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[A.N.T.] Main Thread 2: The Treaty of 597

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A wise but reserved ruler - Chastity formed his opinion of Rozharon as she spoke. He kept in mind of that, observing that the amount of aid coming from the Taen empire would be dependent on how he described his situation. The queen would not be swayed by passioned speeches, but hard numbers. That sat well with the old paladin, who was only here to give an honest truth.

The bell rang, with it waves of magic aimed to suppress. It wasn't strong, but it was a less-than-subtle sign of who was in charge. Chastity turned towards Titus, who gave the opening speech for the talks. As the attendees filtered behind Titus into the designated room, Chastity followed unhurriedly, neither being the first or last to enter the room.

The scholars had done their research well. Besides having Chastity's name written on the badge at his seat, a small medallion of Gaia was also present at his table to mark the position for his ailing eyes. Appreciative of the gesture, Chastity used the symbol of his faith to guide him to his seat beside James Eredas. He turned towards Milorian and introduced himself to the elven man, not having had a chance to meet him in the hall. However, his words were brief, in respect of the expedient mood that their host had set.

"Everyone in this room is an equal. Speak your mind and speak freely for the future of Terrenus may rest on your words and thoughts."

There was a brief pause, an expected moment where everyone gauged who would be the first to go in this circle of equals. Chastity stood up. His cause would affect all of them, and his speech would be a different note from the political propositions that would be put forth later. The oddity of his heavy armour in the room of suits and ties (besides James) made it easy to garner attention. Within the circle, there were those present of races that were traditionally enemies of the Gaian religion, but Chastity himself was neutral towards them. The darkness of Yh'mi was a far larger threat, and even in his last battle, his paladins had fought side by side with necromancers and witches, albeit reluctantly.

"I am here to speak about a topic you might not like to hear," the old paladin started. He knew about the aversion that the rest of Terrenus had about Yh'mi - the folktales told to scare children into obedience, the untouchable land that people would rather writ out of their memories. "I am Chastity of the Order of the White Hand. I guard the borders of Yh'mi."

"You would have heard of the tales, some true and some false. The Terran military has tried for decades and failed to make headway into this land of darkness, and thus the White Hand has, for the last decade or so, taken it upon our mantle to ultimately destroy the evil. For that, we need to first explore and understand Yh'mi completely."

"It has been a hard journey. Our numbers are few; on the other hand, the enemies are many, and are capable of corruption. Recently, one of our own had been turned by the evil. He marched an army of Yh'mi's abominations against us. We lost three hundred people - half of the population in Innsth - our encampment, including one of the White Hand's greatest warriors."

"We achieved a limited victory in the battle, but with our restricted knowledge of Yh'mi, no one knows what could happen tomorrow. If the creatures of Yh'mi break through our defences, there would be no second barrier to stop these monsters from running amok and killing people." Chastity paused here, knowing that all the leaders of Ursa Madeum were present, "This very island is likely to be one of their first targets, though nowhere in Terrenus is truly safe from  Yh'mi."

"However, we have observed decreased activity in Yh'mi recently, possibly as a result of the battle. We want to take this chance to do what we had unsuccessfully attempted before - to claim a hill that we call the Furthest Point, which is a day's trek away from our encampment. The land around it is flat, and it would serve us well as a lookout point, as well as a base for us to venture even further into Yh'mi to learn its secrets."

"Unfortunately, we are still recovering from the battle ourselves. A portion of the wall that separates Yh'mi from the rest of Terrenus is broken, and reconstruction has been slow due to the lack of manpower. We need to recover faster than Yh'mi to mitigate the chance of them attacking again. Thus, my purpose here is to appeal for aid."

"The Order is requesting for fifty warriors and thirty earth mages to expedite the repair of the walls, and another hundred warriors to make the trek to the Furthest Point and defend it in the next year as we build suitable defences around it. After construction is complete, we expect that at least fifty warriors would need to be stationed there at all times. And I'll state this warning: We need experienced fighters who have proven themselves, not greenhorns fresh out of training. You will only be sending the young ones to their deaths if you do that. And even with experience, survival is not guaranteed. Yh'mi has no mercy.  But remember - if we fail, there will be no one stopping the monsters from flooding into Terrenus." The warning was necessary in case anyone was thinking of sending average soldiers to bolster their image among the other leaders. He would rather not have to bury the bodies of young men and women.

 


Proposition 1: Gather 50 warriors and 30 mages to repair the damaged wall in Inns'th

Proposition 2: Send 100 warriors to claim the Furthest Point in Yh'mi

Proposition 3: After the Furthest Point is claimed, maintain 50 warriors there at all times

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Every word was precious, every word held value, and could be important for the future. These talks were the foundation of a greater Terrenus, one that could withstand the mightiest of storms, or the most brutal of invaders. If Oscar did his work well, then he could insure a great deal of benefits from these proceedings, but only if he proceeded carefully. Kingdoms were made and broken in such events.

First to speak was Chastity, the paladin of Gaia who was beseeching the others for help in stemming the tide of darkness that lurked within Yh'mi. It wasn't hard to see how desperate the situation was, which was why Oscar chose to speak at such a time.

"The threat of the monsters in Yh'mi is very much real, and House Uldwar stands with the Gaian Church to stem the tide of evil. If you would allow it, I will send in my best knights, who will stay in these dark lands for training, performing missions and helping how they can. Yh'mi is a harsh land, but it will mold them into the legendary knights of the Order The Dogs of War, rebuilding both a strong group of warriors, and giving you the manpower you need to help win the fight against these abominations." Sitting down, Oscar knew it was a heavy investment to make, but one that was certainly worth the effort in his mind.

Cassandra, who had been sitting respectfully at her chair next to the Black Queen, was visibly shocked at her husband's pledge to reinforce the White Hand. Even the greatest of knights were reluctant to venture to such lands, and he was going to throw away their best knights in the endeavor? How many of their troops was he going to throw away before they were utterly defenseless. After seeing him sit down, she whispered softly in his hear.

"Oscar...are you sure-"

His hand was on her shoulder, that strong yet gentle part of him, which guided her back to her seat without a word of his rebuttal. "This is important, Cassandra, no one questions that. Trust me on this, I know what I'm doing."

"Sometimes I don't know who I am being told to trust. My husband, or my lord."

"Both demand your support right now in this, so do not undermine my decisions on this matter." With that their conversation was done with, and Oscar put his attention back on the other speakers. She was nothing more than an ornament, a sign that Oscar was not only a successful noble, but a good husband and father. Arguing with him on this would make him look weak, and so she kept her mouth closed, sitting at her chair like a good doll should. Such was life when one was married to nobility, no true power to speak for yourself, and too weak to be taken seriously as anything more than the superficial. So long as Oscar held onto his quest for power, their relationship would never be a true partnership, only her being the soldier, and he commanding her every move without concern or worry for her happiness.

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Gabriela knew she shouldn’t be here. She wondered if Roen had made the request, or if someone else had done so for their spouse. Whatever the case, she was to benefit from the rule change, and would be included in the discussions of the day, though her interests laid elsewhere, across the ocean to be exact, as a part of the very continent that stood in conflict with Terrenus. No, she did not belong here, and it felt oddly explicit and voyeuristic to such an extent that even the fact that her chair had been set up to reside within the cool shadows (for her comforts sake of course) seemed borderline sleazy. She was to observe the intricate and private dance of Terrenian diplomats as they went about the strenuous, dangerous, and very important task of trying to create something the likes of which had never been seen before. She wanted to sink into her seat and disappear -- but she didn’t.

 

Roen had left her seated on the very chair upon which he had found her when sweetness, kindness, and love had urged him to go and comfort her in the darkness. Of course, all of that turned into bitterness the moment they were alone, as it always does and by the end of his visit, she was left a trembling, half-dressed mess. He told her to clean up, and she did -- to the best of her ability, given the time restraints. She found the process of straightening up the disaster that he always made of her a calming endeavor. Quickly, she had brushed her hair out and rebraided it, and had then readjusted her coat and collar. Her breeches she tugged back on and smoothed as best as she could, with pale, white fingers that could not stop shaking.

 

Really -- that was the only thing that could give her away.

 

Her damn trembling hands.

 

So she made sure they were busy. Roen had left behind the black ribbon and jewels that he so often used to keep his hair pulled back. Once upon a time it had been a gift to her, but he had since taken it back and added it to his daily ensemble. Shortly after his visit, she noticed that he had forgotten it, so she took it for herself and wrapped it around her wrist, just like she use to wear it. Now that she found herself seated in her designated chair, cast into the shadows, and listening vacantly to the words of people she did not know and would not care to know, she unwrapped the ribbon from her wrist and bound it round the trembling fingers of one of her hands. Tiny jewels bit into her flesh, but the pain helped to keep her from falling apart. It gave her something to concentrate on, something to focus and meditate with.

 

The physical discomfort proved strong enough to mask her mental turmoil.

 

Gabriela sat prettily, as was to be expected from the Lady of Patia. Her booted feet were neatly crossed at the ankles and angled to one side, and her hands sat upon her lap, with a vast majority of her pale flesh hidden underneath the veil of lace cuffs. Meanwhile, she maintained a very neat posture, with her face taking on that world renown seriousness. For the moment, she did not trouble herself with appearing human. She didn’t try to adjust within her seat, or reach up to brush back wayward strands of hair behind an ear, she didn’t move much, save the steady rise and fall of her chest as she breathed. Today she fell into the comfort of her species and resided in the stone-like stillness of her kind. If she had to move, if she was forced to speak -- the facade would come crumbling down, and rather than looking like marble, she would show herself to be made of sandstone.

 

So she played her part as Roen had commanded her to do, barring the fact that his constant attacks made it that much harder for her to obey. She sat still, and was quiet, but she turned her head as was required to appear to listen to those who spoke. However, her golden eyes were vacant, looking through the old paladin who was speaking in earnest about the dire need for support that was necessary to maintain something or another -- the rebuilding of a wall, the defense of gained land, and expansion of more.

 

She had no say in this, but she wondered about Roen. At long last, she turned to see him only to find that his chair was empty. How she had gone without noticing his absence was a complete mystery, but one that she felt could be attributed to the very potent magic at work within the building. She felt a dull discomfort, but nothing more -- like a distant awareness that she could not completely do away with. But truly, what potent magic it was if it could keep her from noticing the overwhelming lack of Roen’s heavy presence.

 

Her stillness broke as she glanced behind, toward the doors. If the talks had begun, where could Roen possibly be? And for how long was she going to be allowed to be within without him by her side. She glanced at Titus, who seemed to be listening very intently to his guest. Gabriela was at a loss -- should she excuse herself? Should she remain until she was asked to leave? Should she carry on with Roen’s command to be present?

 

The ribbon around her cold fingers tightened and the crimson jewels tore a little deeper into her flesh.

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“Calm,” he said. 

The flavor of peat and spice, the heat of smoke and quenching iron, the tang of citrus, these were the things that preceded the hard, heavy hands that slid across Irene’s shoulders and squeezed dissatisfaction into cold skin with cruel fingers. He loomed behind her, dark and harrowing in mien and demeanor. A monster with the trappings of a man long distressed by named and nameless melancholies both, the Outsider came up from behind the Queen of Orisia and leaned over her shoulder, his dark, vibrant hair falling as a curtain over the display of his lips drawing close to the curve of her ear to hide his displeasure. 

And he was displeased, her tormentor. Displeased by what had transpired prior, displeased that he was here tonight, but most of all he was displeased with the world, if truths could be told. His was an unhappy existence, and what delights he had ever had to be taken, as she well knew and understood. He touched her ear with his lips, sighed warm air against the chill of the skin he found, and then he and his hands were gone from her, his attention diverting lest she consume it again as was her unwitting wont. It was not the sweet anodyne of hesitant love and icy-cold touch he sought, but rather to remind his chosen of her place.

Tonight, she was his to touch and his to rule, and it was his desire for her political acumen and not her soothing graces that made her of paramount importance here. Despite what she thought his opinion of her was, the Outsider respected Irene as a political icon if not a competent ruler, and of all the crowned heads in this room tonight, hers was the only reign that rivaled his in terms of prosperity and longevity. And she was his, a lynchpin to his machinations and beloved besides. She was beyond worth to him, beyond denomination. But he needed her whole, which was why when he took his seat beside her the Outsider reached out to take her ribbon-bound hand in his. 

What a sweet gesture, it seemed, to take her hand and hold it beneath the table, to squeeze warmth and comfort into her ruthlessly cold digits until they blossomed with the heat of him. Taking in those who were seated and listening to those who talked, Roen flicked his ruby gaze back towards Irene and tilted his head near-imperceptibly, as if he were looking inquiringly at something beyond his ken or normal understanding. Pale, unhappy, the Queen of Orisia looked unwell cowled in shadow, surrounded by light. Neverminding the man - their host - that sat at his flank, the Outsider leaned towards the Black Queen for a quick, private word of encouragement insofar as he was able to manage. 

“Gabriela,” he said, concern touching the foggiest edges of his tone. Distant, far away, even closed off, she was more than cold, she was mountainous. The trauma of their son, the urgings and passions he had placed upon her in private, she was a terrorized thing, but his expectations were merciless, as was his demands. His darling wanted to go home back to Orisia, to hide with their son and coddle themselves both in the sanctity of their kingdom, but the Outsider dashed that hope repeatedly time and again tonight, unwilling and unable to cede that maybe, in spite of all, she was not strong enough to endure. He did not consider the possibility that she was broken and unhappy and unable to be anything more than what she showed. Someone spoke of the Shadowlands of Yh’mi, of the perils brave men and women faced to stave off a darkness unknown, and the Outsider found himself torn for the moment between his chosen and his ambitions, as he seemingly ever was throughout the years, and did what he could to compromise between the two. 

“Don’t be afraid to speak,” he told her, quiet and serious. “You are the Lady of Patia.”

He left the rest unsaid, that her word carried the weight of his, perhaps even more so. It was implicit, her title. At this table and within the Black City itself or any of his holdings or interests, the Outsider’s chosen was an authority. Her opinions, her interests, even her questionings, carried the weight of her Lord. Tormented and hesitant notwithstanding, the Lady of Patia was a privileged woman, which was why she was seated here, tonight, at his side. Roen let go of her hand slowly as if loathe to relinquish it, then diverted his attention to the table and those who sat at it. After some consideration, he frowned, then nodded slowly, acquiescing to the man who spoke for aid and the desperate need thereof. 

There was a time and place for the Outsider to speak up, to put in the air his demands and desires, but now was not then. Right now he was needed to listen and observe, to take the measure of these people and their wants and needs to better understand them. But for what it was worth, he was willing to help them. An unknown threat to the Terran borders, a broken wall at the edge of darkness, it boded ill not only for the continent, but to his own inclinations towards conquest. If anything, his interests would be furthered by having a presence in Yh’mi. He already had several men in mind for the journey.. 

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Entering the meeting room alongside Varda Hildebrand, Tynes paused a moment to look over the chamber and take it in. Emperor Titus had evidently gone to lengths to ensure everyone felt comfortable and equal, a noble effort even if everyone here knew better that not all were equal. Upon finding his reserved seat was not near his current companion, he turned and gave Varda a respectful nod.

"We will have to speak again later. Until then, Lady Hildebrand." he said.

With that, he parted ways with her and took his seat, finding that it was to be Oscar Uldwar to his left, and the woman he correctly believed to be Red Yusuke on his right. He gave Oscar a quick nod of acknowledgement as he sat down, though Titus began his preliminary introduction before any attempted greeting could be offered toward the Scarlet Empress. Tynes was fine with this though, as it prevented him from saying anything ignorant or embarrassing to the woman. Instead, he could just give her a simple nod as well, before focusing his attention on their host as he explained about the event.

After Titus had concluded, the aging warrior known as Chastity stood up and explained the situation in Yh'mi. Unlike most of those present, Tynes knew little about the haunted realm or recent developments in the area. His studies had mostly been focused on political and social circumstances, which had left things like haunted geographical regions largely to the backburner. That didn't mean he had never heard of Yh'mi, just that he didn't know much beyond the most basic of information. Thus, Tynes listened intently, propping his left elbow on the table and settling his chin between his thumb and index finger, while keeping his eyes fixated on the speaker. Still, despite the seeming honesty and conviction in Chastity's voice, Tynes was loath to trust a man affiliated with the Gaian church, an entity he hoped one day to replace with the religion of his own nation.

When Oscar Uldwar stood up and proudly committed his knights to the cause, Tynes faintly raised an eyebrow, though he retained his silence. It made sense for Ursa Madeum's most militant house to use this as an opportunity to test their mettle, sending soldiers to prove themselves against the supposed horrors abroad so that when the returned home, there was nothing among the mundane world of men that they could still fear. The chairman actually wished he could do the same, but two things prevented him from speaking a word of agreement on the matter.

First was the easiest and most understandable reason, which was that he simply had no warriors to commit. Norkotia's law enforcement was provided by local sheriff's offices, many of which were more used to rescuing cats out of trees than genuine law enforcing. Militias were the closest thing they had to an army, but these were also localized, and they mostly just met in the town square for training sessions once a week, before heading to the church to host their monthly sausage breakfast benefit. The closest thing Tynes had to legitimate warriors were the mercenaries and bounty hunters that roamed the regions outside of his government's sphere of influence. Those were the men with fighting experience, but even they lacked the discipline to be worth consideration for such a dangerous mission. Given more time, Tynes planned to build a real army in Norkotia, but it was going to take some persuading to get the people to accept such a thing.

But the second reason was that Tynes saw opportunity. The more fighting men, even if it was only as few as a hundred, that were committed to holding back the Yh'mi threat, the less his eventual army may have to face when Tynes made his move to expand Norkotia's borders. It was a view he likewise held toward the so-called "Legion of Doom" that had attacked Last Chance. Enemies like that weakened Tynes's future rivals, not only militarily, but in the confidence of the people. There was an old adage that said: "Never let a crisis go to waste." which Tynes appreciated completely and thoroughly. He wouldn't help protect the world from Yh'mi until it was beneficial for Norkotia to do so...

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If you keep up the side eye your face will stick that way” James murmured to Raveena on his left in a humorous undertone. It had been a short while since they had seen each other, and he had the distinct impression that she was somewhat surprised, or at the very least taken aback by his presence here at the ANT. Was it so difficult to imagine though? After all, to his right was Sir Chastity of the Order of the White Hand, and while the other Knight was among the older members of that organization representing them, he was no ruler or regent. Similarly, the parcel of land recently granted to his Knightly Order aside, James would only shrug and say that he really just ruled himself, although he represented the Force Majeure in the highest possible stately sense.

After listening to Chastity speak,  the Daemonslayer stood up. With ringing voice and a nod of acknowledgement toward Chastity, he would pledge the Order of Force Majeure's support in whatever ways they could.

"The Order of Force Majeure are few, but we pledge to aid the Order of the White Hand in any way we are able to, regarding the persistent threat of Yh'mi. I myself have been to those lands, and can speak for the veracity of the claims Sir Chastity has made. It is not a matter that will halt at borders of nation-states, and if left truly unchecked, not at the borders of Terrenus either. If fighting men cannot be spared, then supplies will be appreciated,” he gestured at the older warrior. “Inns'th is need of carpenters, masons, blacksmiths, proper defenses can be manned with less, and I need not stress the importance of efficiency."

Everybody had something to offer. Even if the Order of Force Majeure themselves could only spare a handful of men at best, or even one Knight, that one Knight was a substantial contribution. With the prestige the Order of Force Majeure garnered in the recent Battle for Last Chance, the world learned that any number of their Knights could turn the tide of a battle and their standing infantry could not be discounted despite their meagre number. Before that, the Order had already made sure they were known to several important kingdoms and entities, amongst them, Kadia, Hyperion, Predator’s Keep, Patia, Yh’mi. Sitting back down, it was James’s hope that his word added weight to Chastity’s request... and would help bolster chances of support for his own requests later on.

After all, while the White Hand were focused on Yh’mi, the Force Majeure had a wider duty to the realms, to keep all manner of extremely serious threats, like the recent Legion of Doom, in check.

Edited by Fierach

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“Calm.”

 

He spoke to her as if she were a beast of burden, startled and finicky due to his sudden appearance. She had a sense of that comparison and a sudden dread that others would notice -- that somehow it was undeniably clear how uncomfortable he made her and how he thought himself capable of settling her anxiety with nothing but tender words and soft touches. It was just how she would talk to Shade should some mischievous woodland creature suddenly cross his path without warning, with a firm hand upon his thick neck and her fingers tangled in his black mane. Despair and shame pricked her scalp and made her turn her head away from him just as his hot breath swirled past his nostrils and danced across her jaw and down her throat. His lips were close to her ear, she could nearly feel them. But to the devil’s credit, he knew just how far to push and when to give her slack. A kiss, at this moment in time, would have reduced her to nothing more than a puddle of black tears.

 

At long last he was gone and she could breathe again. Without the worry of his whereabouts weighing her down, she was, at long last, able to lift her gaze to examine those who had gathered about the round table. Distinctly, she did her best not to shift her golden eyes toward Roen although he could not escape from her peripheral line of sight. With that same prickling feeling of electricity running across her scalp, she watched as he took a seat and adjusted his tail. He pulled up his chair closer to her, and then, much to her dread, reached out to catch one of her tightly bound hands.

 

Others were speaking, but quiet whisper cut through the discussions she was so desperately trying to listen to -- to grasp onto for safety.

 

“Gabriela,” he said, with a touch of something other than possessiveness and cruelty. She knew it was a trick -- a clever ploy often employed by the devil when he wanted to ease her hurts and seduce her back into loving him. She didn’t want to, but she knew she had to look at him. Her gold eyes regarded him as she turned her head just enough to not appear completely rude to the rest of the gathered party. She didn’t ask what he wanted, the regard of her gaze was enough to let the devil know he had her attention. Meanwhile, he held her hand and squeezed warmth into her nearly frozen fingers. The tiny cuts that his bejeweled ribbon had left along the inside of her grip began to ache terribly. Heat brought her nerve endings to life, as well as making her thick blood thaw and start to wet the inside of her palms. “Don’t be afraid to speak. You are the Lady of Patia.”

 

Her lips parted a hair's width, and the words that danced on the tip of her tongue came so close to tumbling out that she had to suck back a small, sharp breath. Her bottom lip was trembling as she broke his gaze and looked down to her lap, to her hand inside of his and the black ribbon that he was slowly curling his fingers around -- as if it were a leash, as if it were the lead to her reins. As quickly as she could, hopefully without drawing too much attention, she untangled the black ribbon from her fingers and surrendered it to Roen before twisting her hand free and setting it back on her lap. In what could have become a nervous frenzy, save that she knew her life depended on her performance, she leaned forward and collected a small white, leather bound notepad that had been provided by their gracious host.

 

She knew that Roen wanted her attention again -- that he wanted to make sure their eyes connected so that he could threaten her with wordless violence. She didn’t dare look back, and instead flipped her notebook open and plucked a pen off the table.

 

“I’ll take notes for us,” she said softly, nearly under her breath for Roen’s hearing pleasure. Meanwhile, she did find a suitable page, and she did write down the name of the old paladin as well as his very specific requests. Beyond that she managed to somehow put Roen out of her immediate mind, even with his presence bearing down on her from the side, even with his crimson eyes burning holes right into her heart.

 

She wrote, in perfect and elegant handwriting. She made a note the man named Oscar and his lady, named Cassandra, and what appeared to be a slight disturbance in marital bliss. She stared straight ahead as the woman at her side argued with her husband. She should have minded her own business, but the truth was that she was fully transfixed by the nearly inaudible squabble. Still, she managed make a note of his offer -- his best knights, the Order of The Dogs of War.

 

In her dire attempt to not turn her head to stare as Cassandra spoke to her husband, she found herself dumbly staring at Chastity. If the poor, old paladin had any inclination as to what she was, and the very nature of her existence, her voided state would probably end up confirming every ugly thing he had ever heard about vampires. But his wrinkled face, his aged appearance -- it was the anchor she clung to as her fingers went on, numbly writing the confirmation that a man named James gave to corroborate with what the paladin had said. Finally, breaking her gaze from the old warrior, she looked at Milorian, another stranger she had failed to make introductions earlier in the day. He was an elf, and at once her mind and heart flew to Eluvie. Gabriela wondered after the little halfling, before releasing a silent and heartfelt prayer for her well-being into the vast universe.

 

Milorian made a generous offer of men, one that -- given Orisia’s current military predicaments -- could not hope to match. She added this to her notes. One hundred Seekers and fifty Keepers.

 

Since it seemed that this was the moment to make offers, Gabriela made a sudden executive decision that she imagined might please Roen. It was strange -- surreal even -- to know and feel herself making decisions and taking actions for the sake of pleasing a monster who considered himself her Lord and Master. And then, just as she intended to begin speaking, a painful metaphoric stab in her gut made Gabriela realized that she too considered him just that, Lord and Master.

 

“I am sorry,” she cleared her throat, she didn’t stand -- her legs were rubber under the table, softer than the leather of her boots. “Pardon me…” she cleared her throat, and straightened, adjusting her notebook before her on the table as a means to distract from her mounting discomfort. “As some of you may or may not know, due to a very recent, and very tragic, events -- there are a good many displaced Orisians. The recent destruction of Antigua, their city, has left a vast population of highly skilled men and women without a permanent home. While our small nation can accommodate for them places to live and rebuild their lives, I know that it would not be difficult to find those who would take on your cause, dear sir,” she looked at Chastity, her gaze no longer a blank void. Her eyes were far warmer when there was intent behind them. “Along with master builders from Orisia, your neighbor to the North,” she tilted her head, she glanced at Roen -- except, it was his chin, his lips that she looked at before looking back to the Paladin, “while a good distance away, is in a position to offer you lumber with which to build and supplies with which to feed your people. Speaking for Orisia, we would only require a safe port and secure passage for living, safe for both my human as well as my vampyric subjects, as they attempt to help your people in this important endeavor.”

 

From what she could remember, Patia was surrounded by dense woods -- glorious trees that she had often admired. She recalled, the beautiful woodwork she had seen done in both buildings as well as furnishings. It did not rival Orisian artisan work, but it was still very good. As for the production of produce, she had never seen fields of grain beyond the Patian walls, but that hardly mattered. Lumber or produce, what Patia could not provide, Orisia would, only to have the Patian King take the glory.

 

What did glory matter to her? What had it ever mattered…

 

She was just a workhorse now.

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”I’ll take notes for us,” she said. 

Roen hummed gentle acknowledgement and turned his attention away from Irene, his fingers idly playing with the dormant Hræðilegr she relinquished back to his possession. He twined it around his fingers, indulging in his sense of the tactile the way an anxious man might fiddle, and listened with fading interest to the conversation at hand. It was not a lack of care that drew his thoughts away, but rather a sense of satisfaction if not confidence in those who spoke. They revealed depths of kindness and compassion within themselves that endeared each to the Outsider, and their generosity left him able to set Yh’mi and the dilapidated Inn’th aside in terms of consideration. He decided to trust them, and was content to harbor the will of sending only a handful of men and women to the border town as a token gesture, and not a full committal that would require a deeper and more enduring investment in terms of logististics and attention. 

There were other matters that had to be considered tonight, and there was only so much he was willing or able to invest in. 

Rather, he focused on the men and women themselves, not so much for the words they spoke but the visages they presented. A character study, the Outsider’s gaze slid from one member of the table to the next, drinking in their expressions and etching them on the slate of his mind. They were universally attractive, which did not go unappreciated by their unseemly voyeur. Ugly within and harrowed without, the Outsider had a deep fascination with the beautiful ones, as partially evidenced by his obsession with Irene beside him. So he looked and he admired, and he sighed with some degree of pleasure to be among them, he who was ever on the outside. This envy, this appreciation for the aesthetic continued until his chosen found her voice again. Not the private, hushed one reserved for him, the false voice of subservience, but her true one, the one he loved. 

Roen turned his head, leveling the weight of his scrutiny on Irene while she cleared her throat and raised her voice. Oh, what a lovely thing it was, seeing her come to life. Pleasure was not the word for it; this bordered on divinity, of revelation. Would that he could smile, would that he could applaud or dance and kiss her! Happiness was but a word, but now it had a face, and that was Irene’s and the warm glow her eyes took when she took regal initiative. It mattered not what she ventured, he was her champion in that instance. His flagging interest renewed, he reconsidered Yh’mi and Inn’th, and the logistics thereof. Nevermind that she quickened him with a look and hardened his resolve, she offered his aid and he was all too in love with her vigor to think of refusing. He drew in breath, set his palms on the table - Hræðilegr twined around the fingers of his right hand - and seemed prepared to speak, to add his voice to Irene’s accented one as supporting counterpoint, until Oscar opened his mouth.

A dissenter, Roen thought to himself, much the same way a man might consider a gale as the precursor to a storm. 

He looked away, and beneath the table coiled his tail around Irene’s slender ankle and lower calf like a restraining hand for her, and an anchor for him. He was not pleased, the Outsider, but now was not the time for theatrics, nor thrilling ripostes on either of their parts. At least, not yet. Patience honed the edge of indignation, so he was patient, and in that patience took the opportunity to listen as others spoke in their stead if not their defense. Untwining  Hræðilegr from his fingers and laying the ribbon on the table, Roen reached for the leatherbound book and pen given to them by their hosts, and started to write with the furrowed brows of a studious scholar. Interestingly, there was nothing of substance to this machination. He did not take notes, he did not record observations. What he did do was far more amusing to himself, and had the added benefit of keeping his hands occupied and lending him the appearance of the unconcerned elsewise.

He drew an unflattering caricature of Oscar. He wrote insults to sound them out in his head that had the misfortune of combining slang across several centuries in the same breath. He drew a heart around an ‘R + G’ with an arrow going through it. Roen was tempted to show these things to Irene to elicit a reaction from her, favorable or otherwise, to sow confusion among the others, but he contained his capacity for mischief, and kept to himself. The Lord of the Black City was in the process of drawing a flattering shot of Irene’s profile in his notebook when he heard his name called. Lifting his eyes, the Outsider gazes upon those who prompted his reaction, and frowned at each of them in turn. Then he went back to his drawing, practicing his cross-hatching and shading after stealing a glance at his chosen’s stony countenance. 

He spoke to Chastity, first and foremost. 

“If it is skilled laborers Inns’th needs, you will not find a workforce more acclimated to esoteric adversity than native Orisians. Queen Irene may transport those volunteers who wish to relocate to the nearest ports outside The Path, where airships will be waiting to transport them to Inns’th, or the lands owned by Lord Milorian.” 

A pause; heavy and pregnant. Roen’s brows contracted. 

“The Black City will provide the stone and lumber needed to facilitate the repairs needed at Inns’th and the construction of a forward operating base at Furthest Point. I’ll dispatch a bailiff to Inns’th to open a dialogue with its quartermaster to schedule bi-weekly shipments of produce from Orisia and Patia, until such time the Free Marches become a sustainable source of foodstuff. Accompanying him will be Tarquinius of Falis, an Orisian knight and a powerful paladin besides, and four others at my discretion. My knowledge of the Shadowlands is limited, and they will be my eyes and ears on the terrors that threaten Terrenus and the world beyond.” 

The Outsider lifted his pen and inspected Irene’s unfinished profile on the pad, his frown deepening, then looked up and focused his attention on Oscar for the span of a few heartbeats before returning to his work. 

I give Queen Irene the right to be here,” Roen replied to the most relevant of the man’s questions. “I invite you to consider the implications of that in regards to laws, ceremony, and Gaia itself, but preferably in silence. And let the record show: if one-eye insults Queen Irene again, I will demand satisfaction. Her Majesty is a queen, a lady, and my lover besides; our child, Prince Ethan Philippe Du’Grace, will one day rule our respective territories. The man will treat Her Majesty with all due respect as a gentleman would, or I will thrash him like the cur he is pretending to be.” 

He hummed softly, low and smooth. 

“We didn’t come all this way to be insulted, Your Imperial Majesty,” he said to Titus at his flank. 

Edited by Roen

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It was dangerous to let a powerful Empath in a room with so many volatile emotions.

 

Raveena remained silent, and at James’ quiet spurring, shut her eyes. She remained a still and beautiful creature, poised calmly between regent and ruler. It was difficult to tell of the Emperor was a sadist, or if she bore the makings of a masochist. She would have been mistaken for sleeping, but behind the veil of lashes and closed lids, her eyes followed the conversation.

Lady Irene had finally become wise to her lonely father’s antics and united with the father of their son—and that was for the better. Like Raveena, she was an oddity in the room, but had every right to be there as Roen had stated—this much she agreed to.

The pads of her fingers settled on her temple, the cheek resting in the palm of her hand and Raveena leaned left in her seating. She exhaled a sigh, easing to relax in her seating. More requests. More accusations.

Words, words, words.

For a moment, she couldn’t discern between voice. For a moment, their voices died down—and only the facts remained:

Yh’mi and its war.

A war that threatened to envelop Terrenus.

A plea for help.

Resources, offered.

Aid, acquired.

Unions and alliances, forged.

Dissent.

“No.” She spoke above the dissent clearly, authoritatively.

Rousing from her peaceful lull—the Empath pulled herself from the quaint meditative state to address the misguided notion of House Uldwar. She eased forward and sat primly at the edge of her seat. Dainty hands laced together as her elbows propped themselves on the table. She rest her chin on the shelf and leveled her piercing gaze at Oscar.

“The Carmine Empire will not invade Terrenus on my authority, and mine alone.” Her gaze cut to the Lord and Lady of Patia, nodding respectfully, “I was tasked along with others to thwart a war campaign directed at Patia. The Carmine Empire does not take to those of power seeking to abuse it to settle old scores. My father may have a distaste for Terran politics, but he does not meddle in their affairs unless it affects the Empire directly.” You're welcome, she added silently.

She turned her gaze to Chastity and softened with sympathy, “You feel weary, Ser Chastity. We are here for you.” Raveena, petite and entirely too small for the seat she sat in, leaned back and let her feet dangle casually while nodding thoughtfully, “I will happily clear my schedule and visit the lands and commune with the western leyline before my return overseas. It may be poisoned.”

“I would send my Peacekeeper to assist your warriors—for she is formidable as a war mage specializing in Earth. Unfortunately, she is working with my Hyperian regent on an emergency crisis relief project I will touch on more, later.” She narrowed her gaze thoughtfully, her dark brows knitting together as she thought her options through carefully. When she was sure she had a viable contribution, she regarded Chastity thoughtfully again.

“Instead, I will assemble a team from the newly minted Thrive Conservation to assess the lands and assist in creating some stability while the western front is quiet. They consist of many experts in science, magic and magitech to assist in rehabilitating the land until it is arable again. It isn’t much at all, but it is there for you to utilize.”

Raveena’s clasped hands had landed in her lap through her proposal, but they pulled apart again as she sank into her seat, the tension of discord grating across her skin, leaving her discomforted. The Sefirot Queen was still a mere ethereal sponge, soaking up the emotions of those around her—a metaphorical net that she had not had to deal with for some time.

Rowan’s ability to buffer against these things had given her a measure of comfort and freedom. To read a book without inheriting the emotions poured into its contents, to press a palm to a tree without doubling over, writhing with slow agony, weariness and sadness. Rowan could offer no such peace to her now, and so she suffered with grace and dignity.

Satisfied that she had cleared the air of that grievous misinformation on House Uldwar’s part and offered her aid to Ser Chastity, Raveena lapsed into comfortable silence. Her meditation would be the singular buffer against the onslaught of insufferable hubris.

@jaistlyn

@Fierach

@Roen

@Grubbistch

Edited by Deus Ex Aizen

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Varda is—well, she is not exactly expecting such a dispute, so early in the discussions.

She gives Chairman Tynes a look from across the table, carefully not catching Lord Uldwar’s eye. Seated where she is, between Lord Mythal and the Empress of Taen, a few seats away from the Lord and Lady of Patia, it takes all she has not to give away the distress coursing through her veins.

She is not well-versed in politics, that masquerade of smoke and mirrors and personal gains, but she knows this: there is no room for strife in one’s heart when there is much at stake.

When she speaks for the very first time in the assembly, it is soft and hesitant, but measured and determined.

“House Hildebrand will follow House Mythal and Queen Irene’s example and pledge all the food and supplies we can offer. We have vast farmlands and ample resources which would best serve a cause such as your own, um, Lord Chastity.” She turns her head to the left and smiles at the old paladin. “We cannot yet spare our knights to fight, as we are in the process of rebuilding that which we have lost, but we would rather help in an area we are most experienced in.” The flowers she is yet to offer to the rest of the gathering sit patiently in her lap, offering her solace in the anxiety that this brings. She does not wrangle them to crushed petals and creaking stems, but it is a close thing. “Empress Raveena’s offer to assess Yh’mi’s lands is very much beneficial in our eyes, and so my house would like to pledge our assistance in this matter as well. My sister Aspen is accomplished in the field of crop development, which could perhaps be helpful in someday allowing farmland in Yh’mi.” Her tone shifts her last statement into a question, but she continues on. “I would also like to extend the services of my brother Nairne, as he is a herbalist and could formulate medicine for the warriors on the frontlines.” Having made her offers, Varda smiles at everyone around the table, her heart full and optimistic, before returning her gaze to the knight of Yh’mi. “This dark war concerns us all, and thus, you will have my utmost support, Lord Chastity.”

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