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LotE: All Roads Lead to Glia

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Crystal folded his arms at the first question. "No, it wasn't exactly my plan to go like this. It's just how it all worked out." He shut his eyes.

Spoiler

"Ok, seriously, I did not sign up for this."
"Oh come on, relax. You look good. Nobody would ever suspect a thing!"
"Yeah, at the cost of all my dignity. Seriously? You couldn't come up with a better plan? And what the hell did you do to my voice?"
"Magic, Mason. Just trace amounts to alter your voice, hair, and eyes. Thankfully my healing magic healed enough of your eye so that you can go without the eyepatch. All in all, it's a simple disguise spell. Don't worry, I can remove it when you're done."
"You better hope you can remove it... the things I do for the greater good... just be glad I actually trust you Amber." He paused. "I'm also glad you didn't alter any of my bodily dimensions."
Amber chuckled. "I still can if you want me to."
"Hell no!"
"Relax Mason. That magic is unproven. I'm not going to use you as a guinea pig."
"Mason... you look alright like that... don't worry about anything... nobody will ever know."
"Yeah, until I kill the assassin. If they find out that women can't hurt him... if that's even the case..."
"And that's why I suggest you go like this. If it is the case, he will never expect what'll happen. And he'll be dead before he can tell anyone. Simple. Besides... it allows you to easily walk around this city without being stopped for being male."
"At this point... that'd almost be a blessing..." Mason sighed. "It's for the mission... it's for a better future... just keep telling myself that... and the nightmare will be over soon."

When he opened his eyes, he continued. "And as for your next question..."
"We can't answer that. You have your spies that answer solely to you. We have our sources that will only report to us. Surely you understand that."
Mason nodded. "Sorry. We don't want to put our sources in danger. Sometimes you can't catch everything. Anyways... you asked if we caught onto your act beforehand... well... Eve did. Kinda."
"Yeah. She noticed something off about you. Well... you were the assassin at that point, but I guess it still means the same thing in the end anyways."
"And... I... um... still felt like something was off when we were following you... it was just a feeling... nothing more..."
"Woman's intuition is a heck of a thing, I'll give her that." But aside from that... no. We didn't suspect anything."

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All was still. Things quiet and dead as an attic of forgotten things – tables overturned, fireplace cold. And blood, too much of it, already drying on the marble. All of it from the body splayed out against the ground.

“Olivia?” Madon called out. He shuffled closer. He turned on a dime at the sound of the wind. Curtains blew through the shattered portal. Nothing. He bent down, inspected the Princess. Her throat had been struck through, and had been hardly sealed by a plug of gristle. Her breast was the same way: run through with splinters surrounding a gravely bruised trauma that was the signature work of a crossbow. Madon could see himself and the room of dying light reflected in her increasingly glassy eyes. She did not appear to be breathing.

He touched her throat. No pulse.

He felt something twist inside him. He grasped Arcane Piercer, came to his feet.

A whisper.

He turned round again, only to receive a ball of light to the chest for his trouble. Madon clattered backwards to see the body rise, animated more by malice than it was by vivacity.

There was much of both.

Holy light dripped from her hands like magma. Where it touched the ground, it steamed. Dried blood became fresh, then turned into red smoke. The air filled with the scent of iron. She seized her throat with one hand, cupped her chest with another. The air turned to ozone as her wounds exploded in a frenzy of growth, stitching, sewing, and at last smoothing to skin.

When she removed her hands, there were shiny imperfects where both holes once where.

Bizarrely, Madon would remember this. They could not undo scars.

As she came closer, Olivia paused. She looked at Madon for a while, then smeared her eyes with her hands.

“Madon? Where the hell is that other son of a bitch?”

 

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“Then, I shall be honest here,” Tolok said. “And if honesty will bring me death, I shall drink a little in the name of truth.”

She laughed at that. Even so simple, a charmer was he. “Drink to it, then, and speak boldly.”

Of course, a man as simple as Tolok – as Severa must have understood it – even such a man would eventually arrive at the same conclusions as anyone. He said so much, hitting upon the essence of loyalty at the very end of it. Loyalty to higher powers was worthless for the people in that room. No, they were free spirits. The free spirit shall let themselves be neither checked nor choked. They move quickly across the face of the earth, breaking things as they went without a care, leaving devastation for others in their wake. But even a free spirit was not without duty. If they do not owe themselves to obey orders, then they owed it to give them. They were the parents, the vanguard, the expeditionaries. They were here to care for the others to follow them.

Owend flickered in and out of the conversation, as a mirage that nearly did not exist, but asserted herself in the reflections on crystal as the sunlight danced across the room and cast shadows through the chandelier glass. Owend who had spent her life following orders, but could not carry out the very last one: to give them. There was the idea of Owend in that room, the idea in their words and musings. Severa and Tolok bat around her fate like a pair of ball-players. No, they never spoke of what to do with her, but rather, what had been done.

What of the person herself?

What did she think?

Owend tried very hard not to. She grew sullen, in some ways, sinking deep within her own id. Subsumed by her own ideas: ideas of what Owend should have been. Who the Owend was who existed in the Princess’s mind. What mirages were now strolling through the world in Tolok’s mind, protecting her charges and gathering courage to protect her nation. Yes, the idea of Owend in the crystal decanters: the things that other people saw but did not truly exist.

What was her future?

“I’ve heard enough,” Severa declared. Things came to a halt.

Owend emerged from within herself. “I haven’t,” she said, somewhat feebly. “I still...I’m Owend. I’m just a lieutenant. I can hardly scratch you, Princess. What have you even been – even been saying? All this talk of loyalty. It’s all true, all of it. And I don’t want to be back here.”

“Ah.” Severa took the emptied bottle back from Owend, then threw it right over the balcony. “Must’ve been a misunderstanding, then, Owend.”

“Eh?”

“I forgive you for it, though.” Severa smiled thinly. “Tolok here has been instrumental in your cause.”

“I don’t...”

“I initially came here with the idea of, perhaps, impressing a sense of duty into you. Teaching you that you can’t run forever. Maybe extracting from you a grave understanding of what’s at risk and a promise that you would succeed me. I’ve changed my thinking. I think I have that promise.”

Owend shook her head. “That’s bollocks. I’d love to say it, Princess, but I’ve drunk enough now to tell you that I can’t, I just can’t.”

“Truth is, this has been about convincing me that you will not shirk forever. I think I’ve been convinced. I do believe Tolok has reminded me of what loyalty truly is. It comes not from obedience, but from a love for those who you call family, a love which exceeds all your fear.”

“I – “ Owend couldn’t think of anything to say. “What do I say to that?”

“Well, you’d never admit that you hate Glia to Her Princess,” she chuckled. “But I wouldn’t believe it even if you did.”

Then she turned to Tolok.

“This is for Owend, but because you’re here, and because I have no desire to move, you may listen in confidence.”

She gathered her thoughts.

“Perhaps the thought on both of your minds is that this has been a farce of a discussion, all things considered.” Severa reached her arm into the air, flexed. Her muscles rippled beneath her skin as flawless as that of a demigod. Tolok may even have wondered whether “demigod” fully captured the power of the woman before him. The Princess acknowledged it: “By any metric, it will seem a long time before I will die. Even now in wartime, it’ll take a terrible accident or subversive action to kill me. It might seem unbelievable.” She made a fist, stared into its center. “I have it on good authority that this war will cost us. I do not believe that the three of us now – myself, Olivia, and Anselm – will see it through.”

“Impossible,” Owend said, matter-of-factly.

Severa shook her head. “That’s what we should like to believe. But we have Fates waiting for us, and Fate has a dangerous way when she’s cheated.”

 

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"I've heard enough." She said. It was as if the jury decided the fate of either Tolok, Owend or both of them. A swift strike of words, hitting Tolok's cheeks. Well, would he look at that. His honesty helped him here... Right?

But he realized Owend was not in her best mood. She, apparently, drunk enough to get tipsy and to shroud her mind. Was the sweet taste of the drink enough to weaken Owend's state of mind at the moment? Taking the success they've had earlier as a failure, in the conditions when not a simple person, but her Princess, Severa, congratulated them for their victory. Was she really this stubborn now? Or was it because of the drink? "Oh well", he thought. "She said she was never hurt by any other knight than you, Owend. Every scratch one would lay on Severa, from what it seems, sounds like a victory to me. Don't think so low of yourself, you have enough potential if Severa thinks highly of you. You may be stronger than her at some point and she counts on that."

He then squinted his eyes at the flying bottle. He could have sworn this wasn't real. A princess throwing bottle like this over the balcony, as if nobody is down there? Hey, what about the fishes? Some sailor, a ma- woman? Is she just trying to look gracefully, but when someone would get to know her, the facade drops, becoming a graceless person? Now, this was... Quite an ugly thing for Tolok to witness, but he shrugged. It may have been for several reasons which he couldn't have known.

He now listened. A smile on his face shone, realizing he thought right. He was pivotal in this discussion and he turned in the right way. He was now waiting for his fruits to ripe, watching over Owend and the graceless-behemoth Princess which had some kind of charm one would not really see through at first, but would get clear with time passing... Anyways, was he here to admire some Princess? Nah, he's here to help Owend and then... The necklace, which started glowing a bit stronger, all of a sudden. He was not quite content with this. Finding out the truth about his life, after Owend's life takes a turn towards a, hopefully, new, positive chapter of her life was frightening for him. Excitement, mixed with fear and anxiety? Yeah... That's his true fear.

And he listened to Severa's monologue aimed at Owend. The flex of the muscles, somehow, caused her feminine side to fade out a bit. What she would look like was more of a fist fighter than a Princess who uses her weapons and strenght from some unbelievable source. Or maybe he is not used to women with toned, "demigod" muscles. Who knows, a simple man likes simple things.

"Wait... You seem stronger than a lot of people i've seen in my life. How could you consider this unfortunate fate? Wait... Don't tell me you cheated Fate and now it is waiting in a shadow, creeping around and waiting for the right time to strike? I can't believe it. I've seen people who screwed Fate over and managed to live their lives happily ever after. Or... Is that what we would love to believe? Sweet lies flying through the air?" He frowned and became one with the seat.

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Anselm sipped gracefully from a cup of tea as his guests answered his questions. As they finished speaking, he set the teacup down and nodded somberly.

"That is... reassuring. It is a careful ruse I maintain in the public eye, and the truth of myself being not a woman but a man is unknown except to those who need to know within Glia's elite. Were such a thing to show through the cracks of this careful veneer? Well, it wouldn't really be catastrophic, per say, but Glia already has a precarious relationship with Erasmia's other nations. If nothing else, to find out that they made a man a Princess would give them reason to make us a laughingstock."

He took another sip of tea, setting the cup down again.

"The possible worse consequences? It would take a thorough understanding of Erasmian politics overall to understand the full ramifications were that fact to go public, beyond rumors that get a good laugh in the taverns sometimes. But enough of that. As for protecting your sources... I understand, and hold no grudge against that information being withheld."

Anselm finished the cup of tea off, setting it down with a note of finality. He looked up, his grey gaze focused on his guests with the same intensity as a soldier with drawn steel in hand.

"Now. As I previously promised, I will answer any questions you may have of me. And with as much honesty as I can, as well, though you will of course understand if I do not fully divulge things deep within the webs of Glian politics, or those things deeply personal which I certainly do not know you well enough to share."


Madon's first response to Olivia's question, after getting up with some clanking and indignance, was a silent gaze for a few moments. After that, he spoke with a guarded tone.

"Judging by the mess, the blood, and your wounds, albeit healed now... an assassination attempt."

His gaze focused on the trail of blood, and he walked after to it to the shattered window. He leaned out of it, enough to look toward the ground below- if Olivia had the mind, in this moment she could have rushed toward Madon and toppled him out of the window with the momentum of her charge. But certainly she didn't harbor the desire to assassinate the Exarch, or if she did in some dark recess, suppressed the urge for she did not currently have the strength to satiate it even if she wished to- Madon could barely make out a gathering of people far below, and he stepped back from the window with a satisfied nod, before returning his attention to Olivia.

"The 'other son of a bitch', that assassin? I daresay that he now understands the gravity of the situation."

He maintained his composed expression for a couple of seconds, then broke into a grin.

"I'm sorry, that was terrible. But I couldn't help myself."

He walked back toward Olivia, leaning Arcane Piercer against an upturned table, and detached the connecting chain from his right gauntlet, flipping it over the table with a casual toss. Then, he walked the rest of the way over to Olivia... and he extended his right hand, his gauntleted fingers gently touching the scar upon her breast. He locked his amber gaze with Olivia's own, speaking after a few silent moments.

"As resilient as ever, I see. But with all you have gone through, I suppose you wouldn't be here otherwise... Olivia. How long has it been since we have been together like this? Just you and I? The first time since... back then, right? We've both changed, Olivia, in many ways. But at our cores... I think we are still the same. You the princess, and I the knight."

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Crystal!Mason glanced at Amber and then Eve, and then walked up to the chair across from Anselm, turned it around, and sat down backwards on the chair, facing Anselm. "Why?" Was the simple, one worded question he asked.
"Why what?" Came the response.
"Why would you choose this kind of life? Or... did you not even have a choice to begin with? Before you try and counter by asking me the same question, I had a mission. And it wasn't my idea, nor did I have a choice in the matter anyways. Logically, I can assume you did not as well. So that all just loops around to the initial question: why?"
After he asked this singular question, Amber and Eve moved to take seats on the sides of the table, opposite of each other, but Crystal!Mason raised a hand to stop them. "Go wait outside."
"What? Why?"
"I want... to hear this story..."
Crystal!Mason shook his head. "It's his history, his past. If it's dark and troubled... I don't want him burdened with him sharing it with three people. Just one can be difficult enough. Please, for his sake, let it just be the two of us."
"But-"
"Amber, please don't argue. Surely you must realize there's some truth in my words."
After a pause, Amber sighed. "Yeah... you're right. Come on Eve, we'll wait outside."
The two disappeared out of the chambers. After a few seconds, Crystal!Mason turned his head. "Eve, I'm serious. Leave us be."
The not too surprised Eve finally left the room, her powers to hide in plain sight useless here.
With that, the two oddly dressed men were alone. "Now then, where were we?"

 

Edited by NuclearCommando

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“Are you making a joke, Sir Tolok?” The Princess flashed displeasure over her face.

Owend cut in ferociously. Suddenly she had life in her eyes. No more was she muted – for the question on the table had no longer to do with her own future, but the Princess’s. “Are you making merry, Princess? Talk of your own death?” Owend shook her head. “Yes, I think this is a farce. What sort of promises have been made to you? What sort of things have you been deceived by?”

“It is not deception, Lieutenant,” Severa said softly.

Owend shut up, but the twist of her lips told it all: nobody was convinced.

After a little while, Severa spoke up again.

“It’s not fate as you might think of it, Tolok. The fate you’re thinking of is something for lovers and the unlucky, for those who find things stacked against them. That’s a human invention. Some way we like to trivialize the struggles of life by assigning it value in our own stories. I’m not here to write a story about my life. About all the fated men and women that I might’ve loved, or lost, or any of that self-aggrandizing bullshit. I’m talking about Fate with the capital F.”

“You’ve been to many lands, Tolok, but even then I don’t imagine you’ve ever met a prophet, have you? A true clairvoyant. They dare to foresee the future. Not in any fortune-telling capacity, but the true, living breathing future as it changes and alters with our every action.”

She reminisced.

“I’m aware of the existence of only two in the world. One of them was Anselm’s predecessor, the Princess Melancholy, who is currently lying dead with the other two former Princesses a kilometer beneath Glia.” Severa chuckled. “I’ll admit, I don’t know the details of the assassinations, but such a fate typically befalls prophets. The second is an old friend in Byrn. I don’t know what she’s up to now, but she liked this sort of talk when we still had letters between one another.”

“The last letter she sent me was just a few weeks ago, before this entire thing broke out.” Severa shrugged. “That wasn’t about the war. We in Glia already knew what was going to happen. Even now, Olivia and Madon are having a discussion that was essentially pre-determined for a long time. What my little birdie told me was a set of new facts altogether. The most important bit? She told me that we’d better get our successors in line. Something terrible is going to befall Glia in this war – don’t think it won’t. It will. The three of us have been working things out for a long time. We’re entering this war knowing we won’t come out of it at all. So don’t think for a moment that we’re self-interested.” She looked at Tolok. “Don’t think for a moment that we are anything less than absolutely committed to peace. If your temporary lord or your party thinks otherwise – well, I’ll be too dead to be offended. But that is the way of things.”

The Princess touched Owend’s shoulder.

“Hence you. The things prophets see have a tendency of coming true, and when we’re gone, someone will need to guide Glia in the aftermath."

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At last, it came to this.

At last, the twain shall meet.

Olivia sat flat against the side of a splintered bureau, and Madon knelt with her, one hand over her heart, another holding hers. They looked at one another, and they stayed like that for a long time. Exulting in one another’s presence? Or perhaps Olivia was just tired now – so tired. Tired enough, in some ways, to cheat death, but too tired to live, either. She reached a hand up, touched Madon’s cheek, and tried to remember how he looked the last time she saw him – not from afar – but really saw him, just as he had known her. The boy had been shy then, bumbling and easy to fluster, and knew nothing then of anything real. There had been an older boy – Severus – who’d been all business with her, all gung-ho and dutiful, but Madon had wanted to nothing more than to be taken by the hand and led anywhere. A boy who didn’t really know anything of duty. Who didn’t really know how to feel sad, either, didn’t know any of the words for grief, just knew that it didn’t please him. Someone who did not dwell on such things. Now look at him: dignified, composed, grim, faraway fires burning in his eyes. A jaw more like to be clenched than to smile.

“Oh, dear.” Olivia mumbled. “We’ve both met with terrible fates, haven’t we?”

She turned her head to the window, spent a long time on the stars that began to fall on the far horizon dragged down on the cloak of sunset.

“I am no more resilient than you, Madon, not in any way that’s important. After all, you’re still here. As am I. And that is what matters.”

Still here, despite everything. As close as these two will ever come to discussing publicly the terms of their misfortune. Since forever they’ve only had a professional interest in their resepctive misfortunes: the wound that’s been dealt them was to their honor. Madon will avenge his city as a matter of a king’s principle, and Olivia her family and missing purpose on the grounds of shaping herself to become the ideal princess. Even now, neither is willing to break: neither will shed a tear over what they’ve lost.

But they will admit that they’re still here, despite everything.

“So, Madon. I’m glad you’re here. I really am. Help me into my bed, won’t you? Then pass me some new clothes.” She smiled in her subdued manner. “And take off your godforsaken armor. I can’t take you the least bit seriously if you’re going to clatter around in that all the time.”








 

 

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Anselm's expression indicated that he was caught off guard as he silently watched Mason send away Amber and Eve. His composure returned when they were alone in the room, and his gaze focused on Mason intently.

"That was... a kind gesture. I don't consider my past so dark and sordid that I would hesitate to share it with such a small group, though. But nevertheless, I suppose I will have less interruptions divulging this one on one. So, where were we, indeed? You asked me a question so seemingly simple, yet so devilishly complex beneath the surface. Why? There are many parts, many interpretations, so I shall break them down one by one, if you don't mind. Why did I choose to be a Princess? Not a dream as a boy... not the path, perhaps, I would have chosen for myself. Instead, the path that Fate chose for me. A destined path, that I might have avoided in a different life that I can only wonder at. So there is the first Why. As you guessed, it was not by choice."

He closed his eyes for a moment, then re-opened them.

"I had, and have, an extraordinary talent in magic. This manifested during my teenage years, and had to be kept concealed as best as I could do so... for back then, I was a rising star in the Engineer's Guild of Isore. Given time, I would have become Head Engineer Severus' direct assistant, perhaps even the one he would have named his successor. But of course, I was not given that time, for we would not be talking now if I had."

He paused for a moment, an idea striking. He snapped his fingers, and the door leading into his private chambers opened slightly ajar, enough for a framed portrait painting to fly into Anselm's outstretched hand. He laid it on the table for Mason to see. He would immediately recognize Madon, the Exarch of Isore. In contrast to the stoic and composed expression Mason had always known him to have, there was contentment there, along with an obvious pride of the boy whose shoulder his hand laid on. The boy... blond hair, grey eyes, beaming with great pride as a third person presented a medal. A brown haired man...

"... Severus. That's the man you likely don't recognize. I'm sure you can recognize the Exarch. And the boy... that was me. Hah, looking at me now, would you ever connect the dots? I don't think so. But I digress. So, somehow, Glia's spy network caught wind of my magical talent. This information was relayed to my predecessor, the former Princess Melancholy. I was also told, much later, that she had received some kind of vision pertaining to me around that time as well. Thus, I was named her successor, though I was not to know it until the fateful night I was taken to Glia. One letter was sent. A diplomatic overture, in the end a veiled farce. Addressed to Severus and Madon, asking if I could be brought to Glia to address things tantamount to the safety and prosperity of Erasmia. Or so I was told. Refusal wasn't a real option anyways. Severus read the letter first. Ripped it to shreds, tossed the shreds into the fire, subtly beefed up security in the Guild's buildings, forbade me from leaving the Guild's property under some pretense I can't recall now. I was eager to please, so I obeyed. These measures weren't enough to stop the agents of Glia."

He shuddered for a brief moment.

"It's a vivid memory, but... suffice to say, it is hard for me to tell of it to another. Let us content ourselves with the summarization, a simple statement that the agents of Glia infiltrated Isore and the Guild, set upon me in the dead of the night, and had my unconscious self thrown into a Glia-bound caravan that next morning with great swiftness and without being detected. As you may be able to guess, I was brought to Glia. Put into silks and laces, told that I would have to be a proper Princess, a face capable of representing the storied nation of Glia to all of it foes and friends alike. My past mattered not, best buried, if not forgotten. Thus was the aspiring engineer of Isore molded into Glia's current Princess of Black. The Saintess."

He tapped the heels of his shoes against the ground for a few moments, gathering his thoughts.

"I am certain that you have more Whys to follow the one I just answered. I'll guess at one, but I'll leave the rest that you have to you to voice. Let me see... do you wonder Why, if I was forced into this, why do I not try to leave?"


Madon's gaze hardened at Olivia's last statements, for a moment. Then, a slight smile emerged, one that leaked through his seemingly eternal stoic composure.

"Olivia, you are one of many people recently who has told me to ditch the armor. I am starting to think that I should perhaps see if one of the master smiths of Isore survived the fires, and can reforge my lighter and more maneuverable set of armor into one as regal as this armor. God knows that may finally bring silence to the incessant calls for me to abandon that which is my protection and the symbol of my station."

He bent down then, scooping Olivia into his arms. He carried her like one should a princess... or like one would a bride, as connotations had seemingly blended the two together in the eyes of society. But then again, society had no eyes here and now. He moved Olivia onto her bed, gently laying her down on top of it. Somehow, it was one of the pieces of furniture in the room which had gone mostly unscathed. Leaving Olivia there, he approached her wardrobe, opening the doors and examining with an appraising eye, briefly. She would not have left this to him had she desired to be picky, no? The selected clothes were unceremoniously tossed over to the Princess, and Madon began to remove his armor, lying down the pieces right next to the spot where he had previously set Arcane Piercer. When all his armor was thus removed, he moved the least damaged chair he could find, dragging it until it was near Olivia's bed, and facing her. There was something to be said for the bulk the armor seemed to add to the Exarch's physique. Then again, it was unquestionable from his build and demeanor alike, this was a man who strode through the fields of battle like a giant, unperturbed by the lesser things beneath his feet. A titan of war, one only matched by those of similar stature and power. There was many reasons the Exarch was so often a primary target of enemies, this being one of the major ones.

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Tolok nodded slowly, while listening to Severa. Her explanation was detailed enough to make him realize she was not joking. Prophets? How are they made, how can they predict the future, see in front of it, if it doesn't... Exist yet? Isn't it just like dough? Made, changed, formed and broke apart in pieces... Malleable is the word for this. It can't be, right? Isn't everyone's future already set...? So many counter arguments to this argument he cannot think of exist, ready to strike.

"I haven't met a prophet, that is true. I don't think my connections were good enough to meet someone who holds these kinds of powers..." His voice trailed off a bit, when thinking of those, so called prophets. "Knowing your future is frightening already, but I understand it is a last resort option for the selfless rulers, who wish to protect their lands. Commendable, indeed, but I couldn't live with the fact that I managed to find out what happens... It is unsettling when you think about it, who falls and who rises." He sighed and finished his drink after a pause. "War is cruel. I understand why it has to be done. Preparations for the future, safes and ways to make sure everything works out... But, wouldn't the future still be the same if one tells you what will happen? Since it takes time for each event to pile up and explode into the expected result, including the preparations... Wouldn't the future be the same, if one decides to run away from it and so, so want to change future, as if it is malleable? Even so, preparations are preparations... I don't suggest not doing them anymore, because such a suggestion would be foolish. No, sorry. I'll stop. I'm not a tactician." He stopped, truly. This future talk was already unsettling for him, since the necklace grew stronger, with each step closer to Glia. It was still glowing under his shirt, as a reminder he will face the ugly truths. Would he find what he was already expecting? Only future would tell, and that continued to scare him. He gulped, his anxiety growing larger with every single thought about this.

"I believe Owend will take care of Glia and make sure it will rise higher than before, though." He spoke, after another long pause, and then bunkered in his own mind, not paying attention to anything else in the room.

Edited by The Fire Heart

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“That’s quite alright,” Severa said. “I do not ask your understanding, only your secrecy.” She made a motion, like the wringing of a neck, then smiled sharply.

Owend nodded glumly. No choice, huh?

Never a choice given her.

She marveled at it herself: how simply the realization came to her. Not expressly forbidden to leave, and yet already she thought that she had no choice, either way. Even so, she felt inadequate.

“Now, speaking of secrecy.” Severa stood up. “This place is proofed against sorcery by sorcery of my own, so there isn’t a chance in the world we’ve been eavesdropped upon. Yet. But I have to ask, Sir Tolok. Your little trinket has put on quite the lights’ show. Would you care to explain what that bit of magic is for?”

An innocent-enough question in its asking. Of course, the Princess did not expect sedition, not from Owend’s friend.

But the Princess, as a rule, never failed to expect sedition, neither. The truths of human relations were built upon trust, but empires were built upon suspicion.

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“God knows that may finally bring silence to the incessant calls for me to abandon that which is my protection and the symbol of my station.”

Olivia threw her head back, laughed, though the act brought stabbing pains to her throat. The laughter turned into a fit of bloody coughs, and she dabbed at her mouth with a silken handkerchief from the nightstand, waving off Madon’s sudden movement to hold her. “I’m fine, I’m fine. Of course I am.”

“Come off it, Madon. I have to wonder, I really do, who ever taught you these things. How greatly you’ve changed, indeed. Symbol of your station – pfah. So it may be, but life is not so ceremonious.” The edges of her lips curled up delicately, even through a slight dribble of blood. “But I do understand. It’s not the clothes I wear, but the people do expect some semblance of appearances kept up at all times, no? The cold-hearted-ness, the slyness, the absolute assurance. And then the duties of our stations, to which we must remain ever-faithful, unfaltering. Those sorts of words that you like to use now, hmm?”

The Princess of White, the one in that Tower who understood the Exarch most deeply, for they were the most alike. Two who had been born to their consignment, who were fated to rule in all the glory of that punishment: that obligation to serve their people. Two people who had suffered all too much for that purpose.

“Never a moment to take for ourselves, is there?” She came to the side of her bed, traced the veins down his arms to the backs of his hands wistfully. “Because there is no us. There is our country, and that is all. The armor doesn’t matter, because our hearts are already solid that way.”

Not so. This was their moment. Olivia pulled her shirt up above her head. Her svelte body stretched out on the bed, her chest still covered by a sash punctured slightly where the bolt had gotten her. What struck the eyes more than anything, however, was the scar – a six-inch cross-sectional of a familiar spearhead – on her stomach, and a matching one on her back beneath her ribs.

Arcane Piercer glimmered jestfully in the torchlight from its perch away from the bed.

The Princesses could recover from most any wound, but they would always leave scars. This one, Madon had never seen inflicted, but he’d been there in blood. All that, for a thirteen-year-old girl.

King Aedugard had a real nasty lance-arm, was all Olivia said of it.

Then she pulled on the blouse Madon had given her, and that was that.

“That’s enough dwelling. I called you up here because I’d like to be honest with you, and I’d pray that you’d be honest with me. Because I trust you.” She sat up on the bed, crossed her legs. A small lamp materialized in her hand, then took flight, orbiting the room for external listeners and warning of the approach of others.

“The first question. This Orsola woman. She has thus far claimed to be your daughter. Unbelievable in every respect, although now that I see it myself I find myself believing two opposing ideas – that she is undoubtedly your daughter, and that such a thing is patently ridiculous. But I wish to hear your thought. Do you trust her?”

“And then, the second. I wish to know everything that you know. You understand Glia’s espionage and communication network. It is vast, it is thorough. But hearsay is no substitute for true knowledge, which you must possess. Something is gravely wrong in the world now, and I do not know what that is. Whether it is the fever-dreams that Orsola claims, or it is some other sinister movement.”

 

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Mason's gaze kept jumping between the picture and Anselm, both to compare the features and to better study the man known as Severus for future reference. Upon finishing, Crystal!Mason cleared his throat. "Well... with enough study with the picture... I can partially see the similarities between you and the picture. Of course, I doubt the common people know that." He paused, mulling his words.
"Anselm, you're right in that I am going to ask why you have not chosen to leave. But you mentioned you were an aspiring engineer. Whatever happened to that talent?" He paused, and then narrowed his eyes slightly. "No... don't tell me you willingly gave that up."

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