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Rust and Stardust

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  1. When Cerys first opened her eyes and stared out at this vast world with a preternatural stillness unbecoming to a newborn infant, it was not a manor that she observed during those early moments. The Lady Adrastae could not even claim rights to a ragged midwife’s birthing hovel on the edge of a settlement too inconsequential to even be considered a village, and while her youth had been spent in a castle, the once grand structure lay in utter ruin. As a child, she was surrounded by crumbling stone, all beneath a canopy of stars. She knew their names well. Her own name was a lie. While it was possible that her bloodline once ran parallel to the nobility of Ursa Madeum, they were mystics first and therefore too useful to ever truly submerge into the realm of defective simpering. Until, of course, they became too dangerous and all but a scattered few managed to avoid extinction. Temporarily. Yet such reveries could provide no comfort to Cerys. All she knew of nobility outside of House Morlog and the visuals she stole from her scrying glass were second hand stories tainted by the talons of her mother’s inherent paranoia. Did this spoiled woman-child think her base, deliberately coarse? She watched Evienne tremble--how her needle pricked fingers did betray her even as they sought both solace and asserted authority with their touch upon the boy’s shoulder--she watched, and she relished the faint coppery tang of discomfort even as her smile rearranged itself into something soft and pliable. It was full of forgiveness, as if Evienne were the one that required it for an unknown transgression, and honeyed with reassurance. A series of subtle discords, each slightly out of tune, tilted the orchestral choir that sang inside her head. Cerys decided at that moment that all noblewomen would have thought her vulgar, with their pinched faces and bodies like reticent wasps that are too cold to sting with a vicious passion. Her imagination conjured a court of them, fanning themselves with ostrich feathers and tittering at nothing, playing little games with little cards. Somehow, the whey-faced Evienne did not quite fit. There was a hidden quality about the Lady Goldcourt that attracted her initial interest. Those that carried the language of secrets can often detect another native speaker, and Cerys sensed a rare talent for venality within her. “It is quite kind of the Lady to offer her own supply of her chosen drink,” Cerys cooed, “but she is a guest to House Morlog and I could not possibly impose upon her. Little Henry, shall you like to see your quarters?” With the snap of her fingers, it was not a true manservant that appeared but a bound spirit. On an extended neck blinked the moon like face of an owl, while the rest of its frame was loosely akin to a human. Its arms were fringed by wings, the feathers of which dragged across the floor. It walked upon stilt legs and bowed before the child, dipping deep on knees that bent backwards and twisting its neck like a snake in a coil. It did not speak, thought the faint sound of distant church bells were perceptible near it. “Fetch the child,” she said. It disappeared to the lower decks. Waves pushed against the ship, harbingers of high tide. Cerys caught Lady Evienne gently by the elbow as she stumbled. She offered no patronizing comment or lingering touch. Instead, she brought up a passing mention of the clouds brooding along the horizon. “I do so hope it shall not storm.” Bare feet slapping against wooden planks foretold of the child Cerys requested. A scampering gait, a crooked grin, a dash of flour smeared across a tanned cheek and mousy hair stiffened by salt made up the impish urchin that officially served as the cook’s errand boy. With a nimble bow, he introduced himself as Rory. It was the Lady Cerys that placed him on this ship, out of anticipation that supernatural eyes alone could not observe all that happened amongst the crew. “Your room is right next to his,” she explained. “When the Lady Evienne mentioned a young servant in her letter, we thought it would be best for you to stay near a boy your own age for the journey. Rory, if you would please?” He was a charming child, this foundling, full of boisterous tales, yet he carried himself with precocious dignity that suited the gravity of Henry’s presence. “I’ll help with the luggage. ‘S easier with the two of us than lugging all that on your own.” With the boys occupied, Cerys turned her attention upon the Lady Evienne. It is said that there are carnivorous plants located deep in the forests of Ursa Madeum, ones that looked like the wings of beautiful birds, painted by a serene brush of white and blushing pink. They produced a tantalizing scent, irresistible to insects, and were flush with a sweetened dew that small animals desperately craved. However, their surface, so innocent in its girlish colors, was too waxy and slick to provide any creature sufficient grip, particularly after a rainstorm. They would tumble down the throats of these gloating flowers and find themselves trapped in a place filled with liquid the same color and consistency of blood. It was a natural barbiturate. The plant’s prey would drink, sleep, and dissolve. Siren’s tongues, or so they were called. Cerys smiled and held out a hand to Evienne should she need to steady herself against another round of battering waves. “Tell me, how does the Lady Halisera fare? Though my focus of late has been concerned with the interior of House Morlog’s court, perhaps you could assist with my education of the exterior world.” Other murmuring banalities filled the void of conversation as they walked from the deck to the doorway that would lead to the captain’s quarters. Before the door, however, stood on of Lamius’s men. His name was Cadmus, a loyal soldier from a lineage of warriors under the service of House Morlog. His countenance was grave, his calloused hand rest upon the hilt of his sword. “Lady Cerys,” he said, and he felt his gaze drop upon the deck without quite knowing why. “Were you to see the lord, as well?” Cerys brushed windswept strands of black hair away from her red lips. “Come, you may walk with us.” What filled the hall beyond the door was the unmistakable wraith of bloodshed. Cadmus knew it, as did Cerys. He pressed ahead of the two women before he opened the door of the captain’s quarters. Tension seized his shoulders. Arteries thumped, his throat constricted. He glanced back, once, to the women still behind him, away from the stains that streaked across the floor, away from the carnage that splattered outwards from Corvus’s handiwork. His face was the color of ashes stirred into oatmeal. He shivered beneath the enchantress’s gentle touch on his arm as she passed him. “There are other ways to prove one’s point.” While it was Corvus that she spoke of, it was to Lamius that she directed her statement. “Theatrical displays of power often lack the promise of results.” There was a twisted thread that bound Lamius and Cerys together. Both were two aspects of the void. He, cthonic, austere and removed. She, alluvial, amorphous beneath her painted veil. When she stood behind him in the cast shadow of his lubriguous presence, her voice dropped once more to a serpentine whisper. “See that none disturb me for the remainder of this journey. I must work.” Even if one were watching her closely, they would have been unable to see her speak. The enchantress then led the lady to her inner chambers. Once they were safely swallowed within the confines of the crimson walls, the owl-faced spirit bound to Cerys's will appeared with a tray laden with coffee in delicate cups. Tea cakes, fresh fruit, and cream sat besides the drinks. A bowl of sugar twinkled in the candlelight. It set down the tray upon a little table in her parlor and stepped backwards into nothingness. Cerys offered a seat to Lady Evienne before gliding into the opposite chair. A pomegranate, split in half, glistened beside figs roasted with honey. Her white kitten tumbled out from her bedroom, the diaphanous chiffon of a spider's web caught in its paws. "As I mentioned to you before, my lady, it is the court of my patron's house and his lands that have garnered much of my attention. The people of Razgolay required help, and it was I that heard their pleas. Suffering, it seems, knows not the limitations of borders or class, and this is why I must ask: You have a heavy heart. What is it that you seek here?" @LikelyMissFortune & @Typhon
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