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LOTE: Wartime Festivals?

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An unintended question and the girl bled a whole hand of cards. Was Olivia surprised at her own surprise? She had, at least, expected Orsola to be more guarded. But why?

The girl’s explanation was threadbare. So many questions that could be pursued, answers which could be extracted by a simple application of pressure. But Olivia chose to let sleeping dogs lie. She looked out at the rock.

“I suppose a world like yours had to reach deep into its history to find salvation.”

Sentiment came over the Princess, in a way that wasn’t unpleasant. This was the first they’d been alone together, and the first time the young Exarch hadn’t been trying to sell the Princess her visions of the future. She tried to be stoic, but failed at it the same way that her father did at times – she talked like she was remembering something painful, but there was a little something hopeful in her voice. In other words, the girl thought she was changing the world. Olivia recognized that streak, that sort of quality that accompanies the people who don’t know if they’re making a difference, but know that they’re trying. The girl trembled with quiet fire, a conviction to make things right to her dead future. It reminded her of Madon.

A twinge of guilt. The girl, who’d formerly been a ball of desires and agendas to be molded, was now asserting herself as human. Someone who Olivia might admire, or fervently wish to support, or show some favor to.

Sand streamed on the breeze up around her.

“Well, we’re trapped for the weekend while the soldiers offload some of the ships and settle into their course.” Olivia was giving a rare show of generosity. “It seems merely prudent as a matter of heritage to recover an old Princess’s personal blade, if nothing else.”

The Princess was indulging herself now, and she knew that. Symptoms of a conscience. She thought that she’d gotten better at reducing people to things, but then she supposed not. Here she was, making promises to an unknown party she thought she might get to be friends with. Make no mistake, living in a world of humans was a liability. She’d learned that much from her predecessors. Humans have things dear to hold onto, so dear they’d sacrifice the world for them.

That sacrifice often felt like the only thing worth doing, even if it didn’t come out to much. And usually, it did not.

“Still, perhaps an activity for another day. Did you come out here simply to scope it out? Or was there something else weighing on your mind?”

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Mason and Amber were holed away in one of the inn's rooms, arguing back and forth over Mason's current predicament. It was already bad enough Mason had to maintain his disguise longer than necessary, but now he had to go to the extreme? No matter how he tried to figure out how to get out of it, Amber sorrowfully pointed out how it wouldn't work. Mason had to participate, and he had to do it in a two piece swimsuit, much to his chagrin.
Though he finally conceded on the grounds he got to pick Amber's as well. Much to her chagrin.
Nothing more needs to be said on that topic.

Meanwhile, with everyone heading off in their own directions, Eve went off on her own. She drifted through town, checking out all the stalls, weaving between people who didn't even cast her a second glance. Shopkeepers who saw her one minute would find her gone as soon just as swiftly and mysteriously as she appeared.

"I've never seen anything like this before." Eve mused to herself. "To think something like this existed."
"I must admit, seeing such trinkets crafted out of seashells is... unique, to say the least. But knowing you, these mere trinkets are nothing compared to what you can make."
Eve gave a little nod to herself. "I'm already coming up with ideas... not just with shells, but with some of these other oddities as well."
"Oh? Now you've piqued my interest."
Eveline realize Eve was staring at a mounted swordfish. "One of your ideas?"
Eve continued her walk through the market place until she came across a booth at the end, selling mysterious multi-colored orbs.

"Welcome! Are you interested in purchasing one of these?" The shopkeeper said after he realized Eve was there.
"Umm... what... what are these?"
"These, young lass, are called beach balls!"
"Beach... balls? Beaches... have balls?"
"What an amusing name. Didn't know beaches had balls."
The shopkeeper let out an amused chuckle. "No, that's not what that is. A beach ball is a ball you pass back and forth at the beach with friends."
"Oh... with... friends..." Eve paused. "I'll... take one..." She placed two gold on the counter and the shopkeeper handed her the ball, and almost immediately afterwards she just disappeared, leaving the shopkeeper confused.
Eve continued through the marketplace, holding the beach ball in front of her. "Oh Eve... I know you have no intention of using that ball for playing."
Eve smiled to herself. "No... I'm not... but it is for friends."


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Orsola stared at the rock formation in silence for a short time before finally responding.
"Trapped for the weekend, huh? It makes sense, though doubtless Madon must not be very fond of the idea. And you are right. There are things that weigh heavily on my mind, two that stand out particular... the first regarding certain members of my father's entourage- you may have an inkling of whom I refer to, but if you don't mind, I'd like to delay speaking of them until after I speak of the second matter. The other thing weighing on my mind..."

She paused, letting out a wistful sigh.

"I was thinking of my mother. While there was a great joy for me in actually getting to meet and know my father in this time, to know a man perished before I was even born, the matter of my mother is... not so cut and dried, per say. Who she was, and what happened to her in my time, these are the questions that echo throughout my thoughts. My memories of her are indistinct and muddled at best- by the time I was old enough for such memories to be clear, she was gone. And those who might have known about her did not speak of her, beyond vague utterings that were likely half-truths at the most. I suppose that's a reason I've taken to accompanying Madon's force instead of striking off on my own. To see what woman he might grow close to..."

Something hard to perceive shifted in her tone and expression. Like she wanted to say something else, but was all too hesitant to voice it. After a bit, she shook her head and continued.

"But of course, that's no guarantee that she would be the same woman whom my father bonded with in the timeline leading up to my time. As for what happened to her? I was told for the longest time that she fell in battle, not too long after my birth. ... If things could ever be that simple, Olivia, do you think either of us would be standing here right now? No, Lady Owend eventually confessed the truth, as I prepared to travel to this time. She left me. To where she went, nobody had any idea. I was left in the care of Owend and the survivors of Isore."

She fell silent, turning her gaze toward the sea and the rock formation. The wind blew silently past the two women, for what seemed a short while, before Orsola turned and met Olivia's gaze once more. 

"... Now, I think you might like to hear what I have to say about a certain Mason and Amber? Though I cannot with any certainty tie their actions to the onset of the calamity I spoke of, there is a dark and grievous thing they did that certainly contributed to the suffering of Erasmia, and that must be prevented for the good of the future..."

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Evening. Sun fiery-red; ambient light, washed-out blues dark as slate. The air was pillowy with salt and humidity. Gulls lazed on the docks, ignoring the breezes that mixed with one another just offshore, where land met sea – it was that time of day when the winds began to reverse, and there was no direction in the whole world but a pleasant sort of confusion in which all change was suspended for the sake of living in the present moment. The tide held its breath. The waves purred over the rocks. Yes; evening.

From the balcony of the restaurant, the two could see the beach arc beneath them to either side of the delta. In the distance, more traditional communities gathered together to erect driftwood altars and bonfires to celebrate the Sekhalia – that’s what Owend remembered it was called, suddenly. Well, none of that tribal business here, Owend told Tolok. In the heart of the city, where modernity reigned, families and couples browsed the streets, picked out swimsuits for one another, and cheery voices spilled out from every bar and tavern imaginable. Not quite debauchery, not yet. The excess was still on the very limit of respectable.

The Pearl of the Keys was no different. Every inch of space was filled by at least one celebrator; improvised chairs and ramshackle tables were set up anywhere the staff could find space. Only by pulling rank – a Lieutenant in the Grey Knights – did the two of them find a table at all. And even that had been a vast miracle, the waitress told them.

Well, festivals were for miracles, after all.

The buzz of chatter and talk swelled like a wave out of the restaurant proper, but on the balcony things were more muted. Tolok and Owend had come in with the beginnings of a hangover – sweetwine left the system peacefully, but with the amount they had drunk, by God – and swiftly remedied themselves with yet more glasses of wine. They had not been noticed overmuch by anyone. Everyone in the bustling downtown was hungover to some degree. Now there were menus before them, filled with words that Tolok had probably never read in his life, arranged side-by-side with prices that Tolok might well have never seen in his life.

“Oh, the Princess’ll be paying for all of it anyway,” Owend said wryly. She poured him another glass from the bottle that had been set on their table.

This was alright. At the moment, all of her own worries were very small and distant and, perhaps most alluringly, someone else’s problem entirely. The magic of festivals. All she needed to think about was what was going to be tastiest in the next hour, and perhaps in the next hour, what sort of swimsuit she’d like to wear – these absolutely worthless worries that made up the meat of life. Nothing really was worth thinking about, was it?

And here was Tolok with her. She couldn’t rightly explain it, but Owend began to realize that she rather appreciated his company. She said so much aloud, brazenly and without a hint of embarrassment.

“I hadn’t told you before, Tolok, but I’m glad we got to meet.” She sipped the wine, flipped through the menu non-committally. “Honestly. I’m not joking. When I think about it, I don’t know if I’ve got any other friends. Do you know what I mean? I’ve got commanders and subordinates, and I don’t really understand any of them. My knights are all business with me, even when they’re being friendly.”

“I mean, they’re ready to die at my command, the same way I’ll die for Glia if necessary, but you know – that’s a seriously fucked sort of thing to build a friendship on, right?” She laughed. It sounded like a joke, but she knew that was how it was. “Severa’s nice enough but – it’s always that but. And the Princess and the Exarch, too. They’re worried about things like avenging their nation or their people, that sort of thing that goes right over my head. It’s more like they’re demigods than they are human. They definitely aren’t playing the same game as the rest of us. So really, it’s only you I can be ordinary with. So, thanks.” She smiled at him. “Honestly.”

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Once they had settled down in the restaurant, Pearl of the Keys, with the breeze of the wind calmly wiping away fears, dark thoughts and what not, Tolok listened to her talking while looking at the menu, with a rub to the head, whenever he'd see a word he'd consider a tongue twister, just by trying to speak into his mind. The prices were enormous, feeling a bit out of shame for not accepting the gold the Exarch had offered him. But, most likely, that wouldn't have been enough for a full course meal, though, so her response calmed him down, breathing out some air, in a sigh of relief. "Thanks." He said, as she poured him another bit, sipping not before he took off his father's gauntlets, the legacy he'd sworn to keep safe. He put them on his lap, as to feel just fine, knowing there'd be no way to lose them.

“I hadn’t told you before, Tolok, but I’m glad we got to meet.” A small, yet smile slowly made its way on his face, as he was looking at the menu with a somehow inhuman focus, trying to hide the embarassment of him not handling emotions, feelings and the jumble of things happening in the background, considering the adventure the whole party is in at the moment. But deep inside, he was happy he heard that. He kept listening to her, sipping some wine and checking if his gauntlets are still there, but his eyes rose to her, once it had been mentioned she'd doubt her circle of friends, or rather the lack of. "What about camaraderie, Owend? That is a friendship, as well. I think it is not as superficial as some other would think." His eyes showed a tint of sadness, as those words had been spoken. And one could have admit, his eyes' dark green colour amplified that feeling, any human would recognise that he wouldn't lie.

"But I understand what you mean. I didn't live with knights, commanders, a chain of command, all in all. I was a free soul, who'd take up jobs for coins and to help others. Even if you could explain to me, I'd probably still be cryptic and only understand when compared to my life." He poured her another glass and laid back on the chair, rubbing his nose in a calm, thoughtful silence and not awkwardness, as one would expect.

He snapped out of it, once she made the joke. He smiled again, but probably had a feeling she was deeply affected by this. Now, that he recalls it; back when they were in Glia, the subordinates greeted Owend as a soldier, rather than a friend. They had known eachother for, at least, several years, where one would expect they'd become great friends, the link, string of that would be tied from one to another would be as tough as steel, unbreakable and only becoming stronger with time. But, he might just consider it as a façade. Nothing more, nothing less.
"You're welcome, Owend. The feelings are mutual. I've gone through different parties, but none of the people I've met managed to be out of ordinary, like all of you. This party both of us are part of! It is true, we may not be as strong as the Princess and the Exarch, but we can only aspire to be better and help, in any way we can. Not only to avenge the nations or people, just like how they want, but to also find what we're looking for, whatever it may be." He smiled brightly, as if a ray of light came up from him, like a pocket-sized sun. Was he as much of a brute as others would think? Sure, he may fight, fight and fight. He may not be the best talker or to be skilled in any other things, other than battles, strategies or exploration. But he was just hiding behind a shell. And it started breaking, slowly, as if someone used a spell to wither it away.

None of that mattered, battles, fights, blood. He had to cherish this moment. He felt special and he wouldn't know why, but the setting was unbelievable to his eyes.

"But, why are you saying you've got no friends? What about your childhood?" He only said two simple questions, and waited while looking through the menu.

Edited by The Fire Heart

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The shroud of dusk was drawn over the sky by the tail of the sun, and the two women talking there hardly noticed at all. The change was gradual. There was still light enough to see; evening still glimmered a brightly beaded gem on the sea.

But the tides did turn. Water crept up the shore, nearly lapping at their feet.

“Well, perhaps we should return,” Olivia said. “I think we’ll have plenty of time to mull over the matter later, when it’s...cheerier out here.”

Orsola agreed. The features of the formation had been erased by the decline of the sun, and now towered a dark bulk out to sea like an old wreckage. A cool wind had picked up, too.

Two lonesome figures made their way over the sands. Where the legate had driven off, was left another chariot with driver waiting at alert. He snapped a smart salute once Olivia and Orsola approached. The legate had been thoughtful enough not to abandon the Princess to a long evening of walking.

The chariot started down the street.

Olivia did something with her hands. Suddenly, all noise vanished from around them. Orsola startled, then looked between Olivia and the driver. Olivia brushed her ears meaningfully, then motioned for the girl to continue.

“We can keep talking, if you like.”

Orsola relaxed. “I was thinking of my mother.”

Ah, the mysterious woman. Olivia laughed as it suddenly came to her – of course the girl had a mother! Madon hadn’t mentioned anything about it to her. Perhaps the man was embarrassed. More likely, it was a woman he’d yet to meet. Now that the potentiality of it went into her mind, it lodged there. It would be rude to pester Madon about it. But if Orsola was willing to share… Olivia leaned forward. “Oh, do tell. I do love gossip.”

The girl shook her head. A wistful chuckle. “I wish I could indulge in something like that. But – no. The truth is...though it’s a great joy for me to finally meet my father, who’d perished before I was even born, the matter of my mother is not so cut and dry. I never knew her, you see. By the time I was old enough to remember things clearly, she had long been gone.”

“I’m sorry to hear it.”

The girl shrugged, as if to say that it posed no great inconvenience to her. Madon would do something just like that. Pretensions of stoicism until the bitter end, poisoned by mortal sentiment. The girl was one after her own heart, Olivia thought. It filled her with not sadness but approval. Orsola watched the pillar retreating behind them. “Well, I can’t say I haven’t been curious. Perhaps that’s why I’ve taken to accompany Madon’s force instead of striking out on my own. To see what woman he might grow close to…”

Olivia tilted her head. “Not to get to know your own father? Retake that which was robbed of you?” She was gentle the way she said it. “It’s alright to admit to weakness. I might understand how you feel. My own parents were slain when I was but a child, just fifteen years ago. There’s no shame in feeling that loss. Nor missing them.”

“Well…” Orsola hesitated. “My mother...you might think she fell in battle, and that’s what I’d be told initially. But Lady Owend eventually told me the truth, before I came back. She simply left after I was born – vanished into thin air.”

A word hovered there, abandoned, that the girl dared not say out of fear that by saying it it might become true in her mind.

Bleeding a hand full of cards. The girl was vulnerable at her heart. Olivia took a deep breath. “I see. I suppose you wish to know why? What shall you do when you do find her?”

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“Not to get to know your own father? Retake that which was robbed of you?”

There was more to be said, still, but Orsola was swift in responding to this pair of questions.

"Of course, for that is indeed one of the reasons for which I accompany my father. I thought it went without saying, though I suppose I should have conveyed it nonetheless."

She fell silent for after uttering this response. The gentleness with which Olivia spoke to her... there was empathy there. If this woman was the one who might have became her mother in the past of her future (thinking of time travel always resulted in a ghastly twisting of the mind. She didn't like to dwell on its implications and strange phraseology over much, except where necessary)... then how could she have also gone and left her, in the end? As she turned her thoughts away from this darkened line of thinking, she caught Olivia's questions directed at her. Why? And what would she do? Orsola breathed deeply as she formulated her answers, and soon enough voiced her response.

"Certainly, I desire to know why. And as for what I shall do? ... I can't properly answer that now. I haven't fully decided myself, and I am sure that the details of why will have an impact on the course of action I undertake."

She stared forward in silence for a few moments before continuing.

"That aside... Olivia, could I ask you something? I'm not asking you to promise anything. But if I become indisposed, or otherwise unable to do so myself, could you ensure my father's safety? His survival? He's a strong man, capable of protecting himself against all manner of foe. But I know there are forces in motion that are beyond his power to stand against alone."

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“Camaraderie?” She laughed. Of course, Tolok was right. He was a free spirit. From the point of view of an outsider the duty soldiers had for one another might have consituted friendship. But that wasn’t quite right. That was family; indeed, an unbreakable string. But it wasn’t tied to much. Family, you didn’t have to like. Family, you didn’t talk of dreams or anxieties with, you didn’t entrust with your heart because a family was not forged from common spirits but rather duty. You protected each other, died for each other, because you were family. Nothing much else.

The waitress stopped by. Owend ordered for the two of them, looking to Tolok to ask what he wanted. Her accent changed when she spoke to the waitress. Consonants rolled, vowels reverberated in her throat. There were a few words that the man couldn’t quite catch there. Although everything was written the same way as classical Glian, the speech went beyond him.

“My mother was from Onstade,” Owend explained. “When I was in Academy everyone made fun of my provincial accent. But being able to speak the dialect does come in handy when I’m back here. Came here pretty often in my childhood. Though, if you’re going to ask, I’ll tell you that I had lots of friends when I was a child. Had lots of smitten little boys and girls fawning over me…” Owend grinned. “Is that what you expect me to say? Because it’s certainly true enough. Just like anyone’s glorious cherry-colored youth. But you know, things happen. Now I’m sure they wouldn’t recognize me, Lieutenant in the knighthood, and I wouldn’t recognize them, either. I think you were right, actually – camaraderie is a big part of friendship. Just a part, though. But how much camaraderie could you expect after one kiddie summer splashing about on the beach? I think people use that word, friend, too lightly. I think –”

Owend paused, thought better of her rant. “Well, what about you? Being the ‘free spirit’ you are, you must have made some friends along the way.”

“Nobody out of the ordinary, like all of you.” Darling man, he meant it too.

“Oh, come off it. They’re a spectacular bunch, but...well, I take offense to being lumped in with that lot. I think I’m pretty ordinary, myself,” Owend laughed.

“We might not be as strong as them, but we can aspire to be better, to help them however we can.”

Maybe Tolok had a better sense of what it meant to cross the barrier between ordinary and super-ordinary. Not her, no. She was just an ordinary lass, her. Maybe that was why the future so daunted her. Owend gave him a funny look.

“Tolok. I don’t mean to spoil the moment, but...could I ask what you’re doing here?” She held up a glass, watched the waitress fill it back up with wine. “This whole war business. I’m sure that if you weren’t tied down like so – having the Exarch, or now the Princess, tell you where to go and what to do – you probably could’ve made plenty of progress on your own...priorities. Is it just a matter of convenience?” Owend rest her chin on her fingertips. “Though I can’t imagine what’s so convenient about it. You’re from Dodon, too, aren’t you? Not exactly the sort of person I’d expect to be fired up about Isorian injustice.”

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"No, it's not injustice." He sighed, running his index finger on the edge of the table, most likely without realising. Nobody was around, that would listen to them, excluding the people around them, that were so caught up in their discussions, an amalgam of words over words, incoherent when one would try to listen closely to a table, as if the sounds themselves were a curtain strong enough to cover the other tables as well, creating layers, upon layers of impenetrable sound barriers.

"It's pity. Pity for the poor, innocent people that ended up crushed by ruins, slashed by blades, those which suffered a dark, horrible fate. When a man or woman opts to wield the weapon, attach the heavy armour, under the banner of its land, they knowingly give their life, they know they might end up in dirt, they know everything they know and love would end. They take this risk and move forward with life. This is us, Owend. Our squad, the Glian army, Isorian, Dodon, Byrn. All of its soldiers know what they are in, they know they could die within the first second when the war cry is being shouted. Knowing this, they are fine if they will die Not all of them, but most. It is normal that all of them want to cling to their lifes as much as possible, but they do not fear death, like the innocent people, which we know. Civilians." He sighed, again.

"I always hated, despised wars, death and pain to an extreme degree, when it is afflicted upon a person who would have never picked up any of a soldier's equipment, with the exception to defend themselves or their family. The innocent people should never, ever have to the true face of war. When I was a child, I used to love the stories about the great heroes, leading huge armies, on great marches which would ultimately defeat the evil and save the world. But... I grew up. I grew up when I saw their bodies, Owend. Ever since then, I hated the pairing of romanticism and war. Not just war, but all violence that is being poured, for no reason, to kill people which never deserved it. Not just them, my parents. But everyone else."

He took a long pause to breathe. Tolok's bright smile changed to a defeated, humiliated face, which was completed by the eyes devoid of meaningness. This was poison, which he's actively spitting out, not to hurt others, but to exempt himself from it. "Being a wanderer, after that episode, turned out to be nothing more than a blind rage towards the unnecessary, murderous characteristic of some humans. Ever since then, I worked with other mercenaries, to actively take out gangs, take bloody jobs and do what an innocent person wouldn't dare to do. I avoided talking to them, the parties. And even if I would talk, it would be small, to pass time. Not because I hated being social, but because I would start caring. If they were to die, I'd weep the same way, because they would show me a part of their good-will, hidden between the layers of steel, protected by a will to survive. My hate kept growing more, more and more, my hope for this world would shrink again, again and again, along with my hope for finding out what happened to them. Who caused it, and why..." All this time, he avoided eye contact, because he feared what her reaction would be.
"...Until I saw the Exarch in the Valley. Something was special to him. Maybe it was his cloak, lance or his bulky armour. I always considered the armour to be bulkier for the people which would try to hide their true selves, their true good-will. It was not just protection from their attacks, it was a protection for their souls. I never lost my hope, even though it kept shrinking, but I felt as if I could do things right. It was as if this was my call, to do it right and save the world in the true meaning of it. Even though I could have never found out anything about my parents or these gauntlets... I would have been happy to do what I should have from the beginning. That's why I care now, Owend. About this party. Because I might never live to tell the tale."

It seemed the rant was over, once Tolok looked up at her, again. "That's why I am here, Owend. If I can help end these wars and, possibly, the whole evil that lurks in this world, I would be more than glad to give it all. My father aspired to help the royalty when he was assigned to make the required gear. He made the finest of the weapons, hoping they would be used to protect or burn the menacing roots of the darkness. That's why he also made mine. He probably knew I'd follow the steps of war, so he made sure I'd come out alive and well." And then, silence. No other word would come out and he ate his order in complete silence, only nodding or moving his head left and right in disagreement. It was as if he exhausted his word count after this. It wasn't a bad thing specifically, but it could have been, probably, worse.

Edited by The Fire Heart

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With the crack of dawn the day after, the festival was due to begin shortly. The party slowly filtered out from their rooms.

Crystal was one of the first ones to emerge, fully uncomfortable in a two piece swimsuit.



Amber shortly followed afterwards, even more uncomfortable.



"I hate this." Amber quietly whispered to Crystal.
"At least we're both uncomfortable." Crystal paused, glancing over Amber once again. "You look good by the way."
"Shut up."

After a few minutes, the rest of the party was out of their rooms, including Eve... who was not only the last one out, but wearing the exact same swimsuit as Amber.
"Oh... Amber... you chose... this swimsuit too?"
"Unfortunately so."
"Well... umm... I thought it looked good... so I chose it... if you're wearing it too... I guess I made the right choice...?" Eve's face was a tad red.
"See? Told you Eve. It's a good swimsuit."
"You... think it looks good?"

Eve didn't get a chance to reply before the legate came and fetched the group, leading them towards the opening ceremony on the beach.

They arrived at the same time as three very familiar figures, each clad in their own swimsuit: Innes, Jill, and the Ebon Knight (who, contrary to everyone else, was wearing his armor under his swimsuit).
Tensions immediately rose, but the legate quickly interposed herself between the two parties. "Before you get any ideas, this is a time of peace so we may all celebrate this festival. Fighting is strictly illegal, so much so that your weapons were all confiscated while you slept."
"How did you do that? We would've heard you."
"It was quite simple really. I didn't stop moving while I was in your rooms, so you had no chance to detect me."
"So you were the one who woke me up last night?" Crystal said in shock.
"I have no idea what you're talking about." The legate quickly brushed Crystal off. "Anyways, now that everyone has gathered, we may begin the festivities. The beach is yours to engage in various summer activities, while there is an area set up to eat to your heart's content." And with that, the legate wandered off, leaving the groups to themselves.
Crystal let out a sigh. "Well Amber, let's go see what's on the beach. Might as well make the most of things while we're here."
"Very well. What are you hoping for?"
"Anything to pass the time quicker." The two headed off towards the beach, while Eve silently followed as well, but headed in her own direction.

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A plea for help. Olivia pretended to contemplate it. Orsola was not desperate but she was showing cracks. Pressed from within, responsibility weighed on her like an explosion she struggled to contain within herself. The search for her mother; the shock of knowing her dead father; and whatever else she thought would eventually come to pass, and assuaging dark futures. The girl had the Princess’s sympathy. Not too much of it, and not all of it, but she knew how to felt to be semi-divine.

And that was what it was. All of them had some belief that history turned on their dime. Their actions were the important ones. So she understood how difficult it was for Orsola to ask such things from any other.

“If you don’t ask for promises, you won’t receive them. Even if they’re willingly given.” Her eyes pointed straight ahead, steely. “They are all under my protection, Orsola. Isore, Dodon, the Valley – even Zenith and Byrn. And everyone within. Madon included. We will give an end to this madness that has taken the Erasmia over. That much, I do promise.”

“Armor as protection for the soul...huh?” She reached over, poked Tolok in the chest, made a face. “Well, no armor for your tender heart now, is there?”

She didn’t know what else to say. Severa had been right after all; the knight was a simple man. He was simple, but far from simple-minded. Though the list of them dwindled by the hour, he still believed in the good things, and repudiated the bad. Admirable?

“Well, your father must have been a brilliant man. A master smith, and he could see the future too.” Owend rested her face on her palms. Tolok was bitter, yet shone, red-faced the way that one was when overcome by the deep shame of spilling one’s heart. Although he tried to keep his eyes flat, emotionless, she could see they were really more overcome with the opposite. Just like about every other man in the world, she knew that he wasn’t really about to cry, nor could he be made to; but this might’ve been the closest he could get. “You’re a good person, aren’t you? No wonder they call you a knight. Even if you never had a lord.”

“War is hell, but it’s important to stay frosty, Tolok. There’s still a world out there for people like us –“ Owend grimaced. “Well, for people like you. Though I’d rather not think about myself at the moment.”

“Maybe you should take the same advice. We’re here, Tolok, and that’s all. For now, we don’t need to be angels wading through hell the way you think of us. For now, we’re just ordinary people. We can be that way. And we’re allowed to be. We can’t change the world alone, and we can’t change the world now. But once we’re through with it, I think you’ll find that we’ve done our damndest.”

She lifted her glass, a sort of half-smile on her lips. “So. Relax a little. Maybe this is a bit too much self-love, but here’s – here’s to us.”

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"Have we gotten any bites yet?"

"No. And look at you, Princess, all dainty-like. Complaining and refusing to take off your armor in case the ravages of the sun dare mar your fair skin."

"Bitch, I am sorely tempted to toss you off this boat right now."

A few miles out to sea from Onstade, three people rode in a fishing boat atop the idyllic gentle waves, ribbing each other and generally having a good time. A man, a woman, and what was presumably another man encased in full armor. The woman, with crimson hair tied into a ponytail and eyes the pink of rose quartz, rowed the boat while bickering with the man in armor. A mouse sat on her shoulder, squeaking occasionally in response to the motion of the boat but otherwise silent and staring at either of the men on the boat. The armored man focused a narrowed gaze on the mouse.

"Care to explain the mouse?"

"Well excuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuse me, Princess. I guess I forgot your royal edict about not bringing rodents into your presence. ... Umm, to be honest, he stowed away in my saddlebags while we were in The Valley. He looked polite, so I guess I just kept him?"

"... Okay, Bitch, how exactly does a mouse 'look polite'?"

"I don't know! He just did, okay? Does everything need a perfectly sensical and rational explanation?"

"I mean... yes?"


The woman made a 'hmph' noise and turned away angrily from the armored man, facing the other man on the boat.

"You got anything to say, Wanker? Any devastatingly hilarious quips that you've been dying to fire off? Go ahead, shoot away, that will just make my da-"

The mouse started to squeak rapidly and deliberately, as if trying to get the attention of the woman. She cut herself off and turned her gaze toward it, then followed to where she thought it was looking. On the shoreline of a nearby island, there was a couple of objects on the shoreline, hard to make out the exact nature of from this distance. The woman frowned and steered the boat toward the island. Following her gaze and the boat's direction, the armored man nodded after a few moments.

"Mmm. No idea what those might be, but it can't hurt to swing by and investigate them. In different circumstances, I'd be wary of some kind of trap... but if an enemy managed to predict us this thoroughly, I'm inclined to give them the win."

The woman nodded in agreement after a moment's hesitation. The fishing boat pulled onto the shore. And on closer examination, the pair of objects seemed to be... washed-up people? A man and a woman. The mouse let out a concerned squeak.

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This has never happened to her before, is her first instinctual thought, and it’d be true but not in the way that anyone ought to think of it.

Sand, as far as the foot can carry her, which is not so far, and beyond that, sea. In the distance, across miles of open water, the towers of Onstade aspire in the noonday sun to be nothing more than fragmented dreams and faulty memories. Every time a jolt of pain splits her head, which is often, the images waver, grow mistier. It is not what Owend expects. Therein lies the mystery.

She has never blacked out to wake up on a desert island before, is what Owend means.

Beside her in the shade of the island’s lone palm lies Tolok, sucking his thumb and turning over in his sleep. He is missing just about all of his clothing, except a set of boxers to save his modesty. Cast over him is Owend’s riding cloak. The man is at peace. Oh – well. She picks at the corner of the fabric. Owend doesn’t know where most of her clothes are, either, but they’re both decent enough to quell any doubts she might’ve had concerning impropriety. More likely, they tried to go midnight swimming.

“Shit. Gods-damn, I’d like something to drink.” She put her face into her hands, massaging her temples. It feels like she’s been breathing sand the whole night. Lucky enough that they were both still breathing. But, of course she could lead the both of them through whatever trial they’d decided to embark upon. Even dead drunk, Owend was sharp as a razor. One didn’t make it through Severa’s banquets without such a faculty. She shook him. “Tolok? Hey. It’s morning.”

Again, the sort of thing that’s true but not in the usual way. Small little lies keep the dream of normalcy alive.

When she picks herself up it feels like she’s been stabbed in the small of the back. The feeling is familiar. Bad sleeping posture, worse beds. The sort of thing that a soldier learns to avoid after the first few hellish nights breaking camp in the woods. Sand doesn’t fit the bill. When she looks at the rock that she passed out on, she finds a wooden box instead. Inside are about three bottles of whiskey. Owend smiles.

Sharp as a razor, alright.

By the time the boat arrives, she’s in fine mood again, with two left to share.

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Snoooooooore....... Tolok was enjoying his sleep. Perhaps, he was dreaming of cutting wood, helping the world and its infrastructure to rise and flourish, because that was his snore like. The never ending sound of a saw, cutting through to obtain logs. And, by the Heavens, the drunkard wouldn't stop.

He eventually woke up, after Owend's gradually increasing shakes. His whole face felt like a hammer was the torture device which inflated every single pore on his face, through numerous hits. One eye opened, as if he needed more sleep than required, even that one with sloth. "Morning. Uh... It's sandy here. Wait." He almost fell on his butt as soon as he stood up, only to take in the view. Beautiful, indeed, but for a more drunk than alive man, this was not the best outcome after a blackout. He couldn't even stand well on his legs, walking around as if he was made of jelly, tripping over sand. "Well, fuck. How many barrels did we drink... again?" As if he'd get an answer for that, he at least remembered they had barrels to drink from and not bottles, like normal people.

Perhaps, he probably drank enough that one night to have alcohol running through the circulatory system instead of blood, as if that's how he was born. Or, probably, his body cringed when Tolok saw the wooden box, with two more bottles left. 
As much as he would love to drink... His body would, ironically, take the easy way to a coma if he'd drink another bottle.

His intoxicated brain must have burped the fact that he is, probably, a monkey and he could still have climbing skills inherited from his ancestors. "I'm just...Going to climb this." His voice showed the kind of confidence only a drunkard would show, meaning this won't go well.

So he did the unthinkable, only to help with spotting anything remotely close to them. He climbed the palm tree, almost falling due to the world spinning around him. Or was he spinning around the world? Eventually, he came back to his own senses, once he reached the top of the tree. The view was fine, as he looked around for anything, accompanied by the headaches and overall numb state. That was, until he heard a crack and fell out of the tree. When he landed on the sand, the thing that was changed to the island was the palm, cut in half by his weight and him, hugging the other part. And so, he learned he's not a monkey, but a drunk idiot. And with that, a boat was coming, which may or may not have seen him tearing a tree apart with his own weight.

Edited by The Fire Heart

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"... Hmm, Princess. That fellow up in the tree. Does he seem familiar to you as well?"

By this point, the trio on the boat had pulled it up onto the shore, and were watching the drunken duo that had been stranded here. It was amusing, sure, but they would have to come up with an answer of what to do with them eventually. Regardless, as the woman asked the question, the mouse climbed up her shoulder as to get a better view of Tolok itself. "Hmm?" The armored man rumbled out that word as he languidly turned his gaze toward the man in the tree. His gaze soon narrowed in recognition, though this was not visible through his helm.

"That... one of the Exarch's companions? Ah, yes. I'll admit, I half-expected that he had perished out there in the sands, after his ill-advised attempt to duel me."

The woman nodded, vaguely remembering that encounter, though she hadn't been elsewhere in the skirmish at that moment. But she had a more vivid memory of this man. Where was it from? ...

She burst into a fit of giggling laughter as the memory came to mind. And this laughter only intensified as the tree broke and Tolok fell down. The mouse even joined in with her with squeaking laughter, as it also pointed at Tolok. Once her mirth had subsided enough to do, the woman wiped the tears from her eyes and turned to the armored man and her other companion.

"Oh, I remember exactly where I've met him. The demon in the desert... or rather, the clown! Ah, God, he's just as much of a laughingstock as he was back then!"

The armored man turned a neutral gaze to the woman as her mirth finally faded.

"Alright, alright. Bitch, do you recognize the woman?"

The red-haired woman frowned in concentration as she leveled a gaze at the woman. After a short while, she shook her head.

"Look of her isn't ringing any bells, Princess. I don't suppose you recognize her, either?"

The armored man shook his head.

"I have this feeling that I should recognize her... but since I cannot bring it to mind, I have to assume that she isn't anyone important. But nevertheless, we need to come to a decision about what to do with them. The sooner, the better. Because if we're not giving them a lift, I saw a magnificent swordfish just a bit back the way we came, which I am compelled to meet in pitched battle. So, Bitch, Wanker, what do you two think?"

The red-haired woman gave the armored man a slight smile.

"Well, here's my thoughts. There's not a lot of boat traffic that's heading out this way that we've seen. So if we leave them, it's entirely left to the whims of Fate whether another boat will swing by, and whether the people within will be inclined to help these besotted strangers. Furthermore, they are currently showing a distinct lack of sober and rational judgement. If left to their own devices, who knows what they might do to harm, maim, or even kill themselves or a hypothetical rescue party? Finally... if nothing else, they'll serve as a spectacular source of comic relief to break up any monotony on our little trip."

As she finished speaking, both her and the armored man turned with expectant gazes towards the man that was their other companion, the third member of their trio who hadn't said too much up to now.

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