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Wade

Genesis

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“I’m sorry,” Dorian Finch said. “But I can’t help you.”

Adrya Arcos looked at the pirate lord, seated in a plush chair at the other end of the table. He met her scowl with an unwavering stare of his own, albeit hidden from the cover of his mask.

“And why not?” she asked, voice taut.

“Because I don’t see any point in it,” he replied smoothly.

“You’re a centurion.”

“I used to be a centurion.” He almost seemed to say it with disdain. “Now I’m richest man in all of Thraece. Not that I try to advertise it, of course.”

Bastard. Adrya cursed the man four ways to the nine hells while he leaned forward onto his elbows. There was something like laughter in the way he spoke. Cool and mocking, but also pitying.

“Loyalty to a dead house isn’t what I’d call a healthy investment, my dear,” he said. “You threw us to the wolves, if I recall correctly.”

“I did what I had to,” Adrya bit back.

“I’m sure you did. But if we’re both being honest, I can’t exactly say it inspires much confidence.”

A large figure stepped up from behind Adrya, bones creaking with every lumbering step. Marrow was dressed in a heavy cloak that obscured most of his features, save for a gloved hand perched on the pommel of his sword.

“MIND YOUR TONGUE.”

“I don’t have one.” Dorian didn’t so much as flinch as he regarded the wraith. “That’s a story for another time, however. Unless you’re done pitching to me this nonsense about a crusade against the entire bloody kingdom.”

Adrya narrowed her eyes, clenching her teeth.

“Name your price.”

Dorian laughed. “I already told you. You don’t have anything I want.”

“And what do you want?” Adrya said coldly.

A small pause. “In exchange for an army? Well, for starters, a reason to believe in your cause.”

Dorian adjusted his mask, tilting it to the side. Adrya briefly wondered if the rumours about his face were true—that the fey had stolen it, that he’d bartered it away. Part of her simply believed it was a gimmick to take advantage of superstitious sailors.

“You’re afraid we can’t win,” she said after a moment. “You don’t think we stand a chance.”

“Losing’s bad for business,” Dorian agreed. “What you’re proposing is far too great a risk. You, me, your brother, a handful of pirate lords, and a few dozen ships at our backs? It’s a tidy force, I’ll admit— but it won’t win a war, not by a long shot. Even with two Oathblades to tip the scales, it would only be a matter of time before we’d eventually lose.”

Adrya sat back in her chair, silently fuming. He had a point but-

“IF I MAY.”

Marrow turned to face her, slow and pondering. Adrya glanced up at him, cocking an eyebrow.

“What is it?”

“PERHAPS WE SHOULD RETURN LATER,” he said. “THIS CRETIN WON’T AID US WITH THINGS THE WAY THEY ARE NOW.”

Adrya considered the thought. “Do you have an alternative?”

“OF A SORT,” he admitted.

“Very well, then.”

Adrya shifted her attention to Dorian, who was already making a shooing motion with his hand.

“Yes, yes, you can leave,” he said. “Mind the rug on the way out.”

 

@samo @ReachForStars

Edited by Wade

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A legion readies itself for war.

Gladii are sharpened. Pilum shouldered and scutum oiled. With the unerring efficacy that was their signature. The camp that had been their refuge and sanctuary was torn apart without sentiment or reverence. All was dismantled. Tents, fortifications and trenches. Save for the withered husks of those traitors and cowards who had been nailed to posts and trees. They would remain. As a reminder, threat and promise. Centurions barked orders in their Novirian tongue, alien words to Drasirian onlookers, but acted upon without hesitation by the carmine-clad legionnaires. Supplies filled wagons. Grains, salted meats and wetskins filled with posca. Donations from the few souls whom the Red Legion had protected from the dregs who usually exploited them. Nothing had been stolen. Those people had only been too happy to repay the order the Red Legion had brought to Drasir; however fleeting it may have been. 

Amongst it all, Lanius stood motionless. Statuesque, carved from scarred marble. Cold green eyes darted back and forth, from soldier to soldier. Observing and criticising. Men who caught his gaze began to go about their chores the tiniest bit quicker. Resting at his side were three gargantuan hounds. Creightonhounds, they were called. Bred from the loyal companions Creighton Drasir had brought to his colony and the native tropical wolves that prowled the jungles of Thraece. Man-killers. They stood at the height of Lanius' waist and even their thick coats of black-brown fur couldn't hide the rippling musculature that coiled underneath. 

Their tails were wagging furiously as they watched the legionnaires work. One of them licked Lanius' gauntlet-clad hand. A smile threatened to cut itself onto his face.

"Stop it, Diana." Lanius growled, with just a hint of softness in his rumbling tone. "You've been fed."

Diana whined and rolled onto her back.

"THEY'RE DISGUSTING." Willbreaker retched.

"As are you." The legate flatly responded. 

"I AM BEYOND YOUR PATHETIC COMPREHENSIONS, LANIUS." Then, a pause. "ALSO, FUCK YOU."

"Yes, yes. Fuck you too." He responded, instantly. 

"ENOUGH." Willbreaker hissed. "LET US TALK ABOUT THIS SISTER OF YOURS. IT WAS SURPRISING, THE WAY YOU REACTED."

"Oh?" Lanius feigned his interest in the blade's observations.

"YES." The Oathblade responded. "I HAVEN'T SEEN YOU PUT YOUR HANDS ON ANYTHING YOU HAVEN'T IMMEDIATELY FOUGHT AND OR FORNICATED WITH."

His answer was a shrug. 

"I AM GROWING WORRIED, LANIUS. THIS ISN'T YOUR USUAL SELF-"

"Eat shit and die, blade."

"THERE WE GO." 

He saw Adrya return. Fuming, her usual cold stare holding venomous contempt. A breathless snort of amusement sounded from him. Very much the picture of their father, when her moods took her. Those legionnaires that crossed her bowed their heads in reverence, greeting her with an "Ave Domina", or avoiding her entirely. 

"So he said no." Adrya's brother greeted her with a smile. An infuriating one. 

Edited by Samø

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596 WTA – Noviria – The Great Palace

The screams are loud. Rage, pain, determination, hate. The battlefield is an amalgamation of heated violence and exacerbated emotions, confusing and heightened and pervasive. Even she can feel it, from where she is perched atop the highest tower, the one that offers the best viewpoint for the battle. The walls echo with the loudness of violence and death.

Ophelia ignores it all.

Brows furrowed, hands entwined in front of her chest, she sweeps her eyes over her people and her enemies alike. Her mind is clear and focused on their troops’ movements, the Legion a well-oiled machine withstanding an overwhelming force. Thirteen of the mages under her direct command have taken to the battlefield and helped her brother repel the invading forces, but she does not know how many of them are still alive. Mages are powerful, but they are not invincible, and against an army like this—

Sweat drips down from her hairline, an uncomfortable prickle that she pushes out of mind almost before she registers its existence. The floor under her feet vibrates, but at this point Ophelia cannot be sure if it is the marble being affected by actual tremors or if the movement is a response to the aggressive channeling of her magic. It would not surprise her if it was the last option; Ophelia has never used so much power before in her life, she has not had the need to.

Her terracotta constructs are formidable. They feel no pain, no fear, no hunger. They can have an arm cut off and keep on fighting. If the situation was not so dire and she could devote more time and strength to each construct, Ophelia would regenerate their lost limbs in a matter of minutes, filling the enemies hacking away at her soldiers with despair, a taste of early defeat as morale dwindles in the face of such an opponent.

But it is not the case.

The Siege of Noviria has been going on for hours. Ophelia realized soon after it started that she could not default to her usual methods, not if she wanted a chance for victory.

Victory, a voice scoffs in her mind. If victory was possible, you wouldn't have made the suggestion that one of them should leave. If it was possible, Adrya would be down there, in the thick of things, fighting and raining blood down on our enemies.

As with all previous distractions, Ophelia pushes the thought away. She cannot afford to dwell on it, cannot afford to contemplate the truth of it, or she will falter. And that would be a mistake far too costly to make.

The Centuri in the east flank is being overwhelmed. Martia was with them, but even though Ophelia cannot see clearly, she knows she has fallen. Legionnaires of white and red are being pushed back, quickly, and Ophelia rushes to their aid with a new horde of terracotta constructs. For a moment, things seem to stall, neither side advancing. Then, carmine warriors start pushing back. A short thrill of triumph burst down her spine, and she turns her eyes away, looks to another point in the battlefield—

“OPHELIA!”

Everything happens too fast. The scream behind her startles Ophelia out of her focus with a jolt, but when she turns, alarmed and confused and alert, it is just in time to catch Cassius’ body as he falls in front of her. She falls to her knees, cradling him as best as she can with her arms. In the back of her mind, she is aware that the constructs down in the battlefield are crumbling away, but she cannot care much about that because her beloved brother is smiling up at her with blood on his teeth and a gaping hole in his chest, eyes vacant. Her mind is slow as molasses, unable to comprehend the scene in front of her eyes. What is her brother doing here? He was with Mother! And his guards—her guards—

“Oh, dear.”

Amalia is slumped against the wall, not moving. There is a pool of red beneath her, similar to the one forming beneath her and Cassius. Ophelia’s heartbeat is loud in her ears.

“That didn’t go quite to plan.” Tiberius sighs. Shakes his hands. Ophelia distantly realizes they are covered in blood. Amalia’s blood. Cassius’ blood.

“Tiberius?” She does not recognize her own voice.

The man grimaces down at her. His white toga is splattered in red. “I’m sorry, Ophelia. It’s nothing personal, really. Just a matter of survival.” Two guards enter the room with Cornelia between them, one of them holding a sword to her throat. Her mother’s eyes burn with icy rage, but when they fall on Cassius’ body, they fill with grief.

Ophelia is numb.

“Give yourself up. Swear an oath.” Tiberius crouches in front of her, seeking her gaze with warm brown eyes.

Ophelia had trusted him. She had trusted him with her life and he betrayed her—betrayed her House, her family, murdered her brother—!

“Ophelia. I don’t want to kill you. I don’t want to kill anyone,” he says, and he even sounds sincere. Like he believes in what he is saying, and wants her to believe him, too.

As if the truth of the matter is not lying dead in her lap, staring right at her with empty blue eyes.

Ophelia laughs, bitter. “Shut up, Oathbreaker.”

Tiberius flinches back as if her words actually hurt. What a great actor.

Ophelia,” he says, pained. “Please. It’s either you surrender to us or be killed. I don’t want you to die. Or your mother. There's much you can still do for Noviria.”

Were you not about to do just that? Ophelia thinks dully. When Cassius screamed, when he shielded me. Were you not about to kill me?

And then: He saved me. I don’t want to die.

She purses her lips so tightly that her jaw hurts. Looks down at the murdered brother in her lap. She thinks of her missing sister, of the half-brother that is still fighting. What must have Lanius thought, when Ophelia’s constructs stopped moving and started breaking down?

“Fine,” she says, channeling the ice in her veins through her voice, sharp.

Adrya is her sister, but she is also her Dominus, and she believes in her. She is gone, but Ophelia knows with a certainty that goes beyond trust that she will be back to reclaim their home. Lanius will find her. They will come back, and once they do, Ophelia will be ready to help them.

Fine.

She will give herself up; she will surrender today in order to fight tomorrow.

With blazing eyes and steel in her soul, Ophelia lifts her chin, catches Tiberiu’s gaze, and swears an unbreakable oath.

And if he and his fellow traitors are too relieved to listen too closely, too high on their victory to hear the loophole carefully created by her wording, well.

That is not Ophelia’s problem, is it?

Edited by ReachForStars

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Adrya didn’t bother to respond; it would only aggravate her further. Even after all these years spent apart, Lanius knew exactly what it took to get under her skin. Be it a smile or a glance, a clever word or a shrug, it was something only he of all people could manage. The fact that he knew it annoyed her more than it should have.   

She stopped by the edge of a wagon. A few legionnaires bowed their heads as they walked by. Marrow wasn’t far behind, keeping watch and giving the Creightonhounds a wide berth—Adrya had seen how they growled and pawed at the earth when he strayed too near. She’d often wondered if it had anything to do with his scent. He was a corpse, after all. Something about his power kept him from rotting, and so she didn’t think he smelled like one, but she also knew that a human’s senses were remarkably poor compared to those of an animal.

“He’s a coward,” she finally spat, purging some of the vitriol in her system. Just enough to clear her head and loosen the tightness in her jaw. “I should have expected as much from a deserter. He doesn’t think we’ll have the numbers to succeed.”

Her eyes glossed over the camp, briefly. A few thousand men and women, give or take. The remnants of those who’d lost the battle at Noviria when the Veluriyam Empire laid siege. Lanius had done well to lead them to Drasir, where they could recover their strength in secret. Adrya had no doubts they could reclaim their home with what they had now.

But will it win the war?

One of the hounds behind her began to growl. Adrya turned around to see Marrow stepping closer.

“You mentioned something about a solution,” she said to him, remembering.

He nodded, turning to the whitecapped waters of the fjord at the edge of camp. The ships they’d assembled were a curious mix of Drasirian and Novirian design, long hulls and wooden oars, tall sails and mounted scorpios, bannered by the red and white of House Arcos. Men called to each other across the clamour, loading supplies onto each and every vessel. The Red Legion had always been a superior force on the ground, but it also knew its way around naval combat well enough.

“THERE ARE LEGENDS YOU SHOULD KNOW OF.”

Adrya folded her arms, trying for patience. “Are any of these legends relevant to our current predicament?”

“THERE IS ONE THAT COMES TO MIND.”

She shared a glance with her brother. Unspoken curiosity hung between them like a thread. A lonely gull swung through the sky overhead, searching for scraps.

“OLIHEN.”

Adrya blinked at the unfamiliar word. “What is it?”

“AN OLD SAILOR’S TALE. RATHER POPULAR DURING DRIDAK’S TIME.”

Adrya’s fingers tightened around her arms at the sudden mention of her father. She’d never heard someone throw his name around so casually. It was easy to forget Marrow had once been his Oathblade, sometimes.

“Give me the short of it,” she said stiffly.

“VERY WELL,” the wraith replied. “THERE IS A BEAST TO THE FAR WEST THAT LAIRS DEEP BENEATH THE WAVES. IT IS KNOWN AS OLIHEN BY MANY, SEEN BY FEW AND SURVIVED BY FEWER STILL.

“IT SERVES ONLY ITSELF. IT IS THE ENEMY OF EVERY OTHER LIVING CREATURE IN URSA MADEUM. ENTIRE FLEETS HAVE DISAPPEARED WHENEVER IT WAKES, DRAGGED TO THE DEPTHS OF THE FORTUNA GALLO—OTHERWISE KNOWN AS THE ABYSS. A PLACE WHERE SOULS LOST AT SEA GO TO FIND ETERNAL REST.”

Adrya regarded Marrow with narrowed eyes. “And you’re proposing that we go… tame this mythical creature?”

“IN A WAY,” he said quietly, looking down at his own hands. “ALWAYS REMEMBER, LITTLE DOMINUS. POWER IN DEATH.”

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Golden rays of light cast creeping shadows over his dark, scarred features. That face betrayed nothing. Only a stare gave her any indication he was listening. Most men shrunk under Lanius' gaze, though the effect was seldom deliberate on his part. A conjunction of reputation and likeness. His father's echo, portraying all the ruthless authority their father had. But Adrya was different. She'd never been afraid of him, never had to be. Lanius would always be the weeping babe who came shivering and soaked, wrapped in their father's toga. She'd been the only one who could calm him in his crib. Lanius had only ever been calmed by being in her arms. Two-and-a-half meters of hulking musculature, the Monster of Arcos and countless other monikers his bloody reputation had accrued him and yet Lanius would forever be her little brother. 

Lanius made a clicking sound with his tongue. The creightonhounds that flanked him ceased their growling and sat still. Though there was a restless shifting in their posture. This strange woman smelled like their favourite human, and they so desperately wanted to give her kisses and to be pet by her. The marionette of flesh and black-bones, however. Something about it was wrong. A wrongness even the beasts understood. Beyond the stench of death and decay that radiated off the undead. Marrow reeked of rot, both spiritual and physical.

"You called him a coward." Lanius grunted, cocking an eyebrow at her sister when she'd finished talking. "We do crucify cowards. Perhaps that notion didn't endear him to the cause, soror."

By now the legionnaires, wrought in red, had formed their marching rank and file. Lanius' Aquilifer clasped the brass stave of his legion's signifer; a Chimera carved from red-gold with a mane of silver. He awaited instruction to declare march. Lanius could have made them wait for hours, through the night, and not one of them would have complained or left their post. Such was the expectation of a legionnaire. Move when bid. Kill when bid. Die when bid. 

"If he thinks we cannot succeed then you had best prove him wrong." Lanius shrugged. "Father took Noviria with less than this. With one less Oathblade as well. It isn't a matter of if we succeed, its a matter of when."

A churning weight pressed against the meat of his mind. Willbreaker stirred. Seethed. It'd been less than a day since he'd pushed the blade into warm flesh and fed it, and it was hungry again. Always hungry. The ravenous hunger of the ocean itself.

"YOU SHOULD THROW MARROW INTO THE SEA." The Oathblade spat. Hissed. "PERHAPS THE ABYSSAL DEPTHS WILL FINALLY SHUT HIM UP."

"I'd have thought you'd like Marrow." Lanius said.

"NO. YOU'RE ALREADY TOO MUCH OF A WISEACRE FOR ME. I DON'T NEED WORM-FOOD COMPOUNDING MY SUFFERING. BESIDES, IF YOU TOOK AWAY HER BLADE, YOU COULD BE DOMINUS."

"I could snap you." Lanius growled.

"... IT WAS JUST A SUGGESTION. FINE. NEVERMIND."

It was an odd thing, listening to a corpse speak of sailor's myths and their father. But these were strange times. Eyes glassed with rheum danced between staring at him and Adrya as Marrow told them of Olihen. Lanius didn't recognise the name of the beast. Perhaps Dridak had told him it when he was younger, but he no longer remembered.

"A friend of yours?" Lanius asked the blade.

"NO. OLIHEN IS A USURPER AND I WANT YOU TO RIP OUT ITS GUTS AND STRANGLE IT WITH THEM."

"That," He said, speaking to Adrya and Willbreaker both. "Sounds like as good a plan as any."

Edited by Samø

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Two years have passed, and nothing in the palace has truly changed. The walls are the same, the furniture is the same, nothing has been lost or broken or misplaced. Ophelia walks through the gardens and they are still beautifully maintained, the dozen and a half critters of varying races and sizes Lanius has saved and nurtured mingling and making noise when she takes some time to give them attention. She stops to pet a tiger-cat that meows loudly, demandingly, asking for scratches behind her ear, and Ophelia chuckles at the deep rumbling purr she receives in gratitude. Lanius would—

The palace is cold. Nothing has changed, and yet everything has.

Her hand stops the motions and the cat complains, but Ophelia ignores her. Almost involuntarily, she curls her fingers into a fist, nails digging sharply into the tender skin of her palm. A silky voice echoes in her mind, hated and tainted with betrayal.

“Think about it. It would be for the best.”

Ophelia snorts, scoffs. Turns sharply on her feet and stalks out of the gardens and into the royal wing. The Oathbreaker made good on his word back then, and she and her mother were not thrown into the deepest cells in their own palace. Sometimes, though, Ophelia wishes the invaders had. Seeing them prowling around her family’s home as if they owned it, taking down their banners and replacing their colors—

She slams the door of her mother’s rooms, and receives a sharp reproving look from her mother’s face reflected in the giant mirror. Ophelia grimaces, too angry to actually be sorry, and Cornelia’s brows move, dipping into concern.

“Come here,” she says, gesturing with the hand holding the hairbrush. “I’ve just finished myself, and your hair is a mess. Let me take care of it.”

Ophelia sighs, but accepts her mother’s gesture for what it is. She walks to the vanity and sits on the plush seat Cornelia just vacated, then studies her own reflection. The grimace this time has little to do with her annoyance, and a lot to do with the fact that her mother is right. Her braided bun is half-undone, stray curls of reddish-brown hair having escaped it giving her a halo like a lion’s mane. Or a dandelion.

For a couple of minutes, neither woman says anything. Cornelia gently undoes the bun, then the braid, and then carefully starts the process of brushing the long mane of hair from tips to root.

It is a soothing ritual, a traditional part of their routine—a taste of normal in their current upturned lives. Two years they have been living as prisoners in their own home, two years without word or notice of either Adrya or Lanius, two years with only themselves as company. Ophelia has always been close to her mother, but now even more so.

“Now,” Cornelia says after a while, once Ophelia’s shoulders unclench and relax, and her eyes lose the pinched look at the corners. She puts the brush down on top of the vanity with a soft clack, then drops both hands on Ophelia’s shoulders. “What is it, my dear? What has you bristling like a feral animal?”

Sighing, Ophelia opens her eyes and finds her mother’s in the mirror. They’re the same icy blue as hers. As Adrya’s.

As Cassius’.

“Tiberius,” she says, cold rage seeping back into her soul. “That Oathbreaker, he—” A growl; her mother’s hands put a little more pressure on her shoulders. Ophelia takes a deep breath. “Can you believe he had the gall to propose a political marriage?” she spits the words out as if they taste vile. They do, in a sense.

Cornelia’s expression frosts over. “I see,” she says, and her voice is low and measured and cutting. She rubs twice at the back of Ophelia’s neck with her thumbs, then brings her hands to her hair and starts braiding. “A proposition that I’m sure was thoroughly declined.”

A scoff. “Of course. He’s lucky the last pair of cuffs work as well as they do,” she says, looking down at the bands circling her wrists. They are of simple design, but the runic work in them is good. It infuriates her. “Or I’d done much worse than punching him in the chin.”

Cornelia makes a soft, amused noise. “In the chin, dear? Why not the nose? Or better, the eye? With a bruised ego like that, I’m sure he’d hide himself away for a time, at least.”

Ophelia sniffs, but her own amusement shines through. “I’d have loved to, Mother, but I’m not Adrya. As much as I hate to admit it, the bastard is tall—and my right hook is not that great. The chin is the best I could do.”

They laugh together, finding hilarity in the smallest of things. When they sober up, Cornelia finishes tying up Ophelia’s hair in her customary look, and they both feel a little lighter.

“There, done.” She takes a step back and then goes to sit at the feet of the bed. Ophelia turns in her seat to face her. “Has there been any change? Any news?”

Ophelia sighs, tapping the fingers of her left hand on her thigh. “Nothing concrete,” she says, a little frustrated. “Mostly rumors and hearsay, but—maybe.”

That Lanius had escaped at the end of the Siege is common knowledge, and Ophelia is almost sure that her sister had done the same, but there has been no confirmation. Of the legionnaires that stayed—because some did, some stayed for her instead of following Lanius when the battle was lost—some if not all of them have come together in small resistance units, working with other citizens unhappy with the fall of their House. Slowly but stubbornly, they have managed to create a spreading network of spies that feed her and her mother information about what truly is going on outside of the palace walls. There have been rumors lately about Crowley and missing blades, and before that of Lanius being sighted in Thraece, but nothing concrete.

Cornelia’s shoulders slump for a moment, but then she straightens and stands up, posture perfect and prideful.

“Well, nothing to do but wait, then,” she says. “Our chance will come.”

Ophelia inclines her head in agreement, eyes bright. “That it will. And once it does, the tides will turn red.”

Sangui et Gloria.

Ophelia will take them both.

Edited by ReachForStars

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It started raining just after they left Drasir. It wasn’t a hard rain, but it didn’t look like the clouds were going to let up anytime soon. Adrya shivered, folding her arms, standing on the aft deck of the ship. Legionnaires manned their stations nearby, suffering through the weather with grim determination. They seemed to draw strength from her presence—she could’ve been downstairs in her cabin. Warm. Dry. Yet she’d chosen to stand with her men.

Fortuna Gallo lay before them. The vast trench was a dark scar along the water’s surface. Rippling waves made it difficult to tell where it ended and began. From Adrya’s point of view, the sea was little more than a stretch of near-infinite blackness. Even the air, damp against her skin, was obscured by a slight touch of mist.

Two other ships flanked her own as they sailed into the abyss, armed with scorpios, bore leeches, and enough Novirian fire to burn down a church. Two more ships sailed ahead—a front guard dredged up from sailors in Drasir. Those eager to slay a legend or prove their worth to the Red Legion.

It was a smaller gathering than she would’ve liked. The rest of her forces had remained back at camp. Rumours told of Olihen sinking entire fleets, but that was exactly why she’d elected not to bring her entire army with her. Too many lost ships and maybe she wouldn’t have a large enough force to retake Noviria. It wasn’t a risk she could willingly afford, even if the danger to her own life grew as a result.

Never fear, a part of her whispered. Adrya’s hand went to the ring in her pocket. Plain gold, smooth and polished. A gift from Ophelia. Given to her for no apparent reason other than it was a kind thing to do. She’d never worn it once—jewellery was something she had no love for in the slightest—and even now, she refused to put it on. But it had always remained within reach. It was a reminder that there was someone out there, in a world that sought to take everything from her, who cared for her. Who needed her. Someone she couldn’t let down.

Not now, not ever.

This isn’t the end for you.

“IT’S QUIET,” Marrow said beside her. Adrya hadn’t heard his approach. “HOW ARE YOU FARING?”

“As well as I need to,” she said, withdrawing her hand from her pocket.

“A FINE ANSWER. YOUR MEN FOLLOW BY EXAMPLE.”

“Mine and my brother’s.”

“OF COURSE.” A silence fell between them. “HE HASN’T MOVED.”

“I know.”

Adrya stepped forward, looking down at the prow. Lanius was leaning against the railing, eyes closed, focused. Since the trench had first come within view, he’d stood there channeling Willbreaker’s power, plunging his conscience into the ocean’s depths while he felt for any unnatural currents.

“He’s the key to our victory,” Adrya said. “Without him, this plan fails. I’m afraid I’ll be useless by comparison.”

“WARS ARE NOT WON WITHOUT GENERALS.”

Adrya shrugged, brushing away a lock of damp, auburn hair. He was right. She just didn’t like the thought of fighting an enemy she couldn’t cut down with her own two hands.

“Do you think it will work?”

Marrow cocked his head. Adrya pointed with her chin, where a sixth and final ship sailed ahead of them in the distance. Its crew had emptied out about an hour ago, leaving it to the mercy of the wind. They’d made sure to lather its hull in gallons of shark blood before hastily departing.

“AH YES. YOUR TRAP.” There was a smile underneath his cowl. “IT’S RATHER CLEVER, I’LL ADMIT.”

“I’ll take that as a-“

“Your grace.”

Adrya turned to face a legionnaire standing on the stairs leading to the main deck. “The Primus requests your presence,” the woman said. “He thinks it might be time.”

Adrya’s pulse fluttered. She looked at Marrow, then back to the legionnaire. “Thank you. You’re dismissed.”

The legionnaire saluted and stepped away.

“Well then,” she breathed, steeling herself as she moved towards the staircase. “Coming?”

Marrow nodded. “ALWAYS.”

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He breathes. The ocean heaves. 

There was nothing to compare this too. No dreams, no nightmares. Beyond his experience, beyond what he thought was possible. Novirians were logicians by nature; their philosophers were almost as famous for their adherence to logic and thought as the Red Legions were for their gladius and obedience. And at the back of his mind, veiled by the murky shade of pain and confusion, logic cried out to him. Told him this was nothing more than ancient magic. Something you've seen before. But it wasn't. The sea moved at his whim, parted and pulled the ships that flanked him. It came to him as easily as breathing. Easier. As if he'd been born with this power. Willbreaker had sunk his ethereal hooks deep into him. Puppeted his arms, his mind. These actions were his and it's.

Lanius thought he heard Adrya speak. Or had it been Ophelia? He wasn't sure. The crashing of the waves drowned any sound but the ragged, rhythmic note of his breath. 

Lucidity returns with the thought of them both. Willbreakers influence wanes, if only for a second. Clarity brings pain. His bones feel like glass beneath his skin. Musculature feels shred like yellowed papyrus. The drip-drip of blood leaking from his nose sounded. It stained the deck red. He'd dug his fingers deep into the railing he'd been clutching. Splintered the wood. 

"Never better." The Legate croaked to no-one. He smiled, lips peeling back to reveal bloodied gums. 

"IT'S HERE." Willbreaker hissed. Jealousy, rage and spite bled through the echoing din of it's voice.

"I know." Lanius answered it. "I feel it." 

Olihen wade through the depths. Cut its way through water like a blade through flesh. It's gigantic form send reverberating tremors through the ocean. Through him. The blue surface of the ocean betrayed nothing. Only spectral gems of reflected light could be seen dancing across it's surface. Yet Olihen was here. Close. And closer with every heartbeat. Willbreaker revelled in it's excitement. Sent an empathetic shock up his spine. One less challenger for him. Locked behind the steel of the Oathblade as he was, the sea still belonged to the imprisoned Leviathan. Willbreaker was the sea. 

There was no warning. Olihen was simply there in an instant. The sea parted to reveal coiling, glossy tentacles whipping and arcing into the air. Such was their length they seemed as though they might reach up and rip the sun from the sky itself. There was no noise. No roar or scream of rage from the beast. Just silence. And yet its presence roared louder in Lanius' mind than any battle-drum ever had. Those tendrils submerged again, and an immense rippling path indicated that the kraken was surging towards their fleet. It wanted to feed. To kill. With those spear-length barbs that lined each tentacle, it would rip and gorge on flesh before skulking back into whatever hellish abyss it had emerged from. 

Lanius glanced at the bracelet clasped around his wrist. White stained grey by years of wear and tear. Ophelia had made it for him. From Brutus' mane. He'd never taken it off. Never. 

"THIS IS GOING TO HURT." Willbreaker laughed. 

"More it than me." Lanius mimicked his blade's mirth.

Olihen broke the surface again. Three pulsating limbs, slick with mucus, shot out of the water and towards the boat. The trap. Sailors began to scream. Shark-blood and chum had made the Trieme the kraken's first choice. But she was fat, laden with Novirian fire and alchemist's powder. Those tendrils wrapped around the ship's hull in a deadly embrace. Crushed wood and iron, pulled the ship down into the wet depths and-

Fire consumed it. Roaring incandescence that made the eyes water with it's intensity. Olihen's limbs disappeared amidst a plume of rolling white-hot flame. Smoke and ash quickly followed, choking air out of lungs and making it impossible to see. 

Lanius spat red onto the deck. He looked at Adrya. "Take us home, Dominus."

Edited by Samø

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Adrya watched in silence as Olihen fell. Black smoke billowed into the sky, thick enough to choke a man to death. The wreck of the burning trireme shone like the embers of a dying sun, mirrored against the ocean’s glassy surface. Her men began to cheer.

The kraken’s tentacles sagged ever lower until they disappeared beneath the waves. The creature’s blood was a muddled cloud stained grey by ash and soot. Adrya breathed the air, turned acrid, a ghost of a smile passing over her face. She reached out. Closed her eyes. Pierced the dark with sharpened focus, plunging it forward like a needle—deeper, then deeper still, searching for that thin, impossible thread.  

Life and death. The in-between.

She just had to grasp it.

Where is it?

She dove deeper.

I can’t see it, where is-

The ground shook. For a moment, Adrya thought she’d succeeded. But then someone cried out, and she had to grab the balustrade to keep from falling.

Out ahead of them, within the gap that separated her ship from the ones in front, the water erupted. An explosion of rain, and then a flurry of limbs towered high—bloodied, injured, charred, but still very much alive.

They came down. Around her, the legionnaires stumbled back in awe, so surprised that some merely watched with fear-stricken expressions. Olihen battered the vessels out front, titanic whips that crushed and killed. Chunks of wood shot in every direction, scattering to the wind like barbed confetti.

Panic flared in Adrya’s chest as bodies sprang into action all around her. She suddenly moved as if by another’s will, guided by instincts that screamed at her to run. She made her way over to a large crate that held a dozen or so extra spears, grabbed one, called on Marrow’s power, and felt an overwhelming strength take hold of her muscles.

“Fire!” someone yelled, just as several scorpio bolts flew towards the monster. Adrya threw her spear with inhuman strength, nearly matching their velocities. Those that struck were too few; she counted two amid the thrashing tangle of screams. She launched another spear and was immediately rewarded as the closest tentacle spasmed in pain.

It’s not enough, she thought urgently. The frontmost ships began to sink. She watched as sailors fought to stay aboard only to get plucked by swift, grasping tentacles. To the side, one of her ships unleashed a torrent of Novirian fire—great jets of liquid flame, warding off the kraken’s attacks while simultaneously drawing its ire.

“ADRYA!”

Marrow grabbed her, knocking her to the ground and the wind out of her lungs. A spray of debris shot overhead, thrown with such vicious force that those who were struck died on the spot. Adrya craned her head. Several corpses lay about her, wide-eyed and torn to pieces. Lanius wasn’t among them, thank the heavens. He wouldn’t die so easily.

“Thanks,” she said, standing up. Marrow simply nodded in response. He cast his gaze to the waters below, and she followed it all the way to a pair of-

Eyes.

Two massive orbs, pale and milky white, stared at them from a long, pointed face host to a set of wicked-looking mandibles. The back of its torso was covered in a jagged shell the colour of an old, dying seabed. Countless tentacles writhed at its sides, lined with suckers and bleached hooks, in addition to a set of arms that were distinctly scythe-like in appearance.

“My god…” Adrya whispered. She’d never seen anything like it. Olihen roared, a trumpeting sound loud enough to shake the very air.

Marrow picked up a spear. “I’M GOING AFTER IT.”

Adrya looked at him. “What?”

“I DO NOT REQUIRE AIR TO BREATHE,” he replied, jabbing a thumb to his chest. “I’M ALSO NOT AFRAID OF LOSING THIS BODY.”

As if to emphasize his point, some of the corpses littering the ground began to move, pushing themselves to a standing position. A familiar chill flooded her veins.

“SO LONG AS YOU LIVE, I MAY NEVER DIE.”

And with that, he slipped over the railing. The dead at her back stood motionless and silent.

She saw Marrow behind each and every one of their stares.

“Get to work then, you bastard,” she grinned.

“UNDERSTOOD,” they said in unison.

 

Spoiler

 

Edited by Wade

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His world was a haze. With a blink, he lay prone against the blood-soaked deck. Ears ringing, deaf to the screams of fire and men around him. Instinct drove him up before the thought to do so had even crossed his mind. A legionary buckled under the quake of the ship as she was pushed and pulled by the tide created by the monstrosities thrashing bulk. His side hit the railing and he toppled over, mouth opened into a silent scream. Lanius' arm became a blur. Calloused hands wrapped around the segments of his lorica. The legate hefted him upwards and threw him onto the deck with startling ease. Like a child contemptuously discarding a doll. The golden-hue of his focale marked him as one of the fourth Centuri's troopers. He opened his mouth to give thanks, but Lanius hushed him with a grunt.

"Thank me with blood, Legionary." 

Pale green eyes gazed upon the chaos that was unfurling. Looking. Adrya. She'd been his first thought. His heart thundered in his chest. Pumped blood envenomed with adrenaline that embalmed his aching musculature and soothed their sting. Finally, he found her. Standing tall and steadfast amidst the carnage that was unravelling around her. Even now, with men being dragged to their deaths by hooked tendrils, she remained calm. Cold.

"THIS IS GOING REMARKABLY WELL."

"Of all my proclivities to take," Lanius grunted, making his way towards his sister. "It had to be sarcasm, didn't it?"

"MY OPTIONS WERE LIMITED. I AM INCAPABLE OF PHILANDERING  WITH HARLOTS, AFTER ALL."

"I do have other traits, blade." Lanius laughed. A sound like cracking ice.

"NO, YOU REALLY DON'T."

Olihen had seemingly been reborn amidst smoke and salt. The plume of roaring flame that had engulfed it had done nothing. Merely seared flesh and brought spite into it's predatory mind. Tentacles swept and smashed. Clasped and crushed. The legends had been so wrong about this creature. Whatever they had said about it, it was worse. But Lanius enjoyed worse. Some twisted part of him revelled in it all, found clarity and some semblance of peace within his mind. It bled, it could die. It would die. The matter was not if but how.

By now the Legionnaires had found their purpose - formed shieldwalls to surround their Dominus and the crew. Tentacles smashed against a red shield-wall and were slashed to shreds by Gladii in turn. Pilum were cast, burrowing themselves into undulating, viscous flesh. But Olihen was unfettered. Where hunger had fuelled it's movements now spite spurred it forwards. It killed more than it ate. Dug barbs into flesh to inflict nothing more than pain. Lanius focused, brought saltwater to his hand and willed it frozen, shaped it into a spear of ice. He tossed it with the force of a ballista - its arcing flight sounded by the whistling of passing wind. The spear struck home, and Lanius forged another. More and more, yet it wasn't enough. With each passing second, their rank grew thinner and thinner as they were plucked from the rank-and-file and dragged into the convulsing depths.

"LEGIONNAIRES." Lanius bellowed. The shock of his voice carried over the cacophony brought about by blades hitting flesh and by dying men. "HOLD THE RED LINE."

The soldiers of Noviria answered their Legate in turn. Smashing their blades against their shields. "IT IS THE LAST LINE TO EVER HOLD. AVE LEGATUS, AVE DOMINUS."

The Leviathan had moved on, if but for a moment. To one of the sister-ships of the fleet. Screams echoed against the buffet of colliding waves. 

"IT WANTS OUR SHIPS SO VERY, VERY BADLY."

"Then we'll give them to it." 

His gauntlet glistens against the sun's rays as it is raised high. Reflective blades of light bounce off the polished steel. His hand closes, the ocean closes. Water shifts beneath the eviscerated remains of what had been the fire-ship. Rises into a thalassic dais sculpted from brine. Lanius forces his arm forwards, bringing it down in a single, brutal motion. The sea throws the ship. There is nothing else to describe it. Flotsam, rent steel and tattered sails are hurled at the kraken's body. Most of the debris misses its mark. Save for the bronze-cast ram. That beak smashes into the flesh of Olihen and makes it reel. Tentacles curl and writhe in pain. Then it turns and makes it's way back to them. Lanius falls to one knee.

"That really, really fucking hurt." Lanius hissed, blood flowing from his nose.

"MORE IT THAN YOU." Willbreaker parroted with a cackle.

Lanius hefted his drained form towards Adrya. Though the featureless expression conveyed by his helmet betrayed nothing, the heaving rise and fall of his immense shoulders told of his exhausted state.

"Adrya." Lanius' voice was hoarse from pain. "Why is it that whenever we're together, these sorts of things always happen?" His brother smiled. It could be felt, even behind the faceplate of his helm. That expressionless visage turned to address one of the cadavers Marrow puppeted.

"Marrow." The Legate rasped. "I'm going to throw you onto it. Hard. And then you're going to stab it. Hard."

Edited by Samø

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Dominus and Primus sighted in Drasir. Army. Orders?

Ophelia crushes the small slip of parchment in her fist, letting it catch fire with barely a whisper of her power, then lets the ashes fly in the wind. Her magic is restrained, but not completely blocked—she has not achieved the title of Archmage because of her status nor by means of the blood that runs through her veins. The runic cuffs are a complex piece of forged metal and arcane crafting, but they are not inviolable. She would have thought her captors bright enough to have caught up on that once she obliterated the first pair, but they have not. A second pair resisted for a couple of months, but it ended up failing, too; and a third. The ones she’s wearing now are the fourth and most successful pair—and she has not been able to pry them open yet, but she’s working on it. It’s just a matter of time.

Time that, it seems, is coming to a close.

The apple is sweeter than it normally would be as she takes a bite. She cannot help the buzz of excitement and longing surging in her chest as her mind repeats the new information in a loop.

Adrya. Lanius.

After so long without notice of their fate, Ophelia finally, finally has confirmation for what she has always felt true in her soul: her siblings are alive.

Army.

And they are coming back for Noviria.

Fighting off the feral smile that wants to spread over her face, Ophelia finishes the apple off and crosses through the kitchens with a distracted nod to the staff. The cooks ignore her, at least in appearance, except for the youngest one, who quickly wipes his hands and hurries to open the door for her.

“Your grace,” he says in greeting. Ophelia claps a hand on one bony shoulder but says nothing as she makes her way out.

It is not needed.

What she has to say, the nail-sized terracotta construct she left on the boy’s collar will communicate to the relevant parties once time comes.

With a skip on her step that had once been normal for her, she walks through the gardens and into the stables. The horses don’t pay much attention to her after a quick survey to check she does not mean them any harm, and she goes to the last stall, the one with the aggressive bone gray stallion. He was one of the only horses left that belonged completely to her family—just a colt when the Siege happened, too young and small to be mounted. A brother to her beloved, fallen Brutus.

“Hello, Bonecrusher,” she greets him gently, and he snorts at her, then nickers. Ophelia chuckles, getting a sugar cube from her sleeve and presenting it to him. Bonecrusher immediately takes it from her palm with his lips, making contented noises as he crunches on it.

“You remind me so much of Brutus, you know?” she tells him, holding back a laugh. “So good to me, but so mean to everyone else. Save Lanius, of course.” She grins and pats his neck, then tolerates his sniffing at her in search of another treat until he gives up with grunt. “Continue keeping everyone else out, yes?” she says, and after giving him another affectionate pat, she walks to the very back of the stall, pushes a crate to the right, and pulls open the hidden trap door.

The secret passageway is a bit dusty since it has been a while since she last used it, preferring the one behind the tapestry of her mother in the sewing room. This one, however, connects with a second one that leads to an underground conference room, which the one in the sewing room does not. And she needs that now.

It is time to meet with her spies. Time to get this rebellion going.

Because Noviria’s leaders are coming home, and her true citizens will embrace them once they do.

Edited by ReachForStars

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Adrya stepped over a corpse. Marrow’s power surged in her veins, and the body stood up, unconcerned by the splintered piece of wood lodged in its chest. “IT’S ALMOST TIME,” it said. “THE END DRAWS NEAR.”

“Not fast enough,” Adrya replied. Olihen continued to thrash against their onslaught—she could see several shapes in the waters around it: more of Marrow’s puppets. They swarmed the beast, seized by a courage reserved solely for the undying. It wasn’t the most chilling thing she’d ever seen, watching so many people shrug off death as if it were an inconvenience, but it would take some getting used to if she were to truly make this power her own.

The Kraken’s rage was beginning to subside, slowly ebbing away with its blood. Adrya could see it in the way it grew sluggish with every renewed sweep of its tendrils. One lashed out from overhead and she summoned her Oathblade to her hand, nearly severing the limb in two as she ducked and swung with all her might.

So strong, she thought. It was easy to forget an Oathblade was more than just its element. It was also strength, the kind that pulverized stone with clenched fists. She heard it in her chest, a raucous song begging to be played, echoing through her muscles in an invigorating hum. It felt good. She felt good.

“Adrya.” Lanius approached, looking weary from his attack. “Why is it that whenever we’re together these sorts of things always happen?”

A slight grin crossed her face. It was enough for the two of them, in that moment. Her brother turned, facing Marrow now, or rather the closest legionnaire he was possessing.

“Marrow,” he rasped. “I’m going to throw you onto it. Hard.” He pointed at Olihen. “And then you’re going to stab it. Hard.”

Marrow regarded Lanius for a brief second. Then he nodded and turned. A jet of water shot up from across the railing and took the shape of a semi-translucent tentacle.

“Wait,” Adrya said. “Take this before you go.”

She held out her Oathblade. It was still slick with kraken blood and rain. The wraith stared at it for a moment. A body looking outside-in.

“VERY WELL,” he said reluctantly, taking the blade into his hand. It didn’t puff into dust as it should have. “I’M READY, LANIUS.”

The tentacle wrapped around him, spilling copious amounts of brine onto the deck. He was quickly enveloped from head to toe, right before the water twitched and-

Olihen roared.

Adrya wheeled around, met the kraken’s eyes. Saw that they were focused on her ship—on Marrow. Almost as if it knew what they were doing.

“Lanius, throw him!”

The water coiled, whipped, launching Marrow into the air. Olihen bellowed once more, a terrible, trumpeting sound. It attempted to slap Marrow mid-flight, like a giant attempting to swat a gnat out of the sky—but the gnat was always faster, and Marrow was upon the beast in a matter of seconds.

He landed blade-first, hooking it deep into the upper half of Olihen’s face. More cries, ear-splitting this time, and Adrya couldn’t help but flinch in sudden pain. She watched as Marrow worked the blade free and nearly fell, unbalanced, then used the gaping wound as a sort of makeshift handhold.

He went to stab and stab again, carving bloody gashes into the kraken’s shell. Chitinous flakes chipped off in hail, exposing grey and muscular flesh. Olihen writhed in agony, blindly clawing at its own face, while those of Marrow’s puppets which had gotten close enough began to hack away as well.

Snapping to her senses, Adrya picked up a spear and hurried along the length of her ship. “This is it, men!” she roared, even though more than half her forces had already been lost. Only a few of their scorpios were still operational, and they’d all but run out of Novirian fire. “Keep firing! Don’t stop! Throw everything we have left at it!”

And they did throw everything they had left it. There was no other choice. No way out besides killing the one that stood right in front of their very eyes. Adrya launched spear after spear; even when she ran out, she kept on throwing. Even Lanius, exhausted, bleeding Lanius, teetering on the brink of unconsciousness, continued to find strength where there wasn’t any. He raged and so did the waves.

And Marrow—she couldn’t see him anymore. She didn’t know if Olihen had managed to pry him off. If that was the case, it didn’t matter, for he’d done his job and he’d done it well.

Fall, you bastard.

Olihen shuddered, a deep, rumbling whine shivering its entire length. The pale sheen of its eyes seemed to dim with every passing second.

Fall.

The creature retched, a bubble of gore welling up from its stomach and bursting at its mouth. Legionnaires fired their last few rounds; shouted as they watched, eyes wide, the kraken sway back and forth, gurgling sigh, start to fall onto its side.

The impact boomed across the sea, mist rising at the creature collapsed. But as the echoes faded into silence, all Adrya could hear was her own ragged panting and-

“ADRYA, DO IT NOW.”

She reached out.

Life and death. The in-between.

I can see it.

It was right there.

She just had to…

You’re mine.

Edited by Wade

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“This one understands, your Grace.” Elena bows, the coded message safe in her hand against her chest, her heart. “It will be done.”

“I know,” Ophelia says, the hint of a smile curling at the corners of her lips. “Your family has always been loyal, Elena. And you have served me well. House Arcos will remember and honor your bravery.”

Elena straightens, and offers Ophelia a wry grin. She is a small thing, barely reaching Ophelia’s shoulders. Her soft brown hair and large chocolate eyes give her an aura of meek youthfulness that some may take for weakness. “Your Grace,” she says, dryly, “you know well that’s not necessary. How many years have we been friends?”

Ophelia grins back, eyes sparkling. “Oh, I don’t know.” She hums, pretending to think. “Not long enough, apparently, since you insist on speaking to me so formally.”

It is only because of that same sense of property that Elena does not roll her eyes, but her lips do press back a smile. “It’s my duty to remind you that you are our princess—”

“Not a princess. This is no monarchy. Arcos is not even a noble House—”

“You might as well be,” Elena interrupts ruthlessly. “We may not call it that, but it is. Even...now,” she adds with a hint of disdain. Ophelia cannot do anything but agree. The usurpers are puppets to the ruler of the damned Empire, and before that her House served the Tyrant King. Even then, the people followed them, their House, and if they had revolted in times of King Gillick they would have been supported. “For us Novirians, you are our kingdom. House Arcos, our Dominus and Legatus and you, Ophelia.”

They are alone. Elena and Ophelia are the only two left after the clandestine, hurried meeting she had called for after getting the last news about Drasir—and the knowledge that her siblings were coming back home. She had to inform the major leaders of the different revolutionary cells so that the knowledge would expand, so that they could prepare for action and be alert in their day to day lives. The drums of war are already beating, had been doing so since the moment Noviria fell, but now the sound is almost close enough, almost loud enough to hear.

It will soon be deafening.

Ophelia inclines her head in acceptance.

“So. As our princess,” Elena insists, completely ignoring Ophelia’s grimace of disgust, “I have to show the appropriate deference when we are in the presence of others. You not only deserve it, but have earned it.”

Has she? She might have agreed, once upon a time, before the Siege, before Tiberius and the cuffs and that damnable oath. Ophelia has tried to do what she can since then, tried to focus on her goals and her anger and her drive to succeed, but the doubts are always there, at the back of her mind, whispering, waiting.

You could have fought harder. You could have crushed them. You should have died instead of surrendering like a whimpering coward—

No. Ophelia banishes the thoughts with prejudice, angry at herself for letting them exist in the first place. She knows what she did. She does not regret it, not when it kept her mother alive and her people safe. Not when it gave her, them, time to regroup and plan and heal.

“We are alone,” she points out. “And we’d been before I gave you that. So property for the sake of others was not needed. What’s your excuse?”

A huff. “It was a solemn moment. A promise to carry out an important, vital task. Decorum and formality were a must.”

Ophelia chuckles and shakes her in amused incredulity. “If you say so.”

“I do,” Elena says with a haughty sniff as she carefully hides the missive in the folds of her tunic. “And now, your Grace, it’s time for you to go eat dinner with your lady mother, and for me to go back home. I have an early morning, you see. A lot of traveling through mountains in search of herbs.”

“Indeed, I do.” Ophelia takes a step forward, cups Elena’s cheeks in her hands, and places a soft kiss to her forehead. The gesture is perhaps more familiar than it is appropriate for her station, but Ophelia has always considered her a friend, and now she is sending her to Drasir in what is certainly a dangerous mission, even if only because of the place’s reputation. Elena only looks like a delicate child, however—she is actually older than Ophelia, and strong even if she is not a soldier. She will get her message to her siblings, one way or another, Ophelia is sure. “Safe travels, my friend, and come back victorious.”

Elena inclines her head and salutes before leaving the secret chamber, and Ophelia sighs. She twirls her hand in a familiar motion, and conjures a small, vaguely dog-shaped terracotta construct that reaches up to her knees. The fact that something so simple takes a toll on her is infuriating, but she can feel the difference with the last time she tried to conjure something larger than her fist. She is still getting better.

With barely a thought, she dismisses the construct, dusts off her clothes and stalks out of the room.

It is time to put the mask back on. Hopefully, it will not be for too much longer.

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Summary: Adrya Arcos and Lanius of Thraece kill the mythical Kraken, Olihen. Adrya enslaves its corpse using her Oathblade's power, turning it into a powerful thrall for her bidding. Meanwhile, Ophelia Arcos is a political prisoner in Noviria. She catches wind of her siblings' endeavors in Drasir, and secretly organizes a group of rebels in preparation for House Arcos' retaking of the city.

@Csl

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