tried to remember what she had said about leaving the Cold South, but could not recall where she had said she was going. Perhaps his mind -a tired, pessimistic thing- had unconsciously led him here, seeking some of the comfort it had lost so many months ago. On the other hand, perhaps it was not his mind that had led the way ... 

    There is honor in following one's heart. 

    Wren stared at Desmond in a daze, not hearing his last few sentences. "Where is she?"

     


  17. The dark man sighed, gazing out toward the serene lily pond with forlorn eyes. "I am magnificent," he admitted, losing himself for a moment in the tranquil waters. His reverie was broken by a soothing hand on his wrist; the bright, angry light marginally subsided. Hasan stared at bejeweled fingers encircling his wrist for a moment, then abruptly turned to the slave girl standing with a basket of flower petals nearby. The young girl immediately froze, her eyes wide and full of fear at having the Raj's attention. He offered her a strained smile, though it did not seem to ease her terror. "Why don't you take a break, uh, I believe it was ... Samita? Is that your name?" The petrified child nodded, though it was, in fact, not her name. "I will personally ensure that the Maharaja stands perfectly still for the next hour. You may retire to your quarters." The slave glanced around, unsure of what to do. Hasan stifled a groan, passing a hand over his eyes. "Leave us, child." Hearing the authoritative shift in tone, the girl scrambled away and through one of the throne room's exits, leaving Desmond and Hasan alone to admire the scenery. 

    Standing with his Maharaja, admiring the calm pond beyond the window, it was difficult for Hasan to remember the many struggles and hardships that had led him here, to this point in time and space. Being able to stand in such admirable company, much less company that admired him, brought a slight smile to the fire mage's face. Glancing toward Desmond, with his kind but tired blue eyes, the weathered knuckles gripping his staff, his stooped shoulders and laugh lines .... well, it was enough to make Hasan think that maybe, just maybe, the struggle had been worth it.

    "There are many ways in which I'd like to take advantage of you, Desmond," the dark man spoke at last, his eyes burning in a way that was odd, but not unbecoming of their emerald depths. His hand found Desmond's, still clasped around his wrist to quell the red anger, but it was not a warm touch- rather, his fingertips carried electricity. For a moment, he felt every breath that left his king's lips, felt the usurper's heart beating within his own chest. Eventually the moment passed, and Hasan's grip fell away. "None of them involve your political status. This is my battle, though I appreciate your support." His gaze wandered for a moment, then rested upon the exit through which Samita (or Samita-adjacent) had fled. He considered the gaping hallway for a moment, then turned back toward the Maharaja. "Perhaps if the children weren't busying themselves continuously throwing flowers on the ground and then sweeping them up, they might be participating in a more rigorous education," he offered, stooping to pick up a wilting petal and placing it, with much consideration, onto Desmond's shoulder. "Perhaps we might have had a solution to this problem before it had ever begun." 

    It was a familiar argument, and they didn't currently have the time or resources to enact any lasting change, but the recent crisis had put the frivolity of having slaves into perspective. Having people dress you and open doors and do everything but wipe your ass seemed wildly unnecessary in these trying times. Hasan had done his part to combat the system, and his reputation among the council had paid the price- but his work would not be finished until the system had been abolished. His mood once more soured, the Raj returned his gaze to the window. 

     

     


  18. "Hello, and welcome to the Floracle! May I offer you some refresh-" A flurry of young couples uninterested in interacting with the shopkeeper blew past the poor woman, chatting among themselves with that irritating aloofness often associated with infatuation. "Well, feel free to ask any questions if you need help!" Valentine called after them, a slight frown crossing her lips. Though she enjoyed working with customers who came to shop with love in their hearts, careless customers were a threat to more delicate plants with their curious, grabbing hands. Perhaps she ought to adopt some sort of trainable shop animal, like a cat, to discourage inappropriate behavior from the clientele ... Hefting a light sigh, Valentine turned back to face the entrance only to find a tall, hooded figure standing before her. Despite the smile plastered on her face, the florist couldn't help but flinch a little at the newcomer's sudden appearance, her knuckles whitening on the clipboard she'd been using to record attendance. She had regained her composure by the time a masculine voice regaled her from within the depths of the hood- and realized, with a warming expression, that she was actually speaking to a very polite and well-mannered guest. 

    "Thank you for the condolences," she answered, blue eyes downcast for the briefest of moments before returning to the stranger's shaded face. "Grandfather was well-loved in Casper. If my brother and I can manage to fill even one of his shoes, I will consider this endeavor a success!" Thorn pulled his hood back to reveal a very kind, weathered face; the sight of those warm blue eyes, so similar to her own, caused Val's smile to widen. "Oh- you're interested in the room for rent! Yes, yes," The shopkeeper paused as she scrambled to find another sheet of paper on her clipboard; once she'd found it, she tore it loose and pinned it to the top of the stack. "The room is upstairs -there's a spiral staircase up to the apartments out in the courtyard, if you remember- and it's about the size of a large office." Valentine showed the flyer to her new acquaintance, pointing at a floorplan of the space that Caspian had drawn up. "We think it used to be the manager's office back when the Floracle belonged to different owners. My grandfather mainly used it for storage. We've already cleaned it out-" The redhead glanced toward the apothecary's shop, trying to spot her brother, who had a much stronger business instinct than her own. "-and it'll be, let's see here ... around four one-ounce gold coins per month. We'll accept silver or copper as well, if it's more convenient for you!" 

    Valentine squinted down at the paper, then back up toward Thorn. "... we can always bargain with the price, you know," she said in a loud whisper. "Just don't tell my brother." With a wink, Valentine offered the informational flyer to the customer, and took a long, refreshing breath of sweet air. She smiled up at him, considering his appearance before opening her mouth again. "Thorn, am I mistaken in pegging you for a druid?" She glanced around the shop, then back toward his grizzled face. "Are you skilled in herbology? We are looking for a few extra hands around here, you know."

    Spoiler
    • 1 oz of Tin = .25 USD
    • 1 oz of Copper = 2 USD
    • 1 oz of Silver = 10 USD
    • 1 oz of Gold = 50 USD
    • 1 oz of Platinum = 100 USD
    • 1 oz of Rhodium = 500 USD.

    ... taken from the Terrenus Landing Page. Rent is around 200 USD per month.

     


  19. The woman's accent did not align with the type of speech taught to highborn children, warranting a long, searching gaze from Maya's dark, intelligent eyes. She noted the common clothes Corvus wore, and the way her glance darted toward the nearby fae attendant almost nervously. As the woman rambled on, using Maya's words to shape her own measly phrases, those dark eyes narrowed almost imperceptively. It was clear that this guest had an identity to hide but lacked the skill to do so gracefully, which was a small relief; anyone spying on behalf of a halfway decent intelligence agency would have at least dressed the part of a noblewoman. If ... Corvus ... had secrets to protect, it was her business so long as she refrained from threatening the Terran government. Maya's gaze softened considerably.

    "It's lovely to meet you, Lady Corvus," she said, still speaking in hushed tones. Addressing the attendant, she added, "Erlkönig, a pleasure. We simply must chat later! I met a lovely elf at the portal near Casper- I believe his name was Hoshozel? I would be in your debt if you'd happen to know where I might find him." The diplomat offered the rather stoic attendant a lovely smile, then returned her attention to Corvus. "I'm with the Terran military, in the diplomacy sector." Her gaze fell upon the queen as a song rose throughout the crowd. It was reminiscent of an old Gaian hymn Maya had once sung as a child, and she added her own bright voice to the chorus after listening for a few seconds. When the last sweet notes had finished echoing in the cavernous hall, the ram-horned woman looked to Corvus with a twinkle in her eye. "This kingdom is something of a mystery, isn't it?" Her question rhetorical, Maya turned back to the ceremony with naught but a wink aimed at the strange, secretive woman. 

    The pomp and circumstance of such a celebration was not unfamiliar to Maya with her militaristic background, but the sheer magic of a coronation was not lost on her, either. Terrenus was a largely monarchistic government, with smaller pockets of democracy throughout the sprawling land, though Maya had not seen a coronation in her relatively short tenure on Valucre. She watched the ceremony with rapture, and took in a sharp breath as the crown finally came to rest on Aurora's head. With that, the ritual was over; the music continued to play, and the guests began to mingle with a sort of excited buzz falling over the crowd. Maya nodded to herself, and turned her massive head to face Corvus. "I'd like to pay my respects to the queen, Lady Corvus. Thank you for allowing me to spend this coronation at your side." The woman tilted her head a little, not sure how her unusual acquaintance would take the next words that left her mouth. "You are more than welcome to join me." 

    The diplomat waited a moment to see if Corvus would follow, then began the tedious process of weaving through the crowd to reach Queen Aurora. After a few minutes of politely shifting past other guests and servants, Maya came within fifteen feet or so of the noble ... and realized, much to her chagrin, that another party had beaten her to it. Her dark, annoyed gaze fell upon the usurper, wherefore the breath caught in her throat; a tall, beautiful man had struck up a conversation with the queen, his long locks filled with visions of swirling galaxies. The diplomat turned her flushed face away from the stunning pair as she waited her turn, a bewildered thought crossing her mind. 'Gaia has surely blessed this forgotten kingdom!'


  20. Wren had no way of knowing whether or not his shot had been effective, as a sudden swirl of snow obscured his already-limited view. He strained into the darkness as Dan's booming shout echoed throughout the shanty hut, as Lady Khakina floated down through the window, as Frygg jumped up and reached for his rifle, still in the veteran's hesitant grip. He could still see the vague shape of one watchman moving around, and the ranger's broken body oozed thick, red blood into the snow below the window. The wolf, however, was either impaled on the business end of a spear ... or it had vanished into the shifting whiteness beyond Wren's scope. A frustrated grunt left the veteran's lips, and, slowly, he lowered the rifle. 

    Wait a minute - echoed? 

    Dan suddenly reappeared, though this time Cricket was prepared for it. The dragonlet was just beginning to stir, roused by the sound of guns and howling just outside the shack. Wren turned to face the teen, his features grim. "No one is here?" he repeated, knuckles going white on the barrel of the rifle. After a moment of thought, the soldier turned his gaze to Frygg, and tossed him the locked firearm with a short nod. "Wait here- I'm going downstairs. There's at least one wolf outside-" The sound of howls growing closer filled the night air. "-with more on the way." Wren gripped Frygg's shoulder, and nodded toward Dan. "Use your best judgement. Khakina's out there and might need some cover, but our best chance is to stay out of the storm."

    With that, Wren hobbled over to scoop up his pack, slung his own rifle over his shoulder, and began to limp down the stairs with Cricket on his heels. Moving up and down the narrow case was a little awkward for both man and dragon, but they landed on the first floor in a few moments. As Dan had claimed, the first floor was dead silent, the only noise the wind howling outside. Something's not right. The veteran yanked a piece of wood from the stairwell railing, and had Cricket ignite it with a puff of blue fire. The two started for the basement, the hair standing up on Wren's forearms as he descended the creaking stairs. Cautiously, he held the torch out over the darkness and peered into the dim space. 


  21. Though the sunlight streaming through the windows of the train brought a bead of sweat to her temple, Maya Zapatero was enjoying the ride to Lexdord, a smaller kingdom of Renovatio that Primera had suggested visiting. Though the Halcyon event had wreaked havoc across every province of the floating continent, Lexdord had been locked in a particularly nasty struggle for decades. The region's arid climate and tempestuous leadership had resulted in a famine lasting nearly an entire century with little relief; Maya supposed resources were particularly scarce on a floating landmass, and Lexdord's secluded geography made it difficult to supply. 'It is certainly beautiful, though,' the diplomat mused, Gaia help her, as she stared out the window with a vague smile on her face. The golden landscape was a stark departure from the elegant, sprawling city of Nu Martyr, but it was no less enchanting. Maya's position didn't often take her across the countryside of foreign lands, and she drank in the scenery with her mind on the task before her. 

    Eventually the train slowed and ground to a halt, and Maya exited a few minutes later in the company of her personal guard. Having a security detail was nothing new to the diplomat, especially in warlike societies like Lexdord, but this particular guard vexed Maya to no end. The elf had only just been assigned to her for this mission, and they were still getting to know one another -a favorite pasttime of Maya Zapatero, in fact- but the guard's strange accent and limited vocabulary had already presented a barrier in their friendship. The problem wasn't that Itylra lacked personality (a common issue among the soldiers assigned to her in the past) ... it was her accent. Maya had been trying to goad her guard into speaking more, but, as it were, she hadn't been able to place the language behind this particularly mysterious accent. As an expert linguist, this was an immense annoyance to Maya. She had already tried to communicate in Kadic, Genesarian, Alterrin, Renovatian, and even Terric Oldspeak, but nothing had garnered a sliver of recognition in the elf's strange, starry eyes. It didn't help that she had little to work with; Itylra wasn't a very talkative person, and was consistently denying Maya the opportunity to dissect her voice. Regardless, Maya persisted. 

    "My, it's warm!" she exclaimed, following Primera's directions toward the floating castle at a brisk walking pace. "Itylra, tell me- is your homeland this hot?" The diplomat's curious gaze flicked over to her elf companion, searching for something in the guard's normally stoic face. "I would love to hear more about your country one day- if you'll share it, of course. My goodness, I can't imagine living in this heat!" Maya cheerily chattered on as the pair approached the castle, though her arrhythmia was irritated by the heat and altitude. She needed to stop several times to catch her breath, and, Gaia bless her, Itylra was patient and refrained from commenting. After around twenty minutes of walking, the odd couple made it to the castle, and rode a small hovercraft to reach its ornate marble steps. The diplomat's fist tightened on her briefcase handle as they were ushered inside the castle to meet the king, the cool air within doing much to soothe her nerves. 

    Spoiler

    outfit, in Terran sky blue, of course

    @Old Man Jean

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