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NuclearCommando

LOTE: Wartime Festivals?

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Our journey north to... Onasted? Ontario? All these names are so confusing to me... it's left me some time to think. The fresh air as I stood at the stern of the boat helped clear my head.
We were inducted into Gila's... no, Glia's military force... as far as they know anyways. Amber, Eve, and I still have our allegiances to solely ourselves and the Ebon Knight. As long as everyone keeps thinking we're with them, we can try and acquire more of these dragon shards and save this world. For now it's best to keep a low profile while we help out these other places torn by war.

Speaking of low profile... my disguise worked out well, as embarrassing as it was. Somehow we even convinced Madon and the others that not only was I Amber's sister, but that I personally had went away.

Quote

"Who are you?"
"This is Crystal, she's my sister."
"Umm... hi?"
"You never told us you had a sister Amber."
"It was never important. She's nomadic like I am. I haven't had contact with her in a long time."
"I see. And what happened to Mason?"
"He... umm... well after I met him... he said he had to go somewhere? And then he left?"
"Oh ok."

It went somewhat like that essentially. I think anyways.

And speaking of my disguise... I'm still a little peeved at Amber at forcing it upon me. Supposedly a simple cloak is the ultimate disguise in this world and she had to go the full nine yards... and then it got worse.

Quote

"Uh... that's not a good sign."
I frowned. "What do you mean that's not a good sign? What's going on?"
Silence.
"Amber."
"So you know how I said I could easily reverse the magic?"
"Don't you dare tell me that was a lie."
Amber nervously chuckled. "Well... you see... whoops?"
"WHOOPS!? ARE YOU FOR REAL!?"
"Look Mason I'm sorry! I thought I could reverse the spell whenever! It turns out I didn't read the small print that it lasts a set amount of time..."
"Do you realize how humiliating it is for me to look like this?"
"At least nobody knows but us and Anselm?"
"That does not change the fact that I'm stuck like this!"
"Just... look on the bright side Mason."
"What bright side!?"
"It'll only last a couple of days at most, then you'll be back to normal! Nothing bad will happen and nobody will be the wiser."
"That doesn't make me feel better!"

I wish she wouldn't tempt fate like that, that's just asking for trouble. This outfit is uncomfortable... and I had severely underestimated how heavy long hair would be. Hopefully, with whatever lies in Austria or wherever we're going up ahead, I won't have to do much more than menial labor and can let this nightmare end in peace.

... why do I have the oddest feeling that someone is reading my thoughts?

@EpicRome23@The Fire Heart@saga juliet

Edited by NuclearCommando

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One more day, the helmsman said, and we would see the island ports of Onstade rise, locks upon the keys, on the horizon. Until then, he said, I would have to be disappointed. He had a nervous manner to him – but I told him, it matters not whether it be one day or twenty. I am a creature of infinite patience.

Why, if that didn’t terrify the man out of his mind. But it is true! Delusion is so elegant; so often is it its own punishment, measure for measure.

The wide waters of the Long Hethon parted beneath the prow. The waters were slow, mirror-like, and the day golden green. Forests bobbed in the breeze. I rested my hands atop the rail, watching other boats ground upon the distant strand, fishermen and fishing-boys frozen, like toys perched atop boulders and bobbing in dinghies. No luck. It was pillow-warm, and the fish and the men alike were too lazy to bite.

We drew looks as we passed, but they did not linger. I waved; the captains of smaller vessels waved back. From afar, we were just another cargo ship, and I, just an ordinary passenger. Perhaps the searchlight reflection off the armor and spears of the knights gave away that it was the military being shipped now downriver, but that was no news to the people of the fields. War was a distant concept, from which they had faith they would be sheltered. Ordinary men and women did not dream of war.

Why, if only it were true that if we should not imagine ideas of such turmoil, nor dream of them, then nobody should have to suffer. And then the meek shall inherit, and blessed be the meek.

It was the fourth day of the fifth month of the nine-hundred-and-ninety-seventh year, Anno Naeddrensis, and nothing was happening, and if only this moment could last forever.


 

There was another woman at the prow. She wasn’t a knight I knew, nor one of the Lieutenant’s women. I wracked my brain, came up with a memory of whispered jokes and jests. Anselm could hardly contain herself when she’d returned to the chambers. I got it.

“Mason,” I ventured, and when that didn't hold, "Crystal." Bullseye. I went over. One of Madon’s many small questions.

“No need to turn around. I’m not so interesting, in comparison,” I said. Directly out front was the wide expanse of the river, winding straight for a long time and opening up, distantly into the beginnings of a bay. Gulls wheeled and clouds drifted like slow whales. Sloops drifted patchwork between either bank, flags of particolored nations bloomed in bunches and rows. “I don’t get to leave the palace often. Less than you might think. So don’t think I’m joking, I do love being able to get out. See a little of the things we don’t have as much of in the city. So long as it’s not quite familiar, it’s endless fun.”

“Speaking of things that are rare,” I continued. “I don’t think we’ve had the pleasure of meeting, unlike as with my sister and yourself.”

Edited by saga juliet

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Posted (edited)

Wyrd bið ful āræd. Fate is inexorable. These words echoed through my head as I stood at the stern of the Long Hethon, atop the uppermost deck of the ship. Where others may have stood at the prow, looking at the journey ahead, looking towards where we were going... I looked behind us, at where we had been. The lands of Glia that we had passed. I had the distinct feeling that when I returned, it would not look hardly the same as it did now. I couldn't give to voice to why this feeling existed, and could only say that I knew it to be certain, somehow.

There was nothing I could have done to change what had happened so far. And of events of the future, God only knew what influence I would be able to hold over those. All I knew how to do was to live in the moment, to tackle each problem as it arose. Was that all I could do? And if so, would it be anywhere near enough? ... Such questions were not easily answered. It would not do to dwell on them overlong, seeking answers that would never fully satisfy. Best, then, to turn my thoughts down a different track before frustration borne of futility overthrew my rational mind.

Humans are, by God's grace, blessed with a capacity for intelligence exceeding that of other animals. Though ofttimes it is a gift squandered, it remains a facet of what defines us nonetheless. But aside from our intelligence, perhaps even as a counterbalance, we were also instilled with the capacity to love. Love was a pervasive and powerful driving force. It brought healing, happiness, and hope to people just as much as it could drive people to war, to sow death, destruction, and devastation its name. I fought, and continue to fight, for the love of Isore. Yet as of late... was that the only love I held? Orsola, my supposed daughter. Did I feel a stirring of fatherly affection for her? Olivia. Olivia. Oh, how she had spun me a complex web I had yet to unravel. Our shared past, and the circumstances that had reunited us. What did I feel toward her? And that red-haired commander of Byrn, Jill. Twice she had- though I would never admit such a thing publicly- twice she had broken through my guard on the field of battle and came close to securing victory against me. Why, then... why did I have a desire to see her again off the field of battle?

As my thoughts wandered between possibilities, a gentle hand came to rest on my shoulder. Olivia? No, there was a different feel that disqualified it as her hand. Of the rest of those on the ship, then, there was only one possibility.

"Orsola."

I spoke her name into the air, and I started to turn toward her. Momentarily, I was interrupted by the pained squawking of a seagull- still in the air for a moment, transfixed by a crossbow bolt before it plunged toward the river below. I saw Wymp leaning against the ship's railing, Arbalest in hand. Target practice, then. Normally the pious man wasn't wont to harm creatures wantonly. But he had always claimed seagulls to be the spawn of the Devil, and had always waged his war against them whenever he could. He noticed my gaze, and grinned lazily at me. I shook my head with a slight smile, before finally finishing my turn to face Orsola. Amber gaze met amber gaze. Whatever else could be said of Orsola, I knew one thing to be true: she had my eyes. She did not hold the same burden of conviction behind them as I did with mine, but I could see in them a purpose of her own. Perhaps she had inherited my stubbornness, to both our detriments. But that was enough for silent thoughts.

"Did you need something from me?"

She hesitated for a moment. I could only guess what this would be about, but said nothing in order to let her finish.

"Father... I want to talk you about, ah, 'subordinates' of yours. Namely, Amber, and Mason as well."

Ah. Them. They were... strongly-willed. Not to mention the very different view of the world that they held from me. Olivia hadn't said much of anything about them yet, so I didn't know if she would agree with my actions were I so inclined to send them away from my service. They had been helpful so far, but with the support of those Isorians, mercenaries, and volunteers I had rallied in the sands of The Valley? And now with the support of Glia? I wasn't sure I needed them so badly anymore as to continue to put up with them.

"And what about them? If you're going to ask me to send them away, you will have to give me just cause to do so. Whatever our... ideological differences, the aid they have offered to my cause so far cannot be denied."

A pause. Had she hoped me to be more amenable? My internal thoughts aside, I firmly believed in the position my words conveyed.

"I... suppose not. I cannot ask you to do something on suspicion of what they might do. But what they did to you in my past, your potential future... I cannot forgive them for it. It is all I can do to stay my hand in their presence!"

"... The Amber and Mason that you knew, and the ones here now, Orsola? They are not one and the same. We are shaped by our experiences over time. If you stood before the version of yourself from some years ago, could you truly say you were exactly the same as them?"

I paused, then sighed for a moment.

"I could not. And I doubt you could either. So, I shall say this to you: try not to antagonize the two of them. Unless the situation changes so that they become far more of a detriment than a boon, we will have need of their strength in the war ahead."

"Father, I get what you're trying to say. But I suppose I haven't been fully clear. It's not particularly them individually that I have a problem with. It is the two of them together... and what will come as a result of that bond between them. That is what I take issue with, that I am driven to want to put a stop to."

Love, again? So my random train of thought was more prevalent than I... thought.

"So you want to stop the course of love? Orsola, you may as well ask the ocean to turn itself immediately into desert, for all the good that will do you. But... listen. This may seem an odd recommendation from me, but perhaps you should try speaking to one of them. Not Mason, since he went off to wherever he went off to. Amber, then. Or, if you're not comfortable enough to speak directly to her, you could try speaking with Crystal, her sister."

I frowned as I finished speaking. Crystal... something still rubbed me wrong about her. Never having been mentioned before, showing up so conveniently at the same time as Mason had pulled a disappearing act...? But I didn't have enough information to truly doubt the validity of the claim. And perhaps I didn't want to think of the potential implications of the conclusion that train of thought would come to were I to look further into the matter. Orsola, for her part, looked thoughtful. She smiled slightly at me, firmly meeting my gaze for a moment before nodding and heading towards the lower deck of the ship. I could only hope that, whatever she planned to do... that it wouldn't end up causing trouble for me, now or in the future.

Edited by EpicRome23
thanx Mag

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He didn't know. He couldn't have known, not even if life itself would extend by decades and helped him gather more knowledge. This fate would bring more dread than a content smile on the face, had Tolok went with the rest on the ship without checking the place. but...

...Here he is. Tolok and Owend in Glia, rushing on a great pursuit of finding out buried past memories. The long road made of shiny cobblestone, glimmering in the lamp lights on the side; the road seemed endless, as the duo traveled towards the blacksmithery of Tolok's father. He wondered, why he never had his stuff officially inherited in the first place, even though age was a leading factor: perhaps the only gifts he'd received were the actual inheritance? His sword, shield and trinket, the trio that would lead to uncovering truths? How could he have known... Poor, lost man, in a world larger than he would have thought. But there were people to guide him.

And they had finally reached the place: A red, brick-based building. The colour seemed washed off by the time, it seemed like nobody dared to enter the house without the proper invitation of its owner. The place felt empty and devoid of any meaning. Tolok sighed and looked up, noticing a dusty sign with washed off letters: "Barkul Sur's Everflaming Smithery". Hah. Everflame. His blood causing the gear to be enchanted. Veeeery clever name..... Poor Tolok. Owend noticed his stressed face over reading the sign and quickly nudged with her head towards the entrance. It felt like a Rite of Passage for him, entering the soulless building and acknowledging the darkness inside. But the trinket... It grew stronger. There was not much of a difference between the road from the castle and to his father's workplace, but once they entered? Even with small, mindful steps, the necklace would show the way more brightly with warm, protective light. And Tolok's fear would retreat slowly out of his mind, making way for curiosity.

The inside was, of course, dusty. Weapons of all kinds were sorted on a wall, from small daggers to mighty warhammers held by guardians of many places. But as of now, this was more of a showcase, a display of mighty skill, than a shop. On the opposite wall, however, there were all sorts of armour pieces regarded as outfits, the set put together to never leave each other in a frenzy of fear. But, on the furthest side of the wall from the two, there was a leather bag, which drew Owend's attention. She quickly went towards it and touched it with care. It seemed like an armour piece. It seemed like a pair of armour, which felt different from the rest. Tolok followed and as soon as he touched the bag, the necklace grew strong enough, all of a sudden, to light the whole corner and the wall, as if it was in the midst of daylight! Owend's face slightly dropped at this bastardly magic, but Tolok managed to shoot a small smile while pulling its contents out of the bag. Inside? A pair of gauntlets, looking like they were tailored and specifically made by someone special, for someone special to them. They had a certain, glowy aspect to them: the metal felt strong, but yet light, the design felt familiar and its aura... There was an aura. He took his old gauntlets off and put those on. And it seemed like it was the perfect fit; 

Spoiler

Worldcarver_inventory_icon.png?version=3

"We missed you, our son. We are glad you found your deserved reward. We are glad you are still alive. We love you." A voice of a woman came up in his head, oddly familiar to him and caused him to have a chill run down his spine. But then, the gauntlets shone, revealing the aura he had sensed berfore. It was a show of lights, the thing covering the gauntlets seemed endless. It seemed like it will never stop. But at the same time, the feeling of this aura was soothing, powerful and looked like it boosted his power. Or caused his flames to work more efficiently. 

"You spongebrain, couldn't have you left the ceremony at the docks?" Owend said, with a small frown.
"No." He followed it with a smirk. "These gauntlets... Completed me, of some sort. And.. I heard her again. I don't know if it's in my head or not but... I'm happy."
She wanted to add something, but Tolok's smile, which came after he finished, managed her to stop. "Let's meet the rest, you sp- Tolok."

----

This was a few days after the whole incident in the castle; preparations have been made in order for the journey to go nice and smooth. But the two seemed to take longer, after they had helped with whatever jobs they had to make done. Eventually, Tolok's quest came last. They had reached the docks, where everyone else was ready. He had a small smile on his face, watching the gauntlets shining in yellow flames, dancing and moving like a living thing. Tolok kept his heart-warming smile as he stood at the stern of the boat with the rest. It was not that bad, was it? It felt like his mission would get so much better. But this would require higher, and higher, and higher risks to take on. Was he ready? Depends. But he wished to enjoy this time now. Owend was watching him, as if a child opened his Christmas present, but she looked another way, staying closer to Madon as the guard she is.

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"Mason"
My heart skipped a beat. I recognized the voice as Olivia's... but how would she know? Did Anselm tell her? Tch... this is why I don't trust secrets with others... Wait. I don't think I told Anselm my real name. What kind of trickery is this? I refused to respond. I'm not blowing my cover over a name. Even though I shouldn't be undercover anymore...
"Crystal."
That was better. I started to turn to face Olivia.
"No need to turn around. I’m not so interesting, in comparison, I don’t get to leave the palace often. Less than you might think. So don’t think I’m joking, I do love being able to get out. See a little of the things we don’t have as much of in the city. So long as it’s not quite familiar, it’s endless fun. Speaking of things that are rare, I don’t think we’ve had the pleasure of meeting, unlike as with my sister and yourself.

I disregarded Olivia's words that I shouldn't turn around to face her, instead leaning against the railing of the ship as I focused my attention on her. "Don't say you're not interesting just because you don't get to leave the palace that often. Quite the contrary, to someone like me your experiences would be wildly different than the ones I've seen in my travels. But you are right, we haven't formally met. My name's Crystal, and I'm a bit of a traveler like Amber is." I paused to take a breath, remembering Anselm's words about the merits of free speech, or lack thereof here. "You'll have to forgive me for not knowing any proper etiquette for talking to a princess like you. I've never had to before in all my travels, so please note that if I say something that offends you, it is merely because of a different upbringing and I offer my apologies up front."

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Posted (edited)

“Don’t say you’re not interesting,” is what Mason decided upon. Carrying the nicety through. Olivia arched her eyebrows. Gone were the abrasive comments that she recalled not a few days before in court, the questioning of her mental state, her decision-making capability. It did make her wonder.

The man must have had a good helping of courtesy spoon-fed him by Anselm while she was not looking. Or some other change of heart.

“My sisters are a little bit more traditionalist than I am,” Olivia explained, looking out toward the river fading behind them. Glia stood in the distance, pale spires rising not centimeters off the horizon. The Tower was a stick of chalk. So much for perspective. She flashed a grin at Mason. “Severa’s accustomed to being a big shot. Used to be one in Byrn. And Anselm – well, she told you about her humble beginnings in Isore. Fear of god and love of country runs in the blood of those people. As for myself, I can’t say that I was a nobody before all this, but I certainly wasn’t somebody.” Half of somebody, maybe.

“Besides...hiding behind a mask is called deception, but when it’s your words and intentions that are masked, we suddenly call it etiquette. So I prefer to speak plainly. I find people easier to stomach that way.”

The princess was trying to be human, pedestrian. Olivia traced whorls in the rust, pretending a little shyness. Believe any of it? She believed a little of it. At that moment, at least, she believed what she was saying.

“On that note, I have to ask why you’re still keeping up semblances.” She touched a finger to her lips. Her voice dipped into a gentle murmur. “Who knows? Committed to the bit? Or perhaps you find yourself enjoying it, Mason?”

Another slight smile. A curl of the edge of her mouth.

"And another thing - it does make one wonder, when allies deceive, omit, and lie to one another. Don't you think?" She laughed. "Not that we are greatly bothered by something so harmless."

Edited by saga juliet

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"Tolok! Don't move an inch!"

Wymp's shout cut across the upper deck, though it likely wouldn't carry down to those on the decks below. The pious right hand of the Exarch aimed Arbalest in Tolok's general direction... and released. The bolt whizzed over the man's shoulder, striking a seagull dead-center, sending it tumbling backwards into the river below. Owend let out a held-back, defeated, sigh as Wymp approached Tolok with a grin.

"There's a good sport. That seagull was particularly dodgy, I just wanted to make sure it didn't move again. If you have nothing better to do, Tolok, then perhaps I might convince you to join me in smiting all of the seagulls we will encounter on this journey?"

Madon called out from where he stood towards the edge of the stern, turning away from the view behind for a moment.

"Don't let Wymp rope you into his crusade, Tolok. There's nothing wrong with seagulls."

Wymp shook his head vigorously.

"Nothing wrong? Nothing wrong?! I have told you time and again, Madon, that seagulls are the scouts of the devil! His very own spawn! It is my holy duty to eradicate those fiends whensoever I find the chance!"


I was lost in thoughts as I descended to the lower decks. All alone, in a time of faces familiar but not so nearly the same as the ones I had known. I knew clearly what my goal was; but far more murky was the means to that end. I was but a girl adrift in a sea of confusion and conflicting gambits. If there was to be a peaceful future, my father could not fall. That was the biggest key that I knew of. But it was the other pieces on the board that I did not fully know the roles of. Madon's followers, like Wymp and Owend, I meant no ill will in calling them pawns. But their roles were simple, easy to discern and work with. Yet there were still the more prominent pieces...

Olivia. In what the Owend of my time had told me of her and the events of this war, she had not accompanied Madon after he departed from Glia. Yet, here she was now, leaving me to wonder at the connection between her and my father. There was something in the glances that passed between them when they were in the same vicinity... something I couldn't quite place. Was there a romantic inclination there? I didn't want to interfere if there was. She was not my mother, and it would not affect me whatsoever if she were to be the mother of the, ah, Orsola of this timeline. If she- I? would be given that name, anyways. Whatever the case, I had no right to dictate my father's choices, and I wasn't inclined to either. Aside from that, however, I also thought she could be beneficial in regards to my dealings with certain other pieces on the board...

Mason and Amber. The chilling descriptions given of that day by Owend before she had made her retreat in fear of her own life and safety, and the written testimony of the Ebon Knight slipped into those things of my parents given to me upon my ascent to the throne of Isore... it was burned into my memory, nearing the vividness of as if I had been there myself. My father was right in that the Mason and Amber of this time were not the same as those of my time, but they had the potential to do the same thing again. I felt compelled to keep them apart. The course of love could be halted or even reversed if I could catch their bond at an early enough time, while it was still fragile enough to break apart. Together, there was a chance that events could follow the same path as that which led to my own timeline. Apart? That chance was lessened, if not eliminated entirely. As well, that brutish cad would never be born. A bonus if there was ever one.

My gaze fell upon Crystal. Chatting with Olivia. If I stepped closer, one of them would likely see me. But I didn't want to interrupt, and wasn't particularly inclined to eavesdrop. So I turned away and made my way toward the prow. I could have sought out Amber, I suppose. But I didn't trust myself to maintain restraint in her presence, with just the two of us alone- I didn't want to have to explain how and why exactly I had ended up turning Amber's limbs to stone and pushing her off of the railings of the ship and into the river. So for the time being, I would maintain a lonely vigil at the prow. Perhaps I could be momentarily distracted by something up ahead, with luck.

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"...Wymp..."

He looked at the seagull which met its eternal fate and the specks of blood on the fence. Was this an actual sport, hunting poor creatures whose only use is to defecate on the person you dislike? He swore he saw the bird again in the water, but only a few feathers were left from the impact, on the ship and the water. The rest had sunk like a rock at the bottom of the river.

He looked at Madon and then at Owend, who both knew this is something usual that would test their precious, dripping patience they had. Wymp looked serious about it, but he saw a mere sanctified justice in his eyes, shining at Tolok's flaming gauntlets. The fire faded away and he looked straight into his eyes, with a slight, forgivable frown.

"...You've heard this many times. But I'll bring my reason here: seagulls are not food." He grinned sheepishly, his gluttony showing up roughly, "They are some mere birds. Your belief for God must be true, so we shall crusade other bigger birds... Wyverns, when the time comes." He pat his shoulder while moving past him with large steps, but turned towards him with a rather curious look.

"But may I ask, since my curiosity is increasing... Why are seagulls considered evil?" At this time, another seagull flew past by and Tolok didn't hesitate to hold his hand out in the air. After a few spins in the air, the bird sat down on his arm and pecked his now warm gauntlet. "Ravens sound more fitting for scouting than seagulls, I think?"

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I listened to Olivia talk about her and her sisters for a brief time, and then she spoke the last thing any undercover agent would want to hear. “On that note, I have to ask why you’re still keeping up semblances.” She touched a finger to her lips. Her voice dipped into a gentle murmur. “Who knows? Committed to the bit? Or perhaps you find yourself enjoying it, Mason?”

The words caused my blood to instantly freeze. She knew. Thank God she was an ally... though that did little to stem the embarrassment of the whole thing.

"And another thing - it does make one wonder, when allies deceive, omit, and lie to one another. Don't you think?" She laughed. "Not that we are greatly bothered by something so harmless."

I guess there was no point in hiding it from her. I could try to play my cover harder... but that would only blow back on me worse. I let out a defeated sigh and leaned against the railing, looking out at the water. "I'm going to be clear up front: I absolutely hate this. I'm pretty sure that gives you some insight as to why I continue to hide behind this facade. And if that's still not enough... well... red isn't my natural eye color, not to mention I'm blind in my left eye anyways, this hair isn't my natural color or length... not to mention quite heavy, and... well... the tone of my voice should be evidence enough. Men don't naturally have women's voices. To help with the assassination attempt against you, I went undercover, against my will mind you, as Crystal. Minute traces of magic was cast on me to alter my voice, eyes, and hair. The problem is, and what I wasn't told, was that the magic has to run it's course. In layman's terms, I'm stuck like this until it wears off, and it's humiliating enough as it is with two people knowing about it. I'd rather I keep my dignity than have it torn to shreds with everyone knowing. I'd never live it down." A pause to catch my breath. "And besides... it's frowned upon where I'm from to crossdress. It's seen as unmanly. Call that line of thinking whatever you want... it's already rubbed off on me and I don't feel comfortable like this." I then glanced towards Olivia. "So you'll have to forgive me for wanting to keep this all under wraps until it blows over... and having saved your life, I would at least ask that you would do the same as well... and hopefully have Anselm keep his mouth shut about it too."
 


Amber shielded her eyes as she climbed up onto the deck of the ship, until her eyes adjusted to the light. She was already feeling a little bored and looking for anything to do to pass the time. She couldn't find Eve, and she was giving Mason some space after his angered reaction to finding out the magic she used had to wear off naturally. She couldn't really blame him for that, she didn't know it would happen, and she did force him into it to begin with. Looking back at the stern, she saw him with Olivia anyways, and frowned. She wouldn't be comfortable talking to him with her around anyways. Instead, she made her way in the opposite direction, towards the bow, unknowingly walking right past Eve as the latter descended back into the ship.

Amber soon bumped into Orsola. "Oh, hello Orsola." She glanced around for a second before continuing. "I've been meaning to talk to you, and haven't had a chance until now. You said you're from the future, right? Is there anything you can share about it that might assist us in the upcoming days, or anything that we should be on guard for?" Amber figured it wouldn't hurt to ask, anything to further their cause. "Of course, we can't discount the fact that the future has possibly already been changed... remember when I turned violent after that meal back in Glia? I found out that it was because of some kind of toxin. It could've been meant for Madon and by dumb luck I happened to get it. If you didn't happen to know about it, then the future might be changed enough that things are going differently than what you know."

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Wymp stood in contemplative silence at Tolok's words. There was some wisdom there, considering. However... he was in too far to surrender his point, at least not yet. He didn't particularly want to die on this hill, but there were worse places to take a last stand.

"You are correct, seagulls aren't food. I've never even heard of a good recipe for them, that says a lot. And we will indeed crusade wyverns in time, when we meet Byrn in earnest conflict. However... my mentor, who inducted me into the faith, spoke often at length about the symbolism and purpose of seagulls. The infernal designs of them. They may seem harmless, that at worst they'll defecate on someone. Tha-"

Madon rapped Arcane Piercer against the deck below, catching the attention of all around. The Exarch let out a deep sigh, and then turned his gaze toward Wymp.

"Wymp. I have let this lunacy slide for long enough. Your mentor was mad as a bat... and blind, to boot. I took time to review the scripture you laid out for me the last time we discussed this. Tolok's more astute than he might look, those passages refer to ravens and not seagulls. Reflect on your actions, my pious friend. At least you can say that your aim is still on point, in the end."

Wymp fell into absolute, stunned silence. He couldn't get words out. Owend looked toward Madon with an amused expression.

"Exarch! Good God, you broke the priest! Where are we going to find a new one?"


"Oh, hello Orsola."

Orsola wondered for the briefest moment, how quickly she could strike out before inviting retaliation. A fast and powerful enough blow, and she wouldn't even have tim- God, what was she thinking? This wasn't the Amber she had known, even if she could one day become the very same. There was no call for violence here and now. So she listened as Amber spoke. As she finished speaking, ending off on the potentially changed future, Orsola smiled at her.

"That's what I'm here for, Amber. To change the future, to prevent the darkness that befell my timeline. If my fath- if the Exarch dodged a poison intended for him, through sheer luck or not, then surely that is a sign more good than if it had managed to reach him. But before I speak of what you might wish to watch out for... have you considered who would use such a toxin? It would have to have been someone within our group, on the airship with us. Now, don't get me wrong, bonds of trust are important for us now. We can't afford to tear ourselves apart over hysteria and accusations. However, I do have to tell you that one of the Grey Knights found a vial in Mason's possessions- a trace amount of liquid within matching the toxin you were exposed to."

She fell silent, to let that news sink in. A seed of doubt, she hoped, would be planted here. Rationalized as being planted in his stuff in the end, perhaps. But any small step she could take now to sow distrust between Mason and Amber would hopefully pay dividends in the future. And so far... they didn't suspect her hand. Even better.

"... Now, let's leave that matter aside for the moment. You asked for events to be on guard for in the following days. There is a festival in Onstade, around this time of year. It seems as if we will arrive just in time for it, if I'm correct about the current speed of our course. What the Owend of my time told me of it... there isn't much to fear there. Embarrassment at most, probably. But afterwards? When we head into the lands of Dodon. My knowledge of events there is murky, for the most part. However, I can tell you that a great many things are going to go down in Dodon. It will not be an easy ride whatsoever. Be on guard, and be careful in who you trust and who you do not."

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He spoke and she listened. The boatswain came into the midst, stammering for attention with an ice-bucket refreshment in hand, and the princess gave it; and he left, but not before wringing up two chairs for two, now seated where the salt spray bit at the heels of the sweet-wine and from which meter by meter of the swarthy old country could be seen vanishing into the distance. The bulk of the upper decks loomed over them as they talked. Oh, what about? Any number of chatty things.

Idle thoughts. Two perfectly cordial women had a perfectly cordial conversation, sunning themselves upon the river. Suppose Mason looked the man that he insisted himself to be? What then? Would those fishermen or those pasturers on the distant sward, looking at the passing ship and seeing them, assume things of this pair? They would not then be two people, but a man and a woman. There were understandings and misunderstandings about this.

But no; two friends, sharing a pleasant afternoon, not a man and a woman after all, and all was well.

It was of this that Mason spoke, and Olivia was content to listen to the man bleed like a bad hand of cards. Talk of virtue and virility. Talk as if it was clothes that made men men, or the rough turn of voice, or even – even their very speech. Marvelous ideas that were so deeply wormed that by his own admission he was slave to them.

“Is that important, ‘manliness’?” Olivia asked. “You keep saying that word. I don’t rightly know what it means. What is it that makes a man a man? And what makes it so worth protecting?”

“Now I’ve got to know what you think. Do you believe that Anselm is a man, then? A woman? Does it matter, when a country’s at stake upon our actions and decisions?” The Princess smiled. She started to slip. If Mason looked at her now, he would be able to tell. Eyes on the past that was her future. “I never really thought of myself as a woman, you know. We were destined to be Princesses, anyway. And that’s what I am. A Princess, before anything else.”

“But you, you’re a man, aren’t you? You’re proud of being a man, and you want to protect that part of you, even though you’ve done nothing more than being born into it.” She didn’t pause. “Truth be told, I never quite understood it, so you’ll excuse me while I’ve got you here. Why? Dresses or kilts, I don’t care, so long as it does not interfere with my duties. But you?”

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I let out a little sigh. I didn't know how to best describe it. Like many other things that I knew of, it was just so natural that there really wasn't any other explanation other than that's how it was.
"Olivia, if you want the honest truth, there really is no proper way to answer your questions." I spoke as I turned my attention back to her. "Any answer I give you would just be riddled with more questions... I guess I can start at the basics. We had freedom, but being male carried a status, as did being a female. It was generally accepted among the populace what those statuses were, and that they shouldn't be intermixed. And if you want the honest truth, that's just how our society was. Just like how your city is a woman's paradise. It's odd looking at it from an outside perspective, but having grown up and lived with it, it's so natural I don't know how to explain it." A thought crossed my mind, which I made verbal. "To some extent, that lifestyle does come from passages of the bible... but believe me, I really do not want to get into the discussion of religion. Religion and politics, standard social etiquette to never discuss them. Not that I'm any good at discussing them anyways."
I paused and once again looked out over the water, mulling my words. "You mentioned what I thought about Anselm... and then you mentioned you were destined to be princesses... I'll tell you what I told Anselm: I don't believe in the whole destiny thing. I believe everyone has a God-given right to live the life they want to live." I then met Olivia's smile and chuckled. "And to be honest, I don't know what sense to make of Anselm. He's crazy, I will admit that. But I'm also hoping he really took the words I told him to heart. He's got potential that he's not utilizing."

 



Amber pondered Orsola's words. She had considered that the toxin had to come from someone on the ship, that someone was paid off to do so.
But Orsola's certainty that the vial came from Mason's possessions? That didn't add up. Mason had nothing against Madon or anyone else in the group, and in fact doing something to him would be detrimental to their goals. Was someone setting him up? Amber concluded that she needed to bring this up with Mason as soon as she could, for both of their sakes.

"A festival in Onstade, huh?" Amber rubbed her chin. "If it is what I'm thinking of... hmm... you're right, at most it should be embarrassing... I'm not looking forward to it myself." "And Mason is going to kill me" she thought to herself. "Nevertheless... I'm wary of everyone. You don't have to worry about that. You live the life I did roaming around and you know full well to watch your back. I'll extend the same warning to you: just because you have some knowledge of what happens in Dodon does not mean you should bank on it happening. It's entirely possible what'll happen there is completely different than what bits you remember."
Amber paused, as if she remembered something, and then continued.
"And Orsola, whenever you see Mason again, could you possibly apologize for invoking the name of Candace? He told me the story behind that name, and it would mean a lot to him with an apology."
For what Amber knew Mason didn't really care if Orsola apologized or not. But still, a chance for an olive branch to be shared between the two would help smooth any future conflicts.

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“Things are as they are,” Olivia repeated. She sipped at her flute of wine, made an expression. “Just a fact of growing up. Is that so?”

A man who acted upon preconceived notions, and formed them of nature and not of concerted thought. Did that make him harmless, or more dangerous, being set in his ways? And if he ever came to the realization that nothing was as it seemed?

Olivia had grown up the same way, being told how things would unfold, understanding the expectations that were her life – simply of nature. There had still been immutable truths about the world, as natural as butterflies and daisies – about her own position, the relationship between the wealthy and the ordinary, the ideas of virtue and vice. When her entire family was killed to the man, things took on a slightly different light. Suddenly, anything could change. No fact was true enough to evade alteration.

Those who underwent that catalyst tended to come out the other end as dangerous as anyone.

But she preferred those types, anyway.

Talk drifted to Anselm. Mason certainly had his handful of thoughts on the matter. None of it unexpected from someone so foreign and who had never ruled.

“You’re presumptuous, Mason.” The Princess set her wineglass on the railing. “You know what Madon wanted to be, when he was young?” She giggled at the memory. “Oh, it doesn’t matter. What does it that Isore’s burned and its people, dead. Dreams and wishes and all those petty desires of the heart – even love – aren’t worth a damn to people dying on one another’s swords. For us, there really only is duty. To protect, to give our people peace, and to save them all. Anselm does what must be done, as we all do.”

The wind sang mournful all round its rim. Then she dumped the rest of the wine over the edge. She had had enough.

“No more deceptions.” Olivia frowned, as she turned to depart up the stairs. “You may keep your secrets, your anachronisms, your idiosyncracies to yourselves. Your foreign presence is tolerated amongst this force by Madon’s grace. But deceive us once more with no good cause, and I’ll execute you personally.” Then she put on a gentle smile, eyes soft as hot lead. “I am certain that will not happen, you being the man that you are.”

With that, she swept up the steps, leaving the disguised man to reconsider his allegiances.

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"Completely different in places, perhaps, but the general flow of time should match what I know."

Orsola smiled lightly.

"I don't yet know the point of divergence, when things will inevitably lead towards the events of my future. But so far, I'm confident that things are heading in the right direction, the direction opposite that. And as for Mason... yes, I was out of line in invoking that name. I'll apologize to him when I see him next. I was... thinking of the Mason that I knew in my time at that point, and hadn't been around him long enough to see he was different in this time."

She looked out past the bow, toward the horizon ahead of the ship.

"The perspective of time is an odd thing. Or maybe it's just strange to me, since I was once upstream and then traveled down. Taking the slow way back up to try and avoid the turbulence I know is coming ahead. I will do everything in my power to change our course... The people of my time entrusted me with a great burden. To stop the calamity that befell our timeline, even if changing that results in them all ceasing to exist. Perhaps even I will cease to exist, then. Or perhaps not. I don't innately know the mechanics of time."


Atop the uppermost deck, Wymp had recovered from his moment of revelation. Arbalest holstered, he tentatively reached out toward the seagull on Tolok's shoulder- only for it fly off, defecating on his outstretched hand. Laughter burst forth from the watching Madon and Owend. It was to this scene that Olivia would make her arrival. Nobody, except Tolok perhaps, would have noticed the Princess' arrival immediately. Wymp was too busy cleaning seagull feces off of his hand to notice her, while Madon and Owend didn't see her until their laughter had naturally died down. Owend bowed slightly in deference, while Madon met her gaze with a slight smile.

"Ah, Olivia. Your timing is fortuitous. Tell me, would you happen to know if seagulls have any connection to the infernal, as opposed to ravens? We're trying to figure out if Wymp's mentor was a lunatic or not."

Owend let out a deep sigh. After a few moments of Olivia staring silently at him, Madon spoke again.

"Oh, I suppose I should have asked this first. Is there any particular business you're wanting to discuss? Or did you just want... casual conversation?"

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Even though Tolok is a man of fire, whose power would be fueled by anger and potentially turn into an infernal beast of hell, he burst out in laughter as well, expecting the bird to do its thing on his hand. His look jumped at Wymp, who started cleaning that place.

"No, Wymp, that is fine. No, you want to clean it? Well, alright, if you insist!" He shot a smile at Wymp's maniac nods, as he cleaned the place until some sort of shine came up on the gauntlet, where part of the "job" landed. 

He kept laughing with the rest. He saw Olivia, but his laughter would keep going, unable to control himself. Her arrival meant honor, respect and... judgement, but gods decided to roll an unlucky dice against his will. He breathed in and out, exhausted, his lungs burning. He quickly opened his eyes, like an owl, raised a finger upwards in sign of taking a moment and turned backwards to where they came from with the ship. He breathed out, a thin flame making its appearance, as if a weak dragon would breathe out fire. Thin and short enough to not burn anything, long enough for the rest to notice. He turned around, embarrassed and bowed, courteously, his gauntlets lighting up slowly, as if weak fire covered them.

"Sorry... This is the first time it happened to me."

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