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LotE: All Roads Lead to Glia

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It had been a gamble – and for a little while, Olivia watched Madon’s face closely, to see if all the joy had truly been stamped out by the chains of duty. She was afraid – no, not afraid but perhaps concerned, though she had hardly an idea why – that that stony expression would remain etched into his face, forever and ever.

It broke. He made a crack about Wymp. Olivia gave a pretty laugh. “That’s the run of it, but we need them too, don’t we? People who don’t think about the petty wars too much, who are too busy saving our souls from the afterlife?”

Then, to business. Madon gave his piece about Orsola. The Princess twisted her mouth around when he touched on the subject of premonitions of history. It sounded like the work of prophets.

Severa came to mind. They had been working a long time to create measures for counteracting a disruption in the chain of command. The prophetess of Byrn never did mention the cause of the disruption. Now Olivia wondered if this didn’t all link together somehow. She made a note. Things to mention to Severa in passing. The existence of another prophet, and tying it all off together.

As for Madon, he didn’t need to know things that he didn’t need to know. He was going to rise to the occasion marvelously, she was certain, whatever happened to the rest of them.

Whatever the case, it was no concern of hers. Micaiah guaranteed that much when she pronounced their death sentences. The Princesses of Glia were to spend their last days doing the job they were alive for.

“Olivia?” Madon shook her.

She put herself back together. “I heard you. Cultists. Are they linked to Byrn? Or a separate entity?”

Times of war meant stability failed everyone else. The uglier elements of society would be rearing their heads now. “Keep an eye out, then, and stamp them out where we find them. But as you said, the primary objective is to smash Byrn to bits. Peacekeeping operations can commence after the dust settles, and the rats that dare to slither out from the dark will be eradicated.”

Olivia almost surprised herself with her own harshness. To business, indeed.

“As to your former demands, we’ll discuss what to do about rebuilding Isore when the time comes. The loss of the city is severe, but much of it will come down to what reparations can be demanded from Byrn, and whether there will be further war to be fought after Byrn’s defeat. Alternately, it may be that a campaign into the heartland of Zenith will become necessary, at which point Isore may be resettled as a matter of practicality. There are many possibilities, and you and I both dream of peace, but such dreams are distractions from the matter of war.”

“I know that you’ve met with a number of irregular troops and...the Wizards’ island, as well as Lieutenant Owend’s platoon, and you’ve found success in such a structure. I should hardly think to break it up: as of now, you’re a Lieutenant Brigadier, commanding an irregular company under the Glia military order. Arbalest makes yours a formidable troop. I think it would be best if Severa or myself handled the large-scale deployments and you continue what you have been doing under our direction. You will be supplied as many wyrmslaying weapons as we can spare, after we outfit our own elite Greys. Forgive the stinginess, but you’ve got quite the arsenal already.” She grinned. “And if you want to find some more of that, I would hardly stop you.”

“Finally, as to the location of your companion – give me a description and I’ll inform the scouts to keep an eye out. It’s simply impracticable to seek individuals over a nation, but if she is still alive then she will appear somewhere. It’s inevitable that she leaves a trace.”

Olivia took a breath. “I have some information that may be interesting to you as well.”

A map traced itself in threads of light upon the bedsheets. She pointed to sparkling stars, cities that Madon would recognize. One gleamed brighter than all the rest – Monzia.

News was, Byrn half-assed it in their hurry towards Isore. Fortress cities still stood haphazardly scattered across the countryside. Regiments rallied at Monzia in a line to the south of Dodon, under the control of secondary commanders. Cortia, deep in the South within conquered territory, crumbled under a withering siege, but still hung on by threads. Isore bore the full brunt of Byrn, and now the armies were split among so many targets with its momentum broken.

“Monzia is the line in the sand. The proximity to the countries of cavalry and pegasi made Byrn leery. It’s a standoff at the south border. We’ve also snuck military communiques through to cities like Vene and Cortia. Vene has fallen, like Isore, but was not totaled. The countryside and the slums are plagued with Isorian rebels, irregulars under a certain Colonel Auffle.” She gave a hard smile. “Your people do so enjoy kicking the Byrnian where it hurts most. Though I’d expect nothing less.”

Less news came from Cortia, but that the city still stood, and had innumerable anti-air ballista of unknown make decorating its walls. Fliers, even pegasi, couldn’t get close.

Madon underwent an imperceptible change in demeanor. Surely the work of an engineer, he knew. It would take a most brilliant engineer to erect such defenses in such a short time.

Olivia flicked a finger, and the map vanished from sight. “If you have orders you’d like to relay, we have military courier lines established with most of the remaining forces. That being said...”

She coughed, cleared her throat. “I am curious, Madon. I am really very curious. Cortia’s success in primary defense, given siege conditions and only two or three weeks of preparation after the destruction of Isore...and this was something that I wondered in my original question – I feel as if there’s something you’re not telling me. There is something wrong with all of this.”

Olivia’s voice softened. “I don’t mean to blame you, but how could Isore have possibly fallen so quickly? That is what has been bothering me all this time. I should have had greater hopes for all of this.”


 

 

Edited by saga juliet

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Once Anselm had finished, Mason stood up and moved to lean on the table, staring at the picture, thinking about how to best respond. Finally, he did.
"You're crazy, you know that? I don't get how anyone can wear stuff like this. Or live this lifestyle."
There was an awkward silence.
"Then again... it never really was the lifestyle for me to begin with. You're still crazy on the dresses and stuff. I'm still not used to being essentially forced into these outfits. It's not comfortable in the slightest. I feel... wrong."
Mason looked up from the photo to look directly at Anselm. "And you're also crazy for not realizing there's an elephant in the room, too. Multiple ones, at that. Now, forgive me for being frank with how I see it... but I've found beating around the bush just complicates things. And before you go off on telling me you hire people to be critical of you... stop. Freedom of speech is a God given right. Everyone has a right to speak their mind. Whether they should or not is another story, but I digress. Your engineering gift... you say you still tinker in your workshop. But... what comes of it in the end? Your engineering talent has a capability to change things in the world... not just sit around on a shelf like a model kit. Granted, I know it takes some time for engineered marvels to catch on... but sometimes it can catch on immediately. Let me guess: you confine anything you make to your chambers? Honestly, if that's true, I think that's a waste of your talent. Engineers have a gift... it's because of them the world where I'm from is far more advanced than this one..." He paused. "Yes, I'm from another world. Another history. Call it crazy, but I've learned to accept the fact, for better or worse. Back on topic... you have a chance to introduce things to this world, and locking it up in your room just because of your role in politics is a waste of talent. You shouldn't let that stop you."
Mason stopped to take a breath. "Look, Anselm, I'm not good with politics. I never was. I spent my time as a soldier, fighting battles. It's what I did best. But this... even I can see you're making at least some kind of mistake. Maybe you can't leave. Maybe you can. But I can tell you right now from what I'm hearing and from what I'm thinking, you've settled into a place of content that doesn't let you manifest your true potential."

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“I had wondered why your equipment was of such fine make,” Severa said. “But as a parting gift? Your father must have been a master smith. Well, I’d love to give my daughter something so fine.” She looked at Owend, laughed. “Come to think of it, my ‘daughter’ might well be inheriting something just as fine.”

The knight was still silent. Still ruminating. Not one to be dissuaded, Severa pressed on with Tolok.

“You’ve earned something of my fondness, so I’ll favor you this one bit.” She scribbled a note on a piece of paper, tore it and handed it to the man. “It’s clearly a tracking spell. I’ve no idea about the man, but if your father had come to Glia, I’m sure whatever he’s left can be traced. Have, oh, Princess Anselm take a crack. See if she can’t – “

They were interrupted by the hard echoes of a distant gallop. The three of them turned their gaze to the door.

Severa raised a hand, pulled it open, and a rider nearly fell inside trying to knock. A pegasus was stationed outside.

“What is it?”

The messenger raised three fingers, twisted together. Secrecy. Severa stalked outside the door and closed it behind her.

Owend was stirred by this. She watched the Princess’s departing back.

“What do you think that’s about?”

Before Tolok could say anything, the door burst open. Severa led the messenger’s pegasus to the brink. Her face was grim.

“Princess?” Owend asked hesitantly.

“It’s nothing, but duty calls out to me. Sir Tolok, egress at your own pace, or rest if you’d like. Just don’t make a mess of my lovely room. Lieutenant...it was good to see you again, my dear.” She flashed them a cursory smile, then swung atop the pegasus in a single mighty jump, and snapped the reins hard. The beast took a running dive and leapt right through the tumbling water, then spread its mighty wings and took to the skies.

 

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Madon let out a tired sigh. He wish he knew more about the cultists himself. Nevertheless...

"Unfortunately, all I know about the cultists is their existence. I wouldn't be surprised to find they had a connection to Byrn, but as far as I know of them, they seem to be acting on a separate agenda. A matter best to sideline, I suppose, until or unless new information comes to our attention."

He listened to Olivia's next statements. The vindictiveness there caused surprise to flicker across his face momentarily. Hard words promising hard actions, that was the wont of the Exarch. But from Olivia... there was a strangeness to it, from his perspective. Perhaps a sign of those changes which she had undergone. She moved on, then, to addressing his previous demands. The first and the second, he did naught but nod solemnly in agreement. Olivia's responses were reasonable, and he could see no deceit or falsehood lurking behind her words. Then, she addressed his final demand.

Madon spoke up as she finished addressing that final demand, and he gave a thorough description of Lily. As he finished off, he gestured emphatically.

"... and, finally, unless she has lost possession of it, she retains still one of the shards of the Dragonstone. Whatever your thoughts of prophesied cataclysm, I think you can agree that it is imperative that such a thing remains out of the hands of Byrn, the cult, or both."

Olivia spoke then of further news of interest. The Exarch listened and watched intently, almost enraptured, as she described the situation in the lands and cities of Isore. The news about Cortia... Madon thought such a thing could only be the work of one certain engineer, an effective defense in that short amount of time. But... it couldn't be him, could it? He shuffled the thought to the back of his mind for the time being. When she spoke of Auffle, he grinned widely and interjected for a moment.

"So that is where Auffle slipped off to, then? He would have been of great help remaining at my side, but I cannot fault him for doing as he has done. I wonder about Rejek as well, but if anyone within Isore had the capability to slip the attention of Glia's courier and spy networks, it would be him."

He returned to listening, then. His expression fell slightly as she continued to speak, hard to perceive but a definite shift nonetheless. When she asked the final question, Madon's expression hardened, and he remained silent for a few long moments.

"You are correct, Olivia. With a few weeks of preparation, Isore should have been able to set up a nigh-impenetrable defense, one that even Byrn's mightiest wyverns would have been struck down by before being able to burst through. I don't know what your spies may have told you of this, but... Isore did not receiving warning. My people and my city did not make preparation against a threat that they never knew was coming. So when their assault force came as a great cloud from the east, their firepots struck with precision against multitudes of guard hastily assembled in their barracks. Roasted alive without the chance to fight back, with those scant survivors being skewered upon the lances of wyvern riders flocking above them. Credit to those poor, poor bastards, however, as they bought time for myself to assemble my elite guard. Their action ensured the safe evacuation of the Engineeer's Guild, as well as my own eventual egress from the city. You should know I would not typically leave Isore without a stronger and more numerous group than that which currently accompanies me. I did and do not have that because they either all fell in the siege, or were scattered to the winds by the swift surprise of the whole affair."


Anselm listened patiently as Mason spoke, hands folded upon the table still and his expression carefully maintained as neutral. When Mason finally finished speaking, he cleared his throat, his expression no longer neutral as he began to respond. There was... passion there? Pride maybe?

"Am I truly the crazy one? You'd be surprised what good some air down there does for you, and if I never have to deal with another crotch seam again, it will be too soon. As for wearing these kinds of outfits... you get used to it. Over some amount of time, that is. I don't think you intend to dress like a woman for that long, if I read your tone and intentions correctly, so your stance is fair enough."

He paused and waved dismissively.

"But never mind all of that, that's a subsidiary topic at best. There are two major things to address here, and I will start from the top down. You spoke of... 'freedom of speech'? Very bold of you to speak of such concepts to one of the three heads of states of Glia. And you are lucky you chose to address such a thing to me over my sisters, for their response likely would not be so kind as mine will be. Severa might have had you flying through a window before you could finish speaking, and Olivia... well, best to leave that to the imagination. What do you mean by freedom of speech? That every citizen, down the to the least of the common people, should have the right to voice their opinion and have it be heard?"

Anselm raised a hand to his mouth and turned away for a moment. He was... shaking? Holding back a laugh? After a long pause, he turned back toward Mason and resumed speaking.

"I do not know where the world you came from caught onto such absurd notions, but... it sounds to me like embracing such a thing would eventually lead to a government as useless as the Glian Senate which was deposed very recently. The people are as sheep, Crystal. We, the Princesses, as their shepherds, and our servants, attendants, and the like the dogs who help herd and protect our flock. The people are given audiences consistently, to bring before us their issues, grievances, and the like. If we give them the wherewithal to say as they will, where they will, without punishment? There is a reason we do not listen to the bleating of every sheep. To give them such freedom will bring upon them an inflated sense of importance, one beyond their talent and disposition. They will grow proud, and think they can dictate the affairs of state, that which they were never raised or taught to know the intricacies of. A laughingstock with one person, but spread around an entire populace? The current rulers will eventually have to cave to the will of the masses. And that will... there is no will more easily manipulated in all the world. Say they have such a noble ideal as choosing who leads them, through whichever method they devise to achieve such an end. It is nothing but a glorified popularity contest if they don't rule absolutely and for life. There is just neither sufficient power nor time to elicit any real change in that case..."

Anselm trailed off and sighed deeply.

"But again, that is more or less secondary. Forgive my tangent there. I had a particular interest in the intricacies of the forms that politics and government can take back in Isore, and it was one of the few things which was not quashed or molded into something else by my teachers. So, to get back on track... You tell me I'm making a mistake. Not bringing forth my true potential. But tell me, what sets me apart in regards to engineering? The Engineer's Guild exists still. Though I suppose... I do infuse magic in my inventions. Imagine someone like the Exarch, suddenly blasting an enemy with a lightning bolt. An unexpected avenue of attack, swift and powerful. And that's but a simple example of what I might be able to do."

He paused for a few moments, and shook his head.

"But I have grander concerns. Even if I were to distribute my inventions to the public, in the current state of things I can only really distribute that which is immediately useful to war. Those inventions which take hold among the citizenry and elicit change... I cannot make those until there is peace on Erasmia."

A single tear slid, unbidden and hardly noticed by Anselm himself, as he smiled with great tones of sadness.

"And to see peace on Erasmia, it means that I will have to survive the war with Byrn. I cannot with any certainty say that I will do so, so I cannot undertake those things leading to a future which I may never even see."

Edited by EpicRome23

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Wingbeats from afar, swiftly approaching. Both of them fell silent. Madon rose suddenly, as if preparing to fight, but was stopped by a gentle tug from Olivia. Her expression was...expectant.

A shadow burst across the moon and onto the balcony, trampling the frame of the shattered window. The pegasus hardly hit the ground before the rider vaulted over its head and hit the ground in a hard run.

The Princess of Grey looked to be in a foul mood. She hardly came to a stop before plowing over the both of them, and only after a signal from Olivia.

“An assassin,” she thundered, leaving the remainder unsaid. She had been worried. “And then who is this man?”

Olivia massaged her temples.

“Oh, this is the Exarch,” Severa said after squinting at him a little while. “I’d not recognized you outside the armor.”

“I have been keeping watch,” Madon stated. “No further harm would come to her.”

“Of course, Exarch. I’m familiar with your...protective tendency.” Severa stepped closer to the bed, hooked a chair with her foot, and sat herself right across from the man. “Olivia has mentioned you often enough.”

Madon looked at Olivia. “Has she spoken much of me?”

“She’s spoken enough,” Severa said briefly.

What the hell was that supposed to mean, is what Madon might’ve been thinking – but if he had, he kept it quiet. Wisdom of the tongue was one of a king’s finest attributes.

Olivia cleared her throat. They shut up.

“The assassin has been thoroughly dealt with. Nothing else to discuss on that front, for now. We’ve simply been discussing military matters. You may be interested; there’s nothing new that’s been said, but now.” Olivia nodded at him. “Madon, do please continue.”

The two Princesses traded a look as he finished his speech. The content exchanged unknowable, but Severa’s face, sharp as it had been, now hardened into something more like a mask.

Olivia swept her legs off the side of her bed and Severa stood up so abruptly the chair clattered onto the ground behind her. The two women spread away from the center of the room, going in a spiral, muttering under their breath. The orb of light that Olivia had sent out originally returned to her, then bloomed into an enormous ball of light. A similar construct, one of lightning, materialized in Severa’s hand. Both spheres flew forth, implanted into the walls.

The window reassembled itself in its pane, then a curtain of darkness drew itself over the outside. The doors slammed shut, sealed with a popping sound. The flames winked out in the braziers and were not replaced. The only light emitted was from personal lamps that illuminated their faces like faeries perched atop their shoulders.

Severa came to a stop first. “Anything?”

“Not that I can tell. How now?”

“Same on my end.”

Olivia sighed, walked unsteadily back towards the bed. Madon rose, helped her along the last steps.

“Thank you,” she breathed.

“I sorely hope you aren’t a deceiver, Exarch,” Severa said after the three resumed their prior positions.

“Severa!” Out of line. Olivia laid a hand atop the other Princess’s. “What profit is there in lying about such a matter?”

“I don’t know the profit, only the possibility.” The Princess of Grey looked directly at the man. “You’re making a very extraordinary claim, Exarch. Believe us to be cold, but do not believe that we should have wished for war, not when Isore has been such a staunch ally since time immemorial. Believe me this: I watched those communiques signed with my own eyes, and hers. They were sent. Isore was warned. And you will tell me that you did not receive them?”

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Crystal!Mason sighed. "It honestly concerns me that your sisters would be so quick to kill over someone having a different political viewpoint than someone else. There's a history behind why we fight, or fought, for it. Just to list off a few things, we fight for freedom because we had a nation that was built with slavery as an economy... human slavery... we had a nation engage in facism and tried to exterminate an entire race, we fought for freedom to give people a choice in how they live their lives... and humorously yet seriously enough, we fought for freedom because a nation was gouging ours with taxes on tea of all things." He chuckled at the last thing. "All of these things were before my time, but the fact of the matter remains in it's why we fought. For my country, and many other countries in my world... we value freedom because it allows us to treat each other as equals. We value it because it gives everyone a voice. We value it because we see it as a basic human right. We still have laws, mind you. Otherwise, as you said, people will go without punishment for things like murder, stealing, etc." Crystal!Mason then sighed once more. "Politics really isn't my cup of tea, I just call it how I see it. And of course... politics is not without it's flaws... I will admit. But that's reaching into personal territory, and I've gone on about this topic long enough."

He then shook his head and looked at Anselm. "Look, pushing that topic aside and getting back to the crux of the issue... yes, I do think you are making a mistake. Just because we are in war, you don't have to let your engineering talent gather dust. From my world, we've had many ground-breaking inventions that were created only because we were at war. Technology that was made out of necessity, that became staples in our lives. Computers to store information, canned food to preserve food for long periods of time, walkie-talkies to communicate over long distance, night vision to see in the dark, and even duct tape for... everything, really. Heck, radar to detect planes coming from far away became microwave ovens to cook food quickly. The fact of the matter is you shouldn't let war prevent you from creating your inventions. You'll never know how useful an application would be until it's out there. And sometimes, distributing something to the public at large can be a huge morale boost to the public. And if you're so worried about dying before the war ends... then it's going to happen. Sometimes being fatalistic about your chances actually improves your odds, because you come to think you're going to die and will fight more ferociously. There's a reason the saying is 'There is nothing more dangerous than a man with nothing to lose.' And now I'm getting off topic with the Arts of War... apologies."

Crystal!Mason took a moment to catch his breath. "Look, with that... fatalistic topic behind us... you shouldn't let the fact you're a princess shut off your own life. You're you. There's never going to be someone else with your talents, your skills, your mind set. Forget what other people say about destiny, about fate, it's junk. You have a choice on how to live your life. You're in command of your own reins. But it's up to you to take that initiative. If you're content to live in a gilded cage like this, and live life as just a princess, keeping your engineering passion on the side, that's your choice. But I think that's a waste of your talent, and by extension, a waste of what you can impact in life."

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Madon bristled at Severa's tone, as she directed her questions toward him. Was it accusatory? Perhaps, but then again it wasn't so simple. Olivia would notice that the slight slouch he had allowed himself previously, a sign of his relative relaxation around her, was gone now, as the Exarch shifted up to his full (sitting) height. His expression was carefully neutral and stoic once more. When he began to speak, it was with a tone with a heavy tinge of defensiveness, and a hint of irritation.

"If the bonds we had once remain true... and if we remain dedicated to working for the greater good of Erasmia over our own self-interest... then you must trust that what I have said is true, just as I must trust your word that warning was indeed sent. Yet if that is truly the case, none of us cannot deny that that raises a lot of questions. Warning never arrived, but was sent. So it was intercepted somewhere along the way. The biggest question at this juncture is who? Someone on Isore's end? Not impossible. But I have no idea whom under my rule would be so disgruntled as to pave way for everything they have known and loved to be torn down around them. As well, it would have taken a miraculous schemer indeed to outmaneuver Severus. And Severus... his dedication to Isore was second only to my own. There is no possible scheme he could have devised where tearing down Isore and putting both of our lives on the line could have had benefits outweighing the consequences. No, Severa, Olivia, I say with great certainty that warning would have been properly distributed had it made it so far as Isore. So one end is eliminated. The middle... murky. But surely, your spy network would have caught wind of the message being intercepted en-route, like the messenger or messengers having been overtaken by bandits or captured by a Byrn patrol. And that leaves one more possibility. One I hesitate a bit to voice, but..."

His hard gaze met with each of Severa's and Olivia's for a moment, before he resumed.

"Somebody, or some persons, within Glia itself. Intercepting the warning after it was signed and set to be delivered, but before it could so much as depart the gates of Glia."

An intense frown formed on his face as he paused for a few moments to let his statement sink in.

"... I must digress slightly here, for a bit. You sent a warning. Alone? Were you so aware of the size of Byrn's incoming force that you felt even sending token reinforcements would be unnecessary? Or could no force simply be spared? It's just that I find myself with far too many questions with far too little answers, and it vexes me..."


Anselm raised his hand to his mouth again after he had heard out his guest, letting out a laugh for a moment.

"Oh, goodness. I suppose I should have made it more clear, Crystal, that I was comedically exaggerating the hypothetical reactions of my sisters. What is true, however, is that Severa would be more wont to have you defend your stance through a spar than through words like you did with me. As for Olivia, well... I can quite clearly imagine what she would say."

There was a moment's pause as her hypothetical words came to mind.

Quote

"God has given us a great many things. God gave us hands with which to kill one another, but killing is no right. You speak of "shoulds" and "oughts", master Mason, and so you must certainly be able to distinguish between reality and fantasy. There is no such thing as a right - there are only the things that ought be. All else is evil. Some women ought to be killed, and other not so. Some words ought to be said, others not so. You very clearly have little difficulty grasping the concept of that which should be. Why then need rights exist, when we may all distinguish between what ought be and what ought not? Why must we protect the bad along with the good? The reality is that nothing is black and white. All things are shades of grey. God has made us creatures of neither white nor black. So there are no such things as absolutes. And there are no such things as rights."

"Ask her yourself if you're interested in what her full opinion would be, but, let me give you a snippet."

He cleared his throat for a moment. When he spoke again, it was in a surprisingly thorough imitation of Olivia's voice.

"There is no such thing as a right - there are only the things that ought be. All else is evil."

He paused for a few moments, then spoke again in his normal tone.

"But regardless... you've said a lot of things that are completely foreign to me. Yet, I do think I've gotten the gist of what you're trying to tell me. You make some valid points. However... they are far too colored by your world view, and the facts of the world of which you no longer reside in. Facts different from those of this world. You say that Fate's pull is not inexorable."

Anselm's expression turned bittersweet.

"A noble sentiment. One that might have held true in your world. But here... Wyrd bið ful āræd. Fate is inexorable. And you would know this holds true for this world, if you were to meet one of the true prophets, those who truly see the weave as opposed to those seedy hacks who fleece the gullible. A true prophet like my predecessor. When I say I will not make it through the war, Crystal? There is no room for doubt. It is foretold, neither my sisters nor myself will make it through this war. You will understand, of course, that my saying this places a burden on your shoulders. An extension of my trust and true gratitude for saving the life of Olivia, as well as a request to not make this knowledge public in any way whatsoever. I believe in your discretion, for this something even greater of a secret than the truth that I am a man. Now..."

He tilted his head slightly, his expression shifting to a curious one.

"To the matter of talent, then. You are... not wrong. While I will not neglect my duties, I should see to it that I will make a lasting impact on this world while I still have time to do so. Once the, ah, real Cassia turns up from whatever closest the assassin's accomplice shoved her into, I'll set her to distributing those inventions that I have finished and will finish."

He started to turn away from his guest.

"You've given me a lot to think about, Crystal. I would like to end off this conversation here, if that is alright with you. You may bring the other two back in."

He turned away fully, rubbing his chin slightly.

"A gilded cage, hmm...?"

Edited by EpicRome23

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Of course the temperature had dropped. All to do with the icy disposition of all individuals present. Madon made himself taller, more imposing – perhaps in response to Severa’s probing questionnaire, but perhaps in response to the posturing of both women, who themselves turned straight-backed and steely once they’d returned from their spell-casting.

“I must digress here slightly,” Madon continued. “You sent a warning? Did you not feel that reinforcements would be necessary? I find myself with too many questions, and far too few answers...”

Olivia blinked, then laughed. It was a harsh, unforgiven sound. “Madon, you’re being silly. Did you not just say that you would trust us to have sent you a warning? Imagine ourselves. We warned you, and we saw no grace of response – nor a request for aid. It would be an insult to your sovereignty had we marched our armies into your city with no call of aid. But now we know, don’t we?”

They fell quiet.

Severa flexed her fingers when Madon brought up the possibility of Glian interference.

“Beat you to that one, Exarch,” she said. “We swept this place clean of listeners. It’s proofed against eavesdropping – no contact with the exterior.”

Heard nothing, seen nothing. Madon noticed it too, even through his spiel: ice crept in on the air in the absence of flame, and heat drained away in every direction through the darkened windows and locked doors. Things became silent. The distant roar of the aqueducts had become no more. The air became still in the absence of the ordinary winds that raged around the crown of Princess’s Tower.

Severa shook her head. “Don’t believe me blindly loyal to my own, either. The first thing we’d understood was the possibility that we’ve been compromised. Hence the isolation.” She looked at Olivia, then nodded slowly. “Fine, we’ll play your best-friends game, Olivia. I will nurse my suspicions in silence.”

The Princess frowned. Then, to Madon: “I told her a bit about your protective tendency, but I never told you about Severa’s. It’s just about twenty times worse.”

Severa cut in again. “I’m here to protect my country, just as you are. A few questions for you to chew on, same as the questions you put to me. Your country isn’t just you and Severus. There are men involved, couriers who screen messengers before letting them through to your court. I’m sure of it. There are dozens of men every step of the way. All it takes is one spy to poison the chain.” She massaged her temples.

Olivia put a hand on her shoulder. “But that doesn’t matter so much anymore, does it, Severa? Madon? This talk matters very little. Isore is fallen. Its troops, scattered to the winds. I am certain that the men remaining under your control are entirely loyal – the spy would have no further cause to remain with a king of no land once the city was sacked. Can you guarantee the loyalty of those beneath your command now? Whatever the case, you have struck the nail on the head, Madon. Either Glia or Isore is compromised heavily, or both.” She grimaced. “And the assassin who’d somehow found his way into my quarters...no, it’s indubitable that there are Byrnian spies occupying key positions in our network.”

Severa nodded, clasped her hands together. “This blame game has been fruitful in different ways. It’s given us great insight into our situation. The question on the table now, is how we act.”

There fell upon them a silence.

Severa was again the one to break the quiet.

“Olivia must go.”

The Princess in question let out an utterance of disdain.

Severa stared at her, hard. “You believe this to be a joke, Olivia?” She faced Madon. “The facts are there. Everywhere is compromised. I don’t trust you. But if I were to trust you, your unit would be the least contaminated of any. If I were to suspect you, then I would trust Olivia to keep a close eye on your activities.”

“Surely you overreact, dear,” Olivia said softly. “This is my throne.”

“I will remain here. I will purge our leadership of spies, with Anselm’s assistance, just as the previous Princesses had done and as we should have done the moment we learned of the Byrnian threat. Someone needs to lead the legions in the field, anyhow. All the pieces fit neatly, do you not think?”

 

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"What do I think that was about?" Tolok took a moment to think. "No idea but I will state the obvious here: It's really important for Glia. Maybe it's a surprise offense, God bless us if that's the case."

He turned around and strolled lightly through Severa's room, inspecting the little details, as if he tried finding out something to say. "But I feel like the more we stay in one place and do nothing, the louder I can hear some sort of clock ticking in my head, as if something bad will happen. Perhaps we should go to Anselm's quarters?"

Owend nodded. "That if Anselm is there. She might be busy around with few things, but I think it's unlikely. Now let's go, we'll walk for a long time to get there."

Tolok took a long, last look at Severa's room, as if he wanted to absorb her energy. He felt like he won't see her ever again and that was already a reason to remember the talk about loyalty, duty and camaraderie. Things he had never experienced, but he heard of through stories from parties of people who achieved something in common. Would he and his party achieve the common objective to protect this world? Who knew. Maybe him being the weakest link, due to having almost no experience of teaming up, since he had lived as a lone wolf during his explorations is what might bring them down in the future. But he will learn from that... Right? Right.
"Alright, let's go." He said after a long moment of thought and Owend started her walk to Anselm's quarters, with Tolok on her tail.

A long time went by, as Tolok admited the architecture of the royal building: The marble, the arcades with their little details that an aspiring eye would analyze. Everything was of such a luxury, that he felt like they were stepping in Heaven for the time being. And his adventure through the impersonated heaven ended once they stopped at a room on thirteenth floor. Owend stood there, waiting for Tolok to knock on the door. And so he did, knocked three times and waited. He took a quick glance at the necklace before his sight went back at the room, watching over it with some sort of impatience.

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"Thought is all I can ask that you can give it. But if you really are so dead set on believing that it's foretold you will not survive... well... at least twist that notion into the ferocity in which you fight to the last." Crystal!Mason turned and began to make his way for the door. "As for me, nothing, not even a prophet, can dissuade my thoughts that fate can be fought. It's in our very nature, our very core as people, to fight, be it the enemy, the unfair, or even the impossible. While it may come from another world's values, I do believe it applies here as well." Crystal!Mason remained certain in that fact, as the very future they were fighting to prevent was mentioned to come from a prophet. He opened the door to Anselm's chambers and Eve fell into the room. "Trying to listen in on our conversation?"
"N... no?"
"Yes."
"Well, did you at least hear anything?"
"No."
"I guess we'll fill you in on what you need to know, if anything. You are welcome back in."

The foursome remained in discussion for a very brief time until there were three knocks reverberating through the room.

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... "I can guarantee the loyalty of those under my command. If any them harbored thoughts of disloyalty, they were assuredly burnt away by the fires which we trudged through and were forged by. For Wymp, for Owend and her command of Grey Knights, and I'd daresay even Tolok, this applies to. I am less certain of Orsola... and the two that were sent off with Anselm, Amber and Eve. Those two, and Mason as well, I fear there are differences between our outlooks on life and views of authority too strong to ever rightfully claim they hold full loyalty toward me. They fight on my side as far as their interests align, but I would not be surprised to see them quickly striking out on their own were our ideals to face off in a seemingly unresolvable clash."

With that stated, silence fell over the three of them. Severa was the one to break it, with words that took Madon completely off guard.
"Olivia must go."
The Exarch almost took a stumbling step backwards from the weight of this statement, an almost tangible force when backed by the implications it contained. He listened to the rest of the exchange in silence, a slight expression of shock slipping through the cracks of his stoic facade. As the shock faded, his expression was scrutinizing, his mind obviously meticulously combing through all that had just been said. To send Olivia with him... after everything. After all their time apart, after how he had thought she had left him and Isore to die, and seemingly sent an assassin after him to cut off the loose ends. After the complex nature of the relationship between them was made even more muddied, a relationship that Madon didn't even know where to begin to even make an attempt at unraveling. After...

He looked up as silence settled once again, two expectant gazes turned toward him. A confidence returned to his expression as he shook away his meandering thoughts and began to speak, his tone measured and confident.

"Neatly fitting pieces. The satisfaction of a perfectly solved puzzle. I do not think that it is so simple as that. We already attract enough unwanted attention from Byrn as it is, to send Olivia along with us is to invite even more danger and enemies. But... if you truly believe this course of action is best for both Glia and Isore, than I cannot help but accede."


Anselm stood up quickly at the sound of the knocking, smoothing out his dress as he looked over his shoulder toward his three current guests.

"I leave it up to your discretion whether you will stay around and interact with whomever just knocked, or swiftly depart into my inner chambers and stay out of sight, until we conclude whatever business they have brought."

With that, Anselm strode elegantly forward, gently opening the door to his chambers. When he saw who stood there... he was only vaguely familiar with Tolok. But Owend, he was relatively well familiar with. He beamed at the two of them, then gestured for them to follow as he led them to the table. He slid a cup of tea toward each of them, then looked between the two of them with an inquisitive expression.

"Were you two not guests under dear Severa's purview? What business do you have that she would send you two to me, and not deal with whatever it may be on her ow-"

He cut the end of his sentence short as he caught sight of Tolok's necklace. Something about the magic he could sense within it attracted his gaze and then locked it in place. After a few silent moments, he focused his gaze intently on Tolok, and resumed speaking quietly.

"Is this about that necklace, then?"

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At the mention of Owend, Severa drew such a vicious smile that Olivia wondered if she ought to have interfered. Too late, and – thankfully – no need. It passed so quickly in favor of nonchalance that anyone who’d seen it might have doubted their eyes. Severa cleared her throat. “Do treat my darling well. It’ll be your head that answers if the Lieutenant meets with a terrible fate, Exarch.”

Madon made his worries clear. Olivia nodded hesitantly in agreement, freezing only when Severa looked up from her own consideration.

“...you cannot help but accede.” The Princess of Grey nodded. “Well, you’re right. We can pull rank whenever you like, you being Lieutenant Brigadier and all. But your concerns are nontrivial. You know more than we do. And yet...”

Gears turned in her head. Severa, strategist second only to the Princess of White. Yet that same Princess, currently head over heels in turmoil with the newest development. So someone had to stand up to bat.

“...do you truly believe that you can be bested in the field? Yours survived the fall of Isore and the flight of the Valley. The beacon you pose will be a strategic asset in itself. What you call danger, I call opportunity – for so long as Olivia is beside you, you shall not die. The true danger we face, Madon, is not dying individually. We’re lucky in that regard.

“The danger is losing our nations. You survived and I am certain that you could have carved your way through the wyverns assaulting your city had you wished. But that is not what determines the course of war. In war, what burns is the land around us. We as individuals are less vulnerable than what we protect. That’s why we are the ones doing the protecting, rather than the other way around.”

Said like a true spook. Olivia flinched. How the peasants would rage had they heard this; how the common knight would suck in their breath in indignation as they died on one anothers’ lances. But it was true, all of it. Madon, protected by the finest armor in the world, who would die only by gross negligence and misstep. Olivia, who took a lance through a child’s gut and still lived. So long as they were careful –

“Then that’s that,” Olivia said at last. She rested a hand on his shoulder. “Then I am in your care, and you in mine.”

“Then that’s that!” Severa clapped her hands. The darkness of the room dissipated instantly, and the wind howled through broken glass once more. Fire sprung up in the braziers. “That’s been enough excitement for the night. Madon, gather your visitors. I believe we ought show them their rooms. If you’ve gotten what you’ve come for, then tomorrow you will head out for...”

“Dodon,” Olivia supplied. “I would like to apprise the Palatine of our situation myself.”

 

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The two entered Anselm's quarters and sat down, Tolok with his sudden, almost heavy movements which made it seem like a boulder, not a human sits down and Owend sat gracefully next to the couch. He was about to answer Anselm's first question, but it seemed like a force or magic of some sort cut him off. Of course, it was the necklace in discussion: He could not only see its magic, the bring orange colour surrounding the silvery sun, a trinket of purity and power, but feel it. And he was truly aware about that. Just like Tolok, whose eyes went from Princess, to the necklace and back to him. Their eyes met and Tolok opened his mouth again, to speak. Quietly, as well.

"Aye." He put his hand over the necklace gently, "Indeed it is. Princess Severa vouched for your magic... dissecting."

Anselm relaxed ever so slightly, but kept his look on the necklace, sometimes looking up at Tolok to analyze his face. "If Severa herself told you to come here, then I shall do a service. But I need to know something beforehand...." He then proceeded to hold his hand out, waiting for Tolok's answer with the same intent gaze as before. 

"Well... My parents gifted me this necklace, along with some other gear." He points with his eyes towards the sword and shield, as if he is trying to make a point. "It started glowing when I got close to Glia. Perhaps you may know what it is about?" Watching Anselm's palm, Tolok took off his necklace in a slow manner and laid it on Anselm's palm. He clutched it slowly and drew it near his chest, taking a look and pointing it with the nails. 
"I see now. My first guess would be your little, bright sun is tracking something special. Like a piece of equipment with the same magic." He looks up from the necklace to Tolok and waits for some kind of an answer.
"...Piece of equipment? Uhh... My father was a blacksmith."
Anselm grinned. "Good. I'll check this necklace now." He clenches his fist, closes his eyes and one would feel like he is taking in the magic and making it human. Talking with it and finding out what's it all about. He finished after a while and looked back at Tolok with a grin. "Seems like you had an interesing person, Tolok. A blacksmith's magic resides here and I know precisely who he is...." He puts the necklace on the table and quickly goes to a bookshelf, taking a cylindrical object with him and putting it on the table near the necklace. "Now, I know your family name, Tolok Sur." He giggled, "Your father was quite remarkable, indeed. Enchanted weapons, armor and all, he was considered one of the best. I'll take that your sword and shield were made not only with mastery, but also love."
Tolok kept silent as Anselm started reading a parchment which seemed older than both Tolok and Anselm.  "Yes, your father had a blacksmithery in Glia. It is on the main road to the East. You will know about it once you get there. It's abandoned, but in good shape and nobody entered out of pure respect for the dead."

Tolok smiled at that and nodded, "I appreciate your help, Princess Anselm. Is there anything I can do for your majesty?" He was finally learning how to use respect as a tool for making some connections, as faint as they could be.

Anselm shook his head, "Don't do anything stupid. And if you need Owend in your journey there, you better ask her."

Tolok stood up and headed towards the door. "Alright. Owend, do you want to come with me?"

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Owend pondered Tolok's question for a brief moment, then smiled before standing up and following after him.

"You're a bit of a spongebrain, Tolok, no offense. And you don't know your way around Glia a fraction as well I do. You'll need me!"

Just before the duo made their exit from the room, Anselm's voice trailed after them.

"Tolok! I'm sure my dear Severa strongly impressed this upon you earlier, but I'll reiterate just to be sure: keep Owend safe, and if you cannot... make arrangements for your funeral. Oh, and do send the three ladies back in here when you pass by them, would you?"


Madon held back the response he thought of upon hearing Severa's statement about Owend- was she truly your darling if she ran away from Glia to Isore?- and continued to listen as she responded to his concerns. He responded in turn when the conversation hit a lull.

"If Amber is to be believed, I have reached the verge of death on the field of battle, engaged against one of the finest elites of Byrn. However, nobody knows my limits better than myself, and she operates on a logic so far removed to us, those whom God has granted power over the lives of many. I needed healing afterwards, yes, that I freely admit. But the verge of death? So wounded that I needed dedicated magical healing as opposed to applying a vulnerary or two? No, not nearly so close. I had the strength still to fend off the Reaper, were he so bold as to come for me at that time."

Shortly after, Olivia rested a hand on his shoulder. The conversation was over. They were in each other's care now. In coming to Glia... this wasn't the outcome he had anticipated. Not an outcome he would have at all expected. As Severa made her own departure, Madon turned toward Olivia, meeting her gaze. His expression was a bit wistful as he began to speak, and he lightly laid his right hand over hers which rested on his shoulder.

"... That it would come to this, of all things? Olivia, I must admit that this is certainly nowhere near the outcome I expected in coming here to Glia. Then again, I'm not sure what outcome I was expecting to begin with."

He chuckled lightly for a moment.

"I don't suppose I can complain overmuch, however. Your power will certainly be an invaluable asset in our future endeavors. And though we've said quite a lot already, there is still much that you and I have to catch up on."

With that, he lightly pushed away Olivia's hand, and turned his gaze toward the door leading out of the chambers.

"Wymp and Orsola first, since I know exactly where they are. Then, I suppose, I should retrieve Amber and Eve from Anselm's care. As for Tolok and Owend, well, I presume Severa will have them well in hand. Or if not, I get the feeling that the two of them will be fine on their own for the time being."

And so he made his way through the door and out of Olivia's chambers.

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The night turned the covers, and at noon of the new day the three Princesses gathered them all in the throne room again. Messengers had been sent overnight to all the garrisons, and would return over the course of the day bearing news from every corner of the aged empire. For now, the stone cast had yet to strike the surface of the water. No violent explosion, no ripples that would engulf the temporary placidity of Erasmia.

But anyone in the know held their breaths just waiting.

Severa appraised them all of the situation. The Last Company of Isore was now conscripted into Their Majesties’ Royal Service, under the direct overwatch of the Princess of White herself. Make no mistake: they were now a proper army, and properly marching to war. Their action would be premeditated and their purpose, renewed.

That afternoon, the company pulled rank and asserted itself into a semblance of a fighting force, then made preparations to board flatbed prams down the Hethon. A circuitous route would take them down to the port city of Onstade, where they were to retrieve a cargo of materiel, which they would protect and distribute to the garrisons on the way up the Dade river until they reached the citadel capital of the plains, that glittering gem beneath the sun, Dodon.

As they sailed down the Hethon, any feelings of unease that had lain itself upon them redoubled, then halved and vanished. War was declared now but it had been a waiting game. If Byrn wished to take the world by force, then it would have to show its own hand.

Days passed and no news came. For now, they were content to wait. Troops hardly massed on the borders. A lesser man, or a man less driven than Madon, might have interpreted it as hopes for peace. But the company still went about its business into Onstade.

Unknowing entirely that the next time they saw Glia, circumstances would have altered, permanently, for a changed world.

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