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LotE: All Roads Lead to Glia

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Olivia tilted her head, stared first at Orsola then at Madon. She shrugged.

“Well, if it should be your demand. All of those demands, I can be convinced to meet. The devil is the details, as they say – and we may speak of this later, Madon. For now, I think it suffices to make the decision of the hour. For a long time Byrn and Zenith have made motions of aggression. Glia has been thus spared, if only by distance, but Isore has not. Today you’ve come to me with a formal request for aid. I would like to formally grant this request – honoring the long history which Isore and Glia share together, and the friendship that these two countries have held between each other for a thousand years. Although Orsola has given us warning for the future, it is in the present we live, and it grows readily apparent that the great evil of the present is Byrn. Orsola has claimed we will triumph.” Olivia smiled. “I intend to bring that to a reality that we can see. Levitica.”

The Custodian snapped to attention.

“Draft the announcement and have it out by courier before tomorrow, to all cities within our domain, particularly the southern bastions on the Isorian border. This is a formal declaration of war from the joint councils of the Princesses of the Tower – today, all of Glia will act towards the singular goal of putting an end to Byrn’s unjustified and undue aggression. All divisions are authorized for homeland defense. They will be stopped, by any means necessary.”

Olivia rose. A shadow fell on the balcony; great, beating wings followed the heartbeat pulse of the pegasus’ descent unto the marble. An attendant dismounted, bowed to Olivia. The Princess straddled the mount, whipped the reins.

“Madon. My quarters are on the 50th floor. When you are finished here, ask one of the attendants to show you the way. There are some things...” Her eyes briefly alit on Orsola. “...that we must speak about in private.”

With that, the pegasus and rider galloped off the edge, falling into a swoop, and flew in a tight spiral towards the tower heights.

 

Edited by saga juliet

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After Olivia had departed, Wymp retrieved Arbalest from the table, and then turned toward Madon as he secured the crossbow on his back once more.

"Madon. Be frank with me, which of those demands do you honestly think Olivia will agree to?"

The Exarch didn't respond for a few moments, instead savoring a cup of the tea that had been laid out before them. Then, he set down the cup and spoke.

"Orsola's demand? That one isn't too unlikely to be accepted. A request for reconsideration of the matter of the Dragon Emblem shards if things seem to be going very wrong? Not very much commitment involved there. As for my own... the request to be pointed to where we can best help will be an easy yes. Save Glian manpower-"

He paused and chuckled for a moment.

"-for other operations, use my force to further Glia's goals. Dragonslaying weapons? Could go either way on the custom forges, and it's more likely any legendary weapons withing Glia will be handed to the upper ranks of theirs over us. As for the last two, the pledge of restoration and searching for Lily... we'll see. I'd speculate the latter will be denied, while the former is a touchy matter that will likely require further negotiation."

Wymp nodded in acquiescence.

"Well, as long as you've thought this through, my liege. God willing, we can get what we want and what we need both, with minimal fuss."

As the Exarch and his right hand chatted, Orsola stared at Levitica. The so-called Custodian... something about her held the attention of the Exarch of the future. Like there was something about her that was more than met the eye. After a bit, she turned away and shook her head. Perhaps it was nothing.


Anselm turned an indignant gaze turned Amber and Crystal for a moment.

"Ladies, forgive my bluntness, but unless this assassin is totally impervious to harm or something... if myself, quite possibly the most powerful mage on Erasmia, can do nothing against this assassin, then your friend certainly is doing nothing but walking into their certain death."

-----

When Olivia returned to her quarters, she would find herself not alone, as she had expected herself to be. Anselm sat at one of the comfortable chairs by the fireplace, turned to face not towards the flames, but out towards the wider area of the room. Oddly out of place, for was she not supposed to be attending to the some of the companions in the Exarch down in her own quarters on the 13th floor? Before she could vocalize such a thought, Anselm snapped her fingers. Doors slammed shut and locked, windows clamped down and curtains drawn over them. Every entrance sealed, except she did not hear the sound of the concealed servants' entrance closing. A potential escape route, but would take more time to open then there was if the situation was truly as it seemed.

Only the light of the licking flames in the fireplace illuminated the room now. And even in that dimmer light, it became even more obvious that there was something wrong. The eyes... those weren't Anselm's grey eyes, the cloudy but calm color of clouds that would darken to become the clouds of a storm when roused to anger. These were an icy blue. A cold, sharp, and almost lifeless gaze. The eyes of an assassin. This would further be signified by the loaded crossbow that "Anselm" had laid against their lap. Which they rose in a swift aim, and fired at Olivia. Instinct brought her to swiftly sidestep the bolt, which embedded itself into the far wall. The assassin growled annoyedly, and began to load another bolt. As they did so, Olivia called upon her power. A mighty spell of Light and Goodness, one that should purge this dark imposter.

An incantation whispered, remembered from that heavy tome. Light suffused the room, as if the roof above was clouds parting to let in the light of the heavens. A wide beam of light shined on the assassin, and they shielded their eyes as they scanned for the source. The beam narrowed significantly, focusing on the assassin's heart. A large sparkle of light descended the beam, and on contact with the assassin... light burst in an interweaving pattern all around the assassin, the great power engulfing then and assuredly smiting them down.

Spoiler

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When the light faded... the assassin stood there, completely unscathed. They chuckled darkly, a deep, masculine tone.

"Oh? What, was that supposed to kill me or something? Now, Princess... you insult me. I wouldn't come to you unprepared!"

With that, he drew a dagger and lunged forward with a dagger drawn from the folds of the dress he wore. Olivia rolled behind a table, the odd, powerful-looking knife biting into the wood. The two began a merry chase around the room, Olivia using the furniture to block attacks and throwing them forward to knock the assassin off balance. All thoughts of spellcasting forgotten, no weapons on hand to retaliate martially, if that would even have done anything. The assassin, constantly lunging forward with his dagger like a persistent snake, the loaded crossbow in his other other hand awaiting the perfect shot.

Though the assassin was knocked to the ground once, and pinned there with a knocked over table, he managed to extricate himself. The chase eventually ended with the assassin's dagger thrown and catching Olivia's collar, pinning her to the wall behind her. The assassin's crossbow fired but a moment later, the bolt striking true and sinking deep into her right lung. The assassin dropped the crossbow, his expression savoring an incoming kill as he drew forth a concealed scimitar and advanced toward Olivia.

A bookshelf along the northern wall moved backwards under its own seeming power, and it, along with an accompanying section of wall, slid behind the other bookshelves, out of sight, to reveal a concealed entrance into the room. The real Anselm, the Saintess, rushed into the room, followed by the guests she had been supposed to be attending to. She froze, however, the moment she caught sight of the assassin, and the wound that Olivia had taken.

Edited by EpicRome23

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"Oh God... Amber!"
Amber shut her eyes and drew her rapier. "She's still alive! I got her!" She let loose her healing magic.
"Hey! You!" Crystal stepped forward, having to do something to distract the assassin. "Look at you. I've heard all about you. Sent to assassinate the princess. But look at you. Disguised as a woman. Using magic to make you immune to their attacks. What kind of man are you? You're not one. You're a coward."
"One whose name will live forever in infamy, the killer of Princess Olivia of Glia, of Sorrow." The words Crystal spoke didn't have an immediate effect, but obviously the assassin was trying to hide it. "Stand aside, you can do nothing but try and use your words as a weapon against me, the dull knife as they are."
Crystal pulled her sword out of her sheath. "Your name will live in infamy... as the man who dressed in drag. I know how history goes, and all that will be brought up with your 'accomplishment'. When they speak of you, they will remember what you have done... and they will laugh at your name, for they will better remember you for how you did it. You wish to prove them wrong? Face me in a duel. At least earn your right to your claim to fame."
Crystal struck a nerve with that line. "I... what does it matter if I did the deed while in drag? They will never know if I don't leave any witnesses!" He pulled the dagger out of the wall and brandished a scimitar.
Crystal struck a fighting pose and waited for the assassin to make the first move, and the two locked into an intense duel, blades clashing and the sound echoing through the chamber.

Edited by NuclearCommando

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Tolok had nurtured a bizarre hope of victory at hand. Rooted in an appraisal of his own cleverness, of a faith that everything might turn out this time among all other times, without considering the motions of others: he believed that he’d got them this time, folks.

Owend and the shield bore down upon her, as if shot fired by a cannon, and Severa answered it in the same exact way: she faced it with two bare hands. No need of a lance for this. Ducking to the side, she grasped the haft as it came down and, leveraging the force of Owend’s descent, the princess slammed Owend into the ground. Only the knight’s ferocious twist of the body prevented the impact headfirst: she struck it with the back of her shoulder. Severa let go of the lance and kicked Owend until lance and knight both rolled some dozen feet away, grunting.

So, failure again. Nothing had truly changed.

Except Tolok. Tolok believed that this was victory. And this made him obstinate.

His dark bulk plunged through the wall of fire without warning, hardly a moment after Severa parried Owend away and lunged at her, body and hair still streaming with flames. Her reaction was frame perfect. She swung her leg up, striking him square in the torso with her shin so fiercely he gasped, and felt a little of lunch jolt into his throat – but he brought his arms down and held. Fingers digging into the iron of her thigh, he held. When she tried to stand his own feet scrabbled at the ground, pushing mightily forward, threatening to trip her.

Severa grit her teeth and whirled around stomping into his chest, just as Owend got to her feet, leveled Blinkstrike, and charged her at vanishing speeds.

Tolok had lost the edge of care. With neither shield nor sword to hide behind, he held her mightily with only a prayer to prevent him from being skewered should Owend have struck false. With the struggle between Severa and Tolok as tumultous as it was – Tolok flung around like a doll while Severa held desperate balance on a single leg – Owend may well have.

But the knight did not, and Tolok had faith, and that’s all she wrote.

Nearly on top of them, Owend slashed her lance in a wide arc that would’ve severed a lesser man’s leg, and just hardly missed the top of Tolok’s scalp. Not Severa. Severa caught Blinkstrike at the neck just as the tip closed near her thigh and, pivoting once again, flung Owend the other direction, sending the woman flying through the flames. Then she kicked her other leg twice more.

Tolok, battered limp, fell from her leg onto the ground.

Severa stood straight, surveyed the two fallen opponents. Owend struggled to her feet, smoky, and fell onto her knees with a grunt. Her ankle clearly dislocated by the last bad landing.

“This ought to qualify as defeat by technical, but.” Severa sat down, cross-legged, with Blinkstrike lying across her lap. She lifted the tip, inspected it. A thin sliver of red lay upon the edge like gilding. A matching arc of red made itself visible, a thread of beads of blood, on the top of her left thigh. “Two for two, I suppose. Good job, Lieutenant. And credit to Tolok for braving the fury of this lance. If you had done a poorer job of holding, or if the Lieutenant had not been so precise, she may well have cut you in half.”

A few onlookers clapped briefly. They were accustomed to watching such combats. Whatever the outcome, their recreation was sated.

One woman stepped into the ring, helped Owend to her feet. With a grunt, she snapped her ankle back into place. They draped wet towels over both Tolok and Owend, offered them flagons of water.

“Well, Owend? Feeling better?”

“A little,” she said shakily. She drank. “Yeah. I think.”

“Prepared to face the music?”

“No.” The knight thought she felt a little more bottom drop out from her stomach, but the adrenaline and the mixture of pains all over her body made her unsure.

“You’re capable of many things, Lieutenant. Now, you’ve beaten me twice.”

“That’s a strong word, Princess, ‘beaten’. In fact those are a lot of strong words.”

“Strength is your chief virtue, Owend, is what I believe.” Severa shrugged. She handed Blinkstrike back to her. “You are free to leave, but the truth is you’re hardly free at all. The reason you cannot is because you are strong. Your heart is strong, and it is the shackle that binds you here. You cannot possibly flee from it forever, because your cowardice isn’t half as mighty.”

The knight took the lance wordlessly. She jammed the end into the ground and rose, trembling.

Severa rose as well, and offered a hand to Tolok.

“Follow. I would like to see if you can tease out the last bit of Owend’s cowardice and crush it like the parasite worm it is.”

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The thrown dagger – slim as it was long – plunged through her collarbone, right through the throat, and embedded into the wooden paneling on the wall. The Princess reached up a hand to grasp its hilt. The assassin reared into her swimming vision, aimed. She hardly moved out of the way. The bolt narrowly missed her heart, puncturing through her lung and serving as the second tack which pinned her against the wall. She exerted all the force she could muster. She yanked the dagger out of her throat, grasping it furiously in her bloodsoaked hand. Red splattered down the front of her robe. The Princess didn’t seem to mind.

“Bastard,” she half-gasped, half-hissed. She took the end of the bolt in both hands, snapped it in half and pulled out the tail. “Ssssshould’ve hit where you aimed.”

She stumbled forward two steps, then buckled over a table, toppling over onto the ground, just as the Anselm and Amber broke into the room.

One last, pillowy sensation eased her into the long dark, which her body recognized as a healing spell; and it remembered what to do: survive.


 

 

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Anselm watched the assassin and Crystal clash blades. The latter... surely had something in mind to harm him. Though she couldn't see how that could possibly be. A mage as skilled as herself could devise a way to bypass the assassin's protection, she knew. But to do so... it wasn't something to casually reveal to all but total strangers. Allies of the Exarch of Isore. No, she would only watch for now, unless she was left with no other recourse. A fragment of wind made manifest moved about her slightly outstretched hand, held back from being expanded and launched by force of will. If the plan of Anselm's guests did not bring results soon, then it would be down to her to resolve this situation, and soon, before the assassin caught onto Amber's healing of Olivia and put a halt to it. 

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The end of the battle has been decided, once and for all. Tolok is, honestly, a knight others would look up to, if they were to consider his bravery. His bravery was something out of ordinary. So out of the ordinary, that the "ordinary" bravery would only be seen in the fairytale books about shiny knights in strong, heavy armors. Handsome, powerful, smart, but their most important attribute was bravery. The bravery that lead them to defeat demons, dragons, armies and save pretty princesses, the books ending with a happy ending for the forces of good and the forces of the dark would suffer in silence, behind the curtains, asking for help, as their pleas become more silent with every second that passes, until nobody hears them.

And that was Tolok. His bravery was to be commended: fighting a very strong individual by himself, sacrificing himself in the name of the victory... His bravery could be mistaken for recklessness, but one was to be proud of doing something stupid enough to get him killed, without thinking it further and the other was to use your last card, the last resort, the surprise element and hanging by a thread, knowing your partner will help. And so it happened... The battered man picked the towel with his shaky hand and rubbed it on his face in a few rotations. He was so out of this world, with a stupid grin on his face, exhilarated by the victory, that he didn't realize he was not even rubbing his face anymore, but moving the towel in the air. He stood up, shakily, with the help of Severa and grimaced, as his temporary injuries started showing up. Lots of bruises, as a note for all the slams he took part in as he held her by the thigh. But he didn't care.

"I can see you took note of my pride and endless hope... I am proud. No. I am happy I aided Owend in the battle. I was sure she wouldn't miss her target and she didn't manage to disappoint." He gave a warm smile to Owend, being proud of her. Of course he would after this victory, like anyone would be for their partner, friend, lover and so on. "What is this music you mentioned, Princess Severa?" He struggled to walk after his sword and shield, but managed to pick them up and put his beloved sword in the scabbard that would let the weapon rest until its help was needed. He just kept the shield on his left hand, as a decoration, a sign of pride related to his father, his family. The place where he came from and where he turned from a boy to a man.

He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, preparing for whatever had to come. He knew this would not be easier than this fight, it would probably turn out to be even more difficult and even more dangerous than this fight. "If that is the case, I would gladly help her become better, with every step she has to take." He drank a bit of water from the flagon, before giving it back to one of the ladies which offered him. "Even with a limp hand and these injuries, I will continue fighting. I honestly don't care anymore about these wounds, for I want to get done with this." He now followed Severa, keeping an eye on everything they would walk along the halls she would redirect the party to. He was either excited, nervous, unsure, prideful or all of the above. You couldn't tell from his face's expression.

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Crystal and the assassin were locked into what could be described as a wordless, elegant dance. Whenever one got the upper hand, the other eventually managed to turn it around. This back and forth lasted for what seemed like an eternity, but after four minutes, Crystal had managed to disarm the dagger from the assassin and locked blades with his scimitar.
It was at that moment Crystal made her move. She pushed her weight forward into the blade, breaking the lock and knocking the assassin off balance and into a back pedal. It was the opening she needed. Both hands gripping her sword, she charged forward, and aimed a thrust towards the assassins gut.

And struck true. The blade pierced through the assassin and burst out his back, causing him to scream out in pain. His scimitar clattered to the ground, drowned out by his screams.

Crystal's look of determination did not fade as the blade rested in the body temporarily. Finally, Crystal stepped back, pulling the sword out of the assassin's gut in the process, and the assassin dropped to the floor clutching his gut. "It's over."

Amber had just finished triaging Olivia and caught the very end of the fight, her face showing only slight surprise at what happened before returning her focus to helping Olivia recover.
Eve, meanwhile, was smiling from the sidelines. She was entranced by the sword fight, and quite pleased by the outcome.

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The assassin's screams of pain faded into disbelieving silence. How? How was he dying?! There was not a man in the room... unless, his opponent... it was either that, or the enchantment had been dispelled. But it couldn't have been, he still felt its protective power around him! Mustering strength, he laughed for a moment.

"You... you hypocrite..."

He fell silent again. His strength was fading at a faster and faster pace. There was nothing to do but await death. Or was there? Even with blackness creeping in at the edges of his vision, his gaze fell upon his crossbow, abandoned, within reach. One bolt loaded, aimed in Olivia's direction... all he needed was a moment to raise it slightly and fire, one last shot to finish the job. Gathering the last of his strength, he lurched forward-

And a high-heeled shoe slammed into his outstretched hand, producing a loud crunch from the bones within. Anselm stood above the assassin, with an angry gaze. She grinned maliciously as wind energy began to swirl about her hand.

"Your undoing? You should have killed me first, instead of hoping I'd stay drugged and leaving my death to your accomplice. Never leave to others what you can do for yourself, and may that lesson be burnt into you in the fiery depths of where you're undoubtedly going."

She thrust her hand forward, and a small tornado ripped the assassin from the ground and went along the length of Olivia's quarter, before it rapidly ascended into the air and burst through one of the windows with the dying assassin. Shards of glass were pulled in by the tornado as it began a rapid descent to the ground below... fifty stories down. He didn't even have the strength to scream any further.

Anselm turned back towards the others as the sounds faded away.

"Olivia should end up fine, relatively. Her resilience outstrips my own, and compares favorably to Severa's. Nevertheless, we'll remain here until Amber is through healing her."

A heavy gaze fell on Crystal as Anselm turned once again.

"You and I, Crystal... there is much we must discuss, once we return to my quarters."

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The purpose of the combat became clear to Owend as they arrived at the steps again. She had been too afraid then to wonder, but now she understood why the Princess had given up her force so quickly, and why Tolok’s words, nearly bordering on insolence, made Severa only smile and offer them a spar. The Princess, the Grey Knights imagined, had always gotten her way by force. It might not have been a fair assessment but a woman like that, with a title like that, has a great deal of power at her disposal.

Owend knew better, had known better ever since the Princess laid eyes on her and thought to make a friend of her. The Princess took things by force, but she was clever. She used force to exhaust hearts, to chase them forever, and to change them. She was endurant; she never stopped at anything. It was a purely humane force.

Tolok, too, had been won by it. He had been won by her in the same as all the others had: by force. The Princess exerted her immense force and when he stood against it, when he was given the chance to cast his own shadow by that light, shine his own courage and strength and match it against hers – why, Tolok was happy. Tolok believed now, beaten to the point where he could hardly stand, that he was at the heights of his own power. And he was right. In this moment he was mighty.

That was the sort of power Severa had: to shine brightly, and to incorporate others into the weave.

As they approached the steps, Owend felt the same sort of dread of before rise within, but was sluggish. She found that, buried beneath all the bruises and batters, she didn’t care so much any-more. The combat had driven neither dread nor fear from her, but it imbued her with the invulnerability of the tired, the strength of the resigned. And maybe there was a glimmer of hope there – that she could rise to the heights that were expected of her.

Severa did not stop this time, nor did Owend – she hardly hesitated at all. Tolok followed behind, grinning like a fool. They descended down a corkscrew driven deep into the depths of the Tower. Little by little, the lights winked out. Tolok seemed to offer a light – Severa waved him off.

“Please. A guest shouldn’t be made to work.” She lifted her arms, flexed her fingers opposite one another. A spark; then an arc of ripping purple lightning leapt from one finger to its opposite. Then another arc came, and another, and another, until it appeared as if the Princess were playing Cats’ Cradle with the workings of the sky.

Severa spread her hands, and the arc stretched up into a rainbow arc above her head.

“This is a look-don’t-touch kind of situation,” she advised.

Olivia held a perch in the heights of the Tower, from which she could see the whole world spread out from beneath her and take accounting of what was theirs. The Princess of White was the princess of reigning spirit, of healing, of love – of country, of people. She was the princess who ruled with benevolence and an eye towards kindness.

Severa, the Princess of Grey, did not need to know over what they ruled; she only needed to know how to destroy their enemies. She was the Seraph, the sword of the Empire. About ten stories below-ground, the stairs terminated into an empty chamber, boxes of old lances, unused mannequins, and spare lumber scattered dustily about. She touched a stone; a wall slid open.

“This isn’t the real front door, of course,” she said to Tolok. “But given your lack of pegasus, there isn’t any other way about it.”

The passageway was a straight shot forward. Natural light had all but vanished long before, and now all that cast shadows were the Princess’s arcs of lightning. They walked for a long time – had Tolok been keeping track, he would have realized they’d long left behind the above-ground dimensions of the Tower, and began to move beneath the city proper. And still they went.

At last, they came to a door. Glittering motes of orange light wafted from around its edges. Sounds of water falling bled through. Severa moved one end of the arc to a metal plate embedded into the wall of the passage.

The door opened.

“The truth,” Severa said, stretching herself out on a satin couch built for two, “is that this is the terminus of the last escape route out of the Tower. Obvious enough, I’m sure. But leak this secret to anyone else, and.” She chuckled, poured herself a drink from the bottle of whiskey at the end-table. “Well, Owend knows best how to choose her friends. I have at least that much faith in her.”

The room was as decadent a room as any in the entire Tower. Silk sheets rumpled atop an enormous bed, satin couches, cedar bureaus. There was a kitchenette which fed into a discreet chimney, and a small creek of cold, clear water which ran through the center of the room – cave water – over which small bridges of cedar sat like miniatures.

What made it stand out were two things. The first, the west wall:

If Tolok were to know his geography, he would have recalled that the city of Glia were situated at the junction of two rivers: the mighty Hethon, and the smaller Lazomac. That was mere geography. Without an inspection of the full perimeter of the city, he would not have realized that the city itself served as a dam for the Lazomac’s effluence. The snowmelt river flowed directly into the city from the highlands and split into a dozen aqueducts which eventually cascaded in wide ribbons into the Hethon.

If Tolok were to have a sense of direction, he would realize that they were just beneath where the Fifth Aqueduct fell out of Glia. The western wall of the Princess’s quarters was a single, thick sheet of transparent water, through which the setting sun burned a shimmering shadow-play into the room. The western edge was lined by an elevated lip of marble, but no handrail. Distantly beneath, the waters of the Lazomac pounded the Hethon into frothing surf.

The second thing which stood out among all else in the room – and this is what captivated Owend’s attention from the moment she entered – was the lance mounted atop the wall. It was unremarkable save for one property: that one could not help but feel a compulsion to behold it. It was not particularly beautiful, nor dangerous-looking, nor was it a craftwork of steel artistry. But one had an intuition that it was important.

“Enough,” Severa said. “Sit. We have much to discuss.”

They sat. Severa finished her drink in a gulp and, sitting up to lean into her knees, grasped it both hands as if deep in thought.

“I don’t suppose Owend shared her quandary with you, sir Tolok?” Severa decided to pour another drink. “Her, ah. No, of course she didn’t. She would be under pain of death had she. Owend is a good girl, don’t you think? She knows better than that. She is an effective leader and knows the values of knight, in and out. Trust. Discretion. Chivalry. Loyalty.”

Owend wilted in her seat. Severa carried on, addressing the man.

“Surely you understand, being a man of oath yourself. So have you ever wondered, privately – and I’m sure you must have, knowing Owend at least as a friend – why a model knight should desert her liege? Not once, but twice, and to cavort under the command of a foreign king?

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The man's grin slowly faded with the passageway showing itself. It was clear this won't be any kind of fight, but some sort of... cherry on top of what could be known as Severa's way to destroy the fear, cowardice and doubt of her subordinates. What he didn't know was that the place slowly turned unnerving for him: the long way to the destination, the almost-inaudible drops of water that would add to the restlessness, the purple lightning arc made, surprisingly, by the Princess herself - He would never expect a mammoth-disguised lady to also possess such an intricate, unstable element of the world. Last time he'd seen an electromancer, the person would have devastating outbursts, where lightning would fully control his body, - led the way towards the end, the purple feeling royal and fitting for her but, at the same time, it was something that made him self aware of this unnerving feeling that was related to this colour. Could it have been the arcs of lightning? He never knew.

The walk continued. There was no sign of stopping any soon and he started analyzing some things. It is true that Tolok was never keen on learning the more complicated parts of geography. The little details, markings, resources, heights of a certain place in this land, but he was more than happy to learn the basics of the world: some notable rivers, effluents, mountains, cities and kingdoms... And learning how would a map work. Simple stuff that would be needed in his adventure, the rest could have been learned on the go, if it were for finding a resource, people or just buying another small map for certain adventures he's had way before he even had the chance to meet the Exarch and his crew. Phew, he thought; how lucky was he to meet these people? What would be the chances of him being picked by him? One percent? Two? Is his life written in a book by God and He decided who should he be and what kind of life should he have? Nobody knows and that's for sure... Otherwise, life wouldn't have as much mystery and will poured into each and every one of us,

He shook his head and went back to analyzing everything around. His intuition told him he is heading out of the castle, as it should. It may be a long way which starts from the building, but it is enough, even for a child, to know they are moving away, away and away from it and closer, closer and closer to... an Aqueduct? For a second, he thought he was in the city center, but it was wrong. Seeing the sheet of water, he soon realized this place is even more surprising than he thought.

And here they were, the trio had finally reached their destionation... Instead of bringing a warm feeling, a state of hope and... Temporary home, it felt more like an interogation room, at this moment. The place The Princesses would call home during a siege that would destroy their land, Glia, was now used not as a place to help, but to squish, destroy, decimate and brutally behead every single fear and nerve willing to fall. And because of that, tension grew stronger...

He sheepishly turned his head to Severa and spoke, almost hesitating in the last moment. "Honestly, I barely thought about that. But to make up for it, now I shall think of something, if you may ask me..." He rubbed his chin, trying to find a logical idea, when he finally found one: "She looks like a truly adventurous kind. The kind of person whose wanderlust is only satiated by every single inch of land she would discover. Every notable place is caught in her sight and sorted after preference. Maybe she will find something useful later there, maybe it could serve as a safehouse, watchtower, resting place... Ever since I've met her, the decisions she made kept her group of Grey Knights alive. I don't think she'd lost one ever since I met her, which is truly, truly commendable."

He made himself more comfortable on his seat and put one leg over the other and strecthed his battered shoulders. Sure, they hurt, but the sound of popping bones happened to flash a small smile on his face which faded immediately, going back to a more serious, mature expression on his face, while talking to Severa. "But every person has a drawback. Some are greedy, some are reckless, lazy, clowns, fools. You name it, there are many drawbacks one can have and discover, due to an important event in their lives. You may consider wanderlust a disadvantage in this given moment. Hell, you can call a good trait a disadvantage if something unfortunate happens due to it. But this is a double edged sword, Princess. Explorers have their own way to satiate their life. How do I know? I am here. I am no man under the name of a king, except Madon, the Exarch. You may call me knight, paladin, chevalier, but I am none. I am just an explorer whose wanderlust has to be satiated, like a drug. I guess you can consider this... Double edged sword when you look at Owend. Am I right when it comes to your answer? I don't know, my instinct forced me to say this." He started rubbing the edge of this seat, as if sweat was pouring through every single inch of the skin, waiting for the answer of the brute, silver tongued Princess, which would most likely aim to squirm every single act of fear she will spot in Owend.

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Anselm's antics had drawn Amber's attention, and she was shocked at the revelation. "Did Anselm just... no... it can't be... can it?"
"It looks like we were right... both Anselms were off."
"Yeah... at least we got the right one."
Crystal had locked eyes with Anselm. "It would appear so, it looks like I don't have much of a choice."
Eve made her way up next to Crystal. "If Crystal goes... I'm going too."
"I think we all should. If you know about Crystal... then we already know about you."
The sound of Crystal's sword being sheathed echoed. "Truth's already revealed. I don't think it'd hurt."

Edited by NuclearCommando

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“Hm.” The Princess raised the glass to her lips. Owend made a motion as if to grab a glass. Severa tossed her the opened bottle. Even so diminished in stature, Owend caught it without spilling a drop.

She drank deeply.

Severa contemplated the bricks on the wall for a little while. At last, she sighed, looked at Tolok. “I’m wondering now if I should simply kill you now and be done with it.”

Owend nearly choked.

“It was a joke. Partially. Perhaps not.” She laughed harshly. “Surely you don’t mean to tell me, Sir Tolok, that you have no conception of the idea of duty and loyalty? There is no need to attempt to lecture me; I am familiar with the lusts of ordinary men and women, all of them, wanderlust in particular. You may not know this, but I’m a Byrnese, born and raised. Nobody knows wanderlust like those of Byrn. I’ve flown across more lands than I can count. I’ve seen every mountain and every valley in Erasmia, and a few beyond. I’ve seen things that you wouldn’t believe. Whipping masses of muscle-wire and flesh crawling on the sands off Breach. Whole forests that are nothing more than gullets for antlions the size of cities.”

Owend handed the bottle back over, hiccuped. Severa threw it to Tolok, expecting him to catch.

“But let me tell you, Tolok, that the desire to wander does not imply any other desire. I wandered for a long time before I came to Glia. I wandered. I never ran away. I never deserted. You can wander without running away. Wanderlust is a grand and wonderful virtue that I’m glad to see the Lieutenant possess. What is on the table now is not what makes joy for us. What is on the table is the question of duty. I pray that you know of such a thing.”

She pointed at the lance hung upon the wall. They had all been aware of it, dimly, even as they had been speaking. It intruded upon them as a lingering thought, as one wonders whether the front door had been properly bolted as one leaves for a distant land. Now it thrust itself into prominence, and they all turned as one.

“That’s been around for a thousand years, protecting the home of Glia as surely as the father of a family protects the children. It symbolizes the paternal duty held by the Princess of Grey towards Glia. Each lance wielded by a Glian Knight is a copy of that lance, and a copy of that oath. So don’t tell me,” Severa spat, “that simple-minded desire is enough to drive a father to abandon his children, or a knight to abandon her position.”

Owend cut in. “Princess –“

“Lieutenant.” Severa opened her hands, signaled for the bottle again. “That lance belongs now to me, as the current Princess of Grey. It will, however, pass to Owend in due time. The Lieutenant here is my protege, and will succeed me. Most do not know this. Many suspect. But that’s idle talk for anyone else. For Owend, it’s a reality. She is my successor. The future of Glia rides upon her shoulders.”

“I have tolerated her escapism thus far as musings of a slippery, scared teenager. But it is a fact that she must come to accept. Do you understand, Sir Tolok, what is currently at stake?”




 

 

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"Tch." Tolok sighed, realizing he did more bad than good. He was sitting in his chair and was slowly gripping the armrests stronger and stronger with every second that'd pass. His duty and loyalty being questioned; those kinds of long talks in the moonlight, that bring people close to eachother, improving their chemistry. But now, here, it proved to be fatal. Words are more powerful than any kinds of weapons: swords, dragonslaying crossbows or even Mason's boom boxes. No, those weapons would fade in comparison with the simple words a man can speak by mistake. Words decide the outcome of people. Words, which cause action. Assasinations, betrayals, friendships... Tolok was aware of that.
And here he stood, freezing as if someone made an ice cube around him and that would be his graveyard until someone would find him... Dead or alive.

"Then, I shall be honest here. And if honesty will bring me death, I shall drink a little in the name of truth." Tolok raised his hand to grab the bottle and Owend immediately gave it to him. He gently put it on the ground and picked a glass and filled a quarter of it. He hesitated, but drank a little after a while.
"I apologize for coming off as a person whose objectives suit him and only him, and the regular responsabilities of a human being are just something I wouldn't even want to grasp. But since apologies are nothing but dust in the wind, useless, immesurable without a reason, I shall explain." He grit his teeth, due to the anxiety that Severa's presence would induce. He was adding the posibility of him being the tool Severa would want to use to destroy every single bit of cowardice she would have. Questioning him, until he shows fear, or until he says enough mistakes to force her to say the truth.
"I understood duty after certain.. Events in my life, which still shroud my mind from time to time, when I think about it. Doubting people, hesitating, desire to be alone... All these don't matter anymore, but are a main reason as to why the development of my duty and loyalty were slower than average..." He touched the orange-glowing necklace which was behind his black shirt. "I must admit I know what duty means now, Princess. I understand she made some mistakes and that... She must be a prime example for those who would follow." He glanced quickly at her, but looked back at his glass, drinking a bit more. "And it is understandable why you call this act childish." He sighed. "It takes time for everyone to grasp this weight upon their shoulders, the title of a "Princess"... And I feel like she wants to prove her worth by these adventures she has." He sighed again... "And I know it is not the best way to do it but, as far as I can tell, she is probably preparing for her time to come and lead Glia, the Grey Knights to a better future... And to answer your question: yes, I do know what is at stake and her escapism might truly cause troubles if they are to increase in number over time. Loyalty and duty are important here, since you are not loyal for the person who is giving you the orders, but you are loyal for everyone in your charge and must be a bright example for others to follow." Long pause, he sipped.

"If what you've wanted to do is what I thought about earlier, then you won, Princess, and I put a nail in my coffin."

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As the anger at the assassin and the worry at Olivia's condition faded, Anselm realized the implications of his actions, how he had revealed that "secret" of his, upon hearing the reactions of his guests. He sighed slightly, and took one last gaze around the room.

"Well, no use hiding it anymore, is there? Ah, I guess it would have come to light eventually, anyways. Better that it's out of the way now, I suppose."

He stared at the large bloodstain where Crystal had struck that deadly blow on the assassin, as well as the trail of blood leading to the shattered window where Anselm's spell had carried the assassin.

"Olivia, dear sister... I hope you get that cleaned up. As deplorable as your interior design sense is, even you must admit it really doesn't match the carpet."

He turned and looked at his guests.

"Alright. Unless you have some reason to hang around, let us make our way back to my quarters."

With that, Anselm departed, waving for his guests to follow as he made his way back into the passageway through which they had entered. A smart play, all told, word of the assassination attempt would likely get out but it was better that they weren't seen leaving the scene of the attack.


Soon enough, they had returned to Anselm's quarters. He went about the process of reheating the tea, looking over his shoulder towards his guests to speak.

"There's going to be a lot of questions on both sides here. I'm going to ask my questions first, since that will likely be the faster part than me answering your questions."

He walked over to the table and set the teapot down, before sitting down himself.

"Here we go. I want you to answer me as honestly as you can, though I understand if you want to hold certain details back. First off... was disguising as a woman your first plan for bypassing the assassin's protection, Crystal? Second, how exactly did you come by information regarding this assassination plot, when Glia's vaunted spy network somehow had no word of it? Third and finally... did any of you suspect, before my actions revealed it, the, ah, true nature of my identity?"


Some time after Anselm and his guests had departed, Madon was lead alone into Olivia's quarters by a servant. Still, he held Arcane Piercer in his hand. The golden lance of the Exarchs, a symbol of his power. Who would dare take it from him? There was an unspoken agreement here, a knowledge that everything would fall apart if he had the insane whim to strike out with it.

On the sight of the scene as he entered the quarters, however, the lance went into an offensive position, ready to be used. A shattered window, bloodstains, and an unconscious Olivia. Whatever had happened here... Madon had no way to tell how recent it was. Whether the threat had been dealt with, or was still lurking in the shadows. Carefully, he approached Olivia, ready to strike with an overwhelming blow anything that would dare leap at him from the shadows. Isore's warrior king had never been one for a swift and reckless approach, regardless of what certain mouthy subordinates may have thought of his intellect. No, as always, his approach was calculated and steady.

Edited by EpicRome23

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